The most accessible form of poker for millions of Americans is Texas Hold’em, the game broadcast worldwide on ESPN played at the World Series of Poker. If you’re looking to turn your interest in poker into an on-the-felt experience, visiting a poker room for the first time can be quite the thrill. It can also be a bit intimidating for newcomers though, so the following walkthrough is intended to guide poker newbies through their initial visit.
In every poker room from Las Vegas to local casinos, playing poker begins by registering for a game. To register, give your name or initials to the floor staff member behind the “board” – which is the big list of games and names you’ll find near the front of the room.
When a seat becomes available for you the floor will call your name. For the sake of this discussion, the game of choice will be the basic game available in most poker rooms: $1/$2 No-Limit Texas Hold’em. These numbers simply refer to the blind bets for the game, so the small blind will always be $1 and the big blind is $2.
“No-Limit” refers to the fact that players can bet all of their chips at any time. You’ll also find Limit Texas Hold’em, which involves incremental betting ($4 bet, raise to $8, reraise to $12, etc.).
After being called for the game you’ll need to purchase chips. This can be done either at the cashier’s cage or at the table. A good rule of thumb for buy-ins holds that you need 50-100 times the big blind, so for $1/$2 No-Limit, the standard buy-in is usually $100 to $200. Every game has minimum and maximum buy-ins as well, and these should be posted on a placard at the table.
Once you’ve taken a seat, the game operates like this: to begin a hand, a “Dealer” button is passed clockwise from one player to the next. In casino games you’ll always have a set dealer distributing the cards, and the “Dealer” button is just used to mark the blinds. The player to the left of the button posts the small blind, while the player to their left posts the big blind.
The dealer pitches one card at a time to each player at the table, beginning with the small blind, until everyone has two cards held face down. The betting begins with the player to the left of the big blind (a position known as “under-the-gun”), and that player can match the big blind, raise the action, or fold. Depending on the strength of your hole cards, you can either fold or continue by contributing chips to the pot.
This process continues around the table until each player has acted. Next the dealer spreads three community cards across the felt. This is known as the “flop,” and a round of betting then occurs, following the same rotation from the left of the button clockwise around the table. The fourth community card (the “turn”) is dealt, followed by a betting round, and then the fifth community card (the “river”), and a final betting round.
At any point in the hand you can decide to surrender by folding to a bet, and the game’s strategy is based on betting, raising, calling, or folding at the correct times as often as possible.
Players left in the hand after the river betting round then show down their hole cards, using one or both in conjunction with any combination of the five board cards to form a standard poker hand. If no pairs are shown down, high card wins, followed by one pair, two pair, three of a kind, and so on. The highest hand shown down claims the pot, and if one player forces the rest of their opponents to fold before a showdown, they win the pot without a contest.