Poker is a betting game involving a deck of playing cards (typically a standard 52-deck unless jokers are in play), between 2 and 10 players, a dealer (either a house dealer or players in the game exchanging a “Dealer” button), and chips used for betting.
All poker games are premised on dealing an assortment of cards, known as a “hand,” to each player in the game. Rather than competing against the house like in blackjack, players compete against one another based on the value of their respective hands, with the objective being to build your chip stack at the expense of your opponents.
Given the option to check (decline to bet), bet (place an initial wager), raise (increase the wager), call the current bet, or fold (surrender your hand), players employ a number of strategies while trying to win the pot. These include betting and raising weak hands in an effort to convince opponents you’re actually strong, and “bluffing” is central to all poker games.
Many forms and variations of poker have been invented, including Five-Card Draw (players receive five cards face down with the option to discard some and draw replacements), Stud (players receive either five or seven cards, with the first two and the last one face down and the rest face up), Razz (Stud played to make low hands rather than high hands), and Lowball (draw poker played to make low hands). Each variant includes a specific set of rules governing the mechanics of betting and the ranking of hands.
For high-hand games, the standard hand hierarchy is as follows: high-card (A-X-X-X-X), pair (A-A-X-X-X), two pair (A-A-2-2-X), three of a kind (A-A-A-X-X), straight (any five cards in sequential order, such as 5-6-7-8-9), flush (any five cards of the same suit), full house (A-A-A-2-2), straight flush (any five cards in sequential order that are also of the same suit), Royal Flush (10-J-Q-K-A) all of the same suit.
For low-hand games, the objective is to make qualifying hands that do not include a pair, such as A-2-3-4-5 or 2-4-6-7-8, with suits and flushes not in play.
All forms of poker can be played in one of two ways: table stakes (or cash games), in which players’ chips are backed by actual cash; or tournaments, in which players purchase a preset chip stack for a certain sum, before playing an elimination event.
While there are dozens of variants to choose from, one stands out as the premier poker game: Texas Hold’em. This game has always been used to decide the World Championship at the World Series of Poker, and for the vast majority of non-professional players, the word “poker” really means Texas Hold’em. When you walk into a poker room in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, or your local casino, 9 out of every 10 tables will be playing Texas Hold’em.
The most popular poker game deals players two cards face down, with no draws. Instead, Texas Hold’em is a community card game. This means all players at the table utilize the same five board cards, along with their two hole cards, to form the best possible five-card poker hand according to the standard hierarchy.
Texas Hold’em is a blind bet game, which means two players in every hand must contribute a forced ante. This builds a pot for players to contest and drives the game’s action, as players can’t simply wait to hold extremely strong cards.
A “Dealer” button revolves clockwise around the table on each hand, with the “small blind” to the button’s left, and the “big blind” to the left after that. After receiving their down cards, players bet or fold, before doing the same after seeing the first three board cards (the “flop”), the fourth (“the turn”), and the fifth (the “river”). Betting can be either Limit (incremental) or No-Limit. Players win by betting enough to force all opponents to fold, or tabling the strongest hand after the river betting is completed.