How to Play the Game: Poker

Over the past few weeks we’ve covered Baccarat,
and Black
. This week we focus on Poker-easily the most well-known gambling game
today, and a favorite among professionals and amateurs alike. By no means will
you be an expert after reading this article, but hopefully you’ll have a better
understanding of how to play the game, should you decide to try your luck.

POKER 101-A Game of Deception
Poker is a game every Las Vegas
tourist should know how to play. It plays quite easily, but in order to be
truly successful, a player must be skilled at bluffing and strategy. The
element of bluffing, or to bet or raise with an inferior hand, is what
distinguishes poker from any other game. It is possible to win a hand without ever
having shown one’s cards, a testament to the power of the bluff. According to, “The fundamental theorem of poker, introduced by David
Sklansky, states that every time you play your hand the way you would if you
could see your opponent’s cards, you gain, and every time your opponent plays
his cards differently from the way he would play them if he could see your
cards, you gain.”

All the many variations of poker have the same rules of game play:

One or more players must make a forced bet to start the game off (called
opening the pot), then the cards are dealt, either face-up or face-down
depending on the variant being played. Throughout the rounds, player’s hands
will change according to the variant’s rules: either by adding additional cards
or replacing cards already dealt.

The game is played through a series of bets, and at any time when a player
makes a bet, all opponents are required to fold (discard cards and forfeit
game), call (match bet or the raise), or raise (increase the size of the bet
and forcing all opponents to call). Most casinos have a cap on the amount of
raises allowed in a betting round, usually three or four. In each round, each
raise must also be at least equal to the previous bet or raise.

All bets are placed in a central pot. If no opponents choose to match a bet,
the bettor is awarded the pot. No cards need be shown, and this hand ends, and
a new one begins. Or, at the end of the last round, the remaining players must
show their hands and the winner is determined. This is called a showdown.

At the showdown, the player with the strongest hand wins. All hands consist
of five cards. Card values from high to low are: A (high), K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8,
7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, A (low, only as part of a low card straight or straight flush).
Despite card ranks, all hands are first ranked by category, then by individual
card values. Only two hands with the same category are then ranked by card
value. For example, two pairs of kings will beat two pairs of 2’s, but two
pairs of 2’s will beat one pair of kings. An ace can be played as a 1 as well
as an ace, depending on the hand.

Starting from the top, the highest standard hand a player can have is called
a royal flush, which is an ace-high sequence of cards, all of the same suit,
for example, A? K? Q? J? 10?. A straight flush is simply a sequence of cards in
the same suit. The following are all examples: 5? 4? 3? 2? A?; Q? J? 10? 9? 8?.
This case, the hand leading with the queen would defeat one with 5, a five-high

Now, in some casinos, the joker is included in the deck and can be a wild
card. In this situation, a hand of five aces is the highest ranked hand.

Next, a four of a kind contains four cards of one kind with one random card,
such as: 9? 9? 9? 9? J?. With these hands, a higher ranking four of kind beats
a lower ranking four of a kind. So, four jacks would beat four 9’s. In a case
where the pairs in each opponents hands are equal, the extra unmatched card, or
kicker, determines the win. So, four 5’s with a queen would defeat four 5’s
with a 3.

A full house consists of three of kind with one pair, such as 3? 3? 3? 6?
6?. Between two full houses, the one with the higher three of a kind wins. If
both sets of three are the same in rank, then the higher pair will determine
the winner. Full houses are named after the three of kind. The above example
would be a “threes full” or “threes full of sixes.”

A flush is a hand based upon suit. Thus, all five cards do not need to be in
sequence, but must all have the same suit. Flushes are described by the high
card, which also determines the winning hand when two flushes are compared. So,
Q? 10? 7? 6? 4? is called a “queen-high flush,” and would defeat J?
10? 7? 3? 2?, a “jack-high flush.”

Next down in rank, a straight features five cards in sequence but not of the
same suit, for example, Q? J? 10? 9? 8?. Again, straights are called and ranked
by the highest card in each. The previous example is a “queen-high
straight” or “straight to the queen,” and would defeat 10? 9? 8?
7? 6?, a “ten-high straight.”

A three of a kind contains three cards of matching rank with two unmatched
cards. Again, the higher ranking three defeat the lower ranking three. In the
case of matching threes, the highest kicker determines the winner. 2? 2? 2? K?
6? is called “three twos,” or “three twos with a king kicker.”

A two pair hand consists of two pairs of cards of equal rank, with one
unmatched card. Between two hands containing two pairs, the higher ranking pair
of each is first compared, and the higher pair wins. If both have the same top
pair, then the second pair of each is compared. Finally, if both have the same
two pairs, then the kicker determines the win. These hands are described by the
top pair and the lower pair. For example, 4? 4? 3? 3? K? is a “fours and
threes, king kicker.”

One pair is a poker hand such as 4? 4? K? 10? 5?, which contains two cards
of the same rank, plus three unmatched cards. If two hands have the same rank
of pair, the kickers again determine the win. The hands are called by the pair,
so the above example is a “pair of fours.”

The lowest ranked hand in poker is the high-card or no-pair hand, in which
no two cards have the same rank, the five cards are not in sequence, and the
five cards are not all the same suit. A hand such as K? J? 8? 7? 3? is called a
“king high” or “king-jack high,” based on the top or top
two cards. The no-pair hand is the worst hand a player can have. Two of these
hands are compared by the highest card in each hand to determine the winner.

The above hands and rules apply to all poker variants, including the three
most common:

Draw poker, in which the players each receive five cards, all of which are
not shown. Each card can be replaced throughout rounds.

Stud poker, in which players receive one card at a time, some being
displayed to other players at the table. In stud poker, players are not allowed
to discard or replace any cards.

Community card poker, in which players combine individually dealt cards with
a number of “community cards” dealt face up and shared by all
players. Each player will attempt to make the best five card poker hand using
the community cards and their own face down cards. Two or four individual cards
may be dealt in the most popular variations, Texas
hold ’em and Omaha
hold ’em, respectively (

After knowledge of the hands and basic rules, one major strategy of poker is
bluffing. The basic idea is to keep a straight poker face and to not give away
good or bad cards in facial expressions, except when planning to bluff
opponents. Ideally, you are pretending that you have a better hand than you
actually do, in order to encourage your opponents to fold. A good bluff when
needed to win the pot is absolutely critical. A pure bluff, is a bet or raise with
an inferior hand that has little or no chance of improving. A player makes this
bluff then he believes he can only win if all opponents fold. A semi bluff is
made when a player has an inferior hand that may improve later in the game.

In closing, poker is not a simple subject. We touched upon the basics, what
a player needs to know to start out at a table, but the strategies and theories
surrounding the game cannot be summarized in a brief article. For a more in
depth look at poker, click here.


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