Every card game develops its quirks and traditions over the years as players cause the game to morph and shape into new and more challenging versions, and poker is no exception. Poker's origins are unclear, but what makes poker truly unique as a game is the nature of the betting.
With countless variations of poker available, there's truly something for everyone, but this also means a wide range of rules and regulations that apply to the game. There are some specific things that seem to apply across the board, and these are what unify all the different variations of poker into one single game.
A poker deck typically consists of 52 cards-- an Ace, King, Queen, Jack, Ten, Nine, Eight, Seven, Six, Five, Four, Three, and Two in each of four suits (clubs, spades, diamonds, and hearts). Sometimes jokers are added to the deck (in some variations that allow for wild cards), and some variants of poker play with non-traditional decks (such as the French piquet deck). Some enterprising individuals have even come up with a way to play poker with tarot cards in a poker game called Assumption. More often than not, however, if you're playing a game of poker, you're playing with a standard deck. The nature of the deck is important because it determines the odds of getting each type of poker hand, and thus tampering with a deck is strictly forbidden.
- Clubs (black)
- Diamonds (red)
- Hearts (red)
- Spades (black)
Betting structures in a game of poker can vary greatly between different games, houses, and tournaments, so it's important to know what betting structure is setup before you start to play the game. There are three main types of poker betting structures: pot-limit, no-limit, and fixed-limit. While these different types of poker have different rules, there are some general rules about betting that apply across the board:
- Opening the pot occurs when the first person makes a bet. In games with blinds (where players put up money before seeing their cards), the big blind technically opens, and all other bets must match or raise this one. Different games have different rules-- you may need to have a certain hand (e.g., Jacks or better) or have a specific amount that has to be bid to open.
- Calling means that someone else has made a bet, and you want some of the action on the bet. You put up an equal amount of your own money and "call", which keeps you in the game. If you don't want to call, then you will have to fold.
- Folding is when you throw your cards in and remove yourself from the rest of the hand. Players who have folded forfeit any money that they've already put in the pot during the folded hand, and they do not participate in betting for the remainder of the hand. Players who have folded are never required to show their hand(s). They may choose to do so, but it's never required that one's cards be shown unless they're in a showdown, when the remaining hands are turned over to determine which has the highest value.
- Checking occurs when no one else has bet on a hand and you want to stay in the game. It's essentially the equivalent of calling a bet of zero.
- Raising involves betting-- if you're making the first bet, you're opening. If you add to what the opener has bet, you're raising, and if you're betting an amount over what someone has already raised (such that the action goes: opener, raise, your raise), then you're re-raising. How much you can raise is determined by the betting structure of the game. Many houses have rules concerning minimum raises, so that the game is not slowed down because someone chooses to re-raise to $101 after a previous player bet $100.
When betting, it's essential that you don't bet out of turn, as this gives extra information to other players and may give them an unfair advantage (if not over you, then over other players at the table).
Betting always takes place at predetermined times; these times are determined by the specific type of poker being played. For example, in five card draw, players bet once after receiving their initial hand and again after the draw, while in Texas Hold'em, there's a round of betting after the hole cards, the flop, the turn, and the river. Different variations mean different betting schedules, so it's important to know the rules of the type of poker that you're playing.
Players are responsible for keeping track of the current action. For this reason, players generally push forward the chips that they're using to call or raise, and once all the players have called, checked, or folded and the betting is secure ("the pot is good"), they push their chips forward into the pot. Throwing chips directly into the pot is considered bad form because it can conceal the amount that's been bet. This is referred to as "splashing the pot," and along with string raising (calling first and then adding chips for a raise), is outlawed in almost all casinos and tournaments. If you want to raise, you have to state that you're raising, and cannot at any point say that you're calling (e.g., "I call and raise"), as this is forbidden in most places.
Common Types of Poker
Draw poker is a poker variant (or a series of poker variants, technically) where players are dealt cards and then choose which ones to keep and which to discard, hoping for a better draw. Five Card Draw is the most common form of draw poker, and is often one of the first types of poker that one learns, due to its simple rules and relatively simple betting.
Stud poker is a type of poker game where players play get individual cards and play what they're dealt. Unlike draw games, stud games do not allow players to switch out cards. Depending on the variation of stud, players may receive all their cards face down or face up, although a combination of the two is most common. Seven Card Stud is the most popular version of stud poker, although many other popular varieties exists, including Razz (a low version of seven card stud), different forms of hi/low stud, and stud with different numbers of cards-- generally between five and nine.
Community card poker, also known as flop poker, is a category of poker where players have a certain number of individual cards and a set of cards that are flopped on the table and used by all players. The two most common forms of community card poker are Texas Hold'em, where players have 2 cards in hand and a total of five community cards and can make hands in any combination, and Omaha Hold'em (often just called Omaha), where players are dealt four hole cards and get five on the flop, and have to use exactly two hole cards and three community cards to make their hand(s).