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How Poker Works

Poker Basics

Most poker games use a standard 52-card deck of playing cards. There is no national or international regulating organization for the game of poker; the rules are simply passed down through tradition and experience. Knowing the standard poker rules gives you a good foundation, but there are dozens of house rules that may be in effect, depending on where you play. If you play on Friday nights at your cousin's house, your cousin decides the house rules. If you're playing in a major tournament at a casino, the casino's rules apply. Make sure you know the house rules where you plan to play, and don't be afraid to ask -- before you buy-in. Although the days of poker players getting shot over a big pot are for the most part behind us, it's still a bad idea to violate a house rule at the table.

In most poker games, money is traded in for chips before the game begins. The chips are what the players are actually putting into the pot. At the end of the game, they can trade their chips for money ("cashing out").

In this article, whenever a dollar amount is mentioned in relation to a hand of poker, we're actually talking about chips that represent that amount.

Poker Glossary

  • Ante - Ante is a bet placed by all players before a hand is dealt. It is the "cost" of being able to play in that hand. (hand - see below)
  • Bet - To bet is to put money into the pot. (pot - see below)
  • Blind - Sometimes used instead of an ante, this is a bet placed by the player sitting to the left of the dealer before the hand is dealt.
  • Bluff - Bluffing is when a player bets aggressively even though he has a weak hand, in an attempt to get the other players to fold. (fold - see below)
  • Bug - A bug is a joker, used in some games as a wild card; sometimes it is a limited wild card, in which case the joker acts as an ace. If the joker is the fifth card needed to complete a flush or a straight, it becomes whichever card is needed. (wild card - see below)
  • Buy-in - The buy-in is the amount of money needed to enter a poker game.
  • Call - To call is to place into the pot the amount needed to match the previous bets made for that betting round. For example, if the player to your right bets $10, to stay in that hand you need to "call" his bet by placing $10 in the pot.
  • Check - A check is a bet of nothing. If no bets have been made during the current betting round, the player whose turn it is to bet can bet nothing, and pass the opportunity to bet to the player to her left. If everyone checks all the way around the table, the betting round ends.
  • Fold - To fold is to drop out of the hand because you don't think your cards are good enough to win. When you fold, you don't put any more money into the pot, and you forfeit any chance at winning it. (pot - see below)
  • Hand - A hand is a combination of cards, usually five, that is compared to the other players' hands to see who wins. The word hand is also used to mean a single round of poker.
  • Pot - The pot is the prize for a hand of poker. The pot is made up of the antes or blinds, plus all the bets made during that hand. At the end of the hand, the player with the best hand (or the last player still in the hand, if everyone else folds) wins the pot.
  • Raise - To raise is to increase the amount of the bet for the current betting round, after another player has already placed a bet. For example, the player to your right bets $10. You can call her $10 bet, and then raise it another $10. You would therefore place $20 into the pot. Players to your left would have to call the total bet of $20 to stay in the hand. They could also raise it another $10. In this case, when the bet came around to you again, you'd have to put $10 in the pot to call and stay in the hand.
  • Showdown - The showdown is the end of the hand, when all remaining players show their cards to see who has the best hand.
  • Wild card - A wild card is card whose value is decided by the player holding it.