Poker has become not only one of the world’s most popular card games, but also a part of pop culture.
Such poker-related phrases and clichés as ace in the hole, ace up one’s sleeve, beats me, call one’s bluff, cash in, high roller, pass the buck, poker face, stack up, up the ante, when the chips are down, wild card, hijack, and others are often used in everyday conversation, and there have been several Hollywood films centred around poker themes, such as Rounders, starring Matt Damon and Edward Norton.
Poker’s popularity boomed at the beginning of the 21st century, largely because of the introduction of online poker and hole-card camera, which turned the game into a spectator sport. Viewers could now follow the action and drama of the game, and broadcasts of poker tournaments such as the World Series of Poker and the World Poker Tour brought in huge audiences for cable and satellite TV distributors.
Because of the increasing coverage of poker events, poker pros became celebrities, with poker fans all over the world entering into expensive tournaments for the chance to play with them.
There are many different poker variations, but all of them follow a similar pattern of play and generally using the same hand ranking hierarchy. The main families of poker variants are:
A complete hand is dealt to each player, and players bet in one round, with raising and re-raising allowed. This is the oldest poker family; the root of the game as currently played was a game known as Primero, which evolved into the game three-card Brag, a very popular gentleman’s game around the time of the American Revolutionary War and still enjoyed in the U.K. today. Straight hands of five cards are sometimes used as a final showdown, but poker is currently virtually always played in a more complex form to allow for additional strategy.
Cards are dealt in a prearranged combination of face-down and face-up rounds, or streets, with a round of betting following each. This is the next-oldest family; as poker progressed from three to five-card hands, they were often dealt one card at a time, either face-down or face-up, with a betting round between each. The most popular stud variant today, seven-card stud, deals two extra cards to each player (three face-down, four face-up) from which they must make the best possible five-card hand.
A complete hand is dealt to each player, face-down, and after betting, players are allowed to attempt to change their hand (with the object of improving it) by discarding unwanted cards and being dealt new ones. Five-card draw is the most famous variation in this family.
A variation of Stud poker, players are dealt an incomplete hand of face-down cards, and then a number of face-up community cards are dealt to the centre of the table, each of which can be used by one or more of the players to make a five-card hand. Texas hold-em and Omaha are two well-known variants of the Community family, with the former being the most popular form of poker currently played.
In casual play, the right to deal a hand typically rotates among the players and is marked by a token called a dealer button (or buck). In a casino, a house dealer handles the cards for each hand, but the button is rotated clockwise among the players to indicate a nominal dealer to determine the order of betting.
One or more players are usually required to make forced bets, usually either an ante or a blind bet (sometimes both). The dealer shuffles the cards, the player one chair to his right cuts, and the dealer deals the appropriate number of cards to the players one at a time, beginning with the player to his left. Cards may be dealt either face-up or face-down, depending on the variant of poker being played.
After the initial deal, the first of what may be several betting rounds begins. Between rounds, the players’ hands develop in some way, often by being dealt additional cards or replacing cards previously dealt. At the end of each round, all bets are gathered into the central pot.
At any time during a betting round, if one player bets and no opponents choose to call (match) the bet and instead fold, the hand ends immediately, the bettor is awarded the pot, no cards are required to be shown, and the next hand begins. This is what makes bluffing possible. Bluffing is a primary feature of poker, one that distinguishes it from other competitive games.
At the end of the last betting round, if more than one player remains, there is a showdown, in which the players reveal their previously hidden cards and evaluate their hands. The player with the best hand according to the poker variant being played wins the pot. A poker hand consists of five cards, but in some variants a player has more than five to choose from.
Here are some tips to help you improve your poker game:
Watch who’s playing in an aggressive or loose way and who’s playing tight, try to play the loose players and avoid the tight players, unless you’ve got a strong hand.
Watch those chips
Always be aware of the chip count of everyone at your table. Know who has more chips than you and play more carefully against them – a mistake could knock you out of the game. It’s usually better to play pots with players who have fewer chips than you do, to minimise the risk of losing out.
Don’t play every time you have an ace in your hand, assuming you’ve got a great hand. Only play an ace if it’s accompanied by a card of the same suit or by a 10 or higher.
Hands to stick with before the flop:
Play with pairs (7-7, 9-9), two face cards (K-Q, Q-J), or hands that can make both a straight and a flush (8-9, 6-7 of the same suit). Be wise and fold other hands, unless you’re in the blind.
In no-limit Texas Hold’em, players can bet all of their chips at any time, so bet aggressively and confidently when you have a good hand.
Call a bluff
If someone raises in a late position (near or on the button), re-raise them a good amount if you are on the blind. Chances are, they don’t have a big hand and they’re just trying to steal your blinds. (This style of play, known as going ‘over the top’, is probably the strongest play one can make in no-limit Texas Hold’em.)
Patience is a virtue
The biggest mistake most poker players make is to act too quickly. When you’re making an important decision, pause to think about how the betting has gone and what your opponent might have. Take your time.