How To Play Poker

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If, until now, poker has been shrouded in mystery for you. Or perhaps you’ve previously thought that it was the domain of old (or maybe young) men in smoke-filled rooms casually tossing poker chips and cash around, whilst staring out their opponents with a menacing grimace on their faces, then you’re in for a pleasant surprise!

You see poker can be fun for all ages… young and old… male or female… amateur or verging on professional.

Why is poker so much fun?
In my view it’s because it combines two great timeless elements:1. Luck
2. Skill

Actually in fairness, there is a third great element to poker and it’s something equivalent to bluff and politics combined, but more of this later.

Is it easy to learn to play poker?
In fact you’ll be pleased to discover that the rules of poker are remarkably straightforward. Actually, I’d go as far as to say that they’re blindingly simple!

Now I know that this probably isn’t the impression that you’ve been given from watching others play. Either in a corner of some smoke filled room or perhaps on the increasingly popular televised poker shows. No, when you watch these programs there appears to be a hidden dimension and levels of complexity which means that poker must surely be anything but…. straightforward.

So here’s the good news.  The rules of the poker game are very simple, but the bad news is that there are at least 30 variations on the rules of the game.

Texas Hold’em is the most popular poker game and so it’s the one that we’re focussing on here. It’s also a favorite for poker tournaments too. When you hear the guys talking about Poker they’re probably thinking Texas Holdem, even if they don’t say that (or know it themselves).

To start with each player is dealt two private cards (i.e. they’re dealt face down).
After which there’s a betting round.  Then three community cards are dealt face up (in no particular order or pattern) and that’s followed by a second betting round.  A 4th community card is followed by a 3rd betting round, a 5th community card, and the 4th and final betting round.

And, well, that’s it really. Now there’s a bit of a showdown, where each player plays the best five-card poker hand he can make using any five cards among the two in his hand and the five on the board.  Simple really! Though of course there 100’s of little tweaks and advanced techniques to discover.

Anyway, Texas Hold’em poker is generally played with 2 to 10 players.
In reality the real limit (which I think is 23 for reasons I can’t quite recall) is more likely to be the size of the table. You want to be able to see the whites of your opponents eyes to see whether they’ll bluffing you see.  Also Poker is a “positional” game because betting starts on the dealer’s left at all times. In other words, if that’s where you’re sitting, then you’ll kick off the betting.

So let’s recap what we know about poker so far and take the game a step further.

Play begins with each player being dealt two cards and both are face down.  These are the only cards each player will receive individually, and they will not be revealed until showdown, this makes Texas Hold’em a so called closed poker game.  A first pre-flop (before any other cards are dealt) betting round now takes place, beginning with the player to the left of the dealer.

Next the dealer deals a burn card. The burn card is simply a single game card which is effectively chucked away (not literally of course), followed by three face-up cards that anyone can then use in their hand (these are usually referred to as community cards) and then this is all followed by a second betting round.

This one and other subsequent betting rounds begin with the player the dealer’s left.  After this round, a burn card and single community card called the turn are dealt and then this is followed by a third betting round.  I think yo’re probably getting the picture at this stage.  Finally, a burn and a single community card called the river (anyone know the history of these crazy names?) are dealt, followed by a fourth betting round and showdown if necessary.

Now for the big poker showdown!

At the sundown showdown, each player plays the best five-card poker hand he can make from the seven cards comprising his two and the board (that’s the five community cards).  A player may use both of his own 2 down cards, only 1, or none at all to form his final 5 card hand.

If the best 5 card poker hand he can make is to play the 5 community cards, then he is said to be playing the board and is entitled to split the pot with others playing the board if no one can play a better hand.  It is common for players to have closely-valued hands.  In particular, kickers often are needed to break ties, straights often split the pot, and multiple flushes may occur (where the ranks of the cards in each flush must be counted carefully to determine a winner).

Okay, let’s see some real examples being played…

I’ve taken these examples from the excellent website which is well worth a visit to clarify the other 29 or so rules for playing different types of poker.

Let’s assume you’re playing poker and you see the following cards come up. Of course in reality you’d only see the board, plus your own hand, but you know what I mean.


4♣ K♠ 4♥ 8♠ 7♠
5♦ 6♦
A♣ 4♦
A♠ 9♠
K♥ K♦


Alice’s best five-card hand is 8♠ 7♠ 6♦ 5♦ 4♥, making an 8-high straight.  The best poker hand Bob can play is 4♣ 4♥ 4♦ A♣ K♠, for three 4s with A and K kickers.  Carol can play A♠ K♠ 9♠ 8♠ 7♠ for an A-high flush.  Finally, David can play K♠ K♥ K♦ 4♣ 4♥, for a full house, which wins.

Here’s a sample deal.  The players’ individual hands will not be revealed until showdown, to give a better sense of what happens during play.  Bob, to the dealer’s left, posts a blind of $1, and Carol blinds $2.  Alice deals two cards face down to each player, beginning with Bob and ending with herself.  David must act first because he is the first player after the big blind.  He cannot check, since the $2 blinds plays as a bet, so he folds.  Alice calls the $2.  Bob puts an additional $1 with his $1 small blind to call the $2 total.  Carol’s blind is “live,” so she has the right to raise here, but she checks her option instead, ending the first betting round.

Alice now burns a card and deals the “flop” of three face-up community cards, 9♣ K♣ 3♥.  On this round as on all subsequent, Bob begins the betting.  He checks, Carol opens for $2, and Alice raises another $2, making the total bet now facing Bob $4.  He calls. Carol calls, putting in an additional $2.  Alice now burns and deals the “turn” card face up.  It is the 5♠.  Bob checks, Carol checks, and Alice checks, ending the betting round.  After burning, Alice deals the final “river” card of the 9♦, making the final board 9♣ K♣ 3♥ 5♠ 9♦.  Bob bets $4, Carol calls, and Alice folds (Alice’s holding was A♣ 7♣; she was hoping the river card would be a club to make her a flush).  Bob shows his hand of Q♠ 9♥, so the best five-card poker hand he can make is 9♣ 9♦ 9♥ K♣ Q♠, for three 9s, K and Q kickers.  Carol shows her cards of K♠ J♥, making her final poker hand K♣ K♠ 9♣ 9♦ J♥ for two pair, Ks and 9s, with a J kicker.  Bob wins the pot.

Here’s another situation that illustrates the importance of breaking ties with kickers and card ranks, and use of the five-card rule.  After the first three betting rounds, the board and players’ hands look like this (though the players don’t actually know the other players’ cards).

Board (after three rounds):


Board (after three rounds)
8♠ Q♣ 8♥ 4♣
10♣ 9♣
K♥ Q♠
Q♥ 10♦
J♣ 2♣


At the moment, Bob is in the lead with a hand of Q♠ Q♣ 8♠ 8♥ K♥, making two pair, Qs and 8s, with a K kicker.  This just beats Carol’s hand of Q♥ Q♣ 8♠ 8♥ 10♦ by virtue of his kicker.  Both Alice and David are hoping the final card is a club, which will make them both a flush, but David would have the higher flush and win if that happens.  For example, if the final card was the 7♣, David’s flush would be Q-J-7-4-2, while Alice’s would be Q-10-9-7-4.  Alice could still win, though, if the final card were the J♦, as that would give her a Q-high straight.  On this deal, however, the final card was the A♠, which didn’t help either of them.  Bob and Carol still each have two pair, but notice what happened: both of them are now entitled to play the final A as their fifth card, making their hands both two pair, Qs and 8s, with an A kicker. Bob’s K no longer plays, because the A on the board plays as the fifth card in both hands, and they can’t play six cards.  They therefore split the pot.

The rules for Texas Hold’em are not as complicated as they may first seem.  Spend some time practicing and this poker game will become second nature — honest!