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How to play poker

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Poker is played with a standard deck of 52 playing cards (except for Ross Perot Poker, which is played with less than a full deck). The cards are ranked from high to low in the following order: Ace, King, Queen, Jack, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2. Aces are ALWAYS high. Aces are worth more than Kings which are worth more than Queens which are worth more than Jack, and so on. The cards are also separated into four suits. The suits are: Clubs, spades, hearts and diamonds.

The suits are all of equal value, meaning that no suit is more valuable than another. Each player is dealt five cards. The object of the game is to end up with the highest-valued hand. From best to worst, go to our Hand Rank In Poker page for details of the order in which hands are ranked.

Basic rules of how to play poker
Before the game begins, the players should collectively decide on a betting limit. A betting limit keeps the game friendly, and prevents people from gambling mortgages, cars, or spouses away. Now on to the action, below are the basic rules, step by step:

  1. First, each player places an ante or "token bet" into the pot before the cards are even dealt. The ante can be anything from a nickel (if you're a poor college student) to thousands of dollars (if you're a Vegas high roller). You need an ante because it guarantees that someone will always win something on each hand. You also need an ante because without one, your uncle would be lonely.
  2. Once everyone has coughed up his or her ante, the dealer deals the cards face down around the table, starting at the player to his left and continuing clockwise. The dealer (if he's playing) always deals to himself last. The dealer deals everyone their first card, then goes back around the circle to deal the second, and so on. As soon as everyone has five cards, the remainder of the deck is placed in the middle of the table, and play begins.
  3. Each player looks at his or her cards, and then the first player places a bet. While there are several ways of deciding who bets first, poker novices are best off letting the player directly to the left of the dealer make the first bet. Then on the next hand, the person to his left will bet first, and so on around the table for each new hand.
  4. Players have several options as far as the first round of betting goes. If no one has made a bet yet, you have two choices:
    • Open: If no betting has begun when your turn comes, you may "open" the pot (an attractive option for you Grateful Dead fans out there). This simply means that you make the first bet (any amount up to the betting limit).
    • Check: The opportunity to "check" only occurs if no one has yet opened the betting when it comes time for you to decide what to do. When a player checks, it means that he or she doesn't want to open the betting, but doesn't want to quit either. It basically means "I'm not going to open the betting, but I'll stick around and see what happens."

    Now let's say that someone opens the betting (at some point, it will occur). You now have three choices:

    • See: When you "see" another player, it means that you match their bet. So if someone bets $1 and you want to stay in the game, you have to "see" their $1 by putting $1 of your own into the pot.
    • Raise: When you "raise," it requires you to first "see" the previous bet, and then increase the bet. For example, if the previous person bet a nickel and you want to bet more than that, you would say "I see (match) your nickel, and raise you (increase the bet) another nickel."
    • Fold: When someone else opens, you can always jump ship and cut your losses. In other words, you "fold." The act of folding is to "give up," place your cards face down on the table, lose whatever you've bet so far, and grab a beer. In other words, you give up early and lose your dough. This option is used when you think your hand is too weak to compete.
  5. At this point, all the players who haven't folded are allowed to get rid of the cards they don't want and take some new cards. A player is permitted to get rid of up to 3 unwanted cards and receive up to 3 new ones from the deck (as long as the player always has 5 cards total). No one sees what anyone else discarded (threw away) or drew (got as a new card). It's all done face down.
  6. After every player draws 0 to 3 new cards, the betting begins again. You have the option of opening or checking, and once someone opens, you can see, raise, or fold. The game ends when there are no more raises (everyone saw everyone else's bet), or everybody folds (except for the winner, of course).
  7. Now it's time for everyone to turn their cards over and see how they fared. The player with the highest hand wins the pot. Some people in this position have been known to laugh maniacally as they scoop up everyone else's dough. If you do that, you're friends will hate you. Thus, we highly recommend it. They'll get over it.

The only way to stay in the game is to not fold. If you have a bad hand and want out quick, then you'd seriously consider folding. If you have what you think could be a good hand (if you could take a few new cards and get good ones), then you would seriously consider staying in. If you have an outstanding hand, then you'll definitely want to stay in. BUT you don't want everyone to know you have a great hand, or else they'll all fold, letting you win the tiny ante pot. The trick is to make everyone else bet a lot, and win even more money.

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