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A poker game in progress

Poker is a popular card game, or group of card games, in which players compete against one another by gambling on the values of each player's hand and betting into a central pot. The objective is to win the pot either by holding the superior hand at the end of the round or by forcing the other players to "fold," or discard their hand.

There are many varieties of poker, all of which follow a similar pattern of play: Dealing, betting, and showing, often with more than one round of dealing or betting. Three basic forms of poker are Draw, Stud, and Community Card poker, each with several variants. Historically, Draw was the first form of poker to evolve. The most popular form of poker today is Texas Hold'em, a form of Community Card poker which has gained a wide following and televises its tournaments to high ratings.

Poker's popularity has skyrocketed in recent years, thanks in large part to online gambling sites, "video-poker" machines in casinos, and the invention of television's "pocket cam," which enables viewers close-up coverage of dramatic, high-stakes poker tournament play from various angles.

Game play

Poker played in a non-casino setting

Poker play typically follows a basic set of rules, regardless of the specific form. The right to deal is usually passed from one player to another in a clockwise fashion. In a casino, a professional dealer will deal every hand. In most games, the dealer position results in being last to act during the betting rounds.

Before cards are dealt, players are typically required to make "forced bets" to create the initial stake, or "pot," for which the players compete. These might be "antes," which are small bets made by each player and placed into the pot, or "blinds," found in popular hold 'em varieties. The "blinds" are two successive, increasing bets made by the players to the immediate left of the dealer which establish the minimum bet for that round. The dealer then deals the cards to the players one at a time, either face up for face down, depending on the variety of the game. After the deal, players may bet, check, call, raise, or fold in accordance with the strategy of the game, adding money or chips to an ever-increasing pot. Subsequent rounds often feature the addition, or sometimes the exchange, of cards in players' hands, changing the hand's value and affecting the individual's playing strategy.

Poker actions are defined as follows:

  • Bet—A player puts money or chips into the pot, establishing the initial amount to be matched by the successive players. Only the first placement of money in the pot is called a "bet." If one player bets and no other player calls or raises, the betting player automatically wins the pot, as the last remaining player.
  • Check—When there is no established bet, players have the option of "checking" and letting the next player make a move. If every player checks, the hand continues to the next round with no changes to the pot size.
  • Call—If a bet is made or raised, a player can "call" the bet by matching the amount of the bet plus the raise, if any, and putting that amount into the pot.
  • Raise—If one player has made a bet, following players may "raise" by pushing an amount greater than the initial bet into the pot. Successive players may match the total amount of the bet plus the raise and then raise again, in which case the action is technically called a "re-raise."
  • Fold—A player who believes his chances of winning are small may decide not to continue any further in the hand, by refusing to match a bet and "folding" his hand by placing his cards face down on the table, thus forfeiting any right to the pot.
U.S. President Harry Truman's poker chips

Because poker involves bets on concealed hand values, "bluffing" becomes an important tactic in an attempt to win pots. Players can force one another out of hands by betting or raising, even when they are holding cards with little value. A bluff is successful when a player, who would have normally lost the hand based on the card value, wins by betting enough to force the other players out of the hand. Because the winner has the option not to show his winning cards, bluffs can become even more valuable by going unnoticed.

If more than one player remains in the hand at the end of the last betting round, there is a "showdown," in which the remaining players reveal their previously concealed cards to evaluate their hands. Typically the player making the initial bet acts first by showing his cards, and the other remaining players do likewise. The player with the best hand wins the pot (There are some exceptions to this, such as Low-Ball, where the worst hand wins, or Omaha Hi-Lo Split, where the best hand will split the pot with the worst hand).

The use of the "wild card" can change the format of the game immensely. Most games can be played with one or more wild cards, which can represent any card the player chooses. Common wild cards are deuces, jokers, sevens, and one-eyed jacks. For example, if a hand was dealt with deuces wild, a hand of 2-7-8-10-J can now become a straight, with the 2 representing a 9 in this player's hand. Wild cards bring into play a rarely seen "Five-of-a-Kind" hand, which trumps four of a kind, and can even trump a straight flush when the straight flush also includes a wild card (see hand rankings below).

Hand Rankings

In poker, as in most card games, there are four suits: Clubs, diamonds, hearts, and spades; and thirteen rank cards, including numerals 2 through 10, the Jack (J), Queen (Q), King (K), and Ace (A). The common poker hand rankings are as follows, listed from strongest to weakest, using a standard 52-card deck and no "wild" cards:

Poker hand ranks from Straight Flush (top) to One Pair (bottom)

1. Straight Flush—five consecutive cards of the same suit, such as the 5-6-7-8-9, all of diamonds. The 10-J-Q-K-A of one suit is called a "Royal Flush" and is an unbeatable hand.

2. Four of a Kind—four cards of matching rank. A-A-A-A would be a better four of a kind than 8-8-8-8. Four of a kind is also known as "quads."

3. Full House—sometimes referred to as a "boat," this is any three cards of matching rank in combination with any two cards of matching rank, such as 6-6-6-Q-Q. If more than one player has a full house, the winner is determined first by the rank of the three matching cards, and then by the rank of the two matching cards. For instance, J-J-J-10-10 is better than 10-10-10-K-K, but inferior to J-J-J-A-A (the need to consider the two matching cards only occurs when wild cards are in use, since no more than one player can have three cards of any rank in a normal 52-card deck).

4. Flush—any five cards of matching suit. The winner of two flushes is determined by comparing the players' highest cards in successive order. For instance, A-K-2-3-4 of any suit wins over A-Q-J-10-5 of any suit.

5. Straight—any five consecutive cards, regardless of suit. In this situation, the Ace is commonly played as either a low or a high card. A-2-3-4-5 is considered a straight, as well as 10-J-Q-K-A. Two or more straights are valued in terms of their highest cards.

6. Three of a Kind—also known as "trips" or a "set," three of a kind is any three matching rank cards, similar to four of a kind.

7. Two Pair—two matching pairs of rank cards, such as A-A-10-10. Multiple two pair hands are valued first by the individual hand's higher pair, then by its lower. For example, A-A-3-3 would beat K-K-Q-Q but lose to A-A-5-5.

8. One Pair—a hand with two matching rank cards. Pairs are measured in terms of the value of the two matching rank cards, so A-A is better than Q-Q.

9. High Card—when there are no pairs, flushes, or straights, the winning hand is determined by the strongest valued card, from 2 (the lowest) to A (the highest).

Tie-breakers: If two players have matching high cards, their next highest card determines the winner. Similarly, if players have matching hands of one pair, two pair, etc., the next highest cards in each player's hand is used to determine the winner. This card is called a "kicker." An Ace would be considered an unbeatable kicker.

Game variants

Over the years, numerous recognized forms of poker have developed as individualized games. In addition to the well-known games, specialized varieties expand the possible forms to unknown quantities. The most popular poker variants are as follows:

Two examples of a full house: The three kings on the right beats the three queens on the left

Draw poker

A standard at home games, especially Five-Card-Draw, players receive five or more cards, depending on the game, all of which remain hidden to the other players. Usually after one round of betting, players may then replace one or more of their cards with new cards from the deck, if they so choose. Draw varieties that involve betting commonly have at least two rounds of betting—once the cards have been dealt and once the cards have been re-drawn. Five-Card Draw was the game of choice of most poker players until recently, as the popularity of the game has been overshadowed by other, more aggressive forms.

Stud poker

Another traditional form of poker, Stud, evolved mainly in the Five- and Seven-Card varieties. The difference between Stud and Draw is that in Stud, players may not exchange their individual cards for new ones from the deck. In the casino Seven-Card game, cards are dealt two down and one up in the first betting round, then three more cards face up with betting rounds following each, and the final card face down. Players use five of their seven cards to make their best hand.

Stud itself has a number of variants, including:

  • High-Low Stud (Eight or Better), a game in which players compete to split the pot between the highest hand and the lowest hand, the Eight or Better signifying that the low hand must have a high card of 8 or lower
  • Razz, a game where players compete as in Seven Card Stud, except they are drawing for the worst hand, not the best
  • Lowball, a game similar to Razz with the exception that flushes and straights are considered made hands and cannot be played for the low pot
  • Blind Stud, a game in which all the players' cards are dealt face-down

With the exception of Blind Stud, the above games can also be played in Draw poker forms as well. Most forms of Stud are played with fixed limits. A 5/10 Stud game would mean that for the first two or three rounds of betting, the bet limit is 5, and beyond that, the bet limit is 10.

Community Card poker

A game of Texas hold'em, currently the most popular form of poker, in progress.

Community Card poker games have received an immeasurable boost in popularity in recent years due to the success of televised poker tournaments for high stakes and huge rewards, especially the keystone of community card poker, No-Limit Texas Hold 'em. The style of play for community games features a set number of down cards, or "pocket" or "hole" cards, dealt to each player, followed by a round of betting, then the deal of the community cards, which typically consist of five cards, dealt out in a three-one-one succession. Players then use a combination of their hole cards and community cards to make their best five card hand. These styles of games feature pre-deal forced bets, called "blinds," which are small incremental bets made by the players to the immediate left of the dealer. The remaining players must match or raise the blind to remain in the hand. The first three cards dealt out are referred to as "the flop," followed by the fourth card ("fourth street" or "the turn"), and the last ("fifth street" or "the river").

Betting games are played in a variety of formats. No Limit means that there is no limit to the amount that each player can bet at any point, with the maximum move being an "all-in," when a player puts all of his or her remaining chips into the pot. Pot Limit is a game where the bet size is capped by the size of the pot. Blinds and Antes help to build the initial pot, and from that point, players may not bet more than what is in the current pot. Limit poker is regulated by small bets that the players can make, and the betting limits usually go up from the first two rounds of betting to the last two rounds of betting.

In Texas Hold 'em, there are only two private cards, the rest being "community cards." The private cards are dealt first.

Styles of Community Card poker include:

  • Texas Hold 'em—currently the most popular form of poker, in which players are dealt two cards face down which they may use in any combination with the five community cards (often called "the board") to make the best hand
  • Omaha—played like Texas Hold 'em with the exception that players are dealt four cards face down and must use two and exactly two of their hole cards in combination with the board to make the best hand (Omaha is also played in Hi/Lo Split forms, where the best and worst hands split the pot)
  • Pineapple—a game with many forms, the basis of which is that players are initially dealt three cards face down, and they discard one of them either before or after the flop, and play continues as in Hold 'em
  • Manila—a game in which all cards lower than 7 are removed from the deck, the community cards are dealt out one by one, and players must use both of their hole cards in combination with three from the board to make their hand (with the short deck, a flush beats a full house).


The origins of poker are buried beneath a mixed and uncertain history, and is in many cases a matter of debate. The style of the game was influenced in part by the English game three-card brag which, like poker, heavily incorporated bluffing, and was a descendant form of the game brelan from France. Other card games and gambling games influenced the evolution of poker as well, including the Italian game primero, which features players competing against each other to win a hand with established values for card combinations. However, the Persian game As Nas most closely resembles poker, and was spread by Persian sailors throughout the 1700s and 1800s, likely to French settlers in the Louisiana territory. As Nas is a betting game played with a collection of five rank cards, each repeated four or five times. Matches of the cards are played in hand rankings similar to poker, with pairs, three of a kind, full house, and four of a kind.

Poker was a popular gambling game on Mississippi riverboats.

Poker game play was documented in the early 1800s by author Jonathan H. Green, whose book An Exposure of the Arts and Miseries of Gambling (1843), described much of the development of gambling games on Mississippi riverboats and in the settlement of New Orleans. It was in New Orleans in 1829, that English actor James Cromwell noted the game, which at the time consisted of only 20 cards and limited variations, though the format of play was largely the same. Beyond Louisiana, poker became a staple of the pioneer west, played commonly in saloons and gaming halls.

English 52-card decks were introduced for use in the game in the mid-1800s, expanding the game play and introducing an entire set of new card combinations and hand values. With the increased capability came variation, in the form of draw poker, five-card stud, flushes, and straights, with many of the changes occurring around the time of the American Civil War, when the game was played often by militia on both sides. After the Civil War, more developments and game formats came into existence, including High/Low Split, Lowball, and Community Card Poker. These changes spread back to European countries until World War II, and to many other places around the world before and after, as a result of game's popularity among the U.S. military.

Poker became widely popular in recent years with the rise of the game of No-Limit Texas Hold 'em, called "the Cadillac of poker," with its high stakes and aggressive style. Tournament poker began in casinos in the early 1970s, with the introduction of the World Series of Poker event, which at the time featured a select few players in a tightly knit society of gamblers. The early stars of poker are now legends, Johnny Moss, Amarillo Slim, Bobby Baldwin, Doyle Brunson, and Crandell Addington. These players helped to introduce the relatively unknown game to big money casinos at the start of its popularity. They were also the first to start analyzing the strategy of poker, which was introduced to the public for the first time in Doyle Brunson's 1979 book The Super/System.

250pxPoker Room at the Trump Taj Mahal, Atlantic City, New Jersey

Since the start of the twenty-fist century, poker's popularity has skyrocketed, thanks in large part to online gambling sites and the invention of television's "pocket cam," which enabled viewers to see the hole cards of players on television, making the game a much more viewer-friendly experience. Television coverage of major tournaments, especially ESPN's World Series of Poker, exhibited the game for millions of fans. The large (sometimes multi-million dollar) payouts and the triumph of "everyman" amateur players, notably 2003 WSOP Main Event Champion Chris Moneymaker and 2004 Champion Greg Raymer, spawned enormous growth among the amateur poker demographic. Poker has been developing a distinctly more international character, with the popularity of the game and its many forms picking up throughout Europe, especially in Scandinavia, and across the Asian continent and South America. Poker's increased worldwide popularity led to the 2006 WSOP Main Event, the $10,000 entry-fee No Limit Hold 'em World Championship, which had a record 8,773 entrants and a $12 Million first prize for the winner.

Poker in popular culture


For a long time, poker and its terminology have been referenced in popular culture to mean a variety of different interpretations. Many of the phrases have been in use for so long that they have become tired expressions, used commonly and across all social boundaries. These expressions are used by many people regardless of the awareness of their poker origins. The following is a collection of English and American popular phrasing drawn from poker jargon:

  • "Ace in the hole:" From the term "hole cards" in 7-Card Stud, an Ace in the hole refers to a very strong asset that one holds concealed from everyone else in play.
  • "Ace up one's sleeve:" Similar to ace in the hole, however, the connotation here refers to a common style of cheating, holding a strong card up one's sleeve.
Video poker machine displays four aces.
  • "Blue chip:" In reference to the common set of poker chips (white, red, blue), blue chips are usually played as the most valuable. Blue chip in popular culture refers to a variety of subjects—in investment terms, a very profitable stock or fund; in athletic terms, a rare talent with a high value based on the athlete's potential to develop; or another type of asset deemed to have the highest value.
  • "Call one's bluff:" Coming from the poker concept of bluffing, "calling one's bluff" is a cliché term that refers to the act of being willing to take the risk of matching someone's declaration, under the assumption that they were representing something they could not back up.
  • "Cash in/Cash out:" These terms are widely used to refer to putting one's money either into or out of a game, competition, investment, or valuable situation, similar to buying chips in or selling them out of a poker game.
  • "Ante up/Up the ante:" "Ante up" typically refers to a situation which requires the participants to affirm their inclusion in the event, such as calling members to come forward and establish their stake, or else remove themselves from contention. "Up the ante" refers to a situation which requires a larger stake to be sacrificed to remain in contention or participatory in a situation.
  • "Poker face:" In reference to the poker player's stoic expression, someone uses a "poker face" in a situation where they want to express serious intent, devoid of personal emotion that might betray their feelings.
  • "Wild card:" Typically refers to an unpredictable element that may determine the outcome of an event. In professional sports, the "wild card" is a team that reaches the championship playoff without having won their region or division. In computing, the wild card character (commonly *, ? or %) can refer to other characters in typical expressions.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Brunson, Doyle. The Super/System. New York: Cardoza, 1979. ISBN 1-58042-081-8
  • Scarne, John. Scarne's Guide to Modern Poker. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1979. ISBN 978-0671247966
  • Sklansky, David. The Theory of Poker, 3rd edition. Las Vegas: Two Plus Two Publications, 1994. ISBN 978-1880685006
  • Spanier, David. Total Poker. Oldcastle Books, Limited, 2006. ISBN 978-1843440062

External links

All links retrieved November 24, 2022.


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