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Playing poker – The Basics

Poker is a card game that can be played for fun or played for real money – both types of play, however, still require you to place bets. There are many different types of poker games to choose from, including popular Texas Hold’em, Omaha Hi, and Seven Card Stud as well as other versions such as Guts, Pan, Big 2 and Chinese Poker (also known as 13 Card Poker).

Cards are usually dealt completely or partially face down, depending on the type of poker game being played. The aim of poker is to make the best hand possible with a five-card combination. The player with the highest hand combination therefore wins the hand. Simple enough right? But often the player with the lowest hand can go on to win the pot – which is where the skill of playing poker comes in. More about this later – let’s familiarize you with the mechanics of poker first.

The main objective in a poker game is to win the money from the pot, which is the sum of all bets placed by all players involved in the hand. The pot is placed in the center of the table, and awarded to the winning player of the hand.

Staying in the game

During the hand, players place their bets with chips (coin-like tokens used to represent different values of money such as $1, $5, $10, $25, $50, $100 and so on). Each hand consists of a number of betting rounds during which players bet chips in order to stay in the game. Staying in the game implies that you have a strong hand, and could potentially win the pot.

If your hand is weak, and yet you choose to stay in the game regardless, you are taking part in a practice called ‘bluffing’ – pretending that your hand is stronger than it actually is. Those players who feel their hands are not strong enough to compete for the pot will withdraw from the hand, or ‘fold’. A successful bluffer will be able to convince others that his hand is higher, causing them to fold, often on hands that are stronger than the bluffer’s. This is the skill behind poker, and what has made the game so popular for hundreds of years.

As other players in the game could potentially be bluffing, it is important to know when to fold and when to continue betting. Making this decision depends on certain factors:

  • The total amount of chips you have left
  • Your position at the table
  • The amount of chips other players have left
  • The other players’ behavior in previous rounds
  • The strength of your hand of cards
  • And the possibility of the next card drawn being helpful to you

These are just a few of the factors to take into consideration when choosing to bet or fold – there are many others that could be taken into account. There is no one way to play a hand, as each hand is different, with a range of variables making every one unique. Because of this, it is very important to know when to play a hand, and when not to, as there are no second chances in poker.

To win a hand, you have two choices:

  • You can play the entire hand, showing your cards at the end, with the pot going to the player with the strongest hand.
  • Or you can cause all your opponents to fold their cards by playing in a way that suggests you have the strongest hand. Even if your hand is weak, if all the opposing players fold, you are the winner.

Most poker games require either that you pay an ante or a blind before receiving your cards. These are obligatory bets to ensure there is money in the pot on every hand, and to keep the momentum of the game going right from the beginning of the hand.

All players who wish to be dealt cards to start the hand post antes. Blinds are posted by the two players immediatelyleft of the dealer. The dealer (from where the cards are dealt) is represented by a round piece that says ‘Dealer’ or ‘D’. The dealer’s position at the table is rotated after each hand – in this way a different player pays the blind at the start of every game in order to ensure fairness.

Blinds are measured by the limit of the table – the limit being the amount of money you are allowed to bring to the table. There are two blinds – the big and the small; typically the small blind is half the amount of the big blind, but can also be an amount ranging from one third to two thirds of the big blind.

Each round of the hand gives you a range of betting options:

  • Check: If you are the first player to act in a betting hand, you will have no previous bets that force you to involve funds. This means that you can ‘check’, passing the play onto the next player while still being an active participant in the hand.
  • Bet: Again, as the first player to act, you can choose to place a bet with the intention of winning the pot and showing that you have a hand worth your money.
  • Call: This is an option you will have after a player before you has placed a bet or raised. This will require you to match the bet amount if you want to continue playing the hand.
  • Raise: You will be given the option of raising the current betting amount in play, once a player before you has made a bet or a raise. Your raise will then increase the last amount wagered prior to your turn, to at least double the amount of the previous bet
  • Fold: If you do not wish to continue playing a hand, you can choose to withdraw, or ‘fold’. Your cards will be returned to the dealer, and you will stay out of play for the rest of the hand.

Your game strategy and style is what determines your enjoyment of the game. Do you sharpen your poker skills by bluffing, do you raise the stakes and cause your opponents to make mistakes, or do you rely on the strength of your hand and play conservatively? The more you play, the more defined and sophisticated your style will become. But never forget, no matter how skilled or experienced you are, luck also plays a part in your hand.

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