While its mastery takes time and experience, Poker is a rather easy game to learn and start playing. Here’s a beginner’s guide for one of the most common variants of the game – the Texas Hold’em.
The game is simple – at the end of the rounds, the player with the highest-ranking hand (set of 5 cards) wins. Before we discuss the rounds, let’s take a look at the list of possible hands in the order of highest to lowest rank –
ROYAL FLUSH – It comprises of a 10, Jack, Queen, King, and Ace of the same suit (clubs, diamonds, hearts or spades).
STRAIGHT FLUSH – It is made up of five consecutive cards of the same suit.
FOUR OF A KIND – It is made up of four cards of same rank but from different suits and a different fifth card.
FULL HOUSE – It is made up of three cards of same rank but from different suits and a pair of same-ranked cards from different suits.
FLUSH – It is made up of any five cards but from the same suit.
STRAIGHT – It is made up of five cards of consecutive ranks but different suits.
THREE OF A KIND – It is made up of three cards of same rank but from different suits and two different cards.
TWO PAIR – It is made up of two distinct pairs, each made up of cards of same rank but different suits, with a different fifth card.
PAIR – It is made up of one pair of cards of same rank but different suits, with three different cards.
HIGH CARD – It is lowest-ranked hand with no possible aforementioned combinations.
Now that you know the hands, let’s see how the game’s played.
Poker is played around a table in a clockwise direction. There is a designated dealer who is responsible for dishing out and taking back the cards. Before the first round (pre-flop) the player on the left of the dealer is the small blind and the player to his left is the big blind. These two players are mandated to start off with the bets, with the small blind placing a bet that is typically half the amount of the minimum bet (the minimum bet amount is decided by the table) and the big blind placing the minimum bet. The positions of small blind and big blind always shift one player to the left at the end of each round.
After the initial bets are placed, the dealer starts giving two cards to every player, starting off with the small blind to his left, then proceeding clockwise. These cards are called the hole cards which the players keep to themselves. The dealer would go on to burn (discard) a card off the top of the deck at the beginning of each round, to make counting more complicated. Then begin the four rounds, called pre-flop, flop, turn and river.
The pre-flop round begins with the player to the immediate left of the big blind, called ‘under the gun’. This player has three options –
- Say ‘call’ and place an initial bet matching that of the big blind.
- ‘Raise’ the bet to a higher amount. When you ‘raise’, the higher amount becomes the new base amount for the bet the remaining players would need to match to continue playing.
- Say ‘fold’ and leave the game, discreetly returning the cards to the dealer.
After that the game moves to the next player on the left, who then has the same choices – call (match the bet), raise, or fold. This goes on until every player gets a turn to make a choice. After this is done, the bets are placed into the main pool and the game progresses to the next round.
With the flop round, the dealer introduces three cards to the table. These are called community cards and are common for every player, who can consider them alongside their hole cards to make a hand combination. The dealer would go on to introduce one card in each of the next two rounds.
After the community cards are introduced, the round progresses with the designated small blind, who has the following choices –
- Say ‘check’ to avoid betting and pass the turn to the next player. Checking is allowed only until someone ‘calls’ and places a bet.
- Say ‘call’ and place the base bet.
- Raise; or
This goes on until every player gets a turn to make a choice. After this, the bets are once again pooled and the game progresses to the next round.
In the turn round, the dealer introduces a fourth card to the community cards that the players can use to make their combinations. Apart from that, the turn round plays out pretty much the same way as the flop round.
In the final round, called the river round, the dealer introduces a fifth and final card to the community cards, giving the players a total of seven cards (community + hole) to make their combinations. Just like the turn round, the river round plays out pretty much the same way as the flop round.
After the four rounds comes the ‘showdown’, where one by one, starting from the left of the dealer, the players reveal their cards. The highest-ranking hand is declared winner and takes all the winnings from the pool.
In case of same type of hands, the combination with higher-ranking cards wins. In case that also turns out to be the same, the game is declared drawn between the players with the same hands who split the pool equally amongst themselves.