By Abigail Hartung, David S. LewisPublished October 1, 2012
Poker is the quintessential card game. Before ESPN deemed it sport, serious poker was left to serious professionals; before the Internet, there weren’t very many of those. Now chances are good that you or someone you know is an enthusiast (regular player that claims expertise.)
The new Hollywood Casino will undoubtedly host plenty of “no-limit” tournaments in their 30-table room, but the regular play is going to be mostly “limit” Hold ’Em, which is very similar but with some important strategic exceptions.
In a casino, table play is against the other players at the table, with the house (casino) facilitating play. For their end of the deal, the casino takes a “rake” (certain percentage of every pot) – this is for the service of providing a professional dealer, a professional table, and for you not spending money on other games while you sit there duking it out with everybody else. (It is also customary to tip the dealer on a winning hand.)
A single 52-card deck is used, jokers removed.
A plastic disk called a “button” is used to indicate the “dealer” and passes in front of each player in turn. While the cards are always dealt by the casino’s dealer, a strategic advantage is gained from the dealer position, as it’s the last to act, allowing him or her to bet with the least amount of risk.
Before each hand, “blinds” must be posted by the Big Blind and the Small Blind. Instead of an ante system, in which each player assumes some degree of risk before receiving their cards, the blinds work as a roving ante, in which two players assume all the initial risk for the hand before seeing any cards (in other words, a “blind” bet). This is what allows the dealer position to retain a strategic advantage, as the player to the left of the dealer (the Small Blind) is compelled to wager half the minimum bet for the round, and the player two seats to the left of the dealer (the Big Blind) is compelled to wager the minimum bet for the round. Blinds usually go up periodically during game play for a no-limit or “tournament” style game. In limit Hold ’Em, the blinds usually stay the same.
The dealer deals each player two cards, starting with the player to the left of the dealer and dealing clockwise around the table. Both cards are dealt face down.
Then, beginning with the player to the left of the Big Blind (the first player in the rotation to have not risked a wager) each player (in turn! Never bet out of turn) has the option to either “call” (to match a wager that has been placed) the Big Blind, “raise” (to increase the amount of the wager), or to “fold” (to surrender, in this case having risked nothing) in a clockwise direction around the table.
This round of betting is based entirely on those first two cards. Refer to our chart (page 60), powered by the Wizard of Odd’s fantastic statistical analysis, for a good breakdown of which two initial cards are the strongest, and which are the weakest.
When the last player has acted (whether betting, calling, or raising), the round of betting is over, and the next round begins. The dealer deals one card face down (a “burn” card, not to be used in play, but to prevent cheating) and then three cards face up, known as the “flop.” All players use those three cards, in addition to the two in their hand, to make the best five-card poker hand they can (see below for ranking of poker hands).
For this and subsequent rounds of betting, the player to the left of the dealer (the player with the “Button” – not the casino’s dealer) acts first, as there are no blinds to resolve. This time, the player may either place a wager (equal to or greater than the minimum) bet on the table in front of them, or he can check, which means passing the option of the first bet to the next player. If he (or any other player) should check, then the next player may also check, or make a wager of their own. It’s not uncommon for a table to check all the way around, in which case the round betting is over. However, if any player does make a bet, each player (still in turn! Never play out of turn!) must either call that bet, raise it, or fold (discarding the hand and forfeiting all wagers up to that point).
After all players have either folded or called the wager, play begins again. The casino’s dealer will burn another card and then deal one face up on the table, known as the “turn.” Another round of betting occurs, again with play starting to the left of the dealer (or whoever is closest to the left of the dealer and hasn’t folded).
Now, each player has a six-card hand – four “community” cards (the flop and the turn), in addition to the initial two cards they were dealt face down. After this round is completed, another card is burned, and a final community card is dealt face up on the table; this is known as the “river.” One more round of betting occurs, and the player with the highest five-card poker hand wins the pot.
If there is a tie between two or more players, the excess chip is given to the first player with cards, clockwise from the dealer Button.
Only newbies fold after a check even if your cards are terrible, go ahead and check, just in case the entire table checks to see the next card or cards; your hand could “pair up” or otherwise improve, and you can always just fold after someone makes a bet.
To Keep in Mind
A player just arriving at the table should either wait for the Big Blind position to come around to them, or put up an amount equivalent to the Big Blind, in essence calling the blind in advance.
» Players do not have to use both of the cards in their hand in the final five-card hand.
» The two unused cards in a player’s hand are never used to determine the outcome of a tie, only the five cards they’ve chosen to make their hand with. Occasionally, the winner will be determined merely by a high card or a single pair. If two players tie with a pair or high (or with a two-pair or a three-of-a-kind), the next highest cards in the player’s five-card (or “best”) hand will be used to determine the winner.
» In the event of a player running out of chips to wager in the middle of a hand, betting may continue with a side pot; players still betting call the maximum of the short-stacked player and any further betting is done in a side pot. The player who is out of money is only eligible to win the pot he was able to wager into. As many side pots as necessary may be made, should other players run out of money.
Rankings of Five Card Poker Hands
From strongest to weakest, these are values of the different possible hands
The highest ranked hand in the game, this is five consecutive cards of the same suit (The Ace, 2, 3, 4 and 5 of Hearts, for example). In the rare event of two players both with Straight Flushes, the hand with the higher top card wins. Contrary to common belief, the “Royal Flush” is really just the most highly ranked Straight Flush, and not a special kind of hand in and of itself.
Four of a Kind
Four cards of the same rank. (Ace, Ace, Ace, Ace, 6)
The most common in poker terminology, if not the most common hand, the “full boat” is three cards of the same rank, and two of another. Between two or more “boats,” the more highly-ranked three of a kind wins. (6, 6, 6, J , J)
Commonly mistaken as a lower-ranked hand than the straight, any five cards of the same suit (except for a higher ranking straight flush) can crop up easily when a hand goes to the “river.” (A, Q, 8, 4 , 3 of Hearts)
Five consecutive cards of any suit, except for a higher ranking straight flush. (8, 9, 10, J, Q of Spades)
Three of a kind
Three cards of the same rank, plus any other two cards. (5, 5, Q, 2, 5)
Two pairs, plus any fifth card. (8, 8, 2, 2, Q)
A pair and any other three cards. (7, 7, 2, 5, A)
Any five cards that do not form any higher poker hand. A King-high hand for example might be (K, Q, 7, 5 ,4 )