- One standard deck of 52 cards
- One or two jokers as “wild” cards if desired
- Betting chips or cash
Two to eight or more. Certain forms of poker can be played by up to 14 people. No alliances are allowed; a player may play only for himself
The usage of some poker terms is not standard. In the following text a “hand” means the cards, or the particular combination of cards held by the player.
A single game, from one shuffle to then next, is here called a “play” (rather than a “hand”)
Each player tries to maximise his winnings. On each play all bets are put into a common pool (the “pot”). One player wins the pool on a play if:
- They hold a higher ranking hand than anyone still betting at the end (the “showdown”); or
- All other players drop out of the betting before the showdown in the belief that they cannot win
Rank of cards
Cards rank in the normal order. Ace usually ranks high, except in the 5,4,3,2 ace sequence; in a “high-low” game it may rank either high or low. Sometimes low ranking cards (2s, 3s and even 4s and 5s) are removed from the deck to speed up the game. The suits are not ranked.
See the Hand Rankings list:
Hands of the same rank
When poker hands are of the same rank, the winning hand is decided by the rank of the cards involved. The following rules apply where no wild cards are used
- Straight flush: the highest ranking card in the sequence decides the best hand. Thus a royal flush is the highest when there are no wild cards. Note that the Ace in a 5, 4, 3, 2, ace sequence ranks low, so this hand would be beaten by a 6, 5, 4, 3, 2. The same rule applies to straights
- Four of a kind: the hand with the highest ranking matched card wins.
- Full house: the hand with the highest ranking “three of a kind” wins
- Flush: the hand with the highest ranking card wins. If the highest cards are the same denomination, the next highest are compared. This continues down to the lowest, until a difference is found.
- Straight: as for a straight flush
- Three of a kind: as for a four of a kind
- Two pairs; the hand with the highest raking pair wins. If the higher pairs in the two hands are the same, the lower pairs are compared. If both pairs in the two hands are the same, the hand with the highest unmatched card wins.
- One pair: the hand with the highest ranking pair wins. If the pairs in the two hands are the same, the highest unmatched cards are compared. If these are the same, the next highest are compared. If these are the same, the next highest are compared. This continues down to the lowest, until a difference is found
- High card: as for flush
Hands tie if they contain exactly the same denominations; the suits are irrelevant. Hands that tie as highest in the showdown divide the pool between them. If the pool is not exactly divisible, the amount left over goes to the player who was “called” (i.e. the player who made the highest bet)
Sometimes at the beginning of a game the players decide to designate certain cards “wild”. A wild card is one that may represent any denomination. Any card or any group of cards may be designated, but the following are popular choices:
- The joker (or two jokers);
- The “deuce” or 2 of spades if the jokers are not available ;
- All the deuces
- All the deuces and “treys” (the 3s)
- Red 10s
In some forms of the game, a card that occupies a particular position in the game may count as wild, for example each players “hole” (concealed) card in some stud poker games. Two alternative rules govern the use of a wild card. The holder may either:
- use it to represent any card (denomination and suit) he does not hold ; or
- use it to represent any card, even if he holds that card.
In either case, a wild card ranks the same as the card it represents. If a joker is used as a wild card, it may be used either like any other wild card or, alternatively as a “bug”. The bug may be used to represent only an ace or any card the player needs to complete a straight or a flush. Again, the use of the joker as the bug may or may not be limited to cards not held by the players.
Hands with wild cards
Wild cards rank exactly the same as the cards they stand for, so when comparing hands of the same rank, ties are possible between same denomination fours, full houses and threes. With fours and threes, the rank of the other cards in the hands decides the winner where possible. If hands with wild cards are identical rank, the hand with no or fewer wild cards, wins. If there are the same number of wild cards, the hands tie. Where wild cards are used for any card (even one held by the player) two new hands are possible.
- Five of a kind: five cards of the same denomination. This ranks as highest hand, above a straight flush.
- Double ace high flush: a flush including two aces. This ranks above flush and below full house.
Sometimes a wild card my be used only to make a five of a kind- but not to make double ace high flush. This must be decided before start of play.
- A player may not attempt to make a private arrangement with any other player (e.g. divide the pool without a showdown) ;
- waive his turn as a dealer, unless physically unable to deal;
- look at the discards (either before or after the showdown), at undealt cards, at another players hand, or at a hole card ( in stud poker);
- take chips or money from the pool during play, except as correct change for a verbally stated bet;
- leave the table taking his cards with him (he should ask another player, preferably a non-active one, to play his hand for him – if he fails to do so and misses his turn, his hand is dead)
Bluffing is allowed (i.e. trying to mislead other players by statement, actions or manner). Bluffing may include making announcements out of turn about one’s hand or plan of playing so as to make one’s hand seem weaker than it is. Sarcasm, heckling and derision are allowed – help is not!
In a single play there will be at least one betting interval, and normally two or more. These always follow receipt of cards by player but the precise number and when they occur depend on the form of poker being played.
In each betting interval, a certain player will have the right to bet or not to bet first. (How he is chosen depends on the form of the game).
Thereafter players bet or do not bet in a clockwise rotation.
Principles of betting
All bets on a play are placed together near the centre of the table to form a pool. One player bets first (“opens the betting”). Thereafter, each player in turn must either “drop out”, “stay in” or “raise”.In his turn, a player announces what he is doing prior to placing any chips in the pool. For a first bet or a raise, he also announces the amount of the bet or the raise. A bet is not considered made until the bettor has removed his hand from the chips bet: until then it can be withdrawn.
- Drop out (or “fold”): the player discards his hand and gives up his chance of winning the pool on this play. A player may drop out at any time, even if he has previously bet on this play or in this interval; but any chips he has already bet remain in the pool and go to the pool winner. A player who has dropped out is no longer “active” and may not take further action in this play.
- Stay in (or “call” or “see”); the player puts in just enough chips to make the total bet he has bet so far in this play exactly equal to the total bet by the payer with the highest total bet.
- Raise up (or “up” or “go better”): the player puts in enough chips to stay in, plus an additional number. The additional amount is that by which he “raises the last bet”. Every other player in the game must either then stay in(by bringing his total bet up to the raises amount), drop out, or raise again (“reraise”)
Checking is allowed in many games of poker. A player who checks at the beginning of a betting interval stays in the game for the moment without making a bet. If all payers check, the betting interval ends. But if one player bets, the interval continues as usual: all other players (including those who have checked) must now stay in, drop out or raise. To stay in, a player who has checked must equal the highest bet made so far. If all players check on the first betting interval, the play is void and ends. The next player in turn deals the round.
End of the betting interval.
The betting interval ends when either:
- all players have checked;
- only one player is still active (and therefore wins), all the others having dropped out; or
- the bets of active players are equalised. This happens when all players still active have put equal amounts in the pool and the turn has come around again to the last person to raise (or, if no one raised, to the person who opened the betting): he may not then raise again. AS long as the bets are unequal any player may raise, but as soon as the bets are equal, no one may raise.
Passing may mean either:
- To drop out; or
- to check (where checking is allowed)
In games where checking is allowed, a player who says “pass” is assumed to be checking, if checking is available to him. (A player shows that he is dropping out by discarding his hand). Games in which no checking is allowed are referred to as “pass and out” (or “pass out” or “bet and drop”).
Sandbagging is poker slang for either:
- checking to disguise a good hand – this is sometimes considered unethical, but is better accepted as a regular part of bluffing; or
- constant raising or re-raising by two players, forcing a third along with them if he wishes to stay in the play.
Raising to force out other players is an essential part of poker, but beyond a certain point it can spoil the game’s character. Two optional rulings can keep it in check: limiting raises, and freezing raises.
A limit on raises
A limit on raises is often agreed beforehand. Possible limits are
- three (or sometimes two) by one player in one betting interval
- a total of three by all players in one betting interval.
Freezing the raise
Freezing the raise is becoming accepted procedure. If there have been two or more raises (whether by one or several players), in a single betting interval, any player who has not raised in that betting interval may “freeze the raise”. In addition to betting sufficient to stay in, he bets a previously agreed amount, usually two to five times the normal maximum bet. Other active players must then drop out or stay in by equalling his bet. This action only freezes the raise for this betting interval.
Side bets are sometimes made between players. For example, in a “high card bet” in stud poker, players bet on who will have the highest first upcard.
A player may not:
- bet for another player
- borrow money or chips from another payer during a play;
- take back a bet after it has been placed in the pool and the bettors hand has been removed. An inadequate bet must be added to, otherwise it is lost and the payers cards are dead.
The system to be used must be decided upon before play. The betting limits are also the raise limits. Note that a player forced to bet, for example, the maximum amount to stay in, may still in that turn raise by the maximum (an by any lesser amount).
Fixed minimum and maximum amounts are specified before play starts. Sometimes it is agreed that either
- any amount between the limits is acceptable as a bet or raise;
- only specified amounts between the limits are acceptable as a bet or raise ; or
- no amount between the limits is acceptable as a bet or raise.
Specified limits, varying
The minimum and maximum limits change during play ; for example limits for the final betting are always twice the earlier limits.
Last bet limit
The opening bet is agreed by agreed limits. Thereafter, the maximum bet or raise is the amount put in the pool by the previous bettor’s actions. Players must decide that either:
- each betting interval recommences at the original limits or ;
- continuous growth is allowed over a single play.
The opening bet is governed by agreed limits. Thereafter, the maximum bet or raise is the total amount in the pool at that time. To calculate this, a player wishing to raise may include in the pool total the sum needed for him to stay in. Agreement on an absolute maximum is still necessary.
Before the session, each player puts any amount of money he wishes onto the table, or buys chips to that amount. ( A minimum is agreed beforehand, and sometimes a maximum too.) Any amount a player wins is added to his table amount. He may also from his own pocket, increase the table amount – but not during a play, and only by at least the agreed minimum. During a play a player may not:
- Borrow from or owe money to the pool;
- decrease his table amount or withdraw chips from it
- sell chips back to the banker until he withdraws from the game.
The maximum betting limit for a player is his table amount at the time (the minimum is the amount agreed beforehand). If a players table amount is used up in a play, he has the right to remain in for the main pool showdown. Any amounts bet by other players, above the amount he has bet, are put into a side pool.
A player can bet or raise any amount. He may borrow during a play, if he can, but he may not put IOUs in the pool. To stay in, he must equal the highest bet. IN the old no limit games a player had 24 hours to raise the money for a bet. No limit games have no virtually disappeared.
This can be played with any limits system except table stakes. Before the session, each player puts an equal number of chips on the table in front of him. Winnings are added to this amount, but no players may add new chips, lend chips or remove chips from the game. As soon as a player has lost all his chips, he drops out. The session continues until one player has won all the chips.
This ruling can be played with any limits system. It applies if all other players drop out in a play, after one player has opened the betting. In the next play and before the deal the other must each “ante”(put) into the pool an amount equal to the single bet made in the previous play. The new maximum limit (for this play only) is the total amount now in the pool before play starts (providing that this is higher than the normal maximum). The minimum is as usual.
This ruling can be played with any limits system. After the appearance of any very good hand (e.g. full house or better), the usual or opening limits are doubled for the next play. Sometimes the special limits hold for the next round of play i.e. one deal by each player.