Before you head off to the Casino Royale for a high stakes game of Texas Hold’em Poker, you’ll need to know a few of the basics of poker, including the object of the game, and the principles of betting and folding.
The Object of the Game
There are two ways to win a hand of poker: have the best poker hand of every player, or the other players have folded their hands, leaving you as the last player standing. So what are the âbest hands,â and what does it mean to âfold?â First thingâs first.
Breaking down a hand of basic poker to the bare bones would look something like this: You have two players. They shuffle a deck of cards, and then deal out five cards for each of them. From those five cards, each hopes to make a poker hand that will beat the hand of the other player. So what constitutes a good poker hand?
First of all, what is a âhandâ? This word has more than one meaning. If we talk about âa hand of poker,â weâre basically talking about one round of cards, from the time the cards are dealt and until there is a winner, and the cards are reshuffled. One game of poker will have many hands of cards. On the other hand, if we refer to âyour poker hand,â weâre talking about the combination of cards you make up. You want to get a good poker hand. So what are the good hands? Starting from the lowest and working up to the best hands, goes like this:
POKER HAND RANKINGS
High card: The card with the highest rank (numerical value, 2 through Ace) in the hand wins. If neither of us has even a pair of something, if my highest card is a Jack, and your highest card is a Queen, you win. If there are no other combinations, the highest card wins the hand.
One Pair: A pair is two cards of the same rank. If you hold a 3?, 6?, 8?, 8?, 10?, then you hold a pair of 8s.
Two Pair: Two cards of the same rank, plus two cards of another rank. If you have 3?, 3?, 5?, 5?, 7?, you have a two pairs, 3s and 5s.
Three of a Kind: Also called trips, this hand contains three cards of the same rank. If you have 7?, J?, J?, J?, K?, you have three Jacks, or âtrip Jacks.â
Straight: A straight is a poker hand that contains five cards of sequential rank. Five cards in numerical succession, such as 2?, 3?, 4?, 5?, 6?, or 10?, J?, Q?, K?, A? make a straight.
Flush: This is a poker hand that contains five cards of the same suit, in any sequence. (The four suits in a deck of cards are hearts, diamonds, clubs, and spades.) So, if you have 3?, 6?, 7?, 9?, Q? and theyâre all clubs, thatâs a flush.
Full House: A full house, or a âfull boat,â is a hand thatâs made up of three of a kind and two of a kind. So 5?, 5?, 5?, 2?, 2? is a full house. If you have a hand of A?, A?, A?, J?, J?, you are said to have âaces full of jacks,â or simply, âaces full.â
Four of a Kind: Four of a kind, also known as âquads,â is a poker hand that contains four cards of one rank. So a hand of 8?, 8?, 8?, 8?, 3? is four of a kind. Since there are only four cards of the same rank in a single deck, four of a kind is a tough hand to get.
Straight Flush: You know what a straight is, and you know what a flush is. A straight flush is a poker hand that contains five cards in numerical succession, all of the same suit. So a 3?, 4?, 5?, 6?, 7?, all of hearts, is a straight flush.
Royal Flush: A royal straight flush is the ultimate hand in poker. It is made up of 10?, J?, Q?, K?, A?, all of the same suit. The odds of getting this hand are astronomical: 1 in about 649,739!
Remember, the highest numerical hand wins. When two players have the same hands, the higher hand (the hand that contains the higher numerical value) is the winning hand. For instance, a pair of 8s beats a pair of 7s; simple enough. But, if two players have a straight, and one holds 3?, 4?, 5?, 6?, 7? and the other holds 6?, 7?, 8?, 9?, 10?, then the hand ending with the 10 wins. If two players have a full house, A?, A?, A?, K?, K? beats K?, K?, K?, A?, A? (the term is, âaces-full beats kings-fullâ).
Also, if two players each have a pair of 3s but one player has a higher card in their hand, the player with the high card wins. This is called having a âbetter kicker.â The âkickersâ are the leftover cards, the ones that donât contribute to your best combination. For example, you are holding 3?, 6?, 7?, 7?, 9?, and Iâm holding 2?-4?-7?-7?-8?; your kickers are the 3?-6?-9?, while my kickers are 2?-4?-8?. Since we both have a pair of 7s, your 9 will out-rank my 8, so you have the better kicker.
Thatâs the hand rankings for the game of poker. If you are new to poker, itâs not a bad idea to write down these rankings and keep them nearby.
So we understand that the player with the best hand wins, but I also mentioned that the other way to win is: the other players might fold, and you can win just by being the last player still in the hand. So what is folding?
Consider that poker is a game of risk. Folding simply means that you can opt out of the hand when youâve decided you donât want to risk any more of your chips. In other words, to fold means to forfeit the hand. This sounds like defeat, but quite to the contrary, this is often your best strategy.
Now while you will not always win, consider that there are two successful ways to complete a hand of poker: you can win the hand, or you can opt out of the hand before you have risked very much, or any, of your chip stack.
You never need to fold until itâs time to match, or âsee,â another playerâs bet. Seeing refers to when one of the players has made a bet, and you match that bet to continue playing. For example, if the player across from you raises the bet by ten dollars, you could respond by saying, âIâll see your ten.â The point is, if another player bets $10, then must also risk $10 of your money to stay in the hand.
And remember, unless you are down to just two players, winning at poker is not a fifty-fifty proposition. Unlike a typical casino game like Blackjack, where you are playing against a dealer, to win at poker, you must out-match every player in the hand. So if you donât feel you have a strong enough hand to win (and assuming you arenât bluffing yet), you generally want to fold.
Players who consistently win are the ones who know when to fold. If you choose your battles wisely, and for the most part, only stay in when you feel you have a strong enough hand to win, you can survive in the game, and eventually seize upon good opportunities and start to amass a large chip stack. So when youâre in a position where your hand is weak, and you reach the point when you have to choose to put more money in to stay in the hand, be careful: youâll generally want to fold. The key is choosing your battles carefully. Your motto should be, âlive to die another day.â
So weâve covered what the winning hands are, and weâve established that winning the game means you either have the best hand, or the other players have folded, leaving you the last man standing. We also said that the object of the game was winning the pot. So letâs talk about the pot for a second. How does all that money get into the pot? Well, that happens when the players start to call and raise bets. Letâs talk about the terminology that goes along with betting.
In a poker game youâre going to hear someone say, âAnte up!â The term âanteâ has sort of a duel meaning, as both a noun and a verb. The ante (noun) is the wager; the established minimum bet. Players will establish what the ante is for the game. You could be playing with nickels and dimes, or you could be in a high-stakes poker tournament in Montenegro with a $10 million buy-in. Ante (verb) means itâs time for the players to put up the minimum bets to get the betting ball rolling. So if a player tells you to ante, heâs asking you to place your bet.
In most poker variations, all players will start the game off by making an ante, so that thereâs already some money in the pot as you begin the hand, and before you start to make more bets. In Holdâem poker, the ante betting is a little different than other poker games. Here you have whatâs called a âblind,â which is an ante, but the way blind works is: only two players are required to place that primer bet before the start of each hand. Weâll discuss the blind in more depth as we get into actual game play, but essentially it means that instead of every player throwing in an ante at the beginning of each hand, just two players will be required to place bets; these are referred to as the âsmall blindâ and the âbig blind.â Players take turns being responsible for the blind bets as the deal rotates around the table, and as the names suggest, the small blind is a smaller bet than the big blind, normally half the size. So, for example, if the big blind is $50, the small blind would be $25.
Once the blinds have been established and the game gets under way, there will be rounds of betting during each hand, and youâll be betting (or not) according to the strength of your hand (unless of course, youâre bluffing, but weâll discuss that later).
There are four options when itâs your turn to act; check, call, raise, or fold.
If you choose not to make a bet and no one has bet before you, you can opt to âcheck.â âCheckingâ means youâre still in the hand, but you werenât required to put any money in the pot, so you chose not to bet. If another player makes a bet, it leaves you with three options. You can âcallâ that bet; âcallingâ means you are matching what the player before you put into the pot. If a player bets $10, you can say âcall,â and slide your $10 forward to match him. Or you can âraiseâ the bet, meaning you matched the amount your opponent bet, and youâre now going raise the bet to a greater amount. If a player bets $10, you can raise it and bet $20. And donât forget, this is also the time where you can choose to fold. If the bet is high and you donât want to stay in, you can say, âtoo rich for my blood,â and surrender the hand.
One thing to note about betting and raising: If you want to raise, then you must raise by at least the minimum bet. For example, if the big blind is $10, then you canât raise the bet by $5 when itâs your turn to act, you must raise by at least $10.
Those are the basic elements of betting in poker, but of course there is a certain art to deciding when to call, when to raise (and how much to raise,) and when to fold. Thatâs why Texas Holdâem poker has rapidly become one of the most popular games in the casino. Thereâs a great deal of skill and strategy involved in Texas Holdâem, as opposed to many other poker games which can often be dismissed as, as Vesper might say, âa game of luck.â Not only is there much more action in Holdâem poker, but itâs also where youâll find players get deeply into bluffing, so youâll need to start working on your âpoker face.â
That about sums it up for the rules of basic poker. Check back soon for the more specific rules on Texas Hold’em Poker.