The earliest direct reference to the game Poker shows it’s origins in New Orleans around 1830. By the mid 1830’s the popularity of Poker had spread from the Mississippi river to the east via the railroad. Poker is perhaps the most popular and widely known card game. Though there is much debate about it’s origin, the most accepted theory is that poker is a direct descendant of the Persian game Вs Nas.
Unlike most casino card games, poker is a game in which players play against each other, not against the house. What sets poker (and those who play it well) apart from other casino games are the elements of skill and psychology, which are essential in good poker players. Skill in poker is an amalgamation of several elements. Skills such as gauging the strength of your hand and that of your opponents, building up a pot, knowing what cards to play, knowing when to raise or call, and knowing when to fold and when to bluff, just to name a few. The element of psychology is equally as important as that of skill. Each player brings his or her emotions and baggage to a game being able to gauge your opponents strengths and weaknesses is essential to holding the upper hand. Keep in mind, a great poker player can win a game with an inferior hand, if they have the psychological skill to out-bluff their opponents!
To start, I’ll go over the very basics. Poker is played with a standard 52 card deck. The cards are ranked (from highest to lowest) ace, king, queen, jack, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2. As well as being the highest value, an ace can also be used as the lowest to complete a low straight (which I’ll get into in more detail later). There are four suits, spades, hearts, clubs and diamonds. There is no value placed on any suit in particular. Some games have ‘wild cards’ such as a joker, which can take on whatever suit and rank their possessor wishes. Now I’ll go over the different hands in poker, starting with the highest:
Five of a kind A five of a kind is only possible when using wild cards, and is the highest possible hand in poker. Royal Flush A royal flush is the highest natural hand. It consists of an ace, king queen jack and 10 all of the same suit. Unique Casino Straight Flush A straight flush is five cards in sequence, all of the same suit Four of a Kind Four of a kind is quite simply, four cards of the same rank. Full House A full house consists of three of a kind and a pair. Flush A flush is five cards, all of the same suit. Straight Five cards in sequence. Three of a Kind Three cards of any rank, matched with two cards that are not a pair Two Pair Two cards of one rank, plus two of another. Pair Two cards of the same rank.
In the case that two hands are tied in rank, the following rules apply:
Should two players have straight flushes, flushes or straights, the highest card that is part of the hand determines the winning hand. If the highest card still results in a tie, the next highest card will determine the winner. If both players have a full house, the highest three of a kind determines the winner. If both players have three of a kind, the highest three of a kind determines the winner.
Poker starts with a shuffle and a cut of the deck. Then players ‘ante up’, or put money into the pot. Games are played with coloured poker chips that correspond to different denominations of money. The dealer is responsible for dealing each round. Now, the betting order is very important. The player who bets first is at a marked disadvantage as they reveal information about their hand (by their bet) but received no information from other players on their hands. Whomever bets last has the advantage of seeing how everyone else bets before deciding whether or not to play their hand. Usually the dealer deals clockwise, starting with the player to their immediate left.
There are different numbers of rounds in poker games, depending on what type of game you’re playing. As I mentioned earlier, play moves clockwise around the table. Players have the option to either check, call, raise, or fold. When you check, it means you want to stay in the game, but don’t want to bet. When you call, you are matching the previous bet. Raise involves matching the previous bet and raising the amount by an additional amount. When a player folds, they drop out of the game.
When two or more players are remaining in the game at the end of the last round, each player shows their cards. The hand with the highest value wins the pot. The house takes a rake or percentage from the pot which varies from 2 to 10 percent.
There are two types of poker games, draw poker and stud poker. In draw poker, you can draw new cards from the deck after the initial cards are dealt. Your new cards are usually dealt face down and you bet both after receiving your initial cards and after receiving the new ones. In stud poker, you play with your initially dealt cards, some are face down and some face up. You bet after each new face up card is dealt and after the last face down card is dealt.
Well, that’s the easy part of poker, knowing the different hands and how they rank. Now we’re going to get to the hard stuff, how to win at poker! One very important thing to remember, whether you’ve been playing for 10 years or 10 days, is that poker is a constant learning experience. Hopefully, you can learn something from every game you play, even if what you learn is something about yourself.
Come to the game with a clear mind, be attentive and involved. If you have a headache, or are weighed down with troubles, you are at a disadvantage and should not play. Take notice, for example, how players are putting their chips in the pot – are they throwing them aggressively or are they placing them carefully? All these little signs add up to a picture. Being able to see this picture will put you at an advantage.
When you’re playing poker – play to win money! This may seem obvious, but people play for many different reasons, all of them are wrong but the one I just mentioned. If you’re playing for entertainment, go see a movie instead – it’s cheaper. When you sit down at a game, you are putting your bankroll on the line for the purpose of leaving with more than you came with. That’s not to say don’t have fun, or don’t enjoy yourself – but take it seriously. Don’t think you will win every time because no-one does. Never forget though, the objective of poker is to win.
One thing to keep in mind, before you even sit down at a game is that if you are not comfortable with the game, for any reason, don’t play. It’s that simple. Is it a loose game with everyone betting and raising on every card? You can play carefully and intelligently but still drain your bankroll before you have a chance to take in a big pot. If this kind of game makes you uncomfortable (and believe me, it can make almost anyone uncomfortable) then get out. There’s no point in making unwise decisions, not matter how skilled you may be.
My last point leads into an important piece of advice, only play poker when you are free of anxiety, financially or emotionally. When it comes down to it, poker is about money. When there’s money at stake it is perfectly natural to feel a little tension. Tension, to a degree, can be healthy in a situation like this, forcing you to concentrate and keep an edge. However, it is very important to know your financial limitations. There is no point in developing anxiety though. Never, ever play with money you can’t afford to play with. Don’t play with money that if you lost it would hurt your family, or you. Don’t play with your rent or food money. Only play with money that you have allotted to playing poker. Everyone has a different comfort zone when it comes to poker money. Only play with money you can afford to lose, that won’t effect you emotionally, and you are on your way to becoming a winner!
I’m going to discuss some winning strategies now, that apply to all games of poker. If you follow them, you will definitely enhance your chance of winning at poker.
Always keep in mind that poker rewards those who play aggressively, and punishes those who don’t. An aggressive player will raise with a playable hand, right from the outset. This is not to say, however, that you should raise on every card dealt in the course of a game. There are times when you will want to check and there are times when it’s intelligent to just call a bet. Aggressive play does work. If you can bet, chances are you can raise and raising gives you the advantage. An aggressive player often takes control of the game. Everyone looks at them when it’s their turn to bet, sometimes you will see the other players literally wincing when an aggressive player puts in another raise. They upset the game and make other players uncomfortable. That’s what you want to do.
Always keep your opponents guessing. It’s a bad feeling when you have to guess what your opponent is holding. Playing a guessing game is not only aggravating, it’s a losing proposition as well. You should be making your opponent guess. If you’re in a game where you are the one always guessing then you are a worried player and you’re probably going to end up losing. One of the ways to stop guessing is to play strong cards, another is to play aggressively.
One of the best skills in poker is the ability to read other players. By this I mean knowing the value of their hands by their actions and/or gestures. Here, psychology plays a big part. How does one read opponents correctly? It’s not a science, more of an art. First of all, you have to be very observant. If your head is in the clouds during a game, much will pass you by. Watch the game at all times, even when you’re not in the hand. Then watch and see how a player bets or raises.
In smaller games, weaker players usually do the opposite of their hands. They “splash” their bets or fling their chips aggressively. Why intimidate players when you have them beaten? The essence of poker is to keep weaker hands in the game so you can win more money. Sometimes a player will show over-eagerness to bet, even betting out of turn. They might even follow up with a comment like “you’re done like dinner, might as well fold now!” You know this person is an amateur. If their hand is so good that they know they’re going to win, they should want you in the game, to win more of your money! It’s completely ludicrous. When the same player has a strong hand, he will appear indecisive about whether or not he wants to bet or raise, or whether or not he wants to stay in the game. This time it’s a huge physical effort for him to put his chips in the pot. These actions are called “tells” they tell, or give away the value of a hand through moves or gestures.
As you get into bigger games, or play against stronger opponents, the tells won’t be as apparent. They will still be there, but much more subtle. They may still bet in a certain manner, however, which gives away the value of their hand. Their faces may change expression, or they may count their chips when they have a strong hand, or just shove in their chips when they’re weak. Or vice-versa. Be alert to any tell you pick up – it’s an invaluable tool that can make you a great deal of money.
Because reading other players is an important part of the game, you also want to avoid being read yourself. Pay attention to yourself. Try to consciously notice how you reaction in different situations, and in different plays. Be on the lookout for gestures or mannerisms that might give away the strength or weakness of your cards. Be careful and alert. Don’t play the same cards the same way all the time. Don’t make the same gestures all the time. If you can’t be read, it’s a big advantage to you – you can spend your time on the prowl, reading the other players!
Well, I think you should now be equipped to go out there and play poker. Play intelligently and carefully. Keep an eye out for tells. Know your own limits, and most importantly – play to win!