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Poker is as old as the hills but as popular as ever. Online or offline, Poker has many versions but the basic values hold true. The psychological edge to proceedings attracts many and it’s a game held dear by the pros.
Poker's origins go all the way back to ancient China and Persia, appearing in different variations. There are records of it resurfacing in France in the 1600s along with another game called Poque, which stuck to the game of Poker.
Poker was brought to America by French colonists, who originally played it in New Orleans. Its popularity skyrocketed in the 1860s, specifically during the United States Civil War. That was when many of the rules as we know them were established, as well as the different versions of the game such as Draw Poker and Stud Poker.
As its name suggests, Texas Hold’em was invented in Robstown, Texas in the early 1900s. In 1967, a small Las Vegas casino called the Golden Nugger catapulted this version of Poker into the limelight, and it gained immense popularity. The first Texas Hold’em tournament was held in 1969 at the Dune Casino.
The World Series of Poker was established by the Binion brothers in 1970; today it is the world’s largest poker tournament. They chose to feature Texas Hold’em as the main event, and this decision revolutionized the industry of gambling. Texas Hold’em became the most popular version of poker around the world. When internet gambling came into style in the 1990s, hundreds of millions of people gravitated towards this game and secured its spot as the most popular.
Because of the popularity of Texas Hold’em, much of the terminology below deals specifically with that game. There are also some basic terms included that apply to all versions of Poker.
Blinds: A term for a required bet that is made by the two players to the left of the dealer (the player to the immediate left places the small blind, and the player two places away from the dealer places the big blind).
Bluff: A strategy in which the player has a weak hand, but he bets as if he has a strong hand, thereby attempting to cause the players with stronger hands to fold.
Buy-in: Different games have different buy-ins; it is the amount of chips a player must buy in order to join the game.
Community Cards: Specifically in Texas Hold’em; these are five cards that are dealt face-up and from which all the players make their card combinations.
Flop: The first round in a game (not Texas Hold’em), in which three community cards are dealt face-up.
Flush: Five cards of the same suit.
Hole Cards: These are the two cards dealt to each individual player.
Pair: Two cards of the same value; for example, a pair of 2s or a pair of Kings.
Pot: The total amount of bets placed on a hand; this is what the players stand to win.
Rake: This is the House commission from every pot, and the way the House capitalizes on poker games.
River: This is the fifth and last community card that is dealt.
Round of Betting: There are four bet options in a round: check, call, raise or fold.
Royal Flush: This is a flush (five cards of the same suit) with an Ace high. This is the best (most rare) hand in Poker.
Straight: Five consecutive cards of any suit, for example, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.
Trips: Three-of-a-king, for example, three Jacks or three 4s.
Turn: This is the fourth community card dealt.
Poker is played with one deck of 52 cards that is shuffled in the beginning. The player to the left of the dealer places the small blind (half of the minimum bet) and the player to the left of him places the big blind (minimum bet). In Texas Hold'em, the dealer then deals out two hole cards to each player.
The first round of betting begins before the community cards are dealt; the bets start with the player to the left of the big blind (three to the left of the dealer). The betting options are: fold (when players do not match the bet placed on the table), check (when a player already matched the bet and then doesn’t wish to bet more), raise (when the player matches the bet and adds more to the pot) and call (matches the bet and gets to stay in the game).
The flop comes out: the dealer burns the top card on the deck and puts out three community cards. Another round of betting takes place, starting with the player to the left of the dealer. The fourth community card is dealt, and another round of betting ensues. Then the fifth community card is dealt (the river), and this is the final round of betting before players show their cards.
Sometimes, players fold after the river and there is one player left, who is the winner. If there are two or more players left after the river card has been dealt, the dealer reveals the five community cards and the player with the best hand wins.
These are the possible Poker hands, in descending order:
Royal Flush: A flush (five cards of the same suit) with an Ace-high
Straight Flush: A flush of five consecutive cards (for example, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8)
Four of a kind: Four cards of the same number – for example, four Kings, or four 5s
Full House: Three cards of the same number plus two of another number (for example, 7, 7, 7 + King, King)
Flush: Five cards of the same suit (not in any order)
Straight: Five cards in consecutive order but without matching suits (for example, 2 of clubs, 3 of spades, 4 of hearts, 5 of clubs and 6 of diamonds)
Three of a kind: Three cards of the same number
Two pair: Two sets of cards with the same number (for example, two Jacks and two 10s)
Pair: Two cards with the same value (for example, two 5s)
High Card: If none of the players have a pair or better, the player with the highest card wins the round (Ace is the highest card)
There are many factors that need to be taken into account in a complex game like Poker; it is not just about who has the best cards. Players need to be able to read each other’s body language, be able to tell who is bluffing and to devise a strategy about which hand to go for. If you are just starting out playing Poker, you should learn the basic strategy of how to decide to play a hand or not.
The rule of thumb is that if you get two non-pair cards whose values are less than 10 (individually, not together), you don't have a very high chance of winning, so folding is advisable. If you get a pair or one card valued at 10 or higher, it can be worth staying in the hand. (Remember, these are generalizations based on statistics, and obviously there are exceptions.)
Once you've decided how you will play the hand based on your two cards, the remaining strategy really depends on the cost-risk assessment of how good/bad your cards are and how much you stand to win/lose. If you're cards are so-so but the amount you need to put in to stay in the game is low, it might be worth it to fork in that amount. If the amount is high and your cards are terrible, you can fold or try bluffing – but be careful! Bluffing is a complex move and requires experience and skill.
- You don't have to play every hand. Of course you might want to, because what's the fun in sitting out? But the laws of probability dictate that you will not win every hand; therefore, if your cards are not up to par, don't feel bad about sitting out. Even the experts know when to fold and wait for the next hand.
- Just because you've placed high bets on a hand doesn't mean you have to continue if you see that the cards that are coming out are not to your benefit. If you started out with a pair of threes and you've upped the ante, but then two Kings come out on the flop and your opponent also has a King, you can bow out even though you've already put in money. Better to lose some of your money than all!
- Remember that the community cards belong to everyone. With the proper concentration, you will be able to figure out your best card combination , and even predict those of your opponents! This can give you insight into how you place your bets.
- Remain calm. It's easy to get excited, angry, happy or upset, but the best Poker players keep their emotions under wraps. It's not that they are angry and stuff it inside; they train themselves not to get distracted by emotions. This way they are able to keep clear heads and focus on winning the game.