Poker’s an old game. The name has changed over the centuries, but the aspects of the game that make it “poker” – the betting and bluffing parts – have been a part of the game almost forever.
In the 1500s, Germans were playing “Pochen.” The French got their hands on the game and started calling it “Poque.” That version became popular on Mississippi riverboats.
Americans started playing what is now called poker three decades before the Civil War. Like many games, poker improved over time, and it was Americans who invented the distinction between draw poker and stud.
Now, poker is a worldwide phenomenon with countless variants. One of my best friends and I were talking about how it’s the king of all possible games.
If you’re new to poker, don’t be discouraged. Anyone can learn how to play.
Starting with these seven important beginner questions isn’t a bad way to dip your toes into the water, either.
1 – How Do You Play Poker?
You play poker with other card players using a standard deck of cards. The game involves betting and bluffing, and the player with the best combination of cards (“hand”) wins the pot. You can also win the pot with lousy cards by convincing the other players to “fold” – forfeit their claim to the pot in exchange for not having to put any more money in.
The most important aspect of real money poker is the betting, which works in a similar way from one poker variation to another. To play at a poker table, you start by buying in. With some home poker games, you might play with cash, but most games use clay chips to represent money.
You buy these chips with cash, and when the action is done, you trade the chips you have back in for cash.
The center of the table is the pot. You bet in poker by putting money into the pot. No matter which version of poker you play, you’ll have multiple rounds of betting. Even in draw poker, the simplest version of the game I know of, you’ll have two rounds of betting. (Other variations have more rounds of betting.)
Betting takes place in clockwise order around the table, and it’s important to wait for your turn to act. When it’s your turn, you have the following options available to you:
Checking can only be done if no one else has bet previously. This just means that you don’t put any money into the pot. If everyone else checks, you move on to the next round of the deal, and everyone stays “in the pot.”
Betting is when you put money into the pot with the hopes that you’ll win the hand. Depending on which poker game you’re playing, you’ll have various limits to the sizes of your bets.
Calling happens after one of your opponents bets. In that case, you can match the size of their bet and stay in the hand.
Raising is when you decide to increase the size of the bet. Generally, a raise must be at least the same size as the bet that’s being raised.
Folding is when you decide your hand is too weak to continue in that hand. You don’t put any money into the pot, but you have zero chance of winning. Folding is a form of surrender.
Poker games generally have limits to the amount you can bet, even if that limit is the number of chips you have in front of you. This is called “no limit.”
The easiest way to think of blinds is to consider them antes that rotate around the table. On any given hand, only two players post blinds, but who those players are rotates clockwise during the game.
In terms of gameplay, a dealer gives you a specific number of cards based on the rules of the game you’re playing. Getting these cards is called “the deal,” and you normally have a round of betting after each round of the deal.
Poker hands are ranked according to the combination of cards you have. These poker hand rankings are standard from game to game, although they can vary from one variant to another. I’ll have more to say about poker hand rankings later in this post.
After the final betting and dealing rounds, the players still in action compare their hands to determine who wins the money in the pot. If everyone folds before that point except one player – which happens more often than many beginners think – the person still in action wins the pot.
2 – Is Poker a Game of Skill or Chance?
Poker is a game of BOTH skill and chance. You don’t control the cards you get, and – provided it’s a fairly dealt game – the cards are dealt at random. This makes poker a game of chance.
But you also get to decide which betting action to take when it’s your turn. It sounds like – since you only have five options to choose from – that this doesn’t require much skill.
But the skill element in poker is huge.
In the long run, the more skilled players are the ones who win. In fact, skill is the only differentiator when you’re playing poker in the long run. After all, in the long run, everyone gets the same card combinations eventually.
Who wins or loses in the long run depends on who plays with the most skill.
3 – Is Poker a Good Way to Earn Money?
Poker CAN be a good way to make money gambling, but it’s harder than many people might think. I’ve read reliable sources which suggested that 95% of the poker players on the internet are losing money in the long run.
How is such a high number possible?
Most cardrooms – including all the online cardrooms I know of – take a small percentage of each pot to pay for hosting the game. This fee is usually 5%, and it’s called “the rake.”
Without the rake, many mediocre players might break even in the long run at poker.
In other words, it’s not enough to be better than the other players. You have to be so much better than your competitors that the 5% rake doesn’t destroy your chances of profiting.
Some people love the idea of playing a card game to earn their living. Others think that poker is a fine hobby but a poor profession. I guess they think you should do something that makes more of a contribution to society as a whole.
Is poker a good way to earn money?
Maybe – try it and see how you feel about it.
4 – How Do You Win at Poker?
You have two ways of winning a poker hand:
- Show the best hand at the showdown.
- Convince all the other players at the table to fold.
The key to having the best hand at the showdown is to fold your hand if it’s weak. This is called “tight play.”
The first key to winning at poker is to start folding more often. If you start with better than average hands, you’ll win a great number of hands when you make it to a showdown. Also, the other players at the table will notice that you fold a lot, and when you do bet and raise, they’ll be more likely to give you credit for a strong hand and fold.
The second key to winning at poker is related to that last point. You’ll sometimes pick up pots by betting or raising even if you don’t have better cards than the other player. This is called bluffing and/or semi-bluffing.
Semi-bluffing, on the other hand, is a better move. A semi-bluff is when you have a hand that’s probably weaker than your opponent’s hand, but if it improves on a later round, it might be the best hand. Flush draws and straight draws are good examples of hands you can semi-bluff with.
You win if your opponent folds, but you also win when you hit your hand. Overall, this can make semi-bluffing far more profitable than running naked bluffs.
5 – How Many People Do You Need to Play Poker?
You need at least two people to play poker, although some people might consider video poker closely related. It’s not really poker, though – by definition, poker is a game you play with other poker players. Video poker has more in common with solitaire and slot machines than it does with poker.
The number of cards in the deck and the number of cards used during the hand determine the maximum number of players at the table.
For example, in Texas holdem, each player only gets two cards – the rest of the cards are community cards that everyone at the table shares. There are seven community cards.
This means, theoretically, if you had a big enough table to seat that many players, you could play Texas holdem with 22 players.
I’ve never seen a Texas holdem game with more than 10 players at a table, though.
Seven card stud, on the other hand, has a maximum of seven players – each player gets seven cards, and you only have 52 cards in the deck.
But you need at least two people to play – if you can find someone who likes playing heads-up, go for it.
6 – What Is the Best Hand in Poker?
The best hand in poker is a royal flush, which is a straight flush made up of the 10, jack, queen, king, and ace of one suit.
In a poker game, each card has two attributes – a suit and a ranking. A deck of cards has four suits – clubs, diamonds, hearts, and spades. A deck of cards also has 13 rankings – ace, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 10, jack, queen, and king.
Aces can count as low for purposes of making a straight, but they’re also considered the highest card in the deck.
A straight is a hand where all five cards are adjacent in rankings – 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 is an example of a straight.
A flush is a hand where all five cards are of the same suit – if all five of your cards are diamonds, you have a flush.
When you have a hand that qualifies as both a straight AND as a flush, you have a straight flush.
And the best possible straight flush is the best possible poker hand – the royal flush.
7 – Are Poker and Texas Holdem the Same Thing?
The words “poker” and “Texas holdem” are NOT synonymous.
All Texas holdem games are poker games, but not all poker games are Texas holdem games.
The word “poker” really describes multiple games with different rules. Texas holdem is one of those games, but so is five card draw.
So, no, they’re not the same thing. One is a subset of the other.
It’s like asking if a truck and a Dodge Ram are the same thing. A Dodge Ram is a specific kind of truck.
Playing Texas holdem for money is its own unique experience.
Poker is such a complex subject that hundreds of books have been written about it. Some of them are better than others. Some of these poker books focus exclusively on strategies for specific kinds of poker.
But, in my experience, the questions I hear most often about poker in general are the ones I wrote about in this post.