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A deck is composed of 4 suits — clubs, diamonds, hearts, and spades. Each suit contains 13 cards, ranked from
highest to lowest as: Ace, King, Queen, Jack, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2. In some games, the ace may be the lowest ranked card instead of the highest. In others, it may be both the lowest and highest ranked card.
Wild cards, which you probably won’t see outside your home game, may take on whatever suits and ranks you want them to.
Often the game is begun by some sort of forced bet, such as an ante. Each player is then dealt his starting cards; the number of which varies with each game. Whether they are dealt down, so no other player may see them, or up, so they are visible to everyone, also varies depending on the game. Players then place bets into a communal pot. When all bets are placed, more cards are dealt, either replacing or adding to those already dealt. Another betting round occurs, followed by more cards dealt, and so on, until all betting rounds are complete. The remaining players (assuming everyone hasn’t folded) show their cards and the best hand wins the pot.
The objective, ultimately, is of course, to win more money than you lose. To do this, you first must take down individual pots. There are two ways to accomplish this. You may either bet more than your opponents are willing to call, thus winning the pot uncontested, without even needing to show your cards, or you may win by having the best hand (see poker hands) after all the betting rounds are completed.
Most hands of poker begin by some form of forced betting. This is to insure that there is action with every hand hand. The two most common types of forced bets are the ante, and blinds.
An ante requires every player to place a specified amount in the pot prior to the beginning of each hand. The ante does not count toward any future bets.
Blinds Games with blinds normally have two blinds — the big blind, and the small blind. These are often in replacement of ante, although sometimes accompany it. The small blind is equal to 1/2 of the low limit bet size, and the big blind is equal to the low limit bet size. Before the hand begins, the player to the immediate left of the dealer button is forced to post the small blind, and the player to the left of that person is forced to post the big blind. These bets count towards that player’s first round bet, and are considered live, meaning the player may choose to raise even if nobody else has
Note: In a heads up match (1 on 1), the player with the dealer button posts the small blind, and the other player posts the big blind. The player with the dealer button is the first to act before the flop, but acts after his opponent in the three betting rounds to follow.
The number of betting rounds differ depending on the game being played. The bet sizes, whether they are fixed limit (you’re only allowed to be specific amounts – no higher, and no lower), spread limit (you may bet any amount between a specified low amount and a specified high amount), or no limit (you may be any amount between a specified low amount all the way up to everything you have in front of you), also differ depending on the game being played. In almost all poker games, the play proceeds in a clockwise motion, starting with the player on the dealer’s left.
On each betting round, when it is your turn, you have up to five options:
- Fold – You may lay down your hand and give up any chance of winning the pot.
- Check – If nobody has bet, you may choose to check, which means to neither bet nor fold. It then becomes up to the player on your left to bet, check, or fold.
- Bet – If nobody has bet, you may choose to do so by placing money in the pot.
- Call – If there is already a bet in the pot, you may choose to call by matching that bet.
- Raise – If there is already a bet in the pot, you may choose to increase the bet by raising
Showdown – Anyone who has not folded after the last round of betting will now have the option of showing their hand and possibly winning the pot. The person who bet last is the first to show their hand, and then it proceeds clockwise from there, with each remaining player either choosing to show their hand, or muck it. Often times a player will muck their hand if they aren’t going to win the pot, and don’t want their opponents to see what they played.
Hint: Most online poker rooms offer the option of automatically mucking your losing hands, so the other players won’t see what you played. It’s generally a good idea to select this.