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Poker Rules

Above: Knowing all the poker rules means you don’t upset the dealer!

You can win at poker in two ways: Either have the best cards, or be the best liar.

Assuming you're no good at bluffing, you'll need to land some decent cards (see Hand Rankings).

But it doesn't stop there. Crucially, poker is also about betting – and if you bet well, your chances of winning increase dramatically.

Like most poker games, Texas Hold'em involves a communal "pot" into which players bet throughout a game. At the end of a hand, the pot is awarded to the player who either holds the highest ranking hand or makes a wager which goes unmatched (uncalled) by his or her opponents.

Hold'Em is always played high-only with a No Limit, Pot Limit and Limit option. Obviously, in No Limit games the pots can get pretty huge, so it's best to learn in sit and go tournaments – where your potential losses are 'capped' at your entry fee (eg, $10). As your game improves, you can move into cash games.

All poker games begin with a 'forced' bet. In Texas Hold'em - and Omaha – these are called a 'small blind' and a 'big blind' and players take it in turn to pay these bets. If you're not 'in' the big blind, you must call its value immediately after seeing your hole cards to stay in the game.

The 'action' is then as follows:

  • CHECK - If there is no bet on the current betting round, a player may check. The act of checking passes the action to the next poker player immediately clockwise from him or her. A check does not forfeit interest in the pot, only the current right to bet. If all players check during a round of betting, the round is considered complete.
  • BET - If there is no wager on the current betting round, a player may bet. If a player bets, the poker player immediately clockwise from him or her (and any subsequent poker players) may fold, raise, or call.
  • FOLD - The act of folding forfeits all interest in the pot. A player who folds is not required or allowed to wager any further money for the current poker game.
  • CALL - If there has been a wager on the current round of poker play, a player may call. The act of calling requires the player to match the current bet made by his or her opponent(s).
  • R AISE - If there has been a wager on the current betting round, a player may raise. The act of raising requires the poker player to match the current bet, and make a greater one. All subsequent players are required to call the raise or raise again ("re-raise") to maintain interest in the pot.

On each betting round, betting continues until the person immediately counterclockwise the last bettor or raiser acts. When this person acts, the next poker round begins, or the hand is complete.

When the last bet or raise on the final betting round is called, the "showdown" occurs.

This is when it is determined who wins the pot, as players show their hands one-by-one.

It may be the case that there is no showdown. This occurs when a player bets or raises, and no active players choose to call the player's bet (in other words, all players fold). In this case, the player doing the betting or raising – who may well be bluffing - wins the full amount of the pot.

Going 'All-in'

The 'All-In' rule states that a player cannot be forced to abandon a poker hand simply because they do not have enough chips to call a bet.

A player who wants to continue in these circumstances is declared All-In.

The player is eligible for the portion of the pot to the point up to and including his 'All-In' bet.

All further action involving other players takes place in a "side pot", which is ineligible to the All-In player.

Going 'All-In' is very common in the latter stages of tournaments as players struggle to keep up, as the blinds – and sometimes 'antes' (a pot contribution paid by all players in every hand) – get higher. The good news is that it's possible to double or triple-up (increase your chip stack by two or three times) if you go All-In and win the pot.

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More Tips & Tools

Hand Rankings Hand Rankings Poker hand rankings for Texas Hold'em, Seven Card Stud, Five Card Draw and Omaha plus an odds table.

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