Basics of Poker and Hand Ranking
Poker is traditionally played with a standard 52-card deck. The game can be played between two to seven players, the ideal number being six or seven. The play and the deal moves clockwise. The cards are ranked from high to low as follows: A, K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3 and 2. Depending on the situation, the Ace can be the low card. For the purpose of comparing hands, all suits are valued equally.
Objective of the Game
Poker is played for money and of course, the main object of the game is to win money. You can win at the game in two ways. One way is to have the best card hand at the showdown and the other is to get all players to fold their hand. Usually, chips are used to represent money in the actual games. The chips are of various denominations, generally marked with numbers 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100 and 500; sometimes they may even be in various colors, in which case the values of the chips must be agreed upon in advance. The players will buy chips from the host prior to the game and redeem them for cash once the game is over.
Before starting play
You need to decide which variation of poker you will be playing and for what stakes before beginning the game. Casinos and online poker rooms usually offer one variant of poker and hence when you join the table, the decision has already been made and you have accepted it. Another point to be kept in mind is that the house rules differ from place to place so you must ensure that you understand the particular house rules that will be followed. Complications arising due to genuine misinterpretation of the rules may be difficult to resolve at a later stage.
How the game is played
All players will place an initial bet by placing chips in the central area called the pot or the pool. The dealer will then deal the cards and the players take a look at those cards to decide whether they want to increase their bet or fold, i.e. discard the cards and lose all the chips they have contributed to the pot. The active players, that is the ones who have not folded, will now contribute an equal amount to the pot and the betting round ends. Further cards may be dealt and there will be another betting round, and so the game continues. After the last betting round, there is a showdown where the player with the best hand wins and gets all the contents of the pot. If only one player remains in the game, then he wins the pot automatically without having to show his cards.
The opportunity to bluff in the game of poker arises if you can persuade the other players to fold their hand. If the others believe that you have a good hand, they may choose to fold rather than add to the pot which they think they might lose. If all players fold, you win even if in reality you don’t hold a better hand than theirs.
Poker Hand Rankings
In poker, a hand consists of five cards. To play the game you must know how the hands are ranked and which ones beat the other. Some variants of poker may allow you to choose from more than five cards. Here are the standard poker hand rankings from high to low:
- Straight Flush: Five consecutive cards of the same suit constitutes a flush. The highest straight flush would be A-K-Q-J-10 of one suit. This is also known as the Royal Flush. The Ace can be taken as a low for a straight flush 5-4-3-2-A. However, 2-A-K-Q-J is not a valid flush.
- Four of a Kind: These are four cards of the same rank with a fifth card that is different. For example, 8-8-8-8-J. The cards could be of any suit; the four cards are known as ‘quads’ and the odd card is known as the ‘kicker’.
- Full House: A full house consists of three cards of the same rank along with a pair of another rank, like for example, 7-7-7-Q-Q.
- Flush: Five cards of the same suit will constitute a flush. For example, 5-2-8-J-4 of diamonds. Note that the cards are not in sequence, or it would be deemed a straight flush.
- Straight: A straight is made up of five cards of consecutive values but not of the same suit. The highest straight you can get is A-K-Q-J-10 while the lowest is 5-4-3-2-A also called the ‘wheel’. The Ace cannot be in the middle like say, 4-3-2-A-K.
- Three of a Kind: These are three cards of the same value with the other two of different value, say 3-3-3-8-10. These are also known as triplets or trips.
- Two Pair: These include two cards of the same value and another 2 cards of a different value and one completely odd card. For example, 8-8-J-J-5.
- Pair: Here you have two cards of the same value with the other three of different value. For instance, Q-Q-8-3-5.
- No Pair or Nothing: Here, all the cards are different, there is no sequence and there is no common suit.
While comparing two hands of the same type, the hand ranking is determined by the value of the individual cards. The quad, the triplet or a pair is compared first and if these are of equal value, then any of the less numerous ranks are compared. If two players have five card hands that are the same apart from the suit, (all four suits are equal in poker) then it is a tie and both players share the pot equally.