Poker has a solid spread of variations, but the fundamental poker rules stay pretty consistent across all of them. This is precisely why having a solid understanding of the fundamentals of play is crucial for your long term success.
Poker, as it exists today, has a solid spread of variations that can make learning all the poker rules seem like an overwhelming endeavour. Here's the thing though: the fundamental poker rules stay pretty consistent across all poker variations. All you have to do is absorb and master a few basic principles and then you can slide into any game with confidence.
Read on and get a handle on the basic poker rules quickly and easily.
Before you understand how to play the game, it’s important to understand why you’re playing the game. The main reason people play poker is (you guessed it!) to win. Seem pretty self-explanatory? Maybe, but in a world where people can become so overwhelmed by celebrity that they spend thousands and thousands of dollars on plastic surgery to look like Justin Beiber or Barbie or Jennifer Lawrence or whoever, we think it’s important to get down to the felt and remember what poker is really about.
Sure, poker is easily one of the most popular card games in the world and will beat out euchre or Go-Fish any day for movie-inspired sex appeal, but behind all the smoke and mirrors we’re dealing with the same game that emerged out of the dust cloud of the American West in the early 1800’s. Poker is not really about celebrity status, corporate sponsorship or cool swag; it’s about grit, stamina, cunning, intelligence, course and determination. It’s about winning. This is precisely why we want to separate poker rules from poker hype. The poker you’ll see in most movies - the kind that has real life poker pros cringing into their cards – it’s mostly hype. These Hollywoodized depictions of poker can make it seem like all you need to do to win is dress sharp, play a few hands, throw out a couple of killer one-liners and POOF! Instant gazillionaire! Instant sex appeal! Instant happily-ever-after! If you’re banking on this outcome, you’re out of luck, amigo. It ain’t the way the game usually works.
Anyone who has ever played real poker with real poker rules knows that it takes playing in grunt games for years and experiencing a fair share of lesson-learning losses. When you finally make it to a tournament, it’s hardly glamorous. It’s sitting for hours on end with your ass going numb, your back aching, your bladder screaming for mercy, your eyes feeling like they are going to burn out of your head and (let’s face) your entire person actually starting to stink a little. There is not much that’s sexy about real poker – but it is a hell of a thrill once you’re in the zone; once you’ve done your due diligence and hit that sweet spot. It’s an act of love, and to feel it, you’re going to need to learn how to play real winning poker. In other words, you’re going to have to learn the fundamental poker rules.
Let’s get started.
We've established that the objective of playing poker is to win, and this can be done one of two ways:
1. by having the best hand
2. by pretending to have the best hand (i.e. bluffing.)
Of course, no amount of bluffing will help you if you don’t know what you’re doing. Let’s work on that first.
The 3 Basic Poker Rules
Without exception, you’ll see these 3 basic poker rules in every kind of poker game, from Hold’em to 7 Card Stud.
Rule #1. Seed the pot.
Every poker hand begins by putting some money or chips in the 'pot' (i.e. the centre of the table) before the cards are dealt. This effectively forces and encourages play. You can seed the pot with an ante (where everyone contributes a token fraction of the initial bet into the pot) or with blinds (where one or two players left of the dealer, the ‘big’ blind and ‘little’ blind, respectively, fund the pot). The blind position moves around the table so that everyone has to front some cash without the luxury of seeing their cards first.
Rule #2. Have another round on you....or not.
Once there’s some guaranteed dough in the pot, the betting rounds begin. You can bet, raise or fold. You can also check if everyone before you has checked. Checking allows you do stay in the game without committing any money. This bet/raise/check/fold pattern continues during each round during the play of a hand.
Rule #3. Recognize a winner.
You win the pot if you are the one betting/raising and no one calls you on your last bet. In the event that one or more person does call, the person with the best hand snags the pot. Just keep in mind that poker rules dictate that the best hand is not always the highest ranking hand. In split-pot games, the best hand is the best high hand and the best low hand and in this case, the pot is divided evenly.
Barebones, there are your poker rules in 3 easy steps. Nothing daunting or detrimental about them. As mentioned, there are many poker variations that can add nuisances into play, but the fundamentals stay the same. You don’t have to embrace poker as a way of life to enjoy the game, but if you expect anyone to play with you, you’re going to have to take the game seriously enough to master the basic poker rules. Once you have, hit the tables and have fun!
Photo Credit: Vincent Bouvier | Flickr