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Poker is one of the most popular casino card games played in the world today. Its simple blend of skill and chance attracts millions of players across the globe.
Like so many casino and card games that we enjoy today, the actual origins of Poker are uncertain, but there are records of similar games being played in China and Persia (Iran), back in ancient times. A game known as Poque was popular in France as far back as the 1600's, and it is most likely that the modern name came from here.
French immigrants brought Poque across the Atlantic and it thrived in areas like Louisiana, where many of them eventually settled. The game steadily grew in popularity, but was during the Civil War period that it really took off as a way of keeping bored soldiers occupied. Many of the rules and adaptations of the game played today, such as Draw and Stud Poker as well as the straight, were refined during this era.
By far the best known version of Poker, Texas Hold'em was first developed in the town of Robertson, in the south of the state at the beginning of the 20th century. It only attracted limited interest however, until the 1960's when the Golden Nugget Casino in Las Vegas began to offer the game. In 1969 the Dune Casino became the first place to hold a big Texas Hold'em tournament which began to attract considerable interest in this version.
Within a year, the World Series Of Poker was launched by two brothers who had bought out the troubled Gambling Fraternity Convention. They opted to feature Texas Hold'em as the main game, and the WSOP has since become the biggest poker tournament in the world, having a major impact on the whole online gambling business.
Once the World Series Of Poker became televised, millions of viewers discovered Texas Hold'em and it rapidly became the most favoured type around the world. By the 1990's online casinos and Poker sites were opening up allowing millions of people who had never had the opportunity to play before to participate in poker.
Before playing any type of poker, you should have a basic understanding of the most widely used terms and what they each mean. Some of the following are generic poker terms, others are used just in Texas Hold'em games.
Blinds: A compulsory bet, or partial bet, put in before the cards are dealt. The player to the left of the dealer makes a small blind bet, the one next left to them makes a big blind wager.
Bluff: A player placing a bet despite holding a poor hand, making others who may have stronger hands drop out of the game.
Buy-in: The fee paid by a player to join a game and purchase chips.
Community Cards: Cards that can be used by all players in a Texas Hold'em game, and can reveal some information about the cards held by an opponent.
Flop: The first three cards dealt out, face up, in a Texas Hold'em or Omaha game
Flush: Five cards all from the same suit, (Hearts, Diamonds, Clubs or Spades.)
Hole Cards: A card dealt to a player, face down, and known only to them.
Pair: Two cards of identical rank, such as two 5's, or two Kings.
Pot: The amount of money or chips that can be won with the best hand, made up of the accumulated value of all bets placed on a particular hand.
Rake: The percentage taken by the casino from each table or hand. As there is no House Edge in a poker game, the casinos' earnings are made up of the rake.
River: The last community card that is dealt in a Hold'em or Omaha game, where the hands are won or lost.
Round of Betting: During a betting round, players can make any of the following choices: check, call, raise or fold, as detailed later.
Royal Flush: The best possible hand in poker, made up of a 10, Jack, Queen, King and Ace all from the same suit.
Straight: A hand made up of cards all from the same suit, and all consecutive, for example 8, 9, 10, Jack, Queen.
Trips: A hand that includes three cards of the same type, such as three 2's, or three Jacks, also known as Three of a Kind.
Turn: The fourth community card dealt in a Hold'em or Omaha game, coming after the flop and before the river.
A Hold'em game starts with the player immediately to the left of the dealer, or a designated player, placing a the small blind bet, of half the minimum bet size, and the next player along placing the big blind bet, of the minimum bet value. The dealer then draws cards from a shuffled pack of 52, dealing two hole cards first to the player on his left, and then around in the same direction until all the players hold two cards each.
To start the first betting round, the player to the left of the one who placed the big blind makes their own bet, and this continues around the table, clockwise, until all players have made their chosen bets. These can be either check, where the player matches the maximum bet already placed, call, where they add money to the pot and match the maximum bet, raise, where the player wagers more than the maximum current bet, or fold, where a player quits this hand and loses any bets they have already made.
After this is the flop, where the dealer removes the top card of the deck, (called the burn), and deals out three community cards, face up. Another round of betting occurs, starting with the player to the immediate left of the dealer, and continuing around the table. The turn then follows as the fourth community card is dealt, followed by another round of betting, and finally it's the river round consisting of the fifth community card being dealt, and the last round of betting taking place. During the river, players can use any of the five community cards to form the best hand possible. At the end of this round, the players who have not folded reveal their cards.
The winner is the player who has been able to make up the best five card hand from both their original two hole cards and any of the community cards, and they win the pot of all accumulated bets, although if there is more than one winner, the pot is split.
In order of ranking, the best hands are as follows -
Royal Flush: Five cards of the same suit, from 10 to Ace.
Straight Flush: Five cards of the same suit, in consecutive order, such as 6, 7, 8, 9, 10.
Four of a kind: A hand that consists of all four cards of the same rank, plus any other card.
Full House: A hand made up of a three of a kind, and a pair.
Flush: Any five cards of the same suit.
Straight: A hand consisting of cards in consecutive order, but not all from the same suit.
Three of a kind: A hand consisting of three cards of identical rank, plus two unmatched cards.
Two pair: A hand consisting of two sets of two identical rank cards, plus one unmatched card.
Pair: A hand consisting of any two cards that have an identical rank plus three unmatched cards.
High Card: Should there be no players with any of the above hands, the player, or players, with the highest ranked card from Ace downwards, wins.
Poker is a game of many skills that can take a lifetime to master. The best players use a combination of maths, bluffing, statistics and yes, some luck, to win. Anyone new to the game needs to understand the absolute basic skill of knowing whether or not their hole cards are worth anything and when to quit a hand.
Generally speaking, it is probably best to fold a hand if your hole cards consist of two cards of different ranks, both valued below 10. The odds of making a winning hand out of this one are just too remote, but if any pair, or any card of at least 10 is dealt out, it can be worthwhile staying in the game at least for the next round, just to see what the community cards look like. At each betting round, as more money is staked on a hand, players need to use their judgement about whether to stay in the game or not, and occasionally it can be worth staying in a little longer to see who else folds.
- Don't be afraid to fold if your hand isn't strong enough. Poker players are usually competitive types, but even the best ones don't win every hand, and continuing to play when you have little chance of winning is a bad move.
- Accept your losses and don't throw good money after bad. This is good advice in any situation, not just in a poker game, but if the stakes are getting uncomfortably high, it could be time to cut your losses and quit the round.
- Keep your cool at all times, as your competitors will be able to see you getting nervous or angry and will be able to exploit this. The term 'Poker face' should always be remembered, and if your mood isn't right, you are more likely to make poor decisions.
Keep in mind what other potential hands your opponents could make using the community cards. These can be used by anyone, not just yourself, so by concentrating a little, and with some practice, you should be able to get some idea of what hands are being held by the other players.