Learning Poker: The ins and outs of the game
To begin, we must first outline the hands that are needed to win. As you can tell from the photo above, each winning "hand" requires five cards. This can be confusing and I promise to explain later, but for the time being let us just accept that statement. Starting from the bottom we have high cards; this means that if you or the other players do not have any of the above hands, then the victory belongs to whoever has the highest card (lowest being 2 and highest being ace). Moving upwards, we see pairs, two pairs, and three of a kind; this is the duplication of one or more cards. For example if you have two aces, then you have one pair; two kings and two 6s, then you have two pairs; three 7s and you have three of a kind. A straight is five cards in a row. This can be tricky, as the ace can play as both a 1 (in a 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 straight) or as high (in a 10, jack, queen, king, ace straight). It is important to note that the ace can not play both roles at the same time, such as (king, ace, 2, 3, 4). A flush relies on the suit of the card, such as hearts, diamonds, clubs, and spades. If you have five cards in the same suit, then congratulations, you have a flush. Following this, is the infamous full house, which requires both three of a kind and two of a kind, such as three 10s and two 7s. The four of a kind speaks for itself, as it is just like the three of a kind but with one more card. Finally, we have the straight flush, which is five cards in a row all in the same suit. The highest straight flush is of course the royal flush, also known as the best and most elusive hand in poker.
Now that we know what it takes to win, we need to learn how winning actually happens. Though every type of poker may have its own rules, texas holdem maintains that every player receives two cards for themselves, to be followed by five cards in the middle for everyone. Out of these seven cards, it is up to you, the player, to pick the top five cards, corresponding to the hands I recently mentioned. The game begins with two cards being dealt to everyone at the table. Traditionally, cards with higher values are more successful later in the game, so make sure to hold on to any pairs or face cards, matching suits, or numbers corresponding to each other that could eventually amount to a straight (such as 9 - 10 for example). Depending on where you are playing, there may be a big blind and a small blind, and/or an ante. These are merely meant to provoke everyone to either call (match whatever bet is already in the middle), raise (add more money into the middle), or fold. The blinds circulate, with the big blind being twice as big as the small, which means that even if you do not have a good, playable hand, you are forced to put a specific pre-determined amount of money into the middle.
As you can see from the photo, the order from left to right should be the dealer button, the small blind, and the big blind respectively. The first card should always be dealt to the small blind first and should be continued to be dealt clockwise around the table. At this point, everyone else can choose to either call, raise, or fold. Once everyone has decided to play, the five middle cards begin to be dealt in three waves. The first wave is called the flop and consists of one burn card (a card which is discarded, this is meant to allow for more randomness in the deal) and three face up cards; the second wave is called the turn and consists of one burn card and one face up card; and the third wave is called the river which also consists of one burn and one face up.
Using what I have taught, regarding hand strength, dealing structure, and decisions such as calling, raising, and folding, you should be able to start off your first home game. It is important to practice practice practice. This means grab a friend or two, grab some cards and chips, and just play for fun. The game of poker is very strategic, and really the only way to understand it is with experience. If you do not own chips, do not worry, because anything can be used to represent betting. However, if you want to really get the true feel of the game, feel free to check out our personal collection of card and chip sets to get you started.
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