Your Complete Guide to Poker

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As anyone who has enjoyed a game of online video poker will be able to tell you, the game is much more than chance. In poker, you don’t even need a winning hand in order to win big because you can bluff other players into making them think you do. As such, poker is just as much of a game of human psychology as it is with the mathematical chances that are involved with the various combinations of cards you can get in your hand. Of course, understanding the odds is also important to any poker player. And yet, some players just go on their instinct – on what their gut is telling them.

These days, poker is played all around the world. There are many professional players who make a fine living from the game. Some enjoy it as a casino game and others prefer to play in casual games with friends for limited stakes. There are plenty of different rule variations to get your head around, too. All in all, this means that poker is a highly versatile game that can be played for high stakes or for small sums just for fun. Read on to find out more about this exciting game, why so many people like it, how it has impacted on popular culture and how you might go about enjoying it, too.

A Brief History of Poker

Poker is a game of American origin. It started in the early part of the 1800s. No one is exactly sure who may have invented it but it may have been adapted from the earlier English game of brag. Certainly, it was being played in New Orleans with a limited deck as early as 1829. From here, it appears to have taken off on the riverboats which went up and down the Mississippi which was famous at the time for its mobile gaming houses.

Women plays poker poker historySource: jbarah15 /

By the middle of the century, it was common for poker to be played with a French-style deck of 52 playing cards which meant that more winning hands could be added, for example, the flush. Stud poker, a five-card variation on the game, was popular among soldiers during the American Civil War and further embellishments continued to be added right up until poker began to be televised in the 1990s. Nowadays, poker is so popular that players don’t need to search for people to play against for long as there is a large online community of players all eager to try their luck!

Basic Poker Rules and Hands

Poker is a betting game. If you think your hand might beat those of your opponents, then you will back it in rounds of betting until players have either dropped out or continue to bet until their wagered sums are equal. Then – and only then – will the cards of players still left in be revealed. If only one player is left at this point, then no cards need to be shown. As such, you can win with a hand that has a very low ranking. You just have to convince the other players it is stronger than it really is.

Once players have established an equal sum in the betting pot, the cards will be ‘seen’. This means that any players still participating in the round must show their cards to everyone, not just the players left in that round. As rounds continue, players will be able to establish which participants only back strong hands and those who are more likely to bluff. There are many rule variants which we won’t go into here, but the hands are commonly ranked in the same way.

To begin with, the lowest hand you can have is when your cards show no particular combination. The highest card in your hand is, therefore, the strongest and this is known as a high. Aces are the highest card and twos are the lowest. The next worst ranking hand is called a pair. This means two cards of the same value are in your hand. A pair of threes would beat a king high but they would not be as strong as a pair of fours and so on. The next best hand is called two-pair. This means you have a pair of cards ranked the same and another pair with a different ranking. If you have two fives and two eights and another player has a hand with the other two fives and eights, then the hands still won’t be equal. The remaining card will settle which hand is better according to how high it is.

The next hand that is worth getting is called three-of-a-kind. This is self-explanatory, but if you are still unsure, it means three cards of the same rank and two others which are not a pair. A straight comes next. This type of hand means cards that are in a sequence, such as four, five, six, seven and eight, but they can be drawn from any of the four suits. Next is a flush which means any value of cards so long as they are all in the same suit.

Poker Rules and Poker Hands PairSource: Clifford Photography / Unsplash

Following the flush is a full house which is superior but statistically less likely to appear. A full house consists of a three-of-a-kind plus the addition of a pair. Three jacks and two fives would beat another full house that consists of three nines and two sixes on the basis that jacks outrank nines. The next hand is called four-of-a-kind. The best four-of-a-kind hand you could get would be four aces. A straight flush is almost at the pinnacle of poker hands. This means having a straight which is also a flush – in other words, a sequence of five cards in the same suit. The highest straight flush you could possibly get would be ace, king, queen, jack and ten of a particular suit. Since this includes the picture cards it is called a royal flush.

Good Poker TV Series

If learning about poker hands has whetted your appetite, then how about settling down to a good TV series about poker? There are plenty to choose from, after all. KidPoker of 2015 is a made-for-TV movie about Daniel Negreanu, one of the most successful Canadian poker players ever. Win it All is a Netflix original tale about poker that has plenty of comic moments despite a serious theme. It first came out in 2017. Cold Deck is a thriller that is worth a viewing, too. It sets a high stakes poker game against the background of criminality and gangsterism. The poker depicted in it is very realistic and makes you feel as though you have a stake in the game, too!

Movies About Poker

There have been some big-screen movies that have featured poker over the years, too. Offering a classic blend of glamour, criminals and exciting card action, Runner Runner of 2013 is a great film to find out more about the game. Starring Ben Affleck and Justin Timberlake, it has just enough realism to keep poker players engaged with the psychology of the two main protagonists. Even if you don’t like poker, it is a fast-paced thriller. Released in 2006, Casino Royale, starring Daniel Craig in his first outing as James Bond, includes a memorable poker scene. In the book, Bond plays Baccarat against his Nemesis but – largely due to the rising popularity of poker – the producers switched the game. Poker fans enjoy the gambling scene because they can talk endlessly about how they would have played their hands differently.

Planning a Poker Night at Home? What Do You Need?

Other than a deck of cards and some friends, you don’t need much to enjoy some poker at home. A table with a baize top is a good idea because this stops cards from slipping around. You can also spend some time and build your own Poker Table. You can start your DIY project with just some plywood, foam, and felt. There are many videos and how-to websites, which will make it easy for you. However, a Poker table is not essential.

Best Party Snack Order PizzaSource: Photo by Alexandra Gorn on Unsplash

What you will need, on the other hand, is plenty of things to keep your guests feeling refreshed. Poker can take a long time until players feel ready to back their hands fully, after all. Have soft drinks so that everyone can keep a clear head if they want to and make sure you have plenty of nibbles. Why not order out for pizza and really make a night of it?

Want to Learn More About the Game?

There are plenty of resources to find out more about the world of poker and all of the ways you can play it. Raiser’s Edge is a book that offers an interesting take on what it takes to leverage your hand to win as often as possible. Written by Jared Tendler, The Mental Game of Poker also offers plenty of insights that many players will find useful. There is plenty of advice you can obtain from other sources, too. Some of the world’s top players are good to follow on social media as they’re always offering tips. Daniel Negreanu is a good case in point but there are many others.

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