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The Theory of Poker

A lthough the varieties of poker may seem a little complex, it is really a lot easier than it may first appear. All of the different poker games (Hold'em, 7 card Stud, etc.) share some basic elements in common:

The goal of poker is to win money from the other players by placing bets on the strength of the cards that have been dealt to you.

All types of poker follow this basic format:

- Players are dealt cards (a "hand") , some or all of which are concealed .

- Bets are made on the strength of the cards in rounds of betting.

- The hands develop as more cards are dealt.

- Finally the strongest hand wins a showdown or all players but one have folded.

- Whichever kind of poker you play, it is essential to know the poker hand ranks .

Hold'em and Omaha have 2 to 10 players, while 7 card Stud games have 2 to 8 players.

A standard pack of 52 cards is used, with no jokers. The ace is the high card, however in hi/lo games it can be ranked as either high or low, at either end of a sequence. A new pack of cards is randomly generated before each game, using an RNG (Random Number Generator) to shuffle the deck.

The game moves around the table clockwise, including the placing of bets and the dealing of cards. Each player must act in turn. There is a theoretical "dealer" (represented by a "button" or small disc) which also rotates around the table clockwise with each hand. When you are in the dealer position (or "on the button" as it is sometimes called), you do not actually deal the cards yourself, rather you are the last player to receive your cards, and the two players to your left post the blind bets that get the pot going. In this way each player's relative position rotates with each hand.

Position is important in poker, and especially important in Hold'em. The later you act on your hand, the more information you can collect about the relative strengths of other players' hands. Since it is preferable to be in "late position", the dealer button rotates around the table with each hand. This ensures that each player has equal opportunities to be in late position...and to post the blind bets.

With each turn to act, you have the option to fold, or depending on what has happened before you, to check, bet, call or raise.

Blind bets start the pot. This gets everyone interested in how the hand turns out; the two that posted the blind bets have their own money at stake even before the first cards are dealt, and everyone else is faced with a small (but potentially growing) pot that someone is going to win.

Betting rounds take place to equalize the amount of money that each active player has in the pot...those that fold along the way relinquish their claim to the pot. Additional cards are dealt at each round of betting as well, which add further intrigue to the betting, and will inevitably force the weak-handed (or those not interested in bluffing!) to fold. As active players raise the bets, the other players who wish to remain in the hand must call to equalize each players stake in the pot...or they can choose to re-raise. There are a set number of raises allowed in each round of betting (except in no-limit poker which is just like it limit on either the number or the amount of raises, as long as you're not raising yourself. Start learning with limit can graduate to no-limit games once you master limit).

Players are only allowed to use the chips in play at the beginning of a hand. You are not allowed to get extra funds in the middle of a hand. You are however free to get more chips between hands. The specifics of what happens at each betting round are detailed in the individual poker game rules. With different numbers of "hole" cards (the secret cards you hold) and community cards (those cards shared by everyone at the table), each poker game requires different strategies and different strengths. This is what makes poker fun for everyone...and challenging to fully master! Remember though, you don't have to be a poker whiz to win; you only have to be better than those against whom you are playing. Start in the low limits to ensure that you are fairly matched. Then, as your skills improve, you can go to higher and higher stakes, and win the big bucks.

Bluffing is misleading your opponents into thinking that you have a hand different and usually stronger than the one you actually hold. This is a vital part of poker. If the best hand always won, then poker would be a simple game of chance. The keys to being a winning poker player are strategy and bluffing ...knowing when to play hands to begin with, and using your judgment to gauge when to push ahead with a less than ideal hand to bluff the other players out of the pot.

Once you understand the basics of this primer, check out the complete rules of poker to get all the details on how each game is played. We suggest you start with Hold'em, the most popular form of poker. Other games are variations on the basics of Hold'em, so it's a great place to start.


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