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A game that is guaranteed to appear in casinos all around the world, is poker. Players everywhere are immersed in this highly competitive game, that does not only rely on luck, but perhaps just as much on skill and bravoure. It is the ultimate battle of wills, a game for only the most headstrong and persuasive of people. Although its tentacles reach far beyond casinos, at this point. The game is played by people at home, at work, at school – and more significantly, on the internet. Online poker is a very lucrative business, with players willing to bet thousands and thousands of euros on a single hand. Simultaneously, the tournaments – organised both online and offline – have reached the status of high stake sports matches. Players are looked at as heroes, games are televised live, and the tournament prizes are rather excessive.

History of Poker

How did it get to this point? Why and how has poker become such a hype? Contrary to other popular casino games, poker is still relatively young. It was first played in the United States at the beginning of the 19th century. Although there are people who suggest that it is actually much older, as it is a general derivative of the card games that are much older.

Yet the unique betting element and the exact rules did not really catch on until 1800-something, in the Mississippi/New Orleans area, with a deck of 20 cards and four players betting on who had the most favourable hand. From there, it spread like wildfire across the country, aided by the gold rush. Poker had soon become a vital part of the lifestyle of pioneers at the frontier.

Yet how did it move from the Wild West to the current era? A tale that moves through the Civil War, during which variations of the game were introduced, as well as the 52-card deck. But the basic gameplay has remained unchanged.

How to play poker

The card game of poker revolves around winning the pot using the card combination in your hand. Players are unaware of each other’s hands, which is where the element of bluff comes in play. Forced to decide whether their hand will be sufficient to win (= having a higher value than that of the other players), a player will have to make a judgment call.

Does that little twitch of the eyebrow of the player at the other end of the table indicate that he is satisfied with his hand and trying to hide it? Does the nervous coughing of the person to your right indicate that he has just been dealt a bad hand? Or are it merely diversion tactics, only serving the purpose of making you believe these things – while in fact the opposite could be the case. Someone with a good hand could fake uneasiness and anxiety to let others believe he is no real threat. Or someone with a bad hand could be trying to snatch away the pot regardless, by out bluffing his opponents by making them believe he has, in fact, a very strong hand.

An element that relies heavily on observation skills, suppression of emotions – the true pokerface -, and a fair amount of personal bluff and misdirection. Along with the element of luck, obviously, as the hand of cards that you are dealt is completely up to fate.

Progression of Poker

A poker game starts off with the table dealer shuffling the cards. After that, the player to his right cuts (= basically reshuffling the cards again).

After that, the players around the table are dealt a hand of 5 cards by the dealer, one card at a time, starting with the player to the left of the dealer. The cards are drawn at random, hence the element of fate. One or several players are required to make a bet, the forced bets, and place some of their chips (or money, in some cases) in the pot, to get the game started and create the initial pot to play for.

Once the game gets going, players take part in rounds. At the start of such a round, upon observing their hand of cards, they can decide on a number of actions. This largely depends on the actions of the other players. Generally starting with the person to the left of the dealer, players take clockwise turns in playing.

If there has not been a bet made by any of the other players in the current round, there are two options:

CHECK: If a player is unsure of his hand, he can opt to check. He does then not place a bet, and will no longer be eligible to bet in this round. Upon checking, his turn passes to the next player to the left. Beware: this does not mean that a player loses his chances of winning the pot in this round. He merely indicates that he does not want to open. He will be eligible to raise or call later on in the round.

OPEN: This means that a player chooses to bet money, or engage in the current round. After this, the player to his left can choose to pass on his hand (fold), increase the bet (raise), or match the bet (call).

So, once someone has placed a bet (opened), three options become available:

FOLD: The player decides to give away his hand and does in turn receive new cards. This usually happens when a player in convinced that his combination of cards is too low to win. Upon folding, a player can no longer play in the current round and loses his chances of winning the pot (including any bets they have already made). So, it is basically a forfeit for the round.

CALL: A player can choose to call, meaning to match the highest bet made thus far. To call means to match the exact bet, it cannot be a lower bet. If you are not willing to bet the required amount, your only option is to fold.

RAISE: A player increases the previous highest bet. In order to raise, you have to at least double this earlier bet. This basically shows that you have (or are feigning) confidence in your hand and, as such, willing to invest heavily. After raising, the next player has to call this raised amount (hence, he has to match the amount of the last raise). Alternatively, he could raise once more, increasing the stakes of the game even more – or fold, if the stakes are getting too high. You can raise until you bet all of your chips, this is called ‘all in’.

Intricacies of Gameplay

The game unfolds after the initial choices that are explained above. It could happen that all players check on the round, meaning that no one is willing to make the first bet. In this event, the round is considered to be finished (= played) and new cards will be dealt.

More commonly, however, there will be one of the players who is willing to open. In this case, they generally place the chips that they want to wager into the pot. All other players who are still in the pot, can match this bet or raise it.

The round ends when all players who are still in have matched the highest bet; in which case the cards are revealed to see who does in fact hold the highest value. That player wins the pot.

Additionally, if bluffing is done right, it could be that everyone, except the last player to have called or raised, has folded. This means that there is only one player who has the highest bet and the others have forfeited. The player with the highest bet wins the pot.

Poker Hands

The value of the cards is determined by the combination of those. A player who is still in the round and who, upon playing, boasts the highest hand, wins the pot. It may sound straightforward, but the number of poker hands makes it more complicated.

As for poker hands, ranking from the highest value to the lowest, the following are good to understand:

  • Royal flush, a combination of the 5 highest cards in ascending order and all of the same suit. For example, Ace-King-Queen-John-10. all of diamonds.
  • Straight flush, a combination of 5 cards straight, all of the same suit. For example, 5-6-7-8-9, all of hearts.
  • Four of a kind, also referred to as quads, 4 cards with the same value. For example, 10-10-10-10-Queen.
  • Full house, containing 3 cards of the same value and 2 cards of another same value. For example, 5-5-John-John-John.
  • Flush, containing any 5 cards of the same suit. For example, 2-4-7-10-King, all of spades.
  • Straight, containing 5 cards in a sequence. For example, 4-5-6-7-8, not of the same suit.
  • Three of a kind, containing 3 cards of the same value. For example, Queen-Queen-Queen.
  • Two pairs, containing 2 cards of one value and 2 cards of another value. For example, 4-4-Ace-Ace.
  • Pair, containing 2 cards of one value. For example, John-John.
  • High card, if none of the combinations above: the hand with the highest card wins.

It could happen that two players are tied with the same value. In that case, a so-called kicker comes in play, that uses the remaining cards (that are not a part of the combination, such as the 2 remaining cards in the event of Three of a kind). The remaining card(s) with the highest value determines the winner.

Versions of Poker

Once visiting an online casino, a player will quickly find out that there are many versions of poker to choose from. Hold’em, 5 Card Stud, 7 Card Stud, Draw, and Omaha Poker are the 5 main varieties, each of which includes a variety of sub-games. Each of these have their own unique rules and characteristics.

Important to realise is that the basic rules remain the same, yet it are mostly technicalities and ways of dealing and assessing the cards that make the difference. For new players, it is advisable to try out a number of versions to determine what they prefer – and, as a final advice, to always first check out the unique rules and how-to’s for the version that you are choosing to play. It is advisable to be prepared, and to keep that poker face strong!

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