The Basic Strategies of Playing Poker

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Ah yes, poker is the classic favourite of many gamblers. Along with baccarat and blackjack, the ageless card game is certainly a mainstay in many casinos — in both land-based outlets and in the realm of the online. But unlike the aforementioned card games, poker is a game which requires both luck and skill as each player is the master of his/her own fate.

From its humble beginnings, poker has steadily evolved and changed over time. These days, there are plenty of variations of poker that are offered by casinos everywhere. Off the top of the list is Texas Hold’em, Omaha Poker, and Stud Poker. 

For this piece, we’ll focus on the simplest form of poker i.e. the basics of playing poker! 

So without further ado, here’s how to play poker.

A Standard Pack Of Cards Is All You’ll Need To Play Poker

Poker is a game that is played using a standard 52-card pack, sometimes with the addition of one or two jokers (depending on the game variant). 

The cards are ranked from high to low as follows: Ace (A), King (K), Queen (Q), Jack (J), 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, and A again. The As in poker can either be high or low, though it’s usually considered a high ranking card. As usual, you’ll find the typical four suits in poker including spades, hearts, diamonds, and clubs. That said, the suits are all equal in ranking and no suit is higher than another.

Some variations of poker also include Wild Cards which may be used to substitute any suit and rank. Sometimes the joker cards will be used as Wild Cards, while other times, the game will specify which cards are wild.

The Value Of Poker Hands

While poker is played in innumerable formats, a poker player should ultimately understand the values of the poker hand. Excluding a few versions of the game, a poker hand must contain five cards wherein the highest hand wins that round.

The various combinations of poker hands ranking from high to low are as follows:

  • Royal Flush: The highest-ranking combination in poker is the famous Royal Flush which is formed by a Straight Flush (same suit) that runs to the ace (A, K, Q, J, and 10). With an odd of getting this hand being 1 in 650,000 deals, the Royal Flush is indeed the highest natural hand a player may receive.
  • Straight Flush: Speaking of highest natural hand, the Straight Flush consists of five cards of the same suit in a sequence. The Straight Flush is the highest possible hand (including the Royal Flush) when only the standard pack is used and there are no wilds.
  • Four Of A Kind: Ranking just below a Straight Flush, this combination simply entails four cards of the same rank i.e. 4 different Ks or 4 different 10s in a hand. The fifth, unmatched card is ignored in this case. And if there are two or more hands that qualify, the hand with the higher-rank Four Of A Kind wins.
  • Full House: This colourful hand basically comprises a Three-Of-A-Kind, along with a pair. For instance, 3 Qs and 2 As or 3 As and 2 5s make up a Full House. In the case of a tie, the hand with the highest-ranking Three Of A Kind (followed by the pair) wins.
  • Flush: A Flush happens when all five cards in a hand are of the same suit though not in sequence. For example, a hand containing Q, 10, 8, 3, and A of spades is a Flush. In the event two or more players have a flush, the person with the highest card in that suit wins. 
  • Straight: This combination follows a five-card hand consisting of a sequence of cards, ignoring the type of suit. For instance, 4 spade, 5 heart, 6 club, 7 club, and 8 diamond is a Straight hand. If two players have Straights, the player with the higher card wins.
  • Three Of A Kind: This combination involves 3 cards of the same rank, with the remaining 2 being a card of a different rank. An example would be 3 Js, a 7, and a 2. Again, the highest Three Of A Kind wins if there’s a tie.
  • Two Pairs: As implied, this hand contains a pair of one rank and another pair of separate ranking, in addition to any fifth card that isn’t the same rank as the two pairs. When more than one player has Two Pairs, the player with the highest-ranking pair wins.
  • One Pair: This is one of the most common hand in poker which only contains a single pair with the other three being distinct cards. The high card rule for ties applies here as well.
  • No Pair/High Card: If none of the above combinations can be made, then the winning requirement falls to the highest valued single card. And if two players have the same high card, then the second-highest valued card will be used to break the tie, followed by the third highest.

In addition to the above, if you’re playing a version of poker which involves jokers/wilds, you may potentially get a Five Of A Kind — a hand which beats out even the Royal Flush. A Five Of A Kind occurs when there you get 4 cards of equal rank plus a wild card. Alternatively and as an example, 2 Qs and 3 wild cards are also considered a Five Of A Kind.

How To Play Poker

Still with us so far on this journey to learn how to play poker? It may sound tough to remember all the intricacies associated with a game of poker, but really, learning how to play basic poker is not nearly as difficult as many people imagine. 

Generally, there’re two types of basic poker — Stud Poker and Draw Poker.

In Stud Poker, each player is dealt 5 cards (or 7 in some variations) per round. Players will then assess the relative strength of their hand and wager (or fold) accordingly. A player who has the biggest wager wins unless someone else is willing to match this wager. In this scenario, the two (or more) players remaining will show their hands and the strongest hand wins all the chips.

In Draw Poker, each player is also dealt 5 cards per round, and a round of betting ensues. The remaining players may then try to improve their poker hands by trading as many as 3 of their cards to obtain 3 new cards from the deck. If the player has an ace, he or she may trade the other four cards from the hand if needed.

A round of betting in poker starts after the dealer has given all the cards to the players. Starting from the left of the dealer, each player has four options:

  • Raise: A player may raise the stakes if they think they have a good hand (or if they’re trying to make other players think they have a strong hand). The other players will have to follow suit and raise their wagers if they wish to continue playing.
  • Fold: If a player decides their hand is not good enough, they may instead opt to fold by laying down their cards. This is also to ensure they do not lose any more chips than necessary. 
  • Call: Once there’s a raise, each player must then decide whether or not they should raise the stakes again, or to give in and fold. Calling then means to equal the amount wagered by the player who raised.
  • Check: If no one has increased the wager, a player may use the check option to stand or pass on their option to place a bet.

While there are plentiful varieties of poker games in the world of casinos, the same basic rules apply to most of them. In short, 5 or 7 cards are dealt to each player. The players then attempt to form the best poker hand possible out of our previously mentioned combinations above. 

For each and every poker game, the same hierarchy of hands is present, and the stronger hand will always win over the lesser hands. 

See? Learning poker wasn’t so hard, was it?

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