How to Play Poker

How to Play Poker

From home games of the 5-card draw to Texas Hold-em at the World Series of Poker, this card game has been gaining in popularity since its introduction. But what if you don’t know the first thing about Poker? No worries. Despite the odd words and seemingly unconventional gameplay, Poker is a fairly simple game that everyone can enjoy. All versions of Poker build off the same basic rules. We will focus on one of the most popular versions of Poker, 5-card stud.

Poker uses a standard 52-card deck. The object is to create the highest ranked 5-card hand. Even if you are playing 7-card stud, the 5 most beneficial cards will be used to form your Poker hand.

Card Rankings

The cards are ranked from lowest to highest: 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, Jack, Queen, King and Ace. An ace can also be used below a 2 for a straight (see below).

The four suits are clubs, diamonds, hearts, and spades. Each suit contains cards numbering 2 thru Ace. No suit is considered a higher rank than another.

Starting with the best possible Poker hand, they rank as follows:

Royal Straight Flush – The best (and hardest to get) hand in Poker. A Royal Flush consists of 10, Jack, Queen, King, and Ace of the same suit.

Straight Flush – Five sequential cards of the same suit. Example: 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 of clubs. An ace can be used as the low card in an A, 2, 3, 4, and 5 straight.

Four of a Kind – Four cards of the same rank plus a random (“kicker”) card. Example: 4 of clubs, 4 of diamonds, 4 of hearts, 4 of spades, and 9 of hearts.

Full House – Three cards of one rank plus two cards of another rank. Example: 8 of diamonds, 8 of hearts, 8 of spades, Jack of diamonds, Jack of hearts.

Flush – All 5 cards are the same suit. Example: 4, 7, 8, 10, and Queen of clubs. This is a Queen high flush and will beat a flush with lower cards.

Straight – Five sequential cards, suit doesn’t matter. Example: 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9. The higher the cards in the straight, the better the hand.

Three of a Kind – Three cards of the same rank and two random cards. Example: 6 of clubs, 6 of hearts, 6 of spades, 3 of diamonds, and Ace of hearts.

Two Pair – Two cards of the same rank plus two cards of another rank and a random card. Example: 5 of diamonds, 5 of spades, 8 of diamonds, 8 of hearts, King of diamonds.

Pair – Two cards of the same rank plus three random cards. Example: 2 of clubs, 2 of diamonds, 4, 6, 8.

High Card – When you can make no other hand with your cards the rank goes by the highest cards. For a hand of 3, 5, 7, Queen, and King, the King would be the high card.

If two players have the same ranking hands, the highest cards win. (A pair of 7’s beats a pair of 2’s) If both players have the same hand, the highest kicker (extra card) wins. If the kicker is identical, the pot is split between the winning players.

Poker Gameplay

At the start of each game, every player must pay an “ante”. This is usually one Poker chip or nickel or quarter in small home games. The ante is collected and placed in a pile at the center of the table. This pile is called the “pot”. All subsequent bets are placed into the pot and it is the money the winner receives. An ante is not necessary but it ensures some money is wagered every hand.

It’s a good idea to set betting limits before a game begins. A minimum and maximum limit should be established. For a home game, you could have a minimum of a nickel and a maximum of a quarter. Each bet must be between the betting limits. Some people also set a limit on the number of raises allowed for each round of betting.

After the ante has been paid and betting limits are established, the game can begin. Starting clockwise from the dealer, each player receives one face down card. The player to the left of the dealer receives the first card. This process continues until all players have 5 cards. The players look at their cards and a round of betting follows.


The player to the left of the dealer is the first person to act. At this point, there is no bet so this person has the option to check, bet, or fold.

Check – To pass the action to the next player. You don’t want to fold and be out of the hand but you aren’t ready to bet money on your cards. You can only check if there is no bet.

Bet – To wager chips or coins. All players who wish to remain in the game must call or “see” the bet. To place a bet, announce that you want to bet. Then place the appropriate number of chips or coins on the table in front of you. The dealer will grab your bet and it is up to the remaining players if they want to stay in the hand.

Fold – Drop your cards face down on the table in front of you. Do this when you have poor cards and want out of the hand. It is never a good idea to fold when there is no bet since you can check and keep your cards.

If someone in front of you places a bet, you can no longer check. You now have the option to fold, call, or raise.

Call – You agree to match the current bet with a bet of your own.
Raise – When you have a really good hand and want to get more money in the pot (or more players out of the hand), you can raise. In effect you call the original bet and place an additional bet in the pot. Now players must call both bets to stay in the hand. In most games, the additional bet must be as much as, or more than the original bet.

Draw Phase

Once the first round of betting is complete, each player has the option of discarding up to three cards for new cards from the deck. Again, the player to the left of the dealer is the first to act. Unwanted cards are placed face down in a discard pile at the center of the table while you tell the dealer how many cards were discarded. The dealer will then deal with new cards so you have a total of 5 cards. Each player discards and receives new cards in turn until everyone has had a chance to discard. Now the second round of betting takes place starting with the first player.

The showdown

After the second round of betting it’s time for the showdown. Remaining players place their cards face-up on the table to determine who has the best hand. If the players are unsure which hand is better, the dealer will point out the winner. The winner gets all of the money in the pot.

Additional hands can be played alternating who starts first in a clockwise pattern beginning with the last person to go first.

There is more to Poker than this article can cover. It is not a game that can be mastered overnight. It takes years of learning, practice, and a little luck to become good. But one thing is for sure, anyone can learn to play and everyone can have fun.

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