Poker is a game that may take a day or years to learn, but a lifetime to master. There are many variations of the game, though Texas Hold'em is the most popular. While each variation has its own set of rules, the basics of the game remain the same.
Poker is a game of chance and strategy as well as close observation. It involves some psychology, such as reading the players around you to decide when to fold or bluff, or knowing when to call an opponent's bluff.
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Once you understand the basic rules, hands, and vocabulary of the game, start focusing on strategy in order to master poker.
1 Memorize the 10 basic 5-card hands and their ranking (highest to lowest).
This is crucial to being successful at any poker game. To start familiarizing yourself with the different hands, print out a "cheat sheet" and study it.
Knowing the different hands will help you determine whether your hand is good enough to bet on, or whether it’s time to bluff or fold: Keep in mind that if two people face off with the same type of hand, the hand with the higher-ranking card(s) wins. If the hands have the exact same ranks of cards (suit does not matter), it is a tie and the prize, if any, is split evenly.
2 Play for bragging rights with friends or for small change.
When you’re first starting out, avoid playing for money. Or, set the ante extremely low and get used to placing “chips” in the pot by instead using small coins for your bets. This is a fun, low-pressure way to practice your skills and try your luck. You could also set a small limit for each person, such as $2 to $5, and simply watch the game once you’ve spent your limit or used up your chips that you bought from the banker.
3 Learn some basic poker table etiquette.
No one wants to feel like the rookie at the table, so learning some basic etiquette can help you to appear more knowledgeable and feel more comfortable during the game. Remember to be respectful of other players, and if you’re not sure of the etiquette in a certain situation, go with a more reserved action over a loud, flamboyant show. Pay attention to the action to know when it’s your turn. Being distracted means you’ll slow down the game, look disrespectful, and irritate the other players.
Small talk at the table is generally okay, but a rousing conversation, plus revealing cards or lying about your hand is considered bad etiquette. Unless you’re playing with friends, try to limit talking to the occasional comment or light exchange. Instead of “slow rolling,” or slowly revealing your winning hand to your opponent, be respectful and reveal all your cards right away at the end of the hand.
4 Learn how to deal.
Unless you’re playing at a casino, you’ll likely rotate the dealer/button position with each hand. The dealer shuffles, then distributes the cards in a clockwise circle, from the first player to the dealer's left—and to the dealer last. The cards must be dealt face down, 1 card at a time, until everyone has 5 cards. The remaining deck becomes the "draw-pool" and is placed face down in the middle of the table to be drawn from off the top. After each hand, the dealer/button position passes to the next player to the left. If the dealer is the same person at all times, such as at a casino table, then only the button position passes on to the next player (the last to receive the dealt card on each pass).
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