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With a history almost as long as gambling itself and a recent explosion into the online world, poker remains one of the most infamous card games of all times.
Poker is widely considered to be the most America of casino card games, but did you know that it has a history inspired by a number of great civilizations going back more than a millennium? Some believe poker's beginnings were a Persian game called "As Nas" which was played in the 16th century, while others say it dates back to the Song Dynasty in 10th century China.
Modern-day poker is closely linked to "Poque", which - you guessed it - comes from 17th century France, the source for most of today's casino games. Like craps, roulette and other Vegas favorites, Poque was brought to the New Orleans by French settlers and spread up the Mississippi River with the famous riverboats during the 18th century. In the Wild West of America, it developed into something resembling the modern versions of the game.
Poker's first boom came during the American Civil War from 1861-65. It was during this time that many of the additions that still stand today were made, such as draw poker, stud poker (five-card poker) and the straight. Innovations continued throughout the late 19th and early 20th century, with introduction of a wild card, lowball and split-pot poker and community card poker.
Texas Hold'em only rose to prominence in the 1970s, but has since become the dominant version of poker. As its name suggests, the game was invented in the southern Texan town of Robstown in the early 20th century, and was only introduced to Las Vegas in 1967. For the first few years, casinogoers could only play Texas Hold'em at one Vegas establishment, a seedy little casino called The Golden Nugget. In 1969, a Texas Hold'em tournament was held in the The Dune Casino lobby. As this hotel was located right on The Strip, it attracted high rollers for the first time.
The big break for Texas Hold'em came in 1970 when gambling moguls Benny and Jack Binion bought the rights to the Gambling Fraternity Convention, changed its name to the World Series of Poker and brought it to Binion's Horseshoe. In 1971, the second year of the WSOP, they made the main event a game of no-limit Texas Hold'em. The rest, as they say, is history.
WSOP attracted only a few entrants in its early years, but as it grew in popularity Texas Hold'em quickly outgrew other poker variants in popularity. Names like Doyle Brunson and Amarillo Slim became known in households around the USA, as their victories captured the public's imagination and their books helped laymen learn basic poker strategy. The game continued to grow through the 80s and 90s, featuring in movies, documentaries and friendly poker nights around the world.
The second big break for poker came with the rise of the Internet. Amateurs were playing online poker as early as the mid-90s. However, the big boom came when Chris Moneymaker won the $2.5 million World Series of Poker Main Event in 2003 - becoming the first player to do so after qualifying at an online poker site. His win shows tens of millions of aspiring poker players around the world that you don't need a massive bankroll to become a poker star.
As you would expect for a game that has so many variations and has been influenced by multiple cultures, poker is rich in unique terminology. The terms below are a basic part of Texas Hold'em, but many can be used in other poker games.
Ante: A minimum amount that each player must put into the pot before a new game begins. This is sometimes used in Texas Hold'em.
Bad Beat: Losing a hand that you would have been strong favorite to win. For example, losing a hand in which you hold pocket Aces and the other player holds pocket 3s, but they win by hitting another 3 on the river.
Blinds: Forced bets depending on your position to the dealer. The person to the left of the dealer puts down a small blind, while the person two to the left puts down the big blind.
Bluff: Betting on a weak hand in order to encourage players with potentially stronger hands to fold. A good poker player is often defined by how well they can bluff their way out of a weak hand.
Buy-in: The chips which players purchase in order to participate in a poker game.
Chips: Gaming tokens, effectively poker currency.
Community Cards: The cards that are dealt face-up to be used by all players. In Texas Hold'em, there are five community cards.
Flop: The first round, in which three community cards are dealt face-up on the table.
Flush: Five cards of the same suit.
Flush Draw: A hand in which you have four of the five cards you need for a flush, needing only one more card of that suit to complete the flush.
Hole Cards: Your own two cards, which should only be seen by you and not by the other players.
Pair: Two cards of the same value, such as two 4s or two Kings.
Pot: All the money that has been bet on a hand.
Rake: The House commission from every pot. As poker is a game in which players compete against each other, the House earns its take from the rake.
River: The fifth and final community card to be dealt.
Round of Betting: Players have four options each betting round: check, call, raise or fold.
Royal Flush: Ace high straight in which all cards of the same suit - Ace, King, Queen, Jack and Ten of hearts, diamonds, clubs or spades. This hand cannot be beaten.
Straight: Five consecutive cards of any suit, such as Jack, 10, 9, 8 and 7.
Trips: Three-of-a-king, e.g. three Jacks or three 4s.
Turn: The dealing of the fourth community card.
Texas Hold'em is the primary version of poker played today in most land-based and online casinos. It has also gained worldwide popularity through the television of the World Series of Poker, World Poker Tour and other global poker tournaments. Its rules are as follows:
The dealer begins by shuffling a standard 52-card deck. At casinos, the dealer is a non-playing casino employee, but in friendly games the dealer can be one of the players. In either case, a "dealer button" moves clockwise from player to player after each hand, in order to keep track of who posts blinds.
Before each hand, the player to the left of the dealer button posts a small blind (half the minimum bet) and the player two to the left of the dealer posts a big blind (minimum bet). Then the dealer deals each player their two "hole cards" face down
A round of betting is held, beginning with the player to the left of the big blind and continuing in that direction. Each player has four choices: check (means adding no further money if the player's bet already matches the maximum bet), call (add more to the pot to match the maximum bet on the table), raise (bet more than the maximum bet) or fold (quit this hand, forfeiting any money they may have already bet).
Next is the flop: the dealer "burns" the top card on the deck in case anyone accidentally saw it, and then flips three "community cards" on the table. Another round of betting takes place, involving all players who are still in the hand and beginning with the player to the left of the dealer button. Once again, players have four options: check, call, raise or fold.
This continues with the turn and the river: After the turn (fourth community card), players engage in another round of betting. After the river (fifth and final community card), the players engage in the final round of betting.
If two or more players are still in the game after the turn, the dealer turns over the five community cards and the winner is determined. Players can use any combination of seven cards (their two hole cards and five community cards) to form the best possible five-card hand. The player with the best hand wins, taking all the money in the pot.
The best hands follow this descending order:
Royal Flush: Ace-high straight Flush
Straight Flush: Hand containing five consecutive cards of same suit.
Four of a kind: Hand containing four cards of same rank (such as four queens or four 9s) and one other card.
Full House: Hand containing three cards of one rank and two of another rank.
Flush: Hand containing five unmatched cards of the same suit.
Straight: Five cards of sequential rank but with at least one that is not of the same suit.
Three of a kind: Hand in which three cards have same rank and two do not.
Two pair: Hand in which there are two pairs of cards with same rank and one other card.
Pair: Hand in which two of the cards have same rank as each other.
High Card: If nobody has any of the above cards, the game is won by the player with the highest single card (beginning with Ace).
Poker is a game of skill - your cards will be dealt randomly, but the eventual result depends on your strategy.
Intuition is an important part of the strategy; your chances of success will increase if you are able to read your opponents' faces and determine whether they are bluffing, while managing to bluff without having your opponents read your own face. These qualities come naturally to some people, while for others they are acquired through years of solid poker practice.
For novices, the most important thing to do is to understand basic strategy, and that's what we want to talk to you about today. Bluffing, reading faces, counting cards are all intermediate and advanced skills, but there's no use knowing how to do these things if you don't get even basic strategy, right?
The first thing you will need to do in any game of Texas Hold'em is to assess whether your hole cards are any good. As a general rule, if you receive two non-pair cards that are both valued at less than 10, your chances of winning the hand are not great. Conservative players tend to fold if even one of their cards is valued at less than 10; more aggressive players might stay in with less. And the most ambitious players could potentially stay in with a disastrous hand (such as a 3 and a 5 of different suits) and try to bluff their way out of it.
If your cards are no good but your big blind is inexpensive, it may be worth staying in the hand to see what happens. But don't start calling if it requires putting more money into the pot than you can afford to lose. Sometimes it is better to sit tight, be patient, absorb those early losses and wait for a good hand. The cards are random and the laws of probability say that you will sometimes receive a good hand and sometimes receive a bad hand - it's what you do with those hands that counts.
- The first rule of poker is: Don't play every hand. The second rule of poker is: Don't play every hand. Our human instincts encourage us to participate rather than to view, but it is worth ignoring those instincts. Each hand is a new game with a new set of cards, so make sure to only play those hands in which you have a chance.
- Further to rule number one, it is worth sitting out hands purely because it allows you to concentrate on what other players are doing. Whether you are playing in a real casino or at an online poker room, you can learn a lot from observing the players around you.
- Don't stay in a hand just because you're already in it. One of the most common mistakes by novice poker players is to keep calling their opponent's bet because they have already spent so much money getting to that stage. Would you keep putting money into a stock that is diving, just because you already invested in it? No, clearly not. The same rule applies to poker. A better way to win back your money is to fold this hand and win the next hand.
- Don't get emotional. Every poker pro will tell you that they never win they're angry. People who are upset or looking for revenge ultimately make irrational decisions. People who are cool, calm and collected are those who succeed in life and in poker.
- Pay attention to the community cards. Poker is about the other players, but it is also about the card. If you look closely at the cards on the table, you can figure out what potential five-card combinations other players can create. With that information, you can then figure out your chances of beating them.