Updated: 23-Dec-2008



Poker History

The history of poker is unclear. The name has most likely descended from the French poque, which in turn was derived  from the German pochen ('to knock'), however it is unclear if the contemporary Poker's gameplay is based in the aforementioned games. Poker resembles the Persian game of as nas, which may have been taught to French settlers in New Orleans by Persian sailors.

It was first reported that a variation of the Poker game was played in New Orleans in 1829, with a deck of 20 cards, four players betting on which player's hand was the most valuable. In Jonathan H. Green's book, An Exposure of the Arts and Miseries of Gambling (G. B. Zieber, Philadelphia, 1843), the game was described as having  spread  from there to the rest of the country by Mississippi riverboats, on which gambling was  commonplace. As the game  spread from  Mississippi to the West during the gold rush, the game's history  became intertwined and an integral part of the frontier, pioneering ethos.


Soon after  poker  spread, the full 52-card English deck was used, and the flush was introduced. A number of variations came about during the American Civil War, some of the variations included,  draw poker, stud poker (the five-card variant), and the straight. In America further developments followed, the wild card (around 1875), lowball and split-pot poker (around 1900), and community card poker such as Texas Hold'em  (around 1925). In the 20th century, the game spread  throughout the world and particularly in Asia through the US military.

It wasn't until the 1970s that modern poker tournament play, through the introduction of the World Series of Poker, became increasingly popular in American casinos. It was also through this decade that the first serious strategy books became available. Some of the more notable ones included Super/System by Doyle Brunson who was one of the early winners of the aforementioned WSoP.

Poker's popularity experienced further popularity in the early 21st century, the main drivers being the introduction of online poker and the invention of the hole-card camera, which turned the game into a spectator sport. Viewers could now follow the action and drama of the game, and broadcasts of poker tournaments such as the World Series of Poker and the World Poker Tour brought in huge audiences for cable and satellite TV distributors.


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Poker Variants

Draw Poker: Draw poker is named for the draw, which allows players to exchange their cards for new ones from the deck. Five cards are dealt at one time to each player. After a round of betting, players may trade in their cards for new ones (so that a player exchanging three cards will get three new cards dealt from the deck). Sometimes the number of cards a player may trade in is limited. Another round of betting then occurs and the remaining players reveal their cards (called the showdown). Players can fold (drop out of a hand) at any time during the game, forfeiting the money they have already bet. (2)

Stud Poker: In stud poker cards are dealt or revealed in stages, with rounds of betting between each stage. For example, in five-card stud players receive one card facedown and one card faceup and then take turns betting. Additional cards are dealt faceup one by one with betting after each card. After five cards have been dealt (the last one sometimes facedown) and the betting is over, the remaining players reveal their cards and the winner is determined. Seven-card stud is the same except that the first deal features two cards facedown and one card faceup, with a total of seven cards dealt. Players then select the five best cards to make up their hand. (2)

Community Card Poker: Players combine individually dealt cards with a number of "community cards" dealt face up and shared by all players. Two or four individual cards may be dealt in the most popular variations, Texas hold 'em and Omaha hold 'em, respectively.


Game Play (1)

Poker has a multitude of variations, the majority follow the same basic  play.

The right to deal each hand typically rotates among the players and is marked by a token called a button or buck. In a casino a house dealer handles the cards for each hand, but a button (typically a white plastic disk) is rotated among the players to indicate a nominal dealer to determine the order of betting.

For each hand, one or more players  are required to make forced bets to create an initial stake for which the players will contest. The dealer shuffles the cards, he or another player cuts, and the appropriate number of cards are dealt to the players one at a time. After the initial deal, the first of what may be several betting rounds begins. Between rounds, the players' hands develop in some way, often by being dealt additional cards or replacing cards previously dealt. At the end of each round, all bets are gathered into the central pot.

In Hold' em, two players  have to make compulsory bets prior to the cards being dealt, these are known as The Blinds. The first player  situated immediately to the left of the dealer  places the 'small blind' and the player two places to the left of the dealer places the 'big blind'. The bet amounts are pre-determined and the Big Blind is usually double the amount of the Small Blind. The Big Blind is used to set the level of the minimum bet for the first betting round.

Poker Table Layout

At any time during a betting round, if a player makes a bet, opponents are required to match it or to surrender their cards and forfeit their interest in the pot. If one player bets and no opponents choose to match the bet, the deal ends immediately, the bettor is awarded the pot, no cards are required to be shown, and the next deal begins. It is the ability to win a pot without showing a hand that makes bluffing possible. Bluffing is the primary feature that differentiates  poker,  from other vying games and from other games that make use of poker hand rankings.

At the end of the last betting round, if more than one player remains, there is a showdown, in which the players reveal their previously hidden cards and evaluate their hands. The player with the best hand according to the poker variant being played wins the pot.

"Hold 'em is to stud what chess is to checkers."  - Johnny Moss


Hold'em Betting Rounds & Choices

In this section we will concentrate on Hold'em game play. Two to ten players are needed per table.

 Once the blinds have been placed, the cards are shuffled and two cards are dealt face down to each player. The 'hole' cards as they are known can only be seen by the player they were dealt to. Once every player receives their 'Hole' cards. A betting round takes place.

Following the betting round, three cards are dealt face up, these communal cards are called 'the flop'. A further round of betting takes place.

A fourth communal card is dealt face up, known as the 'turn' or 'Fourth Street', then the penultimate round of betting takes place.

A fifth and final communal card is dealt face up, known as the 'river' or 'Fifth Street', then the final  betting round takes place.

If more than one player is still active by this round, they turn their hole cards face up and the player with the best hand made up of their hole cards plus three or more of the communal cards wins the pot.

In order for a player to remain active, by the end of each betting round, the player  would have had to put  the same amount into the pot  as everyone else in the particular round and total in the hand so far.

The first betting round (once the Hole cards have been dealt) effectively starts by the player left to the Big Blind.

The player  has at most 5 options during their turn and they are as follows:

Bet: The first chips put in any round and is only an option to a player when no one has previously contributed in the particular betting round. In the first round bet is covered by the blinds and the player left to the big blind cannot call on that option.

Fold: Returning of cards face down to dealer, taking no further action in the hand and foregoing claim of the pot.

Raise: Matching ('calling') and increasing the size of bet  made by a player in an earlier position during the betting round.

Call: Matching the bet  or raise of  players in earlier positions, thus maintaining the same level of investment in the hand with the previous  players,  in order to stay in the round

Check: This option is only available when no chips have been added during the betting round. If all players check then play moves on to the next stage without further investment in the pot.

Table Limits

Every Hold' em game is governed by four sorts of bet limits that regulate betting increments. These rules govern the size and number of bets. Limits are announced up front (or advertised in the case of online poker rooms) and do not change once play begins

The limits are as follows:

Fixed Limit: Within a fixed limit game, no player can bet or raise other than predetermined increments or limits. The limit doubles in the last two  betting rounds (after the turn and river are dealt.) Thus in a game advertised as $1-$2 Limit game, the Big Blind would put up $1 and the first two betting rounds the limit would be at $1,  whilst in the third and fourth betting rounds the limit would increase to $2.

 No Limit: This is the version of the game that is most commonly provided by online poker rooms and often televised as it basically asks you; Are you willing to risk all on this hand?(5) With No Limit there is no maximum limit or caps on bets and raises. Only minimum bet rules apply. The minimum bet would be set by the Big Blind. A raise would have to match the same incremental value as a raise  by a player in an earlier position.   Thus if a game is advertised as No Limit $1-$2, $2 would indicate the minimum bet or raise.

Pot Limit: Where the maximum bet allowed is the value of the pot at the moment of betting.

Spread Limit: This game allows players  to bet incrementally within a predetermined limit. For instance if the spread limit is $1 -$5, a player can bet or raise $1, $2, $3, $4 or $5. The proviso is that any raise must be equal or greater than the bet that preceded it, in the round.(6)

Ranking &  Poker Hand Odds


Cards Required

Example No of Ways Hand can be made Approx Odds
Straight flush Five cards in sequence and of the same suit.

An ace-high straight flush is often called a "royal flush", and is the highest hand possible without wild cards

4 (Royal flush)

36 (Straight flush)

1 in 649,740   (Royal flush)

1 in 72,193.33 (Straight flush)

Four of a kind A hand with four cards of the same rank. 624 1 in 4,165.00
Full house A hand with three cards of one rank and two of another.

Often described as the three-of-a-kind rank full of the pair rank.

3,744 1 in 694.16
Flush Five cards of the same suit. 5,108 1 in 508.80
Straight Five cards in sequence. (The ace can be considered higher than the king or lower than the two.) 10,200 1 in 254.80
Three of a kind Three cards of the same rank. 54,912 1 in 47.32
Two pair Two cards of one rank, two of another. 123,552 1 in 21.03
One pair Two cards of the same rank. 1,098,240 1 in 2.36

Hands are ranked in the above order because of their relative probabilities, the rarer hands have a higher rank over more common hands.  In addition, all 5 card poker hands can be collapsed down to 7,462 distinct equivalence classes. For instance, there are 24 different ways to create an Aces over Kings Full House hand, however as they all hold the same poker ranking value, they can be grouped into the same equivalence class. In this way, all 2,598,960 unique five card poker hands can be shrunk down to just 7,462 distinct classes of hands. (3)

Pot Odds

Now you know the odds of your poker hand it is imperative that you familiarise yourself with  pot odds. Pot odds refers to the ratio between the amount of money in the pot and the amount of money that a player must put down in order to call a bet. If for example the pot contains £70 and the required bet is £7, to stay the in the game, the pot odds are 10:1. If the pot odds are 10:1, you should then only call if you believe that the chances of you holding (or drawing ) the winning hand are better than 10:1. To better appraise your chances you have to bear in mind the information available on other players hands as well as your own. Using mental arithmetic is what the best players do to minimise or manage the effect of luck. (4)

"Poker is a game of many skills, you need card sense, psychological insight, a good memory, controlled aggression, enough mathematical know-how to work out the odds as each hand develops and what poker players call a leather ass - i.e. patience" Al Alvarez

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If you are still confused with some Poker terminology click here to have a look at our Poker Glossary.

If you would like to practise or play in a tournament and are looking for some reputable online poker sites click here.




1 "Poker." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 2 Jul 2006, 08:10 UTC. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 2 Jul 2006

2 "Poker," Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2006 © 1997-2006 Microsoft Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

3 "Hand (poker)." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 29 Jun 2006, 22:25 UTC. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 2 Jul 2006

4 Fletcher, Iain (2005). The Rough Guide to Poker. Rough Guides

5 6 Hankin, Alex (2006). The Definitive Guide to Poker. Raceform Expert Series


Suggested Reading:

Brunson, Doyle (1979). Doyle Brunson's Super System. Cardoza.

Sklansky, David (1989). The Theory of Poker (3rd Ed). Two Plus Two Publications.

Vorhaus, John (2002). Killer Poker. Lyle Stuart.  

Ernest, James; Selinker, Mike; Foglio, Phil (2005). Dealer's Choice: The Complete Handbook of Saturday Night Poker. Overlook Press.  

Caro, Mike (1978). Caro's Book of Poker Tells. Cardoza.

Fletcher, Iain ((2005). The Rough Guide to Poker. Rough Guides

Hankin, Alex  (2006). The Definitive Guide to Poker, Raceform



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