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What is IRC poker and how can I play?

Author: Michael Maurer
Last updated: 1998
Copyright © 2004 Michael Maurer
The official and up-to-date version of this answer is here.

Oct 2003 status: IRC poker is offline while it is in search for a new home. Since it looks likely to never find one, this section is here only for historical interest.

IRC poker is a real-time network poker game that allows people from around the world to play poker with each other via the Internet. The stakes are "etherbucks", which is to say imaginary. Each player's imaginary bankroll is recorded from session to session, and rankings of both bankroll and earning rate inspire competitiveness. An automatic program serves as the dealer and controls the action. World Wide Web users can find out more about the dealer program by looking at

The game uses the Internet Relay Chat, or IRC, to arrange communications amongst the players and with the dealer. IRC is normally a sort of global cocktail party, with several thousand people from around the globe engaged in small pockets of conversation on various "channels". Within each channel, anything one person types appears on the screens of all the other people tuned in to the channel (although one person can also "whisper" privately to another). The poker channels are unusual in that an automaton is always present to supervise a poker game. However, the chat aspect of the channel is preserved, so that the poker games can become quite social.

In order to play IRC poker, you must have an IRC client and access to the Internet. The client is a program running on your local machine that connects you to the IRC network. The most popular Windows interface to IRC poker is Greg Reynolds' Gpkr, available for free at Gpkr is regularly maintained and sure to be up to date with the latest IRC poker changes. If you get Gpkr you can ignore most of what follows, since the Gpkr graphical interface takes care of the details behind the scenes.

On the Macintosh, Larry Weinberg's McPoker is the client of choice; see

If you are on a Unix machine, try typing 'irc' to see if a client is already installed. If not, or if you are on a Macintosh or other system, you will have to obtain a client by FTP. One archive site for IRC clients is The Unix client is named ircII. This archive also contains a primer on using IRC. The official IRC FAQ is available at An excellent generic Windows client is mIRC, available at

Once you have a client up and running, you need to connect to the special, isolated IRC poker server. In order to speed up the games, the poker server is not a part of the standard IRC network. The different clients have various ways to specify the IRC server you want to use; on Unix you can say

    irc nickname
or      irc nickname

where 'nickname' is the name by which you will be known to other IRC users. After a moment, this command should connect you to the IRC poker server and print a welcome message. (From this point on the instructions are Unix-specific, but many of the commands will work on the other clients as well).

At this point you can find out what channels are open by typing


which prints the topic of each channel, or you can see a more detailed view with


which lists all of the people on each channel. As of May 1994, typical channels included #holdem, #omaha, and #nolimit. To join a particular channel (for instance, #holdem), type

    /join #holdem

The action of the poker game and the ongoing conversations should now appear on your screen. The play of the game is governed by sending special messages to the dealer automaton; for example, the message

    p fold

indicates that you wish to fold. All poker commands are prefixed with the letter 'p'. The command

    p commands

gives a list of all possible commands. The most important are

    p join password         % join the game (pick any password)
                            % this starts your bankroll at $1000
    p quit                  % quit the game
    p fold                  % fold when the action gets to you
    p check                 % check (do not bet or fold)
    p call                  % call a bet
    p raise                 % raise the bet

On the non-structured channels like #nolimit, some of these commands may take an argument, such as

    p raise 50

When you join the channel you will notice the conspicuous absence of these 'p' commands despite the ongoing play. This is because most players send their messages privately to the dealer only, using a command like

    /msg hbot p raise

where 'hbot' is the nickname of the dealer. (This is especially useful to hide your password when you join.)

Because poker players are inherently lazy, most users of ircII have a special set of IRC macros that saves them the effort of typing all those characters each time they have to act. These poker macros are available from The file contains instructions for using it on a Unix machine. Although mIRC doesn't understand these macros, it does let you set up customized menus and aliases yourself.

In addition, curses and X-windows based front ends have been written for the poker games. The curses version uses simple terminal graphics to draw pictures of your cards and those of the other players, helping you to visualize the action. When other players fold their cards are mucked, and the board and pot are shown in the middle. This front end can be used in conjunction with the IRC macros mentioned above. Both curses and X-windows versions of the program are available on the web in source code form for Unix machines at