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Card Player Magazine — articles by top poker columnists
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Home Poker Games — where to play in your neighborhood
Learn Tournament Poker — poker tutoring services
Poker.net — articles plus a directory of real-life cardrooms
Poker Search — includes guide to US cardrooms
See Poker Portal for many more
Mike Caro University Library
Caro and Cooke's Rules of Real Poker
Bob Ciaffone's "Robert's Rules of Poker"
Tournament Directors Association (TDA) Rules
2004 World Series of Poker (WSOP) Rules
Tex's TEARS — poker tournament structure sheets
Most variants of poker satisfy the following definition, but in a home game of course you are free to modify the rules as you see fit.
Poker is a card game in which players bet into a communal pot during the course of a hand, and in which the player holding the best hand at the end of the betting wins the pot. During a given betting round, each remaining player in turn may take one of four actions:
Betting usually proceeds in a circle until each player has either called all bets or folded. Different poker games have various numbers of betting rounds interspersed with the receipt or replacement of cards.
Poker is usually played with a standard 4-suit 52-card deck, but a joker or other wild cards may be added. The ace normally plays high, but can sometimes play low, as explained below. At the showdown, those players still remaining compare their hands according to the following rankings:
(* Such matchups are only possible in games where there are wild cards or where community cards are shared, such as Texas Holdem.)
Suits are not used to break ties, nor are cards beyond the fifth; only the best five cards in each hand are used in the comparison. In the case of a tie, the pot is split equally among the winning hands. For a more detailed explanation, see the section on splitting the pot.
Several variations are possible when playing for low. Some games permit the ace to play low and ignore straights and flushes, making 5432A the best possible low, even if it makes a straight flush. Other games just reverse the order used for high hands, making 75432 of mixed suits the best possible low. Still others count straights and flushes against you but let the ace play low, making 6432A best. Note that in most games in which the ace plays low, a pair of aces is lower than a pair of deuces, just as an ace is lower than a deuce.
When a joker is in play, it usually can only be used as an ace or to complete a straight or flush. It cannot be used as a true wild card, for example, as a queen to make QQ43X play as three queens. When playing for low, the joker becomes the lowest rank not already held, so 864AX is played as 8642A, with the joker used as a deuce.
Although true wild cards are rarely seen in a casino, they are a popular way to add excitement to a home game. Wild cards introduce an additional hand, five of a kind, which normally ranks above a straight flush. They can also cause confusion when two players hold the same hand composed of different wild card combinations. The standard rules of poker do not distinguish between such hands, but some players prefer to rank hands using fewer wild cards above less "natural" versions of the same hand.
You may find these comprehensive poker rulebooks helpful:
Caro and Cooke's Rules of Real Poker
Bob Ciaffone's "Robert's Rules of Poker"
Tournament Directors Association (TDA) Rules
2004 World Series of Poker (WSOP) Rules
If you are interested in learning all about online poker in particular, try the Beginners' Guide to Online Poker. It goes way beyond the basics to topics like record keeping software, site integrity, the law and taxes.
In some forms of poker it is fairly common for two or more players to end up with the same best hand. In that case, the players with equal hands split the pot equally between them. Remember that only the best five cards of a player's hand are considered in the showdown. If the best five cards yield a tie, you do not use additional cards to break the tie. Also, you don't look at the suits to break a tie. It's simply a tie. Here are some examples:
What about the extra chip? If you split the pot and there is an extra chip left over, the usual rule is to award it to the first winning player in the clockwise direction from the dealer.
What about high-low declare? In high-low split declare games, the rules can be more complicated. See the special high-low declare section for more details.
Many people are intimidated on their first visit to a public cardroom. Knowing what to expect and some simple rules of etiquette will help the first-time visitor relax and have a good time.
Any cardroom with more than a few tables will have a sign-up desk or board for the various games being played. Usually someone will be standing here to take your name if a seat is not immediately available. This person can explain what games are offered, the betting limits, special house rules and so on. This is the moment of your first decision: which game and for what stakes?
Choosing a game is fairly easy; you already know which game is most familiar to you. You may be surprised to find that your favorite home games are not spread in public cardrooms. Most will offer one or more of Texas Hold'em, Seven-Card Stud, and Omaha Hold'em (usually hi/lo split, 8-or-better for low). Sometimes you will find California Lowball (5-card draw for low), Seven-Card Stud hi/lo, or Hold'em variations like Pineapple. You will rarely find High Draw (5-card draw for hi), and will never find home game pot-builders like Anaconda, Follow-the-Queen, 7-27 or Guts. Except for the joker in draw poker, cardrooms never use wild cards.
Choosing a betting limit is a bit harder. It is best to start playing at a limit so small that the money is not important to you. After all, with all the excitement of your first time playing poker there is no need to be worried about losing the nest egg to a table full of sharks. Betting limits are typically expressed as $1-$5 or $3-$6, and may be "spread-limit" or "structured-limit". A spread-limit means one can bet or raise any amount between the two numbers (although a raise must be at least as much as a previous bet or raise). For example, in $1-$5 spread-limit, if one person bets $2 the next person is free to call the $2 or raise $2, $3, $4, or $5, but cannot raise just $1. On the next round, everything is reset and the first bettor may bet anything from $1 to $5. In structured-limit like $3-$6 (usually recognizable by a factor of two between betting limits), all betting and raising on early rounds is in units of $3, and on later rounds is in units of $6. One only has a choice of *whether* to bet or raise; the amount is fixed by the limit. One usually doesn't have a choice between spread and structured betting at a given limit. Keep in mind that it is quite easy to win or lose 20 "big bets" (the large number in the limit) in an hour of play. Also, since your mind will be occupied with the mechanics of the game while the regular players consider strategy, you are more likely to lose than win. In other words: choose a low limit.
If the game you want is full, your name will go on a list and the person running the list will call you when a seat opens up. Depending on the cardroom, you may have trouble hearing your name called and they may be quick to pass you over, so be alert. Once a seat is available, the list person will vaguely direct you toward it, or toward a floorman who will show you where to sit.
Now is the time for you to take out your money and for the other players to look you over. A good choice for this "buy-in" is ten to twenty big bets, but you must buy-in for at least the posted table minimum, usually about five big bets. Most public poker games are played "table-stakes", which means that you can't reach into your pocket for more money during the play of a hand. It also means that you can't be forced out of a pot because of insufficient funds. If you run out of money during a hand you are still in the pot (the dealer will say you are "all-in"), but further betting is "on the side" for an additional pot you cannot win. Between hands, you are free to buy as many chips as you want, but are not allowed to take any chips off the table unless you are leaving. This final rule gives opponents a chance to win back what they have lost to you. If you bust out, you may buy back in for at least the table minimum or leave.
Once you have told the dealer how much money you are playing, the dealer may sell you chips right away or call over a chip runner to do so. You may want to tell the dealer that you are a first-time player. This is a signal to the dealer to give a little explanation when it is your turn to act, and to the other players to extend you a bit of courtesy when you slow down the game. Everyone will figure it out in a few minutes anyway, so don't be bashful. You may even ask to sit out a few hands just to see how it all works.
There are three ways that pots are seeded with money at the beginning of the hand. The most familiar to the home player is the "ante", where each player tosses a small amount into the pot for the right to be dealt a hand. The second way, often used in conjunction with an ante, is the "forced bring-in". For example, in seven-card stud, after everyone antes and is dealt the first three cards, the player with the lowest upcard may be forced to bet to get things started. The third way, often used in games without upcards like Hold'em or Omaha, is a "forced blind bet". This is similar to the bring-in, but is always made by the person immediately after the player with the "button". The "button" is a plastic disk that moves around the table and indicates which player is acting as dealer for the hand (of course, the house dealer does the actual dealing of cards, but does not play). A second or even third blind may follow the first, usually of increasing size. Whichever seed method is used, note that this initial pot, small as it is, is the only reason to play at all.
If the game has blinds, the dealer may now ask you if you want to "post". This means, "do you want to pay extra to see a hand now, in bad position, and then pay the blinds, or are you willing to sit and watch for a few minutes?" Answer "no, I'll wait" and watch the game until the dealer tells you it's time to begin, usually after the blinds pass you.
Finally, it is your turn to get cards and play. Your first impression will probably be how fast the game seems to move. If you are playing stud, several upcards may be "mucked" (folded into the discards) before you even see them; if you are playing hold'em, it may be your turn to act before you have looked at your cards. After a few hands you should settle into the rhythm and be able to keep up. If you ever get confused, just ask the dealer what is going on.
When playing, consider the following elements of poker etiquette:
Although you may see others fold or call out of turn, don't do it yourself. It is considered rude because it gives an unfair advantage to the players before you who have yet to act. This is especially important at the showdown when only three players are left. If players after you are acting out of turn while you decide what to do, say "Time!" to make it clear that you have not yet acted.
You may find it awkward at first to peek at your own cards without exposing them to others. Note that the other players have no formal obligation to alert you to your clumsiness, although some will. Watch how the other players manage it and emulate them. Leave your cards in sight at all times; holding them in your lap or passing them to your kibitzing friend is grounds for killing your hand. Finally, if you intentionally show your cards to another player during the hand, both your hands may be declared dead. Your neighbor might want to see *you* declared dead :) if this happens!
In a game with "pocket cards" like Hold'em or Omaha, it is your responsibility to "protect your own cards". This confusing phrase really means "put a chip on your cards". If your cards are just sitting out in the open, you are subject to two possible disasters. First, the dealer may scoop them up in a blink because to leave one's cards unprotected is a signal that you are folding. Second, another player's cards may happen to touch yours as they fold, disqualifying your hand and your interest in the pot. Along the same lines, when you turn your cards face up at the showdown, be careful not to lose control of your cards. If one of them falls off the table or lands face-down among the discards your hand will be dead, even if that card is not used to make your hand.
In some fast-paced games, a moment of inaction when it is your turn to act may be interpreted as a check. Usually, a verbal declaration or rapping one's hand on the table is required, but many players are impatient and will assume your pause is a check. If you need more than a second to decide what to do, call "Time!" to stop the action. While you decide, don't tap your fingers nervously; that is a clear check signal and will be considered binding.
A "string bet" is a bet that initially looks like a call, but then turns out to be a raise. Once your hand has put some chips out, you may not go back to your stack to get more chips and increase the size of your bet, unless you verbally declared the size of your bet at the beginning. If you always declare "call" or "raise" as you bet, you will be immune to this problem. Note that a verbal declaration in turn is binding, so a verbal string bet is possible and also prohibited. That means you cannot say "I call your $5, and raise you another $5!" Once you have said you call, that's it. The rest of the sentence is irrelevant. You can't raise.
In some home games, it is customary to throw chips directly into the pot. In a public cardroom, this is cause for dirty looks, a reprimand from the dealer, and possibly stopping the game to count down the pot. When you bet, place your chips directly in front of you. The dealer will make sure that you have the right number and sweep them into the pot.
In some cardrooms, the chip denominations and game stakes are incommensurate. For example, a $3-$6 game might use $1 and $5 chips, instead of the more sensible $3 chip. The one-chip rule says that using a large-denomination chip is just a call, even though the chip may be big enough to cover a raise. If you don't have exact change, it is best to verbally state your action when throwing that large chip into the pot. For example, suppose you are playing in a $1-$5 spread-limit game, the bet is $2 to you, and you have only $5 chips. Silently tossing a $5 chip out means you call the $2 bet. If you want to raise to $4 or $5, you must say so *before* your chip hits the felt. Whatever your action, the dealer will make any required change at the end of the betting round. Don't make change for yourself out of the pot.
In a game like Hold'em, it is possible to know that you hold "the nuts" and cannot be beaten. If this happens when all the cards are out and you get in a raising war with someone, don't stop! Raise until one of you runs out of chips. If there is the possibility of a tie, the rest of the table may clamor for you to call, since you "obviously" both have the same hand. Ignore the rabble. You'll be surprised how many of your opponents turn out to be bona fide idiots.
Hands end in one of three ways: one person bets and everyone else folds, one person bets on the final round and at least one person calls, or everybody checks on the final round. If everybody folds to a bet, the bettor need not show the winning cards and will usually toss them to the dealer face down. If somebody calls on the end, the person who bet or raised most recently is *supposed* to immediately show, or "open", their cards. They may delay doing so in a rude attempt to induce another player to show their hand in impatience, and then muck their own hand if it is not a winner. Don't do this yourself. Show your hand immediately if you get called. If you have called a bet, wait for the bettor to show, then show your own hand if it's better. If the final round is checked down, in most cardrooms everyone is supposed to open their hands immediately. Sometimes everyone will wait for someone else to show first, resulting in a time-wasting deadlock. Break the chain and show your cards.
Most cardrooms give every player at the table the right to see all cards that called to a showdown, even if they are mucked as losers. (This helps prevent cheating by team-play.) If you are extremely curious about a certain hand, ask the dealer to show it to you. It is considered impolite to constantly ask to see losing cards. It is even more impolite if you hold the winning cards, and in most cardrooms you will forfeit the pot if the "losing" cards turn out to be better than yours.
As a beginner, you may want to show your hand all the time, since you may have overlooked a winning hand. What you gain from one such pot will far outweigh any loss due to revealing how you played a particular losing hand. "Cards speak" at the showdown, meaning that you need not declare the value of your hand. The dealer will look at your cards and decide if you have a winner.
As a final word of caution, it is best to hold on to your winning cards until the dealer pushes you the pot. If the dealer takes your cards and incorrectly "mucks" them, many cardrooms rule that you have no further right to the pot, even if everyone saw your winning cards.
As you win your first pot, the excitement within you will drive you beyond the realm of rational behavior, and you will immediately lunge to scoop up the precious chips with both arms. Despite the fact that no other player had done this while you watched, despite the fact that you read here not to do it, you WILL do it. Since every dealer has a witty admonition prepared for this moment, maybe it's all for the best. But next time, let the dealer push it to you, ok?
Don't. Only touch your own cards and chips. Other players' chips and cards, discards, board cards, the pot and everything else are off-limits. Only the dealer touches the cards and pot.
Dealers make their living from tips. It is customary for the winner of each pot to tip the dealer 50 cents to a dollar, depending on locale and the stakes. Sometimes you will see players tip several dollars for a big pot or an extremely unlikely suckout. Sometimes you will see players stiff the dealer if the pot was tiny or split between two players. This is a personal issue, but imitating the other players is a good start.
Occasionally the dealer or a player may make a mistake, such as miscalling the winning hand at the showdown. If you are the victim of such a mistake, call it out immediately and do not let the game proceed. If your opponent is the victim, let your conscience be your guide; many see no ethical dilemma in remaining silent. If you are not involved in the pot, you must judge the texture of the game to determine whether to speak up. In general, the higher the stakes, the more likely you should keep your mouth shut.
You are free to get up to stretch your legs, visit the restroom and so on. Ask the dealer how long you may be away from your seat; 20 or 30 minutes is typical. It is customary to leave your chips sitting on the table; part of the dealer's job is to keep them safe. If you miss your blind(s) while away, you may have to make them up when you return, or you may be asked to sit out a few more hands until they reach you again. If several players are gone from a table, they may all be called back to keep the game going; those who don't return in time forfeit their seats.
If you are in the happy situation of having too many chips, you may request a "color change" (except in Atlantic City). You can fill up a rack or two with your excess chips and will receive a few large denomination chips in return. These large chips are still in play, but at least you aren't inconvenienced by a mountain of chips in front of you. Remember the one chip rule when betting with them.
Leave whenever you feel like it. You never have an obligation to stay at the table, even if you've won a fortune. You should definitely leave if you are tired, losing more than you expect, or have other reasons to believe you are not playing your best game. Depending on the cardroom, you can redeem your chips for cash with a chip-runner or floorman or at the cashier's cage.
Last but not least is the matter of the house take. Somebody has to maintain the tastefully opulent furnishings and pay the electric bill. The money taken by the house is called the "drop", since it is dropped down a slot in the table at the end of each hand. The house will choose one of three ways to charge you to play.
Regardless of the mechanism, a cardroom will try to drop about $80-$120 per hour at a $3-$6 table. The exact amount is most dependent on the local cost of doing business: Nevada is low, California and Atlantic City are high. Since there are 7-10 players at the table, expect to pay somewhere from $7 to $14 per hour just to sit down. Add $2-$4 per hour for dealer tips and you see why most low-limit players are long-run losers.
More information on cardroom play and etiquette can be found in George Percy's "Seven-Card Stud: The Waiting Game" and Lee Jones' "Winning Low-Limit Holdem". Beginning players may also want to watch for special cardroom promotions to draw new players; many offer free lessons followed by a very low-stakes game with other novices. Since everyone is a beginner, much of the tension is relieved.
The Beginners' Guide to Online Poker has a brief section on online poker etiquette.
A poker tournament is an event in which poker players compete for all or part of a prize pool. Each player pays an entry fee and initial buy-in for a set number of tournament chips. The chips are non-negotiable, having no cash value except at the end of the tournament. The contestants play until all but one or a few are busted; the top finishers divide up the prize pool according to the tournament rules. The game's stakes increase with time to hasten the tournament's end.
Within this framework is considerable room for variation. Many tournaments permit "rebuys", which allow a busted player to reenter the tournament by immediately posting additional money to the prize pool. The number of rebuys may be unlimited, limited to one or a few, or limited to an initial period of the tournament. Rebuys may also be available to players with short stacks or even to all active players. Some tournaments allow an "add-on", a one-time opportunity for all active players to buy a set number of additional chips, again increasing the prize pool. The add-on may be available at the end of the rebuy period, at the beginning of the tournament, or, rarely, at any time during the rebuy period. The exchange rate for rebuys and add-ons may be better than that for the initial buy-in. A tournament with no rebuys is called a "freezeout". The betting structure may be limit only, pot-limit, no-limit, or a mixture, usually limit in the early rounds and no-limit later. Whatever the betting structure, the blinds or betting limits increase regularly, perhaps doubling every twenty minutes in a small tournament, or more slowly in a large one.
A confusing aspect of the increasing stakes is the way in which some tournaments get rid of the small denomination chips. At some point in the tournament, the dealer may "race off" all the red $5 chips. Each player puts all their red chips in front of them, and the dealer converts them to as many green $25 chips as possible. Whatever red chips remain are raced off: each player receives one card for each chip, and the player receiving the highest card (ace, king, etc) wins everybody's reds and converts them to greens. Bridge suits break ties for the high card (spades, hearts, diamonds, clubs). In other tournaments, the red chips may simply be rounded to green chips. Although rounding can change the total amount of money in play, it is better at preserving the players' relative chip positions.
Some tournaments use a new chip race technique that only awards one chip to the player with the highest card. Then that player is ineligible to receive more chips. If more chips remain, the player having the next highest card receives the next chip and becomes ineligible also, and so on until all chips are distributed.
The tournament usually continues until only one player remains. The winner may take all the money, or the top finishers may divide it up according to a set schedule. In most tournaments, tables are consolidated and seats redrawn when a certain number of players are eliminated, eventually resulting in a "final table" of contestants. Sometimes, each table plays until only one player remains, and then the survivors meet at a final table; this is called a "shootout". Since the betting stakes are large at the final table and payout schedules often favor first place, luck plays a major role and many players prefer cutting a deal to playing the tournament to its conclusion.
A "satellite" is a tournament in which the prize is an entry to another tournament. Large tournaments like the $10,000 No-limit Hold'em event in the World Series of Poker generate a lot of satellites. Typically, the satellite buy-in is around 1/10 the tournament buy-in, so the top 10% of satellite finishers win a tournament buy-in. Sometimes a satellite will even have mini-satellites, in which the prize is an entry to the main satellite. A mini-satellite for the $10,000 event might have a $100 buy-in and award a $1,000 buyin to a satellite that is awarding a $10,000 buy-in to the main event.
A satellite format popular in the larger tournaments is the "super-satellite". This is a multi-table tournament that awards a number of entries into the main tournament. The buy-in to the super can be as little as 2% of the buy-in to the main tournament, with rebuys usually permitted. Depending on the number of entrants and rebuys, the top N finishers receive an entry into the main tournament. The strategy late in a super-satellite can be unusual because of the flat payout structure.
Many small (under $100 buy-in) daily or weekly tournaments are listed in the back pages of Card Player magazine. Be sure to call the casino to see if they are having the tournament that day, since the magazine is sometimes out of date.
See the special section on tournament strategy for more information.
See Tex's TEARS for widely used poker tournament structures (how the blinds and betting limits go up each round).
The Beginners' Guide to Online Poker has a section on online tournaments that explains the most commonly seen variations.
All thinking poker players should have this book on their shelf:
David Sklansky, "The Theory of Poker" (formerly titled "Winning Poker"), Two Plus Two Publishing, 1992, $30. ISBN 1-880685-00-0.
Beginners will benefit from the following:
Daniel Kimberg, "Serious Poker", ConJelCo, 2002, $20. ISBN: 1-886070-16-4
Lou Krieger and Richard Harroch, "Poker for Dummies", IDG Books Worldwide, 2000, $15. ISBN 0-764552-32-5.
Mason Malmuth and Lynne Loomis, "Fundamentals of Poker", Two Plus Two Publishing, 1992, $4. ISBN 1-880685-11-6.
This classic in the field is an advanced but slightly out-of-date work covering a wide range of games, including an excellent section on no-limit Hold'em:
Doyle Brunson et al., "Super/System: A Course in Poker Power", B & G Publishing, 1978/1989, $50. ISBN 0-931444-01-4.
The most recommended book for medium-limit Hold'em is
David Sklansky and Mason Malmuth, " Hold'em Poker for Advanced Players", Two Plus Two Publishing, 1988/1993, $30. ISBN 1-880685-01-9.
These works by fellow rec.gamblers have received favorable reviews:
Lee Jones, "Winning Low-Limit Holdem", ConJelCo, 1994, $25. ISBN 1-886070-15-6.
Lou Krieger, "Hold'em Excellence", ConJelCo, 2000, $20. ISBN 1-886070-14-8 .
Beginning Seven Card Stud players must read this small spiral-bound gem:
George Percy, "7 Card Stud: The Waiting Game", GBC Press, 1979, $9. ISBN 0-89650-903-6.
More experienced stud players may benefit from
David Sklansky, Mason Malmuth and Ray Zee, " Seven Card Stud for Advanced Players", Two Plus Two Publishing, 1992, $29.95. ISBN 1-880685-02-7.
Finally, in a different vein is the following book about reading your opponents and preventing them from reading you:
Mike Caro, "Caro's Book of Tells - The Body Language of Poker", Mike Caro University Press, 2000, $30 (paperback), $40 (hardback), ISBN 1-880069-01-6 (paperback), ISBN 1-880069-02-4 (hardback).
Many of these books are available to rec.gamblers with an Internet discount from ConJelCo.
Online reviews of poker books. The Online Poker FAQ has brief reviews in its essential poker readling list. See Dan Kimberg's Poker Reading Page for some unsolicited and independent reviews that have appeared on the net. And I don't know where Nick Christenson finds the time to read the dozens of books he has reviewed to date.
Ken's Poker Page has a comprehensive listing of poker-related books.
Card Player is the best established periodical for poker players. Each issue has several columns specifically about poker strategy, including regular features by well-known poker writers. It lists schedules for small daily and weekly tournaments in the U.S. and Europe and reports large tournament results. Other sections cover gambling and the law, cardroom management, sports betting and general gambling news. Because it is financed largely by casino industry advertisements, it does not print unfavorable casino news and is not a good place to find a balanced review of a cardroom. It is available free in most cardrooms and offers subscriptions at first-class and bulk-mail rates.
The Card Player 3140 S. Polaris #8 Las Vegas, NV 89102 (702) 871-1720 (702) 871-2674 FAX http://www.cardplayer.com
Ken's Poker Page has a comprehensive listing of poker-related magazines.
Editor's note: Ken's Poker Page has a comprehensive listing of poker-related software. The Beginners' Guide to Online Poker has a special section on online tracking software for yourself and your opponents.
There are many poker programs available but the quality of them ranges from terrible to fairly good. The following are worth considering:
Several people have written software that computes exact showdown probabilities for poker matchups:
If you want to write some of your own poker software, a fast poker hand evaluator is available as part of the Pokersource. package It is in C but uses some Gnu C extensions; it also has a Java interface. You can see it in action at Two Dimes Pokenum, which lets you enter multiple-hand matchups and computes exact win percentages for each hand.
Hotpoker is a suite of programs for multi-player hold'em over the internet. C source for Netpoker used to be available; I'm not sure about Hotpoker.
Several good poker glossaries are available on the net:
John Hallyburton's compendium, compiled with the help of several rec.gamblers, is the oldest.
Lee Jones' book "Winning Low-Limit Holdem" includes a glossary.
Dan Kimberg's book "Serious Poker" also includes a glossary.
Michael Wiesenberg's incredibly thorough "The Official Dictionary of Poker" is online and is available in print (MGI/Mike Caro University, ISBN: 1880069520).
Bob Ciaffone's "Robert's Rules of Poker" includes a glossary at the very end of the rulebook. This purpose of this glossary is to clarify the meaning of the rules, rather than be a dictionary of poker terms, but it's a useful reference.
There are enough crazy home game poker variants to fill a book. You can find rules for games ranging from plain to insane at:
Poker variants differ in the amount of skill they admit. Some, like 7-card stud high/low with declare (no qualifier), provide skilled players many opportunities to gain an edge. Others are a virtual crap shoot. In general, the crazier games are designed to discourage folding and minimize the influence of skill on the outcome. They accomplish this through a betting structure that requires a large investment before the value of one's hand is known. The level playing field that results is ideal for many informal social groups.
Texas Hold'em is a "community card" game, meaning that some cards are dealt face-up in the middle of the table and shared by all the players. Each player has two down cards that are theirs alone, and combines them with the five community cards to make the best possible five-card hand.
Play begins by dealing two cards face down to each player; these are known as "hole cards" or "pocket cards". This is followed by a round of betting. Most hold'em games get the betting started with one or two "blind bets" to the left of the dealer. These are forced bets which must be made before seeing one's cards. Play proceeds clockwise from the blinds, with each player free to fold, call the blind bet, or raise. Usually the blinds are "live", meaning that they may raise themselves when the action gets back around to them.
Now three cards are dealt face up in the middle of the table; this is called the "flop". A round of betting ensues, with action starting on the first blind, immediately to the dealers left. Another card is dealt face up (the "turn"), followed by another round of betting, again beginning to the dealer's left. Then the final card (the "river") is dealt followed by the final round of betting. In a structured-limit game, the bets on the turn and river are usually double the size of those before and on the flop.
The game is usually played for high only, and each player makes the best five-card combination to compete for the pot. Players usually use both their hole cards to make their best hand, but this is not required. A player may even choose to "play the board" and use no hole cards at all. Identical five-card hands split the pot; the sixth and seventh cards are not used to break ties. For a more detailed explanation of ties, see the section on splitting the pot.
The rules of Omaha are very similar to those of Texas Hold'em. There are only two differences:
The second difference is confusing for most beginners. These examples show how it works.
Board Hole Cards Best High Hand ===== ========== ============== As Kc Qc 8d 2d Ac 2c Jd Th Jd Th makes ace-hi straight. As Kc Qc Jh Td Ac 2c Jd 8h Ac Jd makes ace-hi straight. As Kc Qc Jh Td 3c 2c Jd 8h Jd 8h makes pair of jacks. No straight is possible using two hole cards. As Ks 8h 9d 2s Qs 4h 4d 4s Qs 4s makes AKQ42 "nut" flush. As Ks 8s 9s 2s Qs 4h 4d Qd Qs Qd makes pair of queens. No flush is possible using two hole cards. As Ts 8s 8h 4d Td Tc Ad 9c Td Tc makes TTT88 full house. As Ts 8s 8h 4d Td 8c Ad 9c Ad 8c makes 888AA full house. As Ac 8s 8h 4d Ah 2h 3h 5h Ah 5h makes trip aces AAA85. No full house is possible using two hole cards. As Ac 8s 8h 4d Ah 2h 3h 4h Ah 4h makes full house AAA44.
Omaha is often played high/low, meaning that the highest and lowest hands split the pot. The low hand usually must "qualify" by being at least an 8-low (the largest card must be 8 or lower). One can use a different two cards to compete for the high and low portions of the pot, and the game is played "cards speak" rather than "declare". Aces are either low or high, and straights and flushes don't count for low. Since everybody must use two hole cards to make a hand, the board must have three cards 8 or lower for a low to even be possible. Players often tie for low, and the low half of the pot is divided equally among them. Some more examples:
Board Hole Cards Best Low Hand ===== ========== ============= As Kc Qc 8d 2d 8c Jc Jd Th Jd Th makes the low hand JT82A, which does not qualify as 8-or-better. 3d 5h 8d Tc Ts Ac 2c Jd Th Ac 2c makes the "nut low" 8532A. 3d 5h 8d Tc Ts Ac 3c 4d Th Ac 4d makes 8543A. 3d 5h 8d Ad Ts Ac 3c 5d 8h Any two make T853A, not qualifying. Ac 2c 3d 4h 5s Ad 2d Th Td Ad 2d makes "nut low" 5432A. Ac 2c 3d 4h 5s 4d 5d Th Td 4d 5d makes "nut low" 5432A. 5h 7h 8d Ac 2c Ad 2d Th Td Ad 2d makes 8752A, but the nut low is 5432A with a 3 and 4. On the flop we had the best possible low, but the turn and river "counterfeited" us.
As in all split-pot games, the real goal of playing any hand is to win both halves of the pot, or "scoop". Thus, hands that have a chance to win both ways are far superior to those that can only win one way.
For more details on how to handle ties, see the section on splitting the pot.
Wolf's poker page has a nice graphical display explaining how to play Chowaha, the popular BARGE game.
It isn't practical to play classic seven-card stud with no-limit betting, but here is a game called mississippi seven card stud, which can. Deal the start cards as for conventional seven-card stud, two down, one up; then deal each active player two more upcards, then a fourth upcard, then a fifth upcard. In other words deal the cards 3-2-1-1 instead of 3-1-1-1-(1).
Mississippi is more suited to half-pot, pot-limit and no-limit betting than seven-card stud for two reasons: The four round structure is less crippling financially than five rounds, and the fact that only two hole cards out of seven are concealed means that hands as small as trips of the biggest card showing can be the absolute nuts at the end. Similarly, a straight or flush is the absolute nuts if none of your opponents have paired their board, and aren't showing three cards to a possible (bigger) straight or flush. In seven-card stud (with it's third hole-card) trips, straights and flushes can never be the nuts at the end because your opponent could have quads or a full house without showing a pair, or a (bigger) straight or flush if they have two cards to a straight or flush showing.
Mississippi also plays well as a limit game. It's faster and more active than seven-card stud because the two card individual flop not only speeds up the game, it is better value than taking the cards one at a time, and you get more callers at every round on average as a result. Mississippi can be dealt with the last card down for limit betting if you prefer it that way.
If you like mississippi, the layout also works very well with an extra hole-card, a form called murrumbidgee stud: the deal is the same as mississippi except everyone gets three hole-cards to start: only two of the hole cards can be used at the end. Hands like (3s,Kc,Ac)3c, have a lot of ways to improve: you'll make the flush 20% of the time by the end, and there are eight cards which give you at least kings up. (9s,Jc,Qc)10c will make either a straight or a flush over 40% of the time by the end, and if you flop Ko,8c or Kc, 8o, you have a twenty-three way straight and flush draw. A king or an eight on the flop, plus one club, gives you a twenty way straight and flush draw. There is plenty of action in murrumbidgee, making it an excellent short-handed game: it can be dealt for up to six players at time.
Disclosure: the writer invented mississippi in mid 1998 and murrumbidgee in early 1999.
This is an explanation of bet size limits in pot limit poker.
In pot limit, as in all poker, you may fold, or call the previous bet -- which may be a forced blind, if there is no previous voluntary bet -- or you may raise. A raise, as in all poker, must be at least as large as the previous bet or raise. In pot limit, however, your raise may be no larger than the size of the pot after your call. If you are the opening bettor on a round for which no blinds are made, your bet can be no more than the size of the pot.
Say that the pot contains p units before a previous bettor bets (or blinds) b units. You wish to raise the maximum. What is the total amount that you should bet?
The size of the pot when it is your turn to act is p+b. Your action includes a call, making the pot p+2b, and thus the amount of your raise will be p+2b and your total bet will be p+3b. Therefore:
If you wish to raise the previous bettor (or big blind) the maximum amount, your total bet will be three times the previous bet plus the size of the pot before the previous bet was made. If you are the first to act on the first round, the size of the pot before the previous bet is the total of the small blind(s), and the previous bet is the big blind.
Sometimes the minimum betting unit is larger than the size of one or more blinds. E.g., it may be that only $5 chips play for betting, but one or more blinds are smaller than $5. In this case, the maximum initial bring-in is rounded to the betting unit.
Some people state the general rule that the maximum initial bring-in is "four times the big blind." This is correct only if the total of the small blinds, after rounding if appropriate, is equal to the big blind, and this is not always the case. E.g., in a tournament when the blinds are $100 and $200, the maximum bring-in is $700, not $800. The correct rule is "three times the big blind plus the total of the small blinds, rounded as appropriate."
size of pot before 3 x previous bet previous bet previous bet + size of pot before previous bet = next bet 1 - 1 1 1 4 2 4 14 6 14 48 20 48 164 68 164 560 232 560 1912
So, if the initial pot size were $100, the seventh maniacal raiser would be making a total bet of $191,200. The action can escalate quickly.
In half-pot betting the maximum bet is half of whatever is in the pot. In a head-to-head contest, HP pots and bets double with each additional bet or raise, so four bets or raises increase the pot by a factor of 2 x 2 x 2 x 2, or sixteen times. Pot-sized bets triple the pot, giving 3 x 3 x 3 x 3 or eighty-one times the original pot after four bets or raises, in a head-to-head contest.
Half-pot is the smallest of the big-bet games, and like its big brothers pot-limit and no-limit, it provides plenty of scope for using position and well timed bluffs to win with inferior hands, and the pot builds quickly when you are betting for value. At the same time the more moderate bet sizes mean that half-pot games last much longer than pot-limit or no-limit games with a given amount of money available. Half-pot games are much easier to keep alive than pot-limit and no-limit games, and this alone makes them worthy of consideration as a big-bet option.
Half-pot, like limit-betting, is a game which provides reasonable odds for a call -- 3/1 in a head to head contest, as opposed to 2/1 in pot-limit -- and as a result there is more action and multi-way pots than in pot-limit and no-limit. Because half-pot is a big-bet game, bets and bluffs do not decrease in effect as the hand progresses, as they do in limit, where a final round bet can be as little as two or three percent of the pot. In effect, half-pot combines the best features of pot-limit/no-limit, and limit-betting: it has multi-way action, favorable pot-odds and reasonable bankroll longevity, like limit-betting, and it's also an excellent bluffing form in which pots and bets build quickly, like PL and NL.
Here is a chart comparing half-pot and pot-limit pot sizes and bets in a 50-100 (cents or dollars, depending on your BR) game of holdem. In this example the opener raises, and then bets at every round, and one player (other than either of the blinds) calls at every round, and then raises and is called at the end. The pot size at the start of each round includes all bets and calls for the preceding round, so the pot at the start of the second round in the half-pot column is 150 (blinds) + 100 + 125 (call and raise) + 225 (call) = 600.
Half-pot Pot-limit Start: call 100, raise 125 call 100, raise 250 Flop: pot 600, bet 300 pot 850, bet 850 Turn: pot 1200, bet 600 pot 2550, bet 2550 River: pot 2400, bet 1200 pot 7650, bet 7650 raise 2400, final pot 9600 raise 22,950, final pot 68,850
The rapid escalation of the bets means that a hand of PL in which there is serious action at every round of play is something of a rarity, because players with average bankrolls tap out after three or four bets. Four rounds of action, even multi-way action, is common in half-pot play.
Pot-limit is good, but half-pot lasts longer.
While it is perfectly understandable that some players will always prefer pot-limit to half-pot -- and if bankroll conditions and the players are right I like it myself -- I believe it is a mistake to dismiss half-pot as a big-bet game. A half-pot game can survive for years in a situation where a pot-limit game would quickly break many of the available players and revert to limit-betting. The situation in the USA and Canada -- where pot-limit games can be hard to find -- is a reflection of this tendency of limit games to push out pot-limit. Players who prefer big-bet poker but who spend most of their time playing limit because the pot-limit game folded again, (or because their own bankroll can't handle the big swings) might consider half-pot betting as an alternative, if not to pot-limit, at least to limit-betting.
Big bet (no-limit or pot-limit) poker frequently allows a player to "kill the pot", by posting an amount equal to current to-go amount, and the amount to-go (to come into the hand, or call preflop) is now double the kill amount. In no-limit games, players are frequently allowed to kill for more than the to-go amount, but for no more than 1/2 of their stack. Some games allow overkills - after someone has killed the pot, someone else can kill it again, raising the amount to-go to double the new kill amount. There may be a limit to the number of kills allowed on a hand, even though the game is "no-limit". Killing the pot alters the order of action preflop/predraw. The killers act after the blinds in the order in which they killed the pot. After the flop or draw, action returns to its normal order.
To kill the pot in Hold'em or other flop games, the kill must be announced (either verbally or by placing the amount of the kill in the pot) before any cards are dealt. Draw lowball games frequently allow players to kill the after seeing two cards - and some places even allow a kill in lowball after the 3rd card is dealt. No-limit draw lowball also frequently allows the player with the big blind to place a blind which is larger than the normal amount, but still smaller than the to-go amount, and the new to-go amount is twice the big blind.
Example: In a 1-2-2, 5-to-go Hold'em game, the player on the button (who also has the $1 blind) decides to kill it for $5, rebuying his right to act last before the flop. The blinds now look like 5-2-2, and the game is now 10-to-go. After the player to the right of the button acts, the two $2 blinds act, then the killer acts.
Example: In a draw-lowball game, 1-1-2 blinds, 4-to-go, the player with the big blind puts out $3 before cards are dealt and it is now 6-to-go. After two cards are dealt, the player to the right of the button kills the pot for $10, and it is now 20-to-go. The player after the blinds is first to act. After the player in front of the killer acts, the button and other blinds must act, and then the killer acts.
Limit lowball games also frequently allow a player to kill the pot from any position. In this case, the killer makes a blind of the current limit, and the limit is doubled for that hand. As in no-limit games, the player who kills the pot acts last after the blinds before the draw, and action resumes to the normal order after the draw.
In addition, some limit games are played with a kill or a half kill. In these games, there is some condition which if met, raises the stakes of the game - doubling them in the case of a kill game, or increasing them by 50% in the case of a half kill. In addition to the normal blinds posted for the game, the player who met the kill condition must post a blind equal to the new small bet size. This blind is instead of the small or big blind if the player would have been in position to have one of those. In some clubs the killer gets to act last after the blinds; but in others the killer acts in normal turn order.
In a high only game, the condition is typically that someone wins two pots in a row. In a high-low split game, the condition is usually that someone takes the whole pot, and that the pot is some minimum size.
For example: in a 10-20 Omaha-8 game with a half kill that I've played in, if someone scoops a pot with $100 in it, then they must post a $15 blind and the next hand the game is 15-30.
In limit Hold'em and other flop games players are frequently allowed to make a bet called a straddle bet, sometimes known as a live blind, live raise, or live-<amount> where <amount> is the amount of the bet. The player who follows the big blind and would normally be under the gun can raise before cards before cards are dealt. Players that act after him must call the raise, fold, or raise the bet themselves. The straddler's raise is live - if no-one else raises, s/he has the option to reraise after the blinds have acted. If straddle bets are allowed, the player behind the straddler can also post a straddle by raising again, and so on until the maximum number of bets is reached.
For example: In a 6-12 game, the blinds are 3 and 6, the player after the small blind makes it live-12 by raising before the cards are dealt, and the player after him can make it live-18.
Hi-Lo declare is a popular variation in home games that can be applied to any game that can be played hi-lo. The betting proceeds normally to the end of the hand, then everyone still in the hand declares whether they are going high, low, or both ways.
There are many variations to the rules, so it is best to make sure that the rules used in your game are announced in advance and that everyone agrees to them.
There are several ways that the hand can be declared. One of the most popular is to declare simultaneously with chips. Each player secretly conceals chips in their hand; then at the same time all players open their hands to reveal their declaration. Common systems for chip declare include using number of chips (for instance, no chips means low, one chip means high, two chips means both ways), or using color of chips (for instance white chips in hand mean low, red chips mean high, both colors mean both ways). Another way of declaring is for the players to announce aloud in turn (either from dealer's left, from the high showing hand, or from the last bettor depending on what's been agreed upon in advance). This latter form of declare obviously has a huge positional advantage for the player who gets to declare last.
After the declare, there may be another betting round, depending on the house rules. If there is an additional betting round, a "lock" bettor may be allowed to bet or raise, or may be required only to check and call depending on the house variation being used. A "lock" bettor is a player who declares one way and no-one else declares that way.
After the declare and optional betting round is the showdown. At the showdown, the best high hand (of the hands that have been declared as going high) and the best low hand (of the hands that declared low) split the pot. If everyone has declared the same way, then the whole pot is awarded to the best hand that way. If more than one player has they same best hand in the way they've declared they split that share of the pot.
If someone declares "both ways" (also called a "hogger"), things get more complicated. If the "both ways" player has the best high and the best low hand, then they win the whole pot. If they are beat in either direction, however, they win none of the pot. What happens if they have the best high but are beat low, or have the best low but are beat high is a matter of house rules (and can be a matter of great dispute if the players have not agreed beforehand). In some houses if a player declares both ways and has the best high hand but is beat low, the second best high hand is allowed to win the high share of the pot (the same reasoning applies if the both ways declarer has the best low but is beat high). In other houses, if a player declares both ways and has the best high but is beat low, then no-one wins the high, and the entire pot is awarded to the best low hand.
Another important variation in the rules to know about for declaring both ways is whether a both ways declarer is allowed to tie on either side. In some houses, the both ways declarer must win both sides free and clear, or get none of the pot. For instance if player A declares both ways, and player B declares high, and they both have the same straight, then player A gets nothing. Other houses allow the both ways declarer to get shares if the pot if they tie on one side (as long as they win or tie on the other as well). For instance if Player A declares both ways, and player B declares high, and they both have they same straight, then A would get 3/4 of the pot (all of low and half of high), and B would get 1/4 (half of the high).
It leads to the least complications in extremely rare situations if "second best" hands are allowed to win if a both ways declarer is beat in the other direction. If second best hands are not allowed to win, then situations can arise where no-one is eligible for a share of the pot and a long argument is likely to ensue. For instance Players A, B, C and D declare hi, low, both and both respectively. Player C has the best high hand, but player D has the best low hand, if "second best" hands are not allowed a share of the pot, then no-one is allowed to win. If "second best" hands are allowed to win, then player A wins high, and player B wins low. If "second best" hands are not allowed to win in your game, it's probably best to have a house rule to allow them to win in the case where no-one would otherwise be eligible for any of the pot.
In the case where all players have declared both ways, but no-one wins both ways, it's best to treat it as if the hand had been played without declare, and the best high hand and the best low hand are allowed to split the pot.
Hi-Lo Declare Examples
Here are some showdown clarifications for Hi-Lo Declare under different rule sets. For illustration purposes, the game used will be 7 card stud (so that there can be ties on either the high or low sides), but the concepts apply to any game that can be played Hi-Lo.
Rule variation #1 - "Both ways" must win free and clear (cannot tie), and 2nd best hands cannot win. This is probably the most popular rule set used, but needs some extra rules to settle unusual situations.
Rule variation #2 - "Both ways" hands are allowed to tie, and 2nd best hands are allowed to win if they are only beat by hands that are otherwise ineligible to win. This is the most liberal set of rules, and is almost always clear about how the pot is divided. Even this needs clarification if everyone declares both ways.
Rule variation #3 - "Both ways" must win free and clear, but 2nd best hands are allowed to win. This set is included because at least one home game is currently known to use it.
In the cases where no-one is eligible to win, an extra rule needs to be invoked to handle the situation (the pot rides to the next hand, second best hand is allowed to win, both ways allowed to win just one way, etc.)
+-------------------------+----------------+----------------+----------------+ | Declaration and hands: | Variation #1 | Variation #2 | Variation #3 | +-------------------------+----------------+----------------+----------------+ | A: high with KQJT9 | A gets 1/2 the pot for high | | B: low with an 8532A | B gets 1/2 the pot for low | +-------------------------+----------------+----------------+----------------+ | A: high with KQJT9 | A gets 1/2 the pot for high | | B: low with an 7532A | B gets 1/2 the pot for low | | C: both ways with 76543 | | +-------------------------+----------------+----------------+----------------+ | A: low with an 7532A | A wins the whole pot | | B: both ways with 76543 | | +-------------------------+----------------+----------------+----------------+ | A: high with three 9s | B wins the whole pot | | B: both ways with 76543 | | | C: low with 8532A | | +-------------------------+----------------+----------------+----------------+ | A: high with flush | A gets 1/2 the pot for high | | B: both ways with 76543 | C gets 1/2 the pot for low | | C: low with 6542A | | +-------------------------+----------------+----------------+----------------+ | A: high with three 9s | C wins the pot | A gets 1/2 pot | A gets 1/2 pot | | B: both ways with 76543 | | C gets 1/2 pot | C gets 1/2 pot | | C: low with 6 low | | | | +-------------------------+----------------+----------------+----------------+ | A: high with 98765 | A wins the pot | A gets 1/4 pot | A gets 1/2 pot | | B: high with 98765 | | B gets 3/4 pot | C gets 1/2 pot | | and low with 7653A | | | | | C: low with 76542 | | | | +-------------------------+----------------+----------------+----------------+ | A: both ways with 76543 | none eligible* | A gets 1/2 pot | C wins the pot | | B: both ways with 76543 | | B gets 1/2 pot | | | C: high with KKJJ9 | | | | +-------------------------+----------------+----------------+----------------+ | A: both ways with 76543 | B wins the pot | A gets 3/4 pot | B wins the pot | | B: high with 76543 | | B gets 1/4 pot | | | C: high with KKJJ9 | | | | +-------------------------+----------------+----------------+----------------+ | A: both ways with 76543 | B wins the pot | A gets 3/4 pot | B gets 1/2 pot | | B: low with 76543 | | B gets 1/4 pot | C gets 1/2 pot | | C: high with KKJJ9 | | | | +-------------------------+----------------+----------------+----------------+ | A: both ways with 76543 | none eligible* | A gets 1/2 pot | none eligible* | | B: both ways with 76543 | | B gets 1/2 pot | | +-------------------------+----------------+----------------+----------------+ | A: both ways with 76543 | none eligible* | B wins the pot | none eligible* | | B: both ways with flush | | | | | and 76543 | | | | +-------------------------+----------------+----------------+----------------+ | A: both ways with 76543 | none eligible* | B wins the pot | C wins the pot | | B: both ways with flush | | | | | and 76543 | | | | | C: high with KKJJ9 | | | | +-------------------------+----------------+----------------+----------------+ | A: both ways with 76543 | none eligible* | none eligible* | none eligible* | | B: both ways with flush | | | | | and 8543A | | | | +-------------------------+----------------+----------------+----------------+
In summary, Hi-Lo declare is popular and can add fun and variety to your home game, but arguments are best avoided by clarifying the particular house rules and unusual situations in advance.
A burn card is a card dealt face down at the beginning of a round, before any other cards are dealt. This card is not used in the play of the hand. The main reason for this custom is to guard against marked cards. If the cards are marked, a player who can read the backs will know what the top card on the deck is. In a flop-game like Hold'em or Omaha, knowledge of the next board card is extremely profitable. Knowledge of which card it will *not* be is slightly useful, but much less so.
The burn cards will be shuffled into the remaining deck. If there are still not enough cards, a single community card will be dealt face-up and used by all the players.
The standard poker hands are ranked based on the probability of their being dealt pat in 5 cards from a full 52-card deck. The following table lists the hands in order of increasing frequency, and shows how many ways each hand can be dealt in 3, 5, and 7 cards.
Hand 3 cards 5 cards 7 cards ==== ======= ======= ======= Straight Flush 48 40 41,584 Four of a Kind 0 624 224,848 Full House 0 3,744 3,473,184 Flush 1,096 5,108 4,047,644 Straight 720 10,200 6,180,020 Three of a Kind 52 54,912 6,461,620 Two Pair 0 123,552 31,433,400 One Pair 3,744 1,098,240 58,627,800 High Card 16,440 1,302,540 23,294,460 ================================================================= TOTALS 22,100 2,598,960 133,784,560
1. The standard rankings are incorrect for 3-card hands, since it is easier to get a flush than a straight, and easier to get a straight than three of a kind. See the entry on three-card rankings.
2. For 7-card hands, the numbers reflect the best possible 5-card hand out of the 7 cards. For instance, a hand that contains both a straight and three of a kind is counted as a straight.
3. For 7-card hands, only five cards need be in sequence to make a straight, or of the same suit to make a flush. In a 3-card hand a sequence of three is considered a straight, and three of the same suit a flush. These rules reflect standard poker practice.
4. In a 7-card hand, it is easier for one's *best* 5 cards to have one or two pair than no pair. (Good bar bet opportunity!) However, if we changed the ranking to value no pairs above two pairs, all of the one pair hands and most of the two pair hands would be able to qualify for "no pair" by choosing a different set of five cards.
5. Within each type of hand (e.g., among all flushes) the hands are ranked according to an arbitrary scheme, unrelated to probability. See the explanation of flush and two-pair rankings.
The standard ranking of poker hands is based on their frequency of occurrence in a five card hand. In three card hands the relative frequency of hands is different, so different in fact that three of a kind beats a straight, and a straight beats a flush.
The following is a break down of all three card poker hands. They can be used for certain three card games, such as Guts or 3-card-6. They can also be used to analyze starting hands for games like 7-Card Stud.
Hand Type Kinds Each Total Cuml Rating --------- ----- ---- ----- ---- ------ straight flush 12 4 48 48 0.9978 trips 13 4 52 100 0.9955 straight 12 60 720 820 0.9629 flush ** 274 4 1096 1916 0.9133 pair *** 156 24 3744 5660 0.7439 Ace high 64 60 3840 9500 0.5701 King high 54 60 3240 12740 0.4235 Queen high 44 60 2640 15380 0.3041 Jack high 35 60 2100 17480 0.2090 Ten high 27 60 1620 19100 0.1357 Nine high 20 60 1200 20300 0.0814 Eight high 14 60 840 21140 0.0434 Seven high 9 60 540 21680 0.0190 Six high 5 60 300 21980 0.0054 Five high 2 60 120 22100 0.0000
** More on Flushes ------------------ High Card Kinds Percent Total Cuml Rating --------- ----- ------- ----- ---- ------ Ace high 64 23.4 256 1076 0.9513 King high 54 19.7 216 1292 0.9415 Queen high 44 16.1 176 1468 0.9336 Jack high 35 12.8 140 1608 0.9272 Ten high 27 9.9 108 1716 0.9224 Nine high 20 7.3 80 1796 0.9187 Eight high 14 5.1 56 1852 0.9162 Seven high 9 3.3 36 1888 0.9146 Six high 5 1.8 20 1908 0.9137 Five high 2 0.7 8 1916 0.9133
*** More on Pairs ----------------- Hand Type Kinds Each Total Cuml Rating --------- ----- ---- ----- ---- ------ AAx 12 24 288 2204 0.9003 KKx 12 24 288 2492 0.8872 QQx 12 24 288 2780 0.8742 JJx 12 24 288 3068 0.8612 TTx 12 24 288 3356 0.8481 99x 12 24 288 3644 0.8351 88x 12 24 288 3932 0.8221 77x 12 24 288 4220 0.8090 66x 12 24 288 4508 0.7960 55x 12 24 288 4796 0.7830 44x 12 24 288 5084 0.7700 33x 12 24 288 5372 0.7569 22x 12 24 288 5660 0.7439
In the preceding tables, "Kinds" refers to the number of card combinations in each class, while "Each" is the number of non-distinct hands of each Kind. The product of these two numbers gives the total number of hands in that class. "Cuml" is the cumulative total of all hands, and "Rating" is a percentile ranking of the lowest hand in the class.
Note that "Rating" is only an estimate of the probability of beating a random hand. To compute the exact probability, a given hand must be compared to the (49 choose 3) combinations of the remaining cards in the deck.
[Michael Maurer's original answer:] Only the classes themselves (flush, straight, etc) are ranked by the probability of getting them in five cards. Within each class we use an arbitrary system to rank hands of the same type. For example, our arbitrary system ranks four aces higher than four deuces, even though the hands occur with the same frequency. Similarly, flushes are ranked by the highest card, with the next highest card breaking ties, and so on down to the fifth card. This has the curious effect of creating many more ace-hi flushes than any other kind, because any flush that contains an ace is "ace-hi", regardless of the other cards. Thus, although 490 of the 1277 flushes in each suit contain a seven, only four of them are seven-hi flushes: 76542, 76532, 76432, and 75432. The median flush turns out to be KJT42.
A similar situation occurs for two pair hands. There are twelve times as many ways to make two pair with aces being the high pair ("aces up") as there are to do it with threes as the high pair ("threes up"). While the aces can go with another other rank of pair, the threes must go with twos, or we would reverse the order and call them, for instance, "eights up". Note that it is fruitless to alter the relative rankings to try to account for this imbalance, since as soon as we do the cards will be reinterpreted to make the best hand under the new system. For example, if we decide to make "threes up" the best possible two pair hand, now all the hands like "eights and threes" will be interpreted as "threes and eights", and the population of "threes up" hands will soar twelve-fold. The median two pair hand turns out to be a tie between JJ552 and JJ44A.
[Giancarlo DiPierro suggests a fresh interpretation:] You've figured it out. Flushes are not correctly ranked according to their mathematical probability. The ranking of flushes and no-pair hands by the highest card (hence the term "high-card" for no-pair hands) that is commonly used around the world today is an arbitrary system that likely dates back to when someone first started betting on poker hands.
The correct way to rank these hands according to how hard they are be dealt becomes clear if you have ever played lowball or any high-low split game. In those games, low hands are ranked by the worst card, not the best card. Any 6-high low hand is ranked higher than any 7-high low hand because a 6-high is dealt three times less frequently than a 7-high. It doesn't matter if the lowest card in the 7-high hand is an ace and the lowest card in the 6-high hand is only a deuce, the 6-high wins.
Applying that principle to flushes and no-pair hands in high poker, a 9-low hand is dealt about three times less frequently than an 8-low and about seven times less frequently than a 7-low. So the 9-low should ranked higher, even if the 7-low contains an ace and the 9-low does not. In any situation where unpaired cards are determining the ranking of a hand, whether it is a flush, no-pair, or the side cards in hands with trips of equal rank, the worst card -- the lowest one -- should be used for the ranking.
This concept also applies to two pair hands -- the mathematically correct way of ranking them would be to use the value of the lower pair. Kings-under-aces is twice as rare as any queens-under hand, three times are rare as jacks-under, four times as rare as tens-under, and twelve times as rare as dueces-under -- the easiest two pair to make. The next time your queens-under-kings loses to a pair of aces that turns into aces-and-dueces on the river, you can feel justified that mathematically, at least, you had the better hand!
The following is an extension of the probability table offered by Sklansky and Malmuth in their book, Hold'em Poker For Advanced Players. It lists the probability (%) and odds (X:1) of making any given hand on the turn, the river, combined turn or river (i.e., catching at least one of the outs on either the turn or river), and combined turn and river (i.e., hitting a runner-runner/backdoor draw), given the number of outs for the hand.
Below that is a chart listing the number of outs given a particular drawing hand, and what hands those outs will give if made.
Chances of making a hand on the turn, river, turn or river (t|r), turn and river (t&r): turn turn | river river | t|r t|r | t&r t&r Outs (%) (X:1) | (%) (X:1) | (%) (X:1) | (%) (X:1) ----------------------|----------------|----------------|-------------- 20 42.6 1.35 | 43.5 1.30 | 67.5 0.48 | 17.6 4.69 19 40.4 1.47 | 41.3 1.42 | 65.0 0.54 | 15.8 5.32 18 38.3 1.61 | 39.1 1.56 | 62.4 0.60 | 14.2 6.07 17 36.2 1.76 | 37.0 1.71 | 59.8 0.67 | 12.6 6.95 16 34.0 1.94 | 34.8 1.88 | 57.0 0.75 | 11.1 8.01 15 31.9 2.13 | 32.6 2.07 | 54.1 0.85 | 9.7 9.30 14 29.8 2.36 | 30.4 2.29 | 51.2 0.95 | 8.4 10.88 13 27.7 2.62 | 28.3 2.54 | 48.1 1.08 | 7.2 12.86 12 25.5 2.92 | 26.1 2.83 | 45.0 1.22 | 6.1 15.38 11 23.4 3.27 | 23.9 3.18 | 41.7 1.40 | 5.1 18.65 10 21.3 3.70 | 21.7 3.60 | 38.4 1.60 | 4.2 23.02 9 19.1 4.22 | 19.6 4.11 | 35.0 1.86 | 3.3 29.03 8 17.0 4.88 | 17.4 4.75 | 31.5 2.18 | 2.6 37.61 7 14.9 5.71 | 15.2 5.57 | 27.8 2.59 | 1.9 50.48 6 12.8 6.83 | 13.0 6.67 | 24.1 3.14 | 1.4 71.07 5 10.6 8.40 | 10.9 8.20 | 20.4 3.91 | 0.9 107.10 4 8.5 10.75 | 8.7 10.50 | 16.5 5.07 | 0.6 179.17 3 6.4 14.67 | 6.5 14.33 | 12.5 7.01 | 0.3 359.33 2 4.3 22.50 | 4.3 22.00 | 8.4 10.88 | 0.1 1080.00 1 2.1 46.00 | 2.2 45.00 | 4.3 22.50 | 0.0 NA
Number of Outs Given a Particular Hand to Improve Outs Given In attempt to make ----------------------------------------------------------------------- 15 Open Straight Flush Draw Straight, Flush, Straight Flush 12 Inside Straight Flush Draw Straight, Flush, Straight Flush 9 Flush Draw Flush 8 Open Straight Draw Straight 4 Gut Shot Straight Straight 4 2 Pair Full House 2 1 Pair Three of a kind 1 Three of a Kind Four of a kind
Editors note, Oct 2003: for further reference, see the following.
Mike Caro has published an extensive set of probability tables for draw, stud, holdem, and lowball.
In his essay, Theory of Sucking Out According to Abdul, Abdul Jalib discusses the basic concepts of sucking out, chasing, buyin free cards, and semi-bluffing.
Big Dave D wrote:
> I'm trying to work out a seven stud hi-lo eight or better
> You're heads up on 4th street, drawing to a busted low, say a233.
> You are up against an obvious high, say KK with KK in the hole.
> What are the odds that you make a low, any low. (which would
> obviously get you half the pot back). My mental maths says
> about 2:1 against.
The odds against getting a low are about 1.67 to 1 against, so your "mental maths" estimate of 2 to 1 is pretty good.
Here is a chart (generated from a Markov chain) that might be helpful if another such question comes up. If you are hoping to get a low (in any seven-card game such as stud, Omaha-8, or hi-lo hold'em), a "good card" is any desirable low card of a rank you don't already hold, and a "bad card" is a card of any rank you already hold or of a rank higher than you want. For example, suppose you hold 24468, and you believe that you must get a 7-low or better to win the low half of the pot. At that point you hold 3 good cards and 2 bad cards. Find that row, and look below P7. The probability that you will make a 7-low is 0.0888. If you'd settle for an 8-low, then you hold 4 good and 1 bad, and the probability of making an 8-low is 0.5698.
This chart doesn't take into account any other cards, so in your case (where the opposition holds 4 kings) the probability of making your low is somewhat better than the 0.3238 from the table (it is 0.3745, for odds of 1.67 to 1 against).
G B P8 P7 P6 P5 0 0 0.1834 0.0849 0.0294 0.0058 1 2 0.0423 0.0181 0.0060 0.0012 2 1 0.1963 0.1072 0.0465 0.0125 2 2 0.0740 0.0370 0.0148 0.0037 3 0 0.4827 0.3325 0.1895 0.0715 3 1 0.3238 0.2091 0.1119 0.0398 3 2 0.1480 0.0888 0.0444 0.0148 4 0 0.7132 0.5872 0.4288 0.2343 4 1 0.5698 0.4496 0.3145 0.1647 4 2 0.3478 0.2609 0.1739 0.0870
Editors note, Oct 2003: for further reference, see the following.
Mike Caro has published an extensive set of probability tables for draw, stud, holdem, and lowball.
Although there are C(52,4) = 270,725 different 4-card hands, many of them are indistinguishible as starting hands because they differ only in suit. For example, AhTh9c8c is equivalent to AsTs9d8d. How many distinct starting hands are there? A total of 16,432, as follows:
715_____C(13,4)_______all four cards in same suit 2860_____4*C(13,4)_____two suits (3,1), no pairs 2145_____3*C(13,4)_____two suits (2,2), no pairs 858_____13*C(12,2)____two suits (3,1), one pair 1716_____13*2*C(12,2)__two suits (2,2), one pair 78_____C(13,2)_______two suits (2,2), two pairs 4290_____6*C(13,4)_____three suits, no pairs 1716_____13*2*C(12,2)__three suits, one pair 78_____C(13,2)_______three suits, two pairs 156_____13*12_________three suits, triplets 715_____C(13,4)_______four suits, no pairs 858_____13*C(12,2)____four suits, one pair 78_____C(13,2)_______four suits, two pairs 156_____13*12_________four suits, triplets 13_____13____________four suits, quads
A shill is paid by the house at an hourly rate, and plays with house money. A prop is paid by the house and plays with his own money. Many states require cardrooms to identify house players if asked, but may not require them to do so otherwise. Shills and props are directed to games by the house. This means that they may be constantly shifted to tougher games, as non-house players boot them out of seats in juicy games. The most important skill for a prop is to be able to excel in all games, since they may be called to play any game that the house offers, against players who specialize in that game. Also, be they must be prepared to sit and wait if all games are full.
Legend holds that Wild Bill Hickok was shot to death during a poker game in Deadwood, South Dakota, and that the hand he held was two pair, black aces and black eights. On that most people agree. The fifth card is not known for certain. In order of credibility, the following kickers have been suggested:
(Hold 'em) Poker Skills in Order of Importance
Disclaimer: I'm a poker novice, not an expert.
The exact order of importance of skills varies by game type. For example, you cannot read your opponent when your opponent does not know what he has. The list above is geared towards mid-level games where some sanity prevails but the game is not at an expert level either.
By far the most important skill is table selection, so it ranks better than #1, it's #0. It doesn't matter how well you play if you are always picking the games with no fish where even an expert can't beat the rake. Most of your income will come from a few very bad players. If you play fairly well, you won't lose much to the better players, nor win much from the slightly inferior players; it's the fish that count.
Now that you've found your table with a live one or two, be patient. More than just having the discipline to play good hands and the stomach for surviving the variance, you should realize that most of our income in Hold 'em comes from AA and KK, with notable mention to the other pocket pairs and AK. Your object is to not lose too much while waiting for these premium hands, and particularly not to lose too much to these hands when other players get them. At $10-$20 and below, go ahead and make it 3 bets if you can before the flop with your AA or KK; you'll be surprised at how little respect you get with people calling you all the way to the river even though your betting is screaming "I HAVE POCKET ACES!!!" And respect preflop raises done by other players, dumping a lot of hands you would normally play such as AT and KJ or even AJ and KQ, as you don't want to make top pair versus an overpair. On the flop, don't bet into someone who has made it three bets unless you can beat the shit out of AA and KK and *want* to be raised back and then just call and go for a check-raise on the turn.
Now, think about the range of hands and their probabilities that your opponents could have. Initially, when the players receive their first two cards, every possible two card hand is equally probable (unless you start grouping them like 87 offsuit, pocket aces, etc., but you get the idea.) Every action a player takes gives you information that you can use to adjust these probabilities. It's a Bayesian inference problem. Unfortunately, actually applying Bayes' rule exactly is beyond any puny human brain's capability. So, you make a major approximation and essentially just keep around a set of possible hands, which you then prune down as action take place.
Suppose a player just calls preflop in early position and the flop comes Q 7 2 offsuit and he suddenly goes berserk by reraising, you have to think about what hands are likely. The hands that make sense to reraise like that are AQ, KQ, Q7, 72, Q2, 77, and 22. QQ would probably be slow-played here instead. Now join that set with the possible hands before the flop. We can just look at these hands and see which are reasonable to just call preflop in early position. AQ and KQ are often raised in early position, but at least sometimes they just call, so they are still consistent. Q7, 72, and Q2 are not reasonable calls from early position. 77 and 22 are reasonable calls, though tight players would probably dump the 22. So that leaves AQ, KQ, 77, and 22 as his possible hands, which has narrowed down the field quite a bit. Be aware also of how other players may interpret your betting.
As play goes along, give yourself a running commentary of the events, "she open-raises, he folds, he cold-calls...". You must make a lot of mental notes based on this, and you must do this even when you're not in a hand, because in addition to being useful during a hand, it's useful for later hands. You want to see the frequency with which a player sees the flop, the frequency with which a player defends his blinds from raises, and the hands a player open-raises with, raises with, reraises with, cold-calls with, and just calls with. This in conjunction with narrowing down the hands above will often give you a good idea of what's going on even when there is no showdown. Your goal is to stereotype each player, as well as to note particular idiosyncrasies of the individuals for use not only now but in future sessions.
Especially when heads-up, you should be constantly applying pressure to the other player to make him fold. You may reraise when you think you're either beaten badly or your opponent is bluffing. It's a bit like chess or wargames, with attacks, feints, counterattacks, and graceful retreats. This is part of the "feel" of poker that's hard to put into words, but hopefully you get the idea. Bluffing and semi-bluffing is important to keep yourself unpredictable, and with since you're keeping track of the ranges of plausible hands, it's quite likely you'll often know where your opponent stands. Cold bluffing is usually restricted to the river, where you might bet into one or two opponents (who might fold) if you have no chance of winning the pot if there is a showdown. Semi-bluffing is betting with a hand that is not likely best but has some big outs. Your opponent may fold immediately, and if not, you may hit your out and your opponent may seriously misread you. There is an important balance here; you must have sufficiently tight hand selection criteria such that when you do bet your opponent is positively terrified that you may have a big hand like an overpair. Semi-bluffing is very powerful, because you've been so careful in choosing your starting hands that even if you aren't there yet you are likely to get there.
Generally, you want the loose aggressive players to your right and the tight passive players to your left. This is so that you can see a raise coming before calling the first bet. However, if the game is tight enough that it is being folded around to the blinds often, then you want some very tight passive players in the two seats to your right, so that your blinds will not be stolen. This is a very important skill, and just because you've found a good table, doesn't mean that every seat at that table would be a winning seat on average for you.
Because the nature of fixed limit Hold 'em makes calling one bet often correct for very weak hands, it's difficult to protect your hand. A major weapon you have to protect your hand is check-raising. However, you must be conscious of where you think the bettor will be. Typically, if you had a made but vulnerable hand you would check in early position if you thought there would be a bet in late position; you then raise and the players in between face two bets plus a risk of a reraise by the late position player, making it difficult for them to call. If you have an invulnerable hand that you want to make everyone pay you through the nose for, then you would check in early position if you thought there would be an early position bet, and then you would raise after everyone trailed in calling behind. The down side of check-raising is that you risk giving a free card if no one bets.
Be aware of tells. If a player has his hands on his chips and is leaning forward, all ready to raise if you bet, usually this is an act intended to get you to just check, as the player in fact does not what to raise you or maybe even call a bet. Two other incredibly valuable tells are the "what the heck, I raise" tell (get *out*, he has a monster!) and the "let me check to see if I have one of that suit with three on the board" tell (so you know he doesn't have a flush already.) Remember that if they think they're being watched, players typically act the opposite of what they have.
Be aware of pot odds. You can count the number of "outs" you have to estimate if calling is a positive expected value play. You may be surprised that I rank this so low. Although it is a subjective opinion, particularly when heads up it's much more important outplay your opponent rather than outdraw him. In loose games, outdrawing becomes much more important, but then the pots are so big that you usually have odds for any half way reasonable draw anyway.
Abdul Jalib describes a carefully thought out preflop strategy in his essay Hold'em Preflop Strategy According to Abdul.
Abdul also has made a more technical study of the game-theoretical concept of "balancing" in preflop Holdem in Information Reduction through Strategy Restrictions and Balancing.
Editors note, May 2004: for more links to online strategy resources see the Basic Strategy and Beyond Basic Strategy sections of the Beginners' Guide to Online Poker.
Poker tournaments offer a chance to win a large sum of money for a small, and known, fee and can be an enjoyable alternative to cash poker. However the strategy required to be successful in a tournament can differ significantly from that of the equivalent cash game. This section is therefore offered as general advice to new, or inexperienced, tournament players.
Tournaments work by eliminating players who lose all their chips. To ensure that a tournament ends within a reasonable time the blinds/antes are increased at regular intervals. Your objective in a tournament should therefore be to accumulate chips whilst minimising the chance of being eliminated.
Before entering a tournament make sure you know the way it is organised; if it is a 'freezeout' then it will cost you only the initial fee. If the tournament allows rebuys or add-ons then you need to know the exact rules and costs of each of your options.
In your first few tournaments it will probably be sensible to forgo all these options, play your best game with your starting chips, and gain as much experience as possible at minimum cost.
As a general rule it is mathematically sound to rebuy at any stage providing that you are not out-classed by the opposition (and the cost is not a major concern). This is true even if all the other players at the table have far more chips than you.
A good 'rule of thumb' for add-ons is to take the option if you currently have less than the average number of chips *and*, by taking the add-on you will then have an above average number of chips. The add-on is less sound if you have a very small stack or a large stack. Of course the cheaper the cost of the add-on chips the more attractive the option is regardless of stack size.
Make sure you know how many prizes there are and whether the tournament is played to a finish or ends at a fixed time. The correct strategy when you get down to the last few players or the last few hands can lead to some plays which would be irrational in any other circumstances.
Also check the blind/ante structure; how it changes and how frequently it changes during the tournament. The blinds typically double at fixed intervals of between 20 and 40 minutes. This information is important: Suppose at some point you have 1800 chips and there are currently blinds of 200 and 400. After you have paid your next blinds you will have 1200 chips left or 3 times the big blind. If however the blinds are likely to double before you next post then, after posting, you will have 600 chips left which is less than the big blind of 800. Clearly the strategy you need to adopt will vary considerably in these two situations, in the first you can be reasonably conservative whilst in the latter you have to win a pot quickly and will need to be aggressive.
In the early stages of a tournament keep the following points in mind:
If it is a 'freezeout' tournament a lot of players will play tight in the early stages not wanting to be eliminated quickly. Some players will however be aggressive looking to build a big stack quickly with a fall back of a return to the cash games if things don't go to plan. Selective aggression against the tight players can be effective in this situation.
If rebuys are allowed the play in the early stages will tend to be a lot looser. A lot of the players will be prepared, and even expect, to rebuy and they will play marginal hands aggressively trying to build a big stack early. Players who are not going to rebuy will play a lot more cautiously.
At the start of a tournament the cost of the blinds will be relatively low in respect of the average stack size and will become even lower if rebuys are allowed. This allows you to play much more marginal hands than normal. It is worth risking a small part of your stack (say 5% or less) to see the flop with small pairs, suited connectors and other marginal hands to have the chance to double your stack if you hit big on the flop.
By the same token it can be right to play good hands relatively conservatively preflop. If you hold AK in late position and there are several callers it is often better just to flat call. You know if you raise you will not get the other players to fold. By flat calling you minimise your loss if the flop is not to your liking and you have the benefit of disguise if you hit the flop big.
If you are by nature an aggressive player then use the early stages to try and build a substantial stack. This risks early elimination but when successful it will give you sufficient chips to survive the first few blind increases even if the cards turn against you.
If your natural game is passive or middle of the road then the best strategy is to try for a steady accumulation of chips. Play looser than normal preflop providing that the cost is small in relation to your stack but play slightly tighter than normal post-flop. This generally means not putting in that extra bet or raise when you think, but are not sure, that you are ahead - the saving of a bet when you lose the pot is worth more to you than the extra bet you could potentially win.
Finally in the early stages do not be concerned with eliminating other players. You are too far from the prize list to worry about how many players are left. It is more important to concentrate on keeping your stack in good condition. For example a player raises and everyone else folds. You hold T9s and have a big stack. Your opponent is almost allin so the cost to you even if you lose the pot is small. Even so, fold. Your opponent has almost certainly a better starting hand than yours and even if you win it will not increase your stack by much. Having made a good start you need to be careful not to bleed chips unnecessarily.
In the middle and later stages of a tournament the structure of the game gradually changes and the strategy necessary changes too:
As the blinds increase they represent an increasing percentage of the average stack. Winning the blinds therefore becomes more significant and the first player into the pot will normally enter with a raise rather than a flat call.
The converse of this is that it now costs a significant proportion of the average stack to call a raise. Therefore the quality of hand needed to call a raise increases. The result of this is that a lot of hands go raise, all fold and you can go several hands without even seeing a flop.
As players are eliminated the game in the middle/late stages will be played most of the time with less than a full table. This, and the increasing blinds, means that unless a players is winning hands at regular intervals even a big stack can be quickly depleted. To counter this all players, regardless of their normal style, have to play very aggressively.
So the general strategy in the middle/late stages is to increasingly loosen the requirements for an opening raise and to tighten up the requirements for calling. Your objective should be to win, on average, the blinds once per round. Each time you win the blinds you can, in effect, survive one further round of hands.... and each round of hands you survive increases your chance of hitting a premium hand and an opportunity to double your stack.
A player who has an average or large stack commands respect when they raise and will often win the blinds unopposed. A player with a small stack will be called much more frequently because they do not have sufficient chips to seriously damage the larger stacks. There is, therefore, a critical stack size and it is worth a player taking extra risks to try and avoid falling below that point. As a rule of thumb this critical size is about 4 big bets in a limit game and about 6 times the big blind in pot and no-limit.
If your stack does fall below the critical level then a change of strategy is required. It is no longer sensible to raise with marginal hands because you expect to be called. So raise if you are lucky enough to hit a premium hand but otherwise limp in to a pot with any reasonable hand. If there is no raise then you can judge the flop and fold if absolutely necessary. If you limp into a pot and it is then raised be prepared to put all your chips in and keep your fingers crossed. If there is a raise in front of you then you should also loosen your calling requirements when you are very short of chips. A hand such as Ax or a low pair offers a reasonable chance of doubling your stack and you can't afford to wait for a better opportunity.
If you have a big stack (e.g. twice the average or more) then you are in a strong position but this can change rapidly. A big stack allows you to play more conservatively and wait that bit longer for better hands before raising however the blinds will soon eat into even a large stack so you have to remain aggressive. Normally it will pay to be selectively aggressive, that is be prepared to mix it with the smaller stacks but keep out of the way of the other large stacks as they can do you serious damage.
Experienced tournament players with large stacks are likely to call a raise by a short stack even if they have only a moderate or poor hand. They are risking losing a few chips for the chance of moving one place closer to the prize money. There may even be several callers with good stacks and poor hands. It will not be unusual for these players to check down the hand once the short stack is all-in to maximise the chance of eliminating the all-in player.
Whilst this is good tournament strategy it is probably best in your first few tournaments to call a raise only with a very good hand and ignore whether the raiser has many or few chips. However if you do get head to head with a player who is almost all-in you should force the other player to commit their last few chips at the first opportunity; certainly if you would call if they bet then you must bet to prevent them checking. It is a cardinal error to let a player off the hook because no matter how few chips a player has left they can bounce back to being chip leader within a few hands if they get the run of the cards!
As the blinds rise a raise or a call starts to take a
significant proportion of the average stack. The effect of this is
that most players will continue to play aggressively on the flop if
they have even a small part of it and quite often they will play
aggressively even if the flop misses them completely (ie bluff).
You will have to respond in kind
especially if conceding the pot would leave you with a stack below the critical level. For example you hold AsQd, raise and are called by the big blind. The flop is Jh 8h 2c and the big blind bets. Even though this flop does nothing for you you should call unless you are in a strong chip position. The big blind is as likely to be on a draw or bluffing as he is to have a genuine hand.
If all goes well you will survive to the point where you are down to the last few players and almost in the prize money.
At this stage the blinds will be so high that virtually all the players left will have stacks at or below the critical size. In addition you will be playing the game increasingly short-handed which means that you can see fewer and fewer hands before your stack is anted away.
You need at this stage to know exactly how near the prize money you are and how many chips each of your opponents has. If you have an average or large stack the correct strategy is still to be ultra aggressive in raising but conservative in calling. However when you have fewer than average chips it can be right to adopt a tighter strategy! There are two reasons why this may be so:
Suppose there are 5 players left and there are prizes for the first 4 only. If the player under the gun does not have enough chips to cover the big blind next hand then you will be probably correct to fold any non-premium hand and hope that utg doesn't get lucky. In general this extends to playing tight if you can survive longer than one or more of the other players left in the game. This will force them to try and win a pot before you have to - if they lose you are one further notch up the ladder whilst if they win you still have a chance to also win a pot and be back in the same relative position to them.
Providing that you have enough chips to see the next few hands then playing tight also avoids the chance of immediate elimination and gives the other players a chance to eliminate each other or to agree to make a deal, either of which is to your advantage.
In most tournaments the last few players are allowed to agree a deal sharing the prize fund in different proportions to that originally envisioned. A lot of tournaments will end in this way because regardless of how big a lead the chip leader has the blinds are so high that who wins will be more a matter of luck than skill or weight of chips.
There are typically three types of deal:
If you are going to split the prize money on the basis of chips held then it is probably easiest to let the experienced players do the initial negotiating. They will ask if you would be happy to accept $x and it is then up to you to accept or reject the offer. If you are one of the chip leaders then you should expect to receive less than your chips are worth whereas if you have less chips than average you should insist on receiving more than their face value. For example with 5 players left if you have 10% of the chips you might expect 15% of the prize fund; if you have 40% of the chips you might have to settle for 30-35% of the money.
For new tournament players the important point to bear in mind is that any deal requires the explicit agreement of *all* the remaining players. If you do not like the proposed deal you do not have to accept it simply ask the dealer to carry on. If things continue to go your way you will end up with all the chips and the bulk of the prize money. Remember however that in these final stages luck is more important than skill and a sensible deal leaves everybody happy.
[Several books have been written on the subject of poker tournaments, but none has received universal praise from rec.gamblers. Jay Sipelstein's reviews of McEvoy's "Tournament Poker" and Buntjer's " The Secret To Winning Big In Tournament Poker" are in the Poker Book Review Archive at http://www.seriouspoker.com/reviews.html --ed.]
If you have one all-in player, and two other players who still have stacks left, is it 100% expected that the two "live" players simply check it down?
No, but it's pretty common. The presence of a player whose hand will always be shown down makes bluffing generally inadvisable, and consequently (though less obviously) shifts the hand strength needed for a value bet upward. Each of these makes bets less likely, and so tends to promote a checked-down finish.
When the players are involved in a place-paying tournament or supersatellite, and are near or in the money, that is compounded by the value of eliminating a player. Because both players benefit if either one eliminates the all-in player, bluffs usually have negative value, and the desirability of making value bets goes down even further. This is the situation where most players automatically check it down.
Failing to participate in this "implicit collusion" will draw scorn from some other players. The ones no longer involved in the pot still stand to benefit from elimination of the all-in player, so they also want to see it checked down, as that maximizes the chance of an elimination.
In a game with no rake and no toking, there is no question that in the long run (with the cards breaking even) the better players will win money at the expense of the weaker players. The question is: Can strong players win enough from the weak players to more than cover the expenses in a game with a rake and/or toking?
How much do the rake and tokes cost us? It varies, but we can calculate some ranges. Let's assume a 10 seat $2/$4 game dealing 40 hands per hour. Assume a rake of 10% to $4. As a good player, you are somewhat tighter than your opponents, so let's assume you win an average of 3.5 pots per hour (4 would be your "fair share"). Your average rake expense ranges from a probable low of around $1.46 per pot (from TTH sims) to a probable high of around twice that amount (in line with the observations of experienced players in certain games). Add in a $1 toke per pot, and your average expense per hour likely falls somewhere between $8.50 and $14. In terms of big bets, this is 2.25 to 3.5 big bets per hour. Across other limits we can calculate expense ranges the same way:
10% rake to $4, $1 toke Est. Total Hourly Limit Expense (Big Bets) ----- ----------------- 10-20 0.76 to 0.88 5-10 1.23 to 1.66 3-6 1.91 to 2.62 2-4 2.25 to 3.50
Some games have lower expenses. For example, some on-line games feature a rake of 5% to a max of $3 with, obviously, no toking. The expenses here (From TTH sims) are:
5% rake to $3, $0 toke Est. Total Hourly Limit Expense (BB) ----- ------------ 10-20 0.45 and up 5-10 0.55 and up 3-6 0.58 and up 2-4 0.53 and up
Now we need to estimate the win rate for a good player in a sufficiently weak game. Unfortunately this resists a straightforward mathematical solution. Our best source of information comes from the observations of top theorists and experienced players. These sources have cited approximately 1 BB per hour (after expenses) as the approximate profit a strong player might expect at limits of 15-30 and up. This corresponds to a pre-expense win rate of about 1.5 BB / hr. (TTH sim showed a .54 BB expense factor for 15-30). Experienced players have reported higher win rates in exceptionally weak low limit games. Players in the softest of games report win rates as high as 3+ BB per hour after expenses So, a good player in a weak enough game can achieve a pre-expense win rate of 1.5 BB / hr and up, perhaps exceeding 4 BB / hour in extremely favorable circumstances.
This indicates that the rake can be overcome in even the lowest limit games if you are sufficiently strong and your opponents sufficiently weak. Remember, if you're not one of the better players in a given game, it wouldn't matter if there were no expenses, you'd still lose.
Any given poker game at a given time comprises many factors: fixed factors such as the rake, betting structure and rules; variable factors such as the talent, mood, and motivation (etc.) of you opponents; and personal factors such as your ability, discipline, and toking level (etc.). Therefore, the question we should really be asking is "Can I beat the players at *this* table at a rate sufficient to overcome the particular expenses of *this* game?" This all points back to the importance of skill #0, judicious table selection.
Big Annual Rec.Gambling Excursion
Las Vegas, NV
Beginning of August [July 27 -- August 1, 2004]
Organizers: Chuck Weinstock <email@example.com>, Peter Secor <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Web page: http://www.barge.org
To subscribe to the BARGE mailing list, send email to: email@example.com
Information last updated May 2004.
Foxwoods Annual Rec.Gambling Outing
Late September or October [in 2003, was September 18--21]
Organizer: Don Perry <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Web page: http://conjelco.com/fargo/ and http://www.fargopoker.com
Mailing list: http://mail.conjelco.com/mailman/listinfo/fargo
Information last updated Jan 2004.
November [in 2003, was November 6--8 at Grand Casino Biloxi]
Organizer: Randy "Mitch" Collack <RMITCHCOLL@aol.com>, Steve Jewett
Web page: http://conjelco.com/marge.html
Mailing list: http://mail.conjelco.com/mailman/listinfo/marge
Information last updated Jan 2004.
Late February or early March [February 26--28, 2004 at the Horseshoe]
Organizer: Steve Jewett <email@example.com>, Randy "Mitch" Collack <RMITCHCOLL@aol.com>
Web page: http://conjelco.com/sarge.html
Mailing list: http://mail.conjelco.com/mailman/listinfo/sarge
Information last updated Jan 2004.
Experimental Southern California Annual Rec Gambling Outing and Tournament
Los Angeles, CA
Near MLK Weekend [in 2004, was January 15--18 at the Bicycle Casino]
Organizers: Russ Fox, Lou Krieger, Marc Gilutin, Jerrod Ankenman, Steve Nissman, Chris Straghalis
Web page: http://www.conjelco.com/escargot.html
Information last updated Jan 2004.
ATLantic City ARGE
Atlantic City, NJ
March [March 4--7, 2004 at the the Taj Mahal]
Organizer: Stevan Goldman <GoldmanS@YouveGotClaims.com>
Web page: http://www.conjelco.com/atlarge.html
Mailing list: http://mail.conjelco.com/mailman/listinfo/atlarge
Previous Years' Web page: http://www.jazbo.com/atlarge
Information last updated Jan 2004.
The Annual Rec.Gambling Entry Tournament
Las Vegas, NV
First held in 1994. Usually occurs during the first week of WSOP (April).
Organizer: Ken Kubey <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To join the mailing list, send email to Ken.
Information last updated Nov 2002.
Rumple Mintz is the official rec.gambling spelling of a brand of 100 proof peppermint schnapps called Rumple Minze, imported from the Scharlachberg Distillery in Germany. Best served shaken over ice for five seconds, then strained into a short glass. It is the official drink of rec.gambler poker players everywhere, and is known to increase poker skill dramatically. Legend has it that one rec.gambler won $4000 in a 50-100 Hold'em game while under its spell, lived to tell the tale in a trip report, and assured its eternal fame.
Okay, so maybe only one rec.gambler actually drinks Rumpel Minze.
The World Series of Poker is a yearly series of poker tournaments hosted by the Horseshoe Casino in Las Vegas. Amateur Chris Moneymaker's $2.5 million win in 2003 and Jim McManus' book "Positively Fifth Street" introduced many non-poker players to this premiere tournament series. Harrah's hosts the Official WSOP Home Page and Conjelco maintains archives for 1995 through 2000. They change the details from year to year, so while the information below gives you the general idea, be sure to check the official site for this year's particulars.
The following information was announced by WSOP 2004 Tournament Director Matt Savage. [Thanks to Terrence Chan for reformatting.] See also the WSOP 2004 official schedule page for information on satellites (on schedule page 4). All events start at 12 Noon unless otherwise noted on the schedule.
|#1||Apr 22||$500.00||Casino Employee's Limit Hold'em||One Day Event|
|#2||Apr 23||$2,000.00||No-Limit Hold'em||Two Day Event|
|#3||Apr 24||$1,500.00||Seven Card Stud||Two Day Event|
|#4||Apr 25||$1,500.00||Limit Hold'em||Two Day Event|
|#5||Apr 26||$1,500.00||Omaha Hi-Lo Split||Two Day Event|
|#6||Apr 27||$1,500.00||Pot Limit Hold'em||Two Day Event|
|#7||Apr 28||$1,000.00||No-Limit Hold'em with Rebuys (First Two Hours)||Two Day Event|
|#8||Apr 29||$2,000.00||Pot Limit Omaha with Rebuys (First Two Hours)||Two Day Event|
|#9||Apr 30||$1,500.00||No-Limit Hold'em||Two Day Event|
|#10||May 1||$2,000.00||Seven Card Stud Hi-Lo Split||Two Day Event|
|#11||May 2||$2,500.00||Limit Hold'em||Two Day Event|
|#12||May 3||$2,000.00||H.O.R.S.E. (Hold'em, Omaha, Razz, Stud, Stud/ 8)||Two Day Event|
|#13||May 4||$5,000.00||No-Limit Hold'em||Two Day Event|
|#14||May 5||$1,500.00||Seven Card Stud Hi-Lo Split||Two Day Event|
|#15||May 6||$2,000.00||Limit Hold'em||Two Day Event|
|#16||May 7||$5,000.00||No-Limit Deuce to Seven Draw with Rebuys||One Day Event|
|#17||May 7||$1,500.00||Limit Hold'em Shootout@ 2pm||Two Day Event|
|#18||May 8||$1,500.00||No-Limit Hold'em Shootout||Two Day Event|
|#19||May 9||$2,000.00||Omaha Hi-Lo Split||Two Day Event|
|#20||May 9||$1,000.00||Ladies Limit Hold'em @ 2pm||Two Day Event|
|#21||May 10||$2,000.00||Pot Limit Hold'em||Two Day Event|
|#22||May 11||$5,000.00||Omaha Hi-Lo Split World Championship||Two Day Event|
|#23||May 12||$1,500.00||No Limit Hold'em||Two Day Event|
|#24||May 13||$5,000.00||Seven Card Stud World Championship||Two Day Event|
|#25||May 14||$3,000.00||Pot Limit Hold'em||Two Day Event|
|#26||May 15||$1,500.00||Seven Card Razz||Two Day Event|
|#27||May 16||$1,000.00||Deuce to Seven Triple Draw with Rebuys||One Day Event|
|#28||May 16||$1,000.00||Seniors No-Limit Hold'em @ 2pm||Two Day Event|
|#29||May 17||$5,000.00||Limit Hold'em||Two Day Event|
|#30||May 18||$3,000.00||No-Limit Hold'em||Two Day Event|
|#31||May 19||$5,000.00||Pot Limit Omaha with Rebuys (First Two Hours)||Two Day Event|
|#32||May 20||$1,500.00||A-5 Draw Lowball||One Day Event|
|May 21||$225/ $200||4 Super Satellites 10am-3pm-7:45pm and 11pm||Win your $10,000 Seat|
|May 21||Media Charity No-Limit @ 6pm||Media Only|
|#33||May 22||$10,000.00||No Limit Hold'em World Championship Event @ 1PM||5 Full Levels 1/2 Field|
|May 23||World Championship Event- Day 2||5 Full Levels 1/2 Field|
|May 24||World Championship Event- Day 3||4 Full Levels|
|May 25||World Championship Event- Day 4||4 Full Levels|
|May 26||World Championship Event- Day 5||Play to 36|
|May 27||World Championship Event- Day 6||Play to 9|
|May 28||World Championship Event- Day 7||Play to 1|
House fees will be taken from the buy-in amount only. Dealer and Staff toke will be be taken from the prize pool amount. [Thanks to Terrence Chan for summarizing the fee structure.]
|Total Buy-in||Breakdown: Prize pool plus house fee||House "Percentage"||House percentage defined as juice over buy-in||Dealer/staff toke deducted from prize pool|
|$500||$465 + $35||7.00%||7.53%||3.00%|
|$1,000||$940 + $60||6.00%||6.38%||3.00%|
|$1,500||$1420 + $80||5.00%||5.63%||3.00%|
|$2,000||$1900 + $100||5.00%||5.26%||3.00%|
|$2,500||$2375 + $125||5.00%||5.26%||3.00%|
|$3,000||$2850 + $150||5.00%||5.26%||3.00%|
|$5,000||$4800 + $200||4.00%||4.17%||2.00%|
|$10,000||$9600 + $400||4.00%||4.17%||2.00%|
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 http://www-2.cs.cmu.edu/People/mummert/ircbot.html.
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 http://webusers.anet-stl.com/~gregr/. 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 http://larry.curiouslabs.com/ghosteffects/McPoker.html.
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 ftp://cs-ftp.bu.edu/pub/irc/clients. The Unix client is named ircII. This archive also contains a primer on using IRC. The official IRC FAQ is available at ftp://rtfm.mit.edu/pub/usenet/alt.irc. An excellent generic Windows client is mIRC, available at http://www.mirc.com.
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 irc.poker.net or irc nickname 22.214.171.124
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
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
indicates that you wish to fold. All poker commands are prefixed with the letter 'p'. The command
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 ftp://ftp.csua.berkeley.edu/pub/rec.gambling/poker/ircrc.poker. 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 http://www.jcsw.com/poker/.
The basics. There are about a dozen well-established online poker rooms that offer live games against real people for real money. Thanks to TV shows such as the World Poker Tour, online poker is no longer just for brave pioneers and has gone mainstream. It has become the main topic of conversation on rec.gambling.poker. Over a hundred thousand people from around the world play online every week!
Real money? Yep. You can choose betting stakes of play-money, microscopic real-money (for example, $0.01 - $0.02 limit), or all the way up to $100 - $200 or more. NETeller is the most popular way of transferring money to and from the sites.
Which site is best? It's mostly a matter of taste. The largest sites have the best selection of games and have earned the trust of many players. For more details, see this comparison of online poker sites. If you are thinking about opening an online poker account, be sure to learn about sign-up bonus codes first or you may miss out on some lucrative cash bonuses.
Is it legal? As of this writing, the issue is ambiguous in most U.S. states and at the U.S. federal level. Most of the cardroom sites are operated from the Caribbean, Central America or the Mohawk Territory of Kahnawake in Canada. Existing laws tend to target illegal gambling operators rather than the players, but since the online operators are out of reach there is political pressure to modify this approach. In the U.S., several federal bills have been proposed that regulate or forbid online wagers. The latest tactic is an attempt to outlaw financial transactions that are related to online gambling. On the other hand, in the U.K. the government has been moving in the direction of legalization and regulation. You're on your own until legal systems catch up with this new technology.
For more information about online poker and the law, see the Legal section of the Beginners' Guide to Online Poker.
Is it safe? The jury is also still out on this one. There are a number of risks:
You might notice that many of these risks exist in real cardrooms. It is likely that some risks will be greater in the online world and that some will be lesser. For example, several of the online cardrooms claim to apply collusion detection algorithms to the database of hand histories. And a popular form of online poker is the heads-up game, where collusion is impossible. It may turn out that the cost of collusion is lower in the online world. In the area of game software integrity, most of the top online cardrooms have engaged auditing firms to provide independent validation of the fairness of their dealing algorithms. That's reassuring. But still, the legal questions are fuzzy and you have to judge for yourself whether you can accept the risks.
For some suggestions on minimizing these risks, see the Dangers section of the Beginners' Guide to Online Poker.
What are some of the advantages of playing poker online?
What are some of the disadvantages of playing poker online?
If you don't care about your money, the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. If you do try to win money, you may have difficulty doing so. This is not to say that it is impossible. The games may be incredibly weak. The games that you land in may be completely straight. You may be an incredible player. However, proceed with caution.
Poker Pulse is an independent poker tracking portal showing close to real time counts of money players and games from many of the top online multi-player poker rooms. The Poker Pulse main page shows you the current real money ring game, players and real money tournament players at may sites. In addition to the player counts you can see a break down of the types of games at each site (e.g. number of hold'em games, number of omaha games, number of stud games and 1 on 1 games). There is a details page for each of the poker rooms covered, that shows you the current count of games with an average pot < $10, average pots between $10 and $30 and average pots > $30 plus other room specific details. Poker Pulse also features weekly chart features showing poker action graphically. Past chart features have included plots of peak and average player counts at each of the tracked rooms versus the hour of the day.
A number of people have reported the same bad experience with online poker: They win for a while, but once they cash out some winnings they seem to run bad and bust. To some people, this is solid evidence that online poker must be rigged; that by cashing out some winnings, players incur the wrath of the online operators, who will set a switch on the player's account, dooming them to lose thereafter.
Is the "rigged theory" the best explanation for the trends that people are observing?
Read the rest of this article (290 lines). [Editor's warning: this article contains logical arguments.]
See the Conspiracy Theory section of the Beginners' Guide to Online Poker.