If the films are to be believed, then the most important skills for poker players are sheer grit and the ability to remain completely expressionless no matter what’s in your hand. In truth, while these abilities may help you in some games, the real trick to playing poker is to familiarise yourself with the maths involved.
Given the information available to you – the cards in your hand, the cards you can see, and the cards you know have already been dealt, you can calculate the probability of getting the card you want, or of your opponent having a better hand.
For the best results at the poker table, it’s important to make decisions using your knowledge of probability rather than your gut, and this means a little research will stand you in good stead. Some of the key things you need to know are:
Know the rules of the game
While Texas Hold ‘Em is the most popular type of poker played in casinos, there are other variations available, including:
- Three card stud
- Omaha Hold ‘em
- Five card draw
- Pai Gow
- Seven card stud
- Caribbean stud
- Mississippi stud
- Casino hold ‘em
It’s important to know which version of the game is being played to ensure that you understand the rules. Some are relatively uncommon, but if you want to be able to hold your own in any game that comes your way, you can learn the rules for as many as you can remember.
Poker hand combinations
In most games of poker, a hand consists of five cards and the various combinations are assigned values based on how likely they are to occur. Practising on a poker site can help you familiarise yourself with the various hands, which are:
Five of a kind – if all five cards are of the same value (for this hand, this would have to include a joker or wild card)
Straight flush – without wild cards, this is the highest possible hand, comprising five cards of the same suit in value order, such as two, three, four, five, and six of clubs. A straight flush including a jack, queen, king and ace is called a Royal Flush and beats any flush with lower-scoring cards.
Four of a kind – four cards of the same value are the next most valuable hand, even though the fifth card in the hand is discounted.
Full House – this hand is made up of three cards of one value and two of another value, such as three nines and two fours.
Flush – if you have five cards all of the same suit but not in any kind of sequence, this is known as a flush.
Straight – a hand comprising cards whose values are sequential but are of different suits, such as the five of hearts, six of clubs, seven of spades, eight of diamonds, and nine of clubs.
Three of a kind – a self-explanatory hand with three cards of one value such as three fives.
Two pairs – two pairs of cards of the same value such as two fours and two nines.
One pair – when you only have two cards that match and three other cards of differing rank and/or suit.
No pair – this hand has no cards that relate to one another at all, but if two players both have nothing then the highest card would win e.g. if one had a king and the other’s highest card was a ten.
The value of the cards in your hand will inform your betting strategy, as will the visible cards of the other players and the dealer. Players get to place bets at various points in the game, and savvy gamblers will make the most of their good hands and try to minimise losses from band hands by betting strategically.
Many games require an ‘ante’ to kick off the betting before the cards have even been dealt. At the beginning of each betting round, the first player puts in the number of chips they want to wager, and each subsequent player either has to match their stake, raise it, or ‘fold’ and leave the game.
If a player puts in a number of chips that nobody else is willing to match, they win that round without even having to show their cards. This is how some players can win with a poor hand by bluffing and convincing their fellow players that they have a winning combination.
If there is more than one player still in the game when the betting round is over, there is a ‘showdown’ in which players reveal their cards to one another. The player with the best hand then wins the pot and the play continues to the next round.
Poker is a game that can be played anywhere by anyone, with any stakes, making it one of the most versatile and engaging games in the world, so being able to play is a great bonus to anyone.