The Steps for a Hand of Poker

To an outsider poker looks complicated and involved, with a lot of jargon and lingo being thrown around. In actuality it's fairly simple, once all of the mystique is stripped away from the flow of the game.

Before the deck is shuffled or any cards are dealt players need to get comfortable around the table. You decide on who the dealer is, and on what the table limit is. The table limit is the largest amount that anyone can bet at any time. Once these ground rules are decided you all take a seat and the dealer starts shuffling.

Every player must place an ante into the center of the table, known as the pot where all of the wagered money is stored. The ante is a token bet that all players should agree on as the minimum to be dealt in. Once the ante is placed in the pot, guaranteeing that someone will win something and someone will lose something, play really begins.

The dealer begins to deal cards starting with the player on his left. One card is dealt to each player in a clockwise motion, with the dealer last if he's playing, until all players have 5 cards in their hands. The deck is set in the middle of the table where everyone can see it so that no one pulls a six-gun and starts accusing someone of cheating.

Players look at their cards. Beginning to the left of the dealer, each player has a chance to place a bet up to the table limit. The first person could, for instance, place a bet of $5. It would then move to the next player who would either "see" this amount (and thus add in her own fiver), "raise" it (which would be tossing in that $5 and another $5 for the raise), or "fold" (which is where you lay your cards down and look at everyone else expectantly because you're done for that round and you don't think you're going to win. Or you just think that $5 is a bit too much to risk, being a conservative high roller who's willing to give up the ante you put in the pot). You keep going around the table until everyone has a chance to see, raise or fold, and if there are raises then each person who wants to stay in must match the bets made.

It bears mentioning at this point that if you are the first person that's going to be betting you can do what's called a "check." This means that you don't want to make a bet, but you don't want to fold just yet. It's a move you pull when you want to stand around and see how the others are going to play before you agree to put more money in the pot.

Now, once everyone's done chucking their money into the pot and all the folders have become spectators, it's time to change out your cards. Once again, beginning with the person who opened the betting each player may get rid of up to three cards, and draw just as many as they get rid of.

After all new cards have been drawn, there's a second round of betting that works the exact same as the first one. Once everyone has either folded or seen all of the bets to stay in, it's time to flip over the cards. The player with the best hand at this point wins.

The winner of that hand takes the pot and then the next round begins. The only difference is that now the person who opens the betting is the person sitting on the left of the individual who opened the last round. Other than that, each round works almost the same as the last.

The Hands

In order to know who actually won when you flip your cards over, you need to know which combinations of cards go together to make the hands of poker. These hands translate to each variety of the game. Keep in mind that poker is often played with multiple decks, meaning that you can in fact of hands that tie each other. Ties are broken by the additional cards in the hand being higher as listed.

High Card: If no one has a single card combination then the player who has the highest individual card is the winner of that hand. Cards go from the Ace at the highest all the way to the 2 or the Deuce at the lowest.

Pair: A pair of cards is when you have two cards of the same value.  Most poker games have a "Jacks or better to open." This rule means that unless you have a single pair ranked at least as high as a Jack, you essentially don't have a hand.

Two Pair: Just like a regular pair, except you have two of them. Two pair is a safe hand to bet on, especially if you have two pairs of high value cards like the royals.

Three of a Kind: Three of a kind is when you have three cards, all of the same rank. Three 2's, Three Jacks, etc. If two players each have three of a kind, then whoever's triple cards is of higher rank wins.

Straight: A straight is when you have five cards in a row. If you had, say, the 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 in your hand, you have a straight. The cards don't have to be of any particular suit, just in order.

Flush: A flush is when you have all five cards of the same suit. It doesn't matter what order they're in, as long as they're each from a single suit.

Full House: A full house is when you have three of a kind as well as a pair. The highest of the three cards, and then the highest of the pairs (if the three of a kind is the same) breaks ties.

Four of a Kind: A four of a kind is where you have four of a single card, and one card that doesn't match anything. The higher four of a kind wins, with the extra card deciding the tie if the four of a kind is the same.

Straight Flush: A straight flush combines a straight and a flush; it's five cards in order all of the same suit. There is no wraparound, meaning that you can't go "Queen, King, Ace, Two, Three."

Royal Flush: The highest of the high, a royal flush is when you have a straight flush comprised of the 10, Jack, Queen, King and Ace cards. Nothing beats a royal flush


Now, theoretically you could win a game of poker just through sheer luck of the cards and drawing a royal flush. The odds of this are astronomical, but then again gamblers have staked careers on beating the odds for centuries. But that isn't likely to win you a lot of cash depending on cards and the odds alone. This is where bluffing comes in.

Poker, to paraphrase Daniel Craig in "Casino Royale," isn't about your hand; rather it's about the other people at your table. If you can read a person's face and body language, then you can tell their reactions to the cards in their hands. You may not know exactly what cards they have, but you can rest assured you know how good or bad they are based on these telling signs, referred to simply as tells. Chances are that you have tells as well. Either your forehead sweats, your jaw clenches, you drink more than usual, your leg taps, your pulse twitches noticeably in your throat... there is something there for anyone to see.

Bluffing is just a nice word for lying. What you're attempting to do is to either completely conceal your emotions so that no one can tell what it is you're feeling, or (and this is a lot harder) give a false impression of your feelings. The goal is to throw your opponents at the table off to either let them think they're going to win (when you have a good hand) or to make them think they're going to lose (when you have nothing worth playing). It isn't an easy skill to pick up, but for those who find that acting comes naturally to them it is a skill that can make you a fantastic card player. Just don't overdo it... hamming it up at the table will cost you just as if you were hamming it up on stage.