Poker is a family of card games that combines gambling, strategy, and skill. All poker variants involve betting as an intrinsic part of play, and determine the winner of each hand according to the combinations of players’ cards, at least some of which remain hidden until the end of the hand. Poker games vary in the number of cards dealt, the number of shared or “community” cards, the number of cards that remain hidden, and the betting procedures.
In most modern poker games, the first round of betting begins with one or more of the players making some form of a forced bet (the blind or ante). In standard poker, each player bets according to the rank they believe their hand is worth as compared to the other players. The action then proceeds clockwise as each player in turn must either match (or “call”) the maximum previous bet, or fold, losing the amount bet so far and all further involvement in the hand. A player who matches a bet may also “raise” (increase) the bet. The betting round ends when all players have either called the last bet or folded. If all but one player folds on any round, the remaining player collects the pot without being required to reveal their hand. If more than one player remains in contention after the final betting round, a showdown takes place where the hands are revealed, and the player with the winning hand takes the pot.
With the exception of initial forced bets, money is only placed into the pot voluntarily by a player who either believes the bet has positive expected value or who is trying to bluff other players for various strategic reasons. Thus, while the outcome of any particular hand significantly involves chance, the long-run expectations of the players are determined by their actions chosen on the basis of probability, psychology, and game theory.
Poker has gained in popularity since the beginning of the twentieth century and has gone from being primarily a recreational activity confined to small groups of enthusiasts to a widely popular activity, both for participants and spectators, including online, with many professional players and multimillion-dollar tournament prizes.
Poker has many variations, all following a similar pattern of play and generally using the same hand ranking hierarchy. There are four main families of variants, largely grouped by the protocol of card-dealing and betting:
A complete hand is dealt to each player, and players bet in one round, with raising and re-raising allowed. This is the oldest poker family; the root of the game as now played was a game known as Primero, which evolved into the game three-card brag, a very popular gentleman’s game around the time of the American Revolutionary War and still enjoyed in the U.K. today. Straight hands of five cards are sometimes used as a final showdown, but poker is almost always played in a more complex form to allow for additional strategy.
Cards are dealt in a prearranged combination of face-down and face-up rounds, or streets, with a round of betting following each. This is the next-oldest family; as poker progressed from three to five-card hands, they were often dealt one card at a time, either face-down or face-up, with a betting round between each. The most popular stud variant today, seven-card stud, deals two extra cards to each player (three face-down, four face-up) from which they must make the best possible 5-card hand.
A complete hand is dealt to each player, face-down, and after betting, players are allowed to attempt to change their hand (with the object of improving it) by discarding unwanted cards and being dealt new ones. Five-card draw is the most famous variation in this family.
Community card poker
Also known as “flop poker”, community card poker is a variation of stud poker. Players are dealt an incomplete hand of face-down cards, and then a number of face-up community cards are dealt to the center of the table, each of which can be used by one or more of the players to make a 5-card hand. Texas hold ’em and Omaha are two well-known variants of the community card family.
Video poker is a single-player video game that functions much like a slot machine; most video poker machines play draw poker, where the player bets, a hand is dealt, and the player can discard and replace cards. Payout is dependent on the hand resulting after the draw and the player’s initial bet.