How to Play Poker
Poker is one of the most complicating games in the casino but can also be one of the most fun as instead of being pitted against the house, players compete for each other’s chips. There are many different types of poker including 5 Card Draw, Texas Hold ‘Em, 7 Card Stud, Hi-Lo, Deuces Wild, Let 'Em Ride and Caribbean Stud to name a few. All of these games involve players being dealt a certain number of cards and then a winner is picked based on their relative rank of hands. Texas Hold ‘Em has become the most popular type of poker in the last decade or so with national tournaments aired on television such as World Series of Poker, World Poker Tour, GSN’s High Stakes Poker.
The rank of hands is the most important concept in poker as this ranking determines the winner of each dealt hand, of which there is only one (or more if multiple players share the exact same hand rank). Here is the poker rank of hands:
Poker is an incredibly popular casino game because players are not playing against the casino but instead against each other. This adds a great deal of variety to the type of play because in every traditional casino game, the house has a certain algorithm they have to follow in their betting patterns while in poker, players can bet at their whim.
The source of the house-advantage in casino poker is that the casino takes a certain “rake”—a fixed percentage (usually 5-10%) of the winning pot. This is small compared to some other casino games, but the greatest adversary to a player’s chips in poker is not the house but the other competing players as will be explored below.
Types of Bets in Poker
In every type of poker, each player is dealt a certain number of cards, “their starting hand,” and then betting continues in a clockwise fashion around the table. Depending on the type of poker game, at the beginning of each hand every player must either put in an “ante” (a fixed amount) or a “small or large blind” (a progressive amount that rotates around the table as to who has to pay).
During play, there are four basic types of bets in poker: check, call, raise, or fold.
Check- If during this round of play no player has bet previously, you can choose to check, meaning you do not bet anything (add any more chips to the center pot) but remain in play.
Call- If during this round of play a player has already bet then you can choose to “call” by matching their bet (putting an equal number of chips in the pot to what they previously put in).
Raise- If during this round of play a player has already bet then you can choose to “raise” by matching and surpassing the number of chips they added to the pot. Players who move after you then have to either match or raise your now-higher bet to stay in.
Fold- If you do not wish to call or raise a previously-made bet, you can “fold,” meaning you turn your cards into the dealer, forfeit the round, and lose all money you have already bet this hand.
Odds and Payouts in Poker
The probability of being dealt each type of poker-hand rank is listed here:
|Hand Rank||Percent Probability|
|Four of a Kind||0.0256%|
|Three of a Kind||2.11%|
Poker is one of the most interesting games in the casino because payout is not directly determined by the hand-rank you receive. For example, in Video Poker if you were to be dealt a Royal Flush, you could receive a payout on the magnitude of 500:1, but in regular poker, if you do not play your Royal Flush correctly, you could receive a payout of as low as 1.5:1 (if you are the big blind and everyone folds immediately, all you receive is your big blind and the little blind).
On the flip side of the coin, it is possible to “bluff” (convince other players that your hand is of a higher rank than it actually is) to receive a very high payout for having no better than just a High Card. It is for this reason that poker payouts are impossible to predict. The only gauge of possible winnings is each poker table’s Minimum Bet and whether or not the game is Limit or No Limit. If the table is a Limit Poker game then each bet and raise can only be made in a single increment of the minimum bet.
Sucker Bets in Poker
Poker is probably the most complicated game in the casino and therefore is full of sucker bets and mistakes amateurs can make. Here is a list of three common mistakes that the amateur poker player should look to avoid.
1. Know Your Own Skill Level
You can choose to play at any priced table the casino offers and the same level of excitement can be achieved. Do not play at a table above your budget as when the stakes go up, generally so does the level of skill. High-stakes poker players know what they are doing and are can be more dangerous to your pocket book than any casino game where you are just pitted against the casino.
2. Know Your Opponent’s Skill Level
Casinos are filled with poker sharks, players who are pros and hustlers and love to prey on Las Vegas tourists and other poker amateurs. One of the most common techniques employed by these sharks is disguise. That sweet, little, old lady sitting across from you at the poker table who keeps asking the dealer about the rules could be a seasoned poker veteran who knows that acting the part and playing with the psyche of her opponents is half the battle at the poker table. Do not fall victim to the sharks! Keep track of all the hands that are played, even the ones that you are out of, to recognize players who seem to know exactly what they are doing.
3. Do Not Pay to See the Cards
Probably the most common sucker bet in poker is when a player knows they have lost the hand but pays to see the last card or the result of the hand. As soon as you think you are beat, do not keep calling to stay in and see what happens. The best poker players are the ones who can stomach having already put a lot of chips into the pot and can fold instead of keep betting to try to “win back” those chips they have already lost. If you think you are beat, fold!
Best Bets in Poker
1. Play Mind Games with Your Opponents
Take advantage of your perceived playing style by varying up your strategy of play. This requires taking a hit at the beginning of play to establish the type of player you are and then profiting later by reversing your style of play as will be shown below.
A good plan is to start by playing very “loose” meaning betting liberally, staying in on a lot of hands, and frequently calling others’ bets. Once a baseline has been established that you are a “loose” player, you should switch to a more conservative style of play. This means folding unless you have a strong starting hand and only betting when you are confident you have the “nuts” (the strongest hand at the table). If you perform this strategy correctly, you can get people to call or even re-raise your bets as they will still think of you as a “loose” player who will go in on decent cards. This is where you can take advantage of that preconception by playing more conservatively.
The flip side of this strategy is to start out playing very conservatively and then loosen up as the game goes on. If people see you consistently folding your starting hand and folding when others bet, they will know that you only play hands that you find very strong. Again, you can take advantage of this preconception by then later playing more loosely. Players will take your bets seriously and will be more likely to fold even when you go in with weaker hands.
2. Use Math
Poker math works by comparing pot odds to hand odds. Pot odds are easy to calculate as this is just the ratio of the size of the pot to the size of the bet you have to make. For example, if there is $20 worth of chips in the pot and you have to call a $2 bet then your pot odds are 10% as you are risking $2 to win $20.
Hand odds are slightly more difficult to calculate as this number is the ratio of the number of “outs” you have on any given hand to the size of the deck. Outs are cards left in the deck that if you draw, you will have the “nuts.” For example, if you are playing 5 Card Draw and you are initially dealt a flush draw, you have nine outs as there are 13 cards of each suit in the deck and you have 4 of them in your hand, so you need one of those nine cards of your suit to complete your flush. (Note that you ignore the fact that your opponents may have some cards of that suit in their hands when computing your outs.) Comparing this to the number of cards left in the deck you get your hand odds. So if there are 42 cards left in the deck, because say you are playing 5 Card Draw against one opponent and you have each been dealt your initial hand, then your hand odds are 9/42 or about 21%.
Whether or not you should stay in on any given hand is then calculated by comparing your pot odds to your hand odds. In the above example, your pot odds are about 10% while your hand odds are about 21%, so you should stay in and call that $2 bet.
3. Use Tells
Using tells is one of the most powerful techniques in poker and it requires no math at all! Tells are subconscious physical clues given off by your opponents which can be used to help you guess the strength of their hand. For this reason, it is important to always be analyzing your opponents when the cards are dealt. Do not just immediately start looking at your own hand, but instead take some time to see your opponents see theirs’. Your cards will be there the whole round while your opponents’ tells are much harder to catch.
The official bible of poker-tells is “Caro’s Book of Poker Tells” written by Mike Caro. This book contains 100s of pages of common tells and techniques to take advantage of those tells. For more information on “Caro’s Book of Poker Tells” check out the Further Reading section here.
Here are some of the most common poker tells:
1. Opponents who look at their hands and then immediately look at their chips usually have strong hands. It is an uncontrollable impulse when you see you have a good hand to glance at your chips as you try to think to yourself how much you should bet. When you see this tell, fold unless you also have a strong hand.
2. Opponents who show their cards to friends usually have strong hands. Unless your opponent is a really good bluffer, he would only show his hand to a friend to “show off” the strength of his hand. If you see this tell, fold unless you also have a strong hand.
3. Opponents who bet forcefully or dramatically usually have weak hands. Players do this maneuver to try to seem like they have a really strong hand and that they are very optimistic about their bet so as to try to force you out of the bet. When opponents do any sort of dramatic showing to either try to feign weakness or strength, they are trying to make you believe something about the strength of their hand. When you see this kind of tell, disappoint your opponent and do the opposite of what they want you to do. In the case above, if you see someone bet really aggressively, call as they are probably trying to bluff.