Rules and etiquette
It doesn’t take a World Series of Poker champion to know that poker is enjoying life in the limelight right now. Though the Travel Channel projects the image that Texas Hold’em is the only game for the table, there are a variety of games, easy enough for any eager amateur to learn and master.
Before calling five pals over and emptying your bank account to cash in, it’s best to familiarize oneself with the fundamentals. No matter what game is being played, cards are always dealt to the left of the dealer. A cut is traditionally offered to the player right of the dealer — skipping that would get you shot in the Old West. While some players prefer antes — where everyone adds to the pot before any cards are dealt — most tables will enforce blinds to ensure betting. This way, only two players have to bet before seeing their cards. Small blind, immediately to the left of dealer, puts in half the amount of the big blind, who is to the left of the small. Upon seeing their cards, all players who wish to remain in the hand match the Big Blind. The blinds rotate with the deal. In games with blinds, the minimum raise is the amount of the big blind.
In order from best to worst, the possible hands in poker are:
Royal Flush – 10-J-Q-K-A of the same suit
Straight Flush – five cards of the same suit in order
Four of a kind
Full House – a pair and three of a kind combined (ex: 3-3-K-K-K)
Flush – five cards of the same suit in no order
Straight – five cards in order but not of the same suit
Three of a kind
Pair – two cards of the same number
When to bluff…
Bluffing is an important part of card strategy and is used almost as commonly as straight betting. Equally as crucial to knowing how to bluff is learning when to bluff. Here’s a quick, though not foolproof, guide. Bluff when:
— There aren’t many other players in the pot. As a general rule, it’s easier to fool a few people than a lot.
— You’re playing with conservative players. Conservative players generally only play when they have good hand, so if they stay in after a raise or two, it’s a good indication of a strong hand.
— You’re the last player to act on the river, especially if possible straights or flushes did not pan out on the table. Most players follow the primary rule of cards, fold the cards as soon as they can’t win, and will be likely to fold if a bet is placed.
— Other players are afraid of you. This one is dependent on other players’ perceptions of you as a player and a better, so pay attention to how they react to you when you win big pots.
Cards is not all poker, as any Michigan native will attest to. Euchre (pronounced YOO-ker) is a fun game for four players, especially the non-gambling variety. Half the deck is needed, consisting of only cards nine through Ace, plus the fives to be used as score cards. Players sit in a square, facing their partner. Each player is dealt five cards, but the deal must be completed in two rounds; common dealing is 2-3-2-3, 3-2-3-2. After the cards have been dealt, the kitty, or remaining cards, is placed face down and the top card is flipped up. Players then go around, either passing to the next player or telling the dealer to pick it up. If it is picked up, the dealer replaces a card in his hand with the up card, the suit of which is now trump. Here’s where euchre gets tricky. In the suit of trump (example: clubs), the highest card is the Jack of that suit, called the right bauer. The second highest is the Jack of same color (example: spades), called the left bauer. Then the order is A-K-Q-10-9. In the non-trump suits, card order is the traditional A-K-Q-J-10-9.
If all players pass, the dealer can either pick it up to order trump, or pass. At this point, players have the option of calling any suit trump. A specialty rule usually enforced is called screw the dealer; if no players call trump, the dealer must do so on his second turn.
Once trump has been called, in order, each player lays a card. Other players must follow suit of the leader if they have it in their hand; if not, they can play another suit or trump. The highest card takes the round, which is called a trick. The team who called trump must take three of five tricks to win the hand, and is awarded one point. If they fail, the other team gets two points for “euchring” them. If a player is discovered to not have followed suit, it is called a renege and the opposing team gets two points. A team also gets two points for taking all five tricks. First team to ten points wins.
Sometimes players opt to “go alone,” or have their partner sit out that hand. Often this is only done if a player has “double-dutch” (both Jacks of trump) and two more trump cards in his hand. The rest of the hand is played out as with four players, except that the player left of the caller leads off instead of left of the dealer. If a player takes all the tricks going alone, his team wins four points.
Euchre can also be played with three players. In this variation, each time a player orders up trump he is going alone. There are no set teams; rather, players have individual scores and team up against the trump caller every hand.
Five card draw
The original poker game, Five Card Draw takes the least skill and the gutsiest bluffing. Players are dealt five hole cards, followed by a round of betting. After the betting, players can draw from the deck, only up to three cards if they don’t have an ace. If you have an ace and wish to draw four, you must reveal your ace to the table. There is another round of betting and the best hand wins. A common way to play is called Jacks or Better, where the first round of betting may only be opened by a player who has a pair of jacks or higher in his original hole cards. If no one can open the betting, the hand is ended and the cards redealt. This continues until a player has jacks or better.
Texas Hold ‘Em
Undoubtedly the most popular, and dubbed by professional Doyle Brunson as the “Cadillac of poker,” Texas Hold’em is a game at which any competitive poker player should be proficient.
Each player at the table is dealt two cards face down, known as hole cards; a round of betting follows. The top card of the deck is burned (discarded to prevent deck stacking) and the flop is revealed. The flop is the first three of five community cards dealt and these five cards. Every player may use with his hole cards to make the best possible five-card hand. The top card is burned between each community addition. After the flop is the turn, also called fourth street; the last community card is the river, or fifth street. There is a round of betting after the flop, the turn and the river. A minimum of two players is needed to play Texas, and if so desired, up to 22 can play.
Omaha and Drop Two are variations on Texas. In Omaha, players are dealt four hole cards and must use two of their own cards to create the best five-card hand. The remainder of the game is dealt out like Texas Hold’em. Drop Two is self-explanatory; players are dealt four hole cards and discard two pre-flop, and the rest of the game is played out like Texas.
Texas, Omaha and Drop Two are typically the only games played no-limit, or tournament style. In a no-limit game, all players cash in the same amount of money and denomination of chips. There is no limit to how much a player can bet on any given turn, so he has the option to go “all-in” each time he has the opportunity to bet. Once a player has lost his chips, he may not cash back in. The winner is the last person with all the chips. This makes the game exciting and emotional, as players go on huge swings, from a leader position to out in two hands.
Also called Chi-town, Chicago is a great game for big tables and is not usually played with blinds. Each player is dealt two hole cards and one card face up before the first round of betting. He then receives two cards face up, and there is another round of betting. Finally, he is dealt one more card face up and another hole card. There is one last round of betting. The pot is split between the best five-card hand and the player with the highest spade in the hole (ace of spades is a sure half-pot if it’s a hole card). Also, one player can win the whole pot by having the best hand and highest spade.
Pass the trash
Another favorite, Pass the Trash, is also known as Seven-Card High/Low Roll ‘Em. This game works best with five or more players, though there are variations for fewer. Each player is dealt seven cards face down. He chooses four to keep and passes three to the left. Two cards are discarded after he picks up his neighbor’s pass. Players opt to go high (best hand takes half the pot), low (worst hand, example: A-2-3-4-6, wins the other half), or bluff either way. Bluffing is crucial in this game because each player flips, or rolls, one card at a time to reveal his hand to the table.
There is a bet between each rolled card until only one card remains face down. At this point, based on his own cards and what he sees of others’ hands, each player must decide if he wants to go high or low with his cards. Dealer calls out “chip for high, no chip for low”; behind his back or under the table, each player chooses if he wants to hold a chip or not. When everyone is ready, fists are opened. There is another round of betting and then the last card is revealed. As with all games, the option to fold, or lay down the cards, is available at any point during the game.
If the game has fewer than five players, a good alternative is High/Low Draw. It’s played exactly like Pass the Trash, except that instead of passing three, players discard and then are dealt three new cards before discarding the last two. For a way to spice up an old game or make a new one, any game can be played high/low for a split pot.