The basics

-Number of players: any (ideally between five and seven)

-Playing time: as desired

-Cards: standard pack; no jokers, although occasionally a joker may be included as a wild card.

-Ranking: Ace high (but low if desired) down to deuce (low). Suits are equal.

-Deal: the game to be played is agreed and players contribute one chip each (or as required) to the ante. A common arrangement is “Dealer’s Choice”; that is, the dealer announces the game to be played for that hand, explaining it if necessary. Cards are dealt singly in rotation starting with Eldest; the number of cards dealt to each player, and whether they are dealt face up or face down, is determined by the game chosen. The deal rotates with each hand.



Poker, commonly and rightly associated with Mississippi steamboats and Wild West saloons, did not assume its present form until about a century ago. It is essentially a gambling game and has little purpose if played without stakes.

Poker is really a “game system” rather than a game, for there are innumerable different variants. At the core of them all, however is an immutable hierarchy of five-card combinations. A feature of Poker is that there is no play as such – yet it is one of the most skilful of card games and is universally popular.


Object of the game

To assemble the best hand or to bluff other players into believing you hold it.



All players should be clear on the betting system and the rules of the game being played.

There are two standard games, Draw and Stud.

Draw Poker

Five cards are dealt singly to each player face down. Players examine their cards. From this stage on, any player may fold (throw in their cards face down and withdraw from the game) at any time.

Now, proceeding clockwise, the players bet in turn, placing their chip(s) into the kitty. Any player may check – that is, elect to stay in the game without betting – provided no previous player has bet. Any player may raise a bet by up to the agreed limit; all players who want to stay in the game must do likewise.

When all players have either matched the maximum bet or folded, those still in the game may exchange any or all of their cards. Starting with Eldest, unwanted cards are returned to the dealer who places them unseen beneath the pack and deals the player a corresponding number in exchange.

The dealer also exchanges cards in the same manner but must announce how many. When the players have in turn, folded, exchanged cards or elected not to exchange, another round of bidding takes place. Bidding continues in a clockwise direction until all players have either matched the highest bid (the bid may have been raised several times) or have folded – i.e. the turn comes back to the highest bidder who may not bid again.

Those still in the game now compare hands, and the player with the best hand takes the kitty. If no player matches the highest bid, the bidder takes the kitty without revealing his or her hand.


Stud Poker

One card is dealt face down to each player, followed by one card face up. Players examine their hole (face down) cards.

The player with the highest exposed card opens the betting (if there is a tie the first player clockwise from the dealer begins). This terminates on reaching the player who last raised the stake (or the first better if there was no raise).

A third card is now dealt to each player face up, followed by another round of betting. This is repeated twice more before hole cards are revealed and the hands compared. A player may fold at any time.


Poker – Ranking of hands (in descending order of value)

Royal flush (A, K, Q, J, 10 of the same suit)
Straight flush (five cards of the same suit in sequence)
Four-of-a-kind (four cards of the same rank plus one unmatched card)
Full house (three of a kind and two of a kind)
Flush (five cards of the same suit)
Straight (five cards of mixed suits in sequence)
Three-of-a-kind (three cards of same rank plus two unmatched cards)
Two pairs (two cards each of two ranks plus one unmatched card)
Pair (two cards of same rank plus three unmatched cards)
Any hand of five cards not yielding one of the above combinations

*If a joker (wild card) is in use the highest hand is five Aces.

Where combinations are equal, the hand with the higher or highest combination wins (three-of-a-kind in the case of a full house). Where equal, or if the hands are of unmatched cards, the highest card wins; if again equal, the next higher cards are compared; and so on.


How to win

The essence of a good Poker is to vary your strategy; in particular, do not bluff too often.

Watch carefully the number of cards drawn by each of your opponents, and for any reaction when they examine their new cards. Remain inscrutable yourself! If a player draws one card it may be to a full house, but is more likely to be to a flush or straight. Failing a lucky draw, then the hands will probably be worthless. Two cards may be a draw to three-of-a-kind, but drawing two cards when holding a pair is a common bluff. If three cards are drawn the player almost certainly holds a pair.

Depending on how many are playing, it may well be worth holding on with a middle-ranking pair; but throw in with anything less if the other players are bidding.

Weigh the odds carefully: a good player usually knows when to stay in and when to get out.


An example of a hand of Draw Poker

A, B, C, D, and E (dealer) play. The ante is one chip from each player and the maximum bet 10 chips.

Deal (see picture below)

Betting (i)

-A throws in.

-B bets 1.

-C bets 1.

-D bets 1 and raises 5.

-E bets 6 (1+5)

-B throws in.

-C bets 5.


C exchanges three, wisely keeping the pair of 10s rather than discarding one for the outside chance of drawing a 7.

D sits pat. This is an attempt to bluff the others into thinking that D has a straight, a flush or a full house.

E exchanges the Ace in the hope of obtaining a flush.

New hands (see picture below)

Betting (ii)

-C bets 2

-D bets 2 and raises 10

-E throws in.

-C bets 10 “to see”

-D shows hand, then C shows and takes pool (48 chips).


An example of a hand of Stud Poker

A, B, C, D and E (dealer) play. The ante is one chip from each player and the maximum bet 10 chips. All chips are paid into the pool.

Deal (face down) (see picture below)

Deal (face up) (see picture below)

Betting (i)

– B bets 2 (Best exposed hand starts bidding)

– C bets 2.

– D bets 2.

– E bets 2.

– A bets 2. (A does not raise since a pair of fours is not likely to win.)


Deal (face up) (see picture below)

Betting (ii)

-E bets 1. (It would be too optimistic for E to be thinking of a flush at this stage.)

-A bets 1.

-B bets 2.

-C bets 2.

-D bets 2.

-E bets 1.

-A bets 1.


Deal (face up) (see picture below)

Betting (iii)

-A bets 3 (no one can have better than a pair, but A does not bid the maximum so as not to scare off the other players).

-B folds.

-C bets 3 (there is an outside chance of a straight).

-D bets 3 (hoping to pair, beating A’s visible pair).

-E bets 3 (banking on a flush; a chancy bet, but only one other heart is showing and a flush will be unbeatable unless A gets a full hour or, most improbably, four 4s).


Deal (face up) (see picture below)

Betting (IV)

– C bets 2 (it could be the best hand).

– D bets 7 (bluffing on holding a high pair).

– E bets 17 (the flush is unbeatable: E hopes the others will think it’s a bluff and come in).

– A bets 27 (A doesn’t believe in E’s flush)

– C folds

– D folds

– E bets 20 (i.e. A’s raise plus a raise of 10).

– A bets 10 (sees).

– E collects a handsome 120 chips.



Popular poker games include Jackpot, Spit-in-the-Ocean and High-Low. In Jackpot, it is necessary to have a pair of Jacks or better to open the bidding. There is no restriction on the other players. If all pass, the players ante again and the deal changes. A player who bids first and then drops out is obliged to show the openers (the cards on which the bid was made).

In Spit-in-the-Ocean a nominated player calls out “Spit” during the deal. The dealer turns the next card over and resumes the deal until each player has four cards. The exposed card, which is wild (as are the other three cards of the same rank), forms part of the hand of all the players.

In many games, players are dealt more than five cards, usually some face up and the rest face down, and each player selects the best five-card hand from them. This is the case in High-Low, in which the players with the highest and the lowest hands share the pot. It is possible for one player to win both hands.


Related External Links

There is a useful five card draw poker guide on the pagat website.

Play online poker at 888 poker today!