Commonalities of Poker Rules

While each game has different variations in its rules, the majority of games share the same baseline. Let’s look at the common traits that you’ll see shared amongst multiple poker games.

Forced Bets

In every poker game, there will be some form of forced bet made by at least one player at the table. These bets create action and force people to play hands. If there were no forced bets, there would be no obligation to play until you have a very strong hand, as it costs nothing to continually fold.

There are two types of forced bets that can be used in a game, blinds and antes. Blinds are most often used in “flop games” (games that deal community cards in the middle of the table that everyone can use), whereas ante games are used in “board games” (games where players are dealt individual boards of cards that they can use to make their hands). There is some overlap, as No Limit Hold’em poker tournaments use a combination of blinds and antes to ensure that players are eliminated at a steady pace.

Blinds are forced bets made by the two players to the left of the button. These are comprised of a small blind and a big blind, the small blind posted by the player to the direct left of the button, and the big blind posted to the player to the small blind. The blinds are determined by the limits set at the start of the hand (e.g. $1/$2 No Limit Hold’em).

Antes are forced bets that every player at the table posts. These ante bets are often considerably smaller than the betting limits and can be anywhere between 1/10th and 1/5th of the size of the big blind/big bet for that game. Once all the antes have been collected, the cards are dealt, and players bet using the betting limits for that game. You must post an ante in these games to be dealt a hand.

Table Stakes

Another common rule that will be enforced at every game you play is “table stakes”. This simply means that a player can only lose what they had in front of them at the start of the hand. Hollywood often forgets this rule when shooting its poker scenes, and you’ll see players pulling wads of bills out of their pocket to cover a bet made by the villain.

In reality, if a player puts you all in and they have more than you, it doesn’t mean that you have to go scrounging around to match it, you’re just on the hook for the amount you have in front of you and your opponent takes the rest back.

Hand Rankings

The most common shared rule that you’ll see amongst poker variants is the ranking of hands. Every high-hand game (a game where you try to make the best possible hand) uses this ranking system, except for Short Deck, and it will be the one you’re most familiar with if you’ve come across poker before. In this system, the Royal Flush is the strongest possible hand, and a high card is the weakest possible hand. For reference, here is a link to our full poker hands ranking list.

You’ll notice that all hand strengths have five cards in their example, even if the hand itself doesn’t need five cards. This is because all poker hands that use this system are made up of the best five cards. In the event that two people have the same hand ranking (e.g. a pair of aces), the player with the highest unique card (known as a “kicker”) wins the pot.

In lowball games such as razz, ace-five low ball, and deuce-to-seven triple draw, the hand rankings are ignored, and the player with the five lowest unique cards wins the hand.

Betting Rounds

In flop games, there are a total of four betting rounds. These are called the following.

  • Preflop – The first betting round, made after your hand is dealt but before any community cards are dealt.
  • Flop – The second round of betting, made after the first three community cards (the flop) are dealt.
  • Turn – The third round of betting, made after the fourth community card (the turn) is dealt.
  • River – The fourth round of betting, made after the fifth community card (the river) is dealt.

In Stud games, the rounds are referred to by the number of cards that a player is dealt, and there is an additional round of betting.

  • 3rd Street – The first round of betting, made after you’ve been dealt your initial three cards.
  • 4th Street – The second round of betting, made after receiving your fourth card (second up-card).
  • 5th Street – The third round of betting, made after receiving your fifth card (third up-card). This is the round where the betting limits change.
  • 6th Street – The second round of betting, made after receiving your sixth card (fourth up-card).
  • 7th Street – The fifth and final round of betting, made after receiving your seventh card (third down-card).

Betting Limits

There are three kinds of betting limits that you’ll see across the different poker variants, No Limit, Pot Limit, and Limit.

In No Limit poker, there are very few rules to the amount you can bet. The bet must be at least the size of the big blind, no smaller, and any raise must be at least equal to the amount of the previous bet or raise. For example, if someone bets $10 on the flop, the minimum raise you can make is $20. If you raise to $20 and your opponent wants to raise again, the minimum raise they can make is $30. Aside from that, you can bet any amount at any time, up to and including your whole stack.

Pot Limit has an extra rule to it. Any bet or raise can be no greater than the current size of the pot. This means when a bet is made, the size of the pot needs to be calculated to ensure the bet doesn’t exceed it. In these games, a player can say “pot” to bet the maximum amount. The dealer will then calculate the size of the pot and tell the player how much they need to bet. This cannot be done in No Limit games.

In Limit games, the table limits dictate the amount you can bet or raise on any given street. These games are split between small bets and big bets, with smaller bets being made on earlier betting rounds and bigger bets being made on later betting rounds. For example, in a game of $4/$8 Stud poker, the $4 limits are used for the first two betting rounds, and the $8 limits are used in the last three betting rounds. Any bet or raise must be made in increments of the betting limit for that betting round. In the above example, you can only bet or raise $4 in the first two betting rounds and only bet or raise $8 in the last three betting rounds. Limit games often have a cap of four bets on each street.

Betting Action

When the decision is on you, there are five different possible betting actions you can take.

  • Bet – Make a wager.
  • Fold – If someone has bet and you don’t want to continue, you can surrender your hand without putting in additional chips.
  • Call – Match the bet made by your opponent to stay in the hand.
  • Raise – If another player has bet or raised in front of you, you can increase the amount of the bet. The bet size must be at least equal to the amount your opponent bet or raised.
  • Check – If no bet has been made, you can decline the option to bet, moving the betting action to the player on your left.

If you want to be able to play poker well, you need to be able to include all of these actions in your repertoire.

How to Play the Most Popular Poker Games

While there are lots of poker games out there to learn, some are played a lot more than others. You’ll find a game of Texas Hold’em running in almost every card game around the world, but you’ll struggle to find many that will run a regular Badugi game. If you’re learning poker for the first time, it’s best to start with the most popular games and expand your knowledge from there. While there may be some debate over the topic, we think the top three most popular games right now are No Limit Hold’em, PLO, and Short Deck.

How to Play No Limit Hold’em

At the start of the game, players draw cards or are dealt one card face up by the dealer to decide who will start on the dealer button, with the highest card winning. The two players to the left of the button post the small and big blind. Once the blinds have been posted, the dealer dealers the cards one at a time, starting with the player to the left of the button, until each player has two cards.

Once the cards have been dealt, the preflop betting round begins. This game uses the “No Limit” betting rules, meaning that a player can bet as much of their stack as they’d like. The action starts with the player to the direct left of the big blind, and the action moves clockwise around the table. Players have the option to call the big blind, make a raise, or fold their hand. The preflop betting round is complete when there is only one player remaining in the hand, or if all remaining players have matched the last bet.

After the preflop betting round is over, the first three community cards (the flop) are dealt face up in the middle of the table. The flop betting round then begins with the player to the left of the button. Postflop, players have the option to check if no bet has been made. The action moves clockwise around the table, and the betting round is considered to be complete if only one player remains in the hand, if all players have checked, or if all remaining players have matched the previous bet.

Next, the fourth community card (the turn) is dealt face up in the middle of the table. There is another round of betting with the exact same rules as the flop betting round. When that betting round is over, the fifth and final community card (the river) is dealt face up in the middle of the table. There is a final round of betting with the same rules as the previous two streets. If there are two or more players remaining in the hand after the river betting round, the players go to showdown.

At showdown, each player turns their cards face up, and the player with the best five-card hand wins. Players can use any combination of cards from their hand and the board. In the event of two or more players having the exact same five-card hand, the hand is considered a tie, and the pot is split evenly between all players with the same hand. After the hand is over, the button is moved clockwise one seat, and the dealer starts the shuffle to deal the next hand.

How to Play Pot Limit Omaha

Pot Limit Omaha plays exactly the same as No Limit Hold’em, with a few key differences.

  • You are dealt four cards instead of two.
  • The maximum you can bet or raise is the size of the pot.
  • When you reach a showdown, you must use two cards from your hand and three from the board. No more, no less.

It’s this last rule difference that trips a lot of people up when they transition to PLO from No Limit Hold’em. In Hold’em, you can use as many cards as you’d like from the board – even all five cards if that’s what gives you the best hand! However, in PLO, it’s compulsory to use two from your hand and three from the board. This means that if you have three clubs in your hand and there are two clubs on the board, you do not have a flush.

It takes a bit of getting used to, but after a few orbits, you soon get into the swing of things.

How to Play Short Deck

Short Deck is similar to No Limit Hold’em, but it uses a different deck construction. In this game, the 2s, 3s, 4s, and 5s have been removed from the deck. For this reason, Short Deck is sometimes called 6+, as the deck only contains cards that are six or above.

This change alters the hand rankings for this game in two major ways.

The first is that in Short Deck, a flush beats a full house. This is because of how much harder it is to make a flush with four of the thirteen cards removed from each suit.

The second is that the low straight is now A6789 rather than A2345.

Short Deck can be played in two different ways. You can use the conventional big blind/small blind structure of No Limit Hold’em and PLO, or you can use an ante structure. The ante format is most popular at the highest stakes, though some lower-stakes games will use the traditional blind structure.

If you’d like to play with the ante structure, you first need to pick the size of your ante. In most games, an ante would be equivalent to 1bb or around 1/100th of your starting stack size. So if you wanted to play with $100 stacks, you would have an ante of $1. Each player puts in an ante at the start of the hand, and the button places an additional ante in front of them. The action then starts with the player to the left of the button. That player can call an additional ante to match the button ante, make a raise, or fold their hand. Short Deck is most commonly played with “No Limit” betting rules.

Postflop, the game is played identically to No Limit Hold’em. At showdown, you can use any number of cards from your hand and the board to make your best possible five-card hand.

How to Get Better

Now that you know the rules of the game, how do you go about getting better so you can beat all your friends at your next home game? Well, poker is one of those “easy to learn, hard to master” games, so if you want to become really good at poker, it’s going to take a lot of hard work. However, there are plenty of resources out there for you to learn from! While nothing beats experience, you can read our strategy articles, watch training videos, or even get coaching if you’re really serious about taking your game to the next level.

Remember, the best thing you can do when you play poker is have fun, so make sure to enjoy yourself!

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