Poker Rules
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Poker is a game with quite a few variations. Each version of poker has slightly different rules, but there are also some common rules that extend to virtually all forms of poker.

On this page we will discuss common rules that you must know in order to play any type of poker.

We must also stress at this time that you absolutely must understand the rules of poker if you are to ever have any chance of excelling at this game. Anytime you do not know the rules of poker, you are exposing yourself as a rank amateur, a.k.a. "Fish," and you will be exploited.

Therefore, beginners must spend time learning the rules of poker. Likewise, intermediate or even experienced players can benefit from reviewing and reflecting upon how the rules of poker affect every aspect of how a particular game plays and most importantly how to get money out of it.

For the specifics of rules for each variation of poker, see our sections on specific poker game rules. contains detailed information about:
In the meantime, here are a few basic poker rules that every player must consider:

1. Building the Best Five Card Hand

The goal of poker is to build the best five card hand; not the best seven card hand, not the best 12 card hand, the best five card hand. Whenever you are thinking about poker rules, you need to be thinking about getting your five fingers on a five card hand that is worth betting on.

Different forms of poker allow you different ways to build that hand.

In Texas Hold'em, for example, each player receives two private cards from the dealer, then the dealer "flops" three other community cards that everyone shares, then another card called the "turn" is shown and everyone shares that one too, and then finally the "river" card, also a "community" card, is flipped over--now take your two private cards and the five community cards, and see if you can't form a five card hand that's better than anyone else's.

In traditional five card draw poker, by contrast, players receive five private cards from the dealer, then discard cards they don't want and receive replacement cards, also private to the player.

Though the means of obtaining a good hand may be drastically different, the goal remains the same: to build a better five card hand than your opponents (or make them think you have a better hand so they fold and then you sweep the contents of the pot into your possession).

Whenever you are playing poker, you are looking to get five cards you can count on.

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2. Hand Rankings

The next step up the ladder of essential poker rules would be the rules of hand rankings. If you don't know which hands beat which hands in a showdown, you are in real trouble in the game of poker. You must memorize and instantly be able to know the value of each poker hand.

Fortunately, hand rankings in poker are quite uniform across various versions of poker. Here is a summary of the hierarchy of poker hands, listed in order from best to least best:

Royal Flush -- The best hand in the business, to get it you need Ace, King, Queen, Jack, and 10, all of the same suit.

Straight Flush -- Any five sequential cards of the same suit. For example, 5,6,7,8,9 of hearts. The higher the cards in your straight flush, the better.

Four of a Kind -- Affectionately known as "quads," four of a kind is an excellent hand. Again, the higher the cards, the better the hand; for instance, four Kings would beat four Jacks.

Full House -- A set of three of one card, plus a pair of another card. For instance, three 10s and two 4s. The higher the cards, the better the full house.

Flush -- Any five cards of the same suit.

Straight -- Any five cards in sequential order. For example, 8,9,10,J,Q.

Three of a Kind -- Also called a set or "trips," three of a kind is, well, three of a kind. Three Kings, three 2s, and everything in between.

Two Pair -- Self-explanatory, no? Two 8s plus two 7s equals two pair.

Pair -- Two 5s is a pair, as is two Aces. The higher the cards in your pair, the better.

High Card -- Who has the highest high card in their hand? They win the pot when nobody else has any of the other hands listed above.

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3. Lowball Versions of Poker

One quick side note about hand rankings poker rules:

There are some versions of poker, such as Razz and California Lowball, that reverse the hand rankings order, making it the goal of the players to get the lowest hand instead of the highest hand. In that case, it's easy enough to reverse your thinking about what hands you want.

An Ace generally serves double-duty here as both a 1 and the highest card in the deck.

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4. Poker Betting Rules

Another extremely important area of poker rules are the betting rules. The betting rules do differ significantly from game to game, but the importance of you knowing the betting rules for the game you're involved in is definitely another constant concern.

Betting order is one vital aspect of poker betting rules. You need to know when you are due to "act" because it affects everything about how you act, such as whether or not you bet and if so how much. Typically, the later you are in the betting order, the more power you have.

In Texas Hold'em, betting order moves from right to left.

In Seven Card Stud, the low card showing starts the betting.

If you are not familiar with betting order rules for a poker game, make sure to ask. Poker players who act out of turn, for instance folding before they are due to act, can really screw up a poker game. Acting out of order is poor etiquette in poker as well as bad play.

The other poker betting rule you must consider for all versions of poker is betting limits. The rules for how much you can bet in a particular game or in a particular round of betting will, like betting order, influence and color every decision you make at the poker table.

Often, poker games are set up to "escalate" in terms of betting. Betting limits, that is, may increase as you go further into the hand or the game; this escalation forces you to carefully strategize because you don't want to bet too much early on if you won't be able to handle the higher betting limits that may come back around to you as the hand or game proceeds.

Again, it's no shame, rather it's intelligent and necessary, to ask about betting limit rules before you start playing in a poker game.

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5. You Have Five Choices

Poker is a wonderfully complex and nuanced game as practiced by great players, but there is also a stark simplicity to poker rules that makes the game accessible to anyone with half a brain.

The best example of this (deceptive) simplicity is the choices you have when your turn to act arrives. Just as you need five cards to make a hand, you have five actions you can take:

1. Bet -- You think you have a chance to win the pot, so you make a bet.

2. Raise -- Someone has already bet, but you bet more.

3. Call -- Someone has already bet and you match their bet.

4. Check -- You don't bet, but you don't fold, either; you knock your knuckle on the table and now it's the next player's turn to act. This option's only available if no one else has bet for that round.

5. Fold -- Don't bet, instead you give up your hand and forfeit all right to compete for the pot.

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6. Every Good Poker Player Knows the Rules of Poker

Yes it's obvious but that doesn't mean it's not worth saying very clearly right now as we wrap this up here: in order to succeed at poker, you must know the rules of poker.

Protect yourself--and your money--by knowing the rules of poker like you know the back of your hand. Not to say that you have to know every single rule in the book the first time you ever play, but make it a point of emphasis to study and memorize the rules of poker.

The more you know about poker rules, the better your chances of winning!

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