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How to Play Poker

No-Limit Hold’em, sometimes known as “Texas Hold’em,” is the most popular variation of poker. Its most likely the poker game you've seen on TV. Each player at the table is dealt two cards face down.

Each player then uses those two cards (or one or none of those cards) in combination with five shared community cards to make their best-five card poker hand.

The player with the best hand (or who gets all of the other players to fold) wins the pot! Simple as that.

There are four rounds of betting and any player can put all their chips in the middle at any time. That’s the allure of No-Limit poker.

Cards and Suits

Hand Ranking


The top 5 card in sequence and of the same suit. 



Five cards in numerical order, all of identical suits.


Four cards of the same rank, and one side card or ‘kicker’.


Three cards of the same rank, and two cards of a different, matching rank.


Five cards of the same suit.


Five cards in sequence.



Three cards of the same rank, and two unrelated side cards.


Two cards of a matching rank, another two cards of a different matching rank, and one side card.


Two cards of a matching rank, and three unrelated side cards.


Basic Rules


The Lingo

Act: check, bet, raise, or fold

Action: whose turn it is, as in “Action is on you.” Also, slang for gambling, as in “He loves action.” Or a lot of betting, like “The 2/4 game at Pala has a lot of action.”

Active Player: player still in competition for a pot

Add-on: additional chips that may be purchased to “add on” to your chip stack, usually at the end of the Re-buy period, though some tourneys allow add-ons earlier and some tourneys even allow for multiple add-ons (and/or Re-buys)

All-in: a player bets all of his or her remaining chips

Bad Beat: when a player has the best of it and the odds are heavily with him or her, but gets beaten in the hand by a long-shot draw

Bankroll: the money a player has set aside to gamble with

Behind: a player who acts after another player in a betting round

Benjamin: a hundred-dollar bill (Benjamin Franklin’s portrait appears on a U.S. $100 bill)

Best of It: the player who has the odds on his or her side

Bet: money initially wagered and put into the pot (during a given betting round, subsequent betting action beyond an initial bet is termed a “raise”)

Big Blind: the larger of two forced “blind hands” in community card games like Hold’em and Omaha; the big blind is generally located two to the left of the “dealer button”

Big Hand: a really good hand

Big Slick: Ace-King hole cards (see Hole Cards)

Blank: community board card that looks like it is harmless or couldn’t really help anybody

Bluff: a bet or raise that appears to represent a good hand, when in fact the bettor has a mediocre or at best a drawing hand

Board: (see also, Community Cards) the playing surface and the community cards on the “board” that are shared by all players in games such as Hold’em and Omaha. Players use the community cards to complete their hands.

Boat: full house (aka “full boat”). three of one card, two of another. ex. JJJ99

Brick and Mortar: a casino with a physical world spatial existence (as opposed to merely online or cyberspace); some casinos, like Pala, have both a brick and mortar and an online existence.

Broadway: ace-high straight

Bubble: in a tournament, one place away from making it to the money

Busted: broke. Lost all chips and out of the tournament.

Button: (aka Dealer Button), disc that denotes which player is the “dealer” for that hand. Button position is dealt the last card and is last to act in each betting round

Buy-In: the amount of chips a player must buy in order to enter a card game. For tourneys, the buy-in is a set amount of money for a set amount of starting chips. For cashgames, buy-ins are generally expressed as minimums, but can have an optional limited or unlimited range beyond the minimum as well.

Buying the Pot: to win a pot with a bluff or semi-bluff that forces other players out

Call: to put in the amount that another player bet: “I call”

Calling Station: you bet and bet and he calls and calls; generally a weak player who calls too much but doesn’t usually bet or raise.

Case Card: last card of a given rank left in the deck… the other three are already out

Chasing: hoping an upcoming community card will “hit” to complete a so-far unmade hand

Check: to not bet when it is your turn. can say “I check” or tap on the table in a live game

Check and Raise: to check initially, but then make a raise if another player bets after your initial check

Chop: in tournament play, the last remaining players decide to split up the prizepool rather than play to the end; or, in a hand, where the end result is a tie and the pot is split up and distributed evenly to the tied players.

Community Cards: (see also, Board) the community cards on the “board” that are shared by all players in games such as Hold’em and Omaha. Players use the community cards to complete their hands.

Connectors: (see also, Suited Connectors) two or more cards in sequence; for example: 89 or 10J

Counterfeit: In Omaha Eight or Better, when the board pairs one of your low cards

Cracked: to lose a hand you were initially favored to win, as in “My Aces got cracked!”

Crying Call: a very reluctant call

Dealer: player or staff member who deals the cards out to players; however, see also, Button

Dead Man Hand: A famous hand that consists of the black eights and the black aces

Deep Stack: a tournament in which players begin with an amount of chips that is relatively high in relation to the blind or ante.

Dog: underdog. Not favored to win.

Dominated: a hand that is beaten due to shared cards. for example, A-8 is “dominated” by A-K

Draw: hand that needs additional cards to become a winning hand

Drawing Dead: when there are no cards left in the deck that will make a draw hand into a winner

Draw Poker: each player gets a set amount of cards and then can replace some of his or her cards with others dealt out from the remainder of the deck

Duck: a deuce, a 2

Early Position: approx. first third of players to act in a hand

Face Down: cards, like the hole cards, that are unexposed to other players

Face Up: exposed card that everybody can see

Fast Play: aggressive style emphasizing a lot of betting and raising

Favorite: based on odds alone, most likely hand to win

Fish: a novice or poorly-skilled player, expected to lose money

Flop: first three community cards dealt face up on the board

Flush: hand containing five cards of the same suit

Fold: to get rid of one’s cards, and in doing so forfeiting the right to any part of the pot.

Four-Flush: having four of the five cards needed for a flush… and hoping for the fifth

Free Card: a betting round where all players have checked, thus allowing the next community card to fall without anybody putting any money in the pot

Freeroll: a poker tournament in which certain qualifying players get in for free. “Freerolling” also is an expression sometimes used to describe somebody who has won a lot of chips already and is “rolling” through the game with other people’s money.

Four-of-a-Kind: Hand containing four cards of the same rank, like J J J J.

Full House: hand with two of one rank and three of another, like 9 9 J J J

Hand: the cards a poker player holds, combined with any community cards, to make the best five card combination

Head-to Head: aka “Heads Up”

Hi/Lo: type of poker where the highest hand and the lowest hand each take half the pot

Hole Cards: cards held by a player, unseen by other players

Implied Odds: what a player thinks his actual payoff will be if he hits his hand, relative to how much it will cost to play

In Front Of: a player who acts before another player

Inside Straight Draw: a draw where only one card will complete the straight, for example a hand like 6-7- – 9-10… needs an 8 to complete

Isolate: to bet and raise so as to get heads-up against a weaker hand or weaker player

Joker: a wild card, or slang for a really lucky card that came to complete a hand against odds

Kicker: unmatched card in a player’s hand that is not used except to break ties. Example, two pair 5-5 and 8-8 with A kicker beats two pair 5-5 and 8-8 with Q kicker.

Late Position: aprox. the final third of players to act in a hand

Laydown: to fold

Limit: the most that can be bet or raised at any one time (see also, Limit Poker)

Limit Poker: poker games where limits exist for betting or raising, as opposed to no-limit poker

Limp: to just call, rather than bet or raise

Live Card: a card whose rank has not yet appeared on the board (nor presumably in another hand)

Live One: a player likely to bet wildly and probably lose like a fish (see Fish)

Lock: a hand that cannot be beaten

Lock Up My Seat: a commitment to take a seat that is waiting for you

Longshot: a drawing hand that has the odds heavily against it and probably won’t be made

Look Up: to call somebody, as in “I’m gonna look you up.”

Loose: playing style that plays a lot of hands and often goes for longshots (see Longshot)

Made Hand: already solid. Don’t need to hit a draw to have a good winning hand.

Maniac: wild, loose player who bets it up with mediocre hands just to build the pot

Middle Position: aprox. the middle third of players to act in a hand

Monster: an excellent hand that is either a lock (see Lock) or at least probably won’t be beat

Muck: fold. To throw a hand away and toss it into the Muckpile. (see Muckpile) & (see Fold)

No-Limit: a player may bet any amount of chips up to and including everything he has in front of him or her

One Pair: hand containing two cards of the same rank, like Q Q

Overcard: a higher card. So a K is an “overcard” to a Q, and a Q is over a 9

Pocket Cards: see also- Hole Cards

Position: players relative position to the player who acts last; in flop games like Hold’em and Omaha, position is usually considered relative to the button

Pot: sum total of all antes, blinds, and bets put into the center of the table during a given poker hand. It is the pot for which players are competing to win.

Preflop: before the flop

Premium Starting Hands: holding among the best starting hole cards; for example, in Hold’em premium starting hands include A-A, K-K, Q-Q, and A-K, and possibly A-Q and J-J as well. Hi/Lo games also have low premium starting hands of their own, for example holding perhaps A-2-3-5 as a starting hand in Omaha Hi/Lo

Raise: adding more chips to another player’s original bet to make it more expensive for other players to continue to play for the pot

Rake: the amount of money taken out of a pot by the house (the dealer is the house’s representative in this process) as its fee for running the game; the rake is used to pay overhead, including equipment, facilities, utilities, and staff salaries

Reraise: raising another player’s raise

Ring Game: a cash game with a full table of players, usually seven or more for Stud and nine or more for Omaha or Hold’em

River: the fifth (last) community card on board

Royal Flush: an A-K-Q-J-10 of the same suit. The highest ranking hand in poker.

Satellite Tournament: a smaller stakes tourney in which the prizes are one or more entries into a more expensive major event

Set: three of a kind, consisting of a pocket pair plus a matching community card

Shorthanded: a poker game with five players or less, perhaps six or less

Showdown: final act of a poker hand

Slowplay: playing a powerful hand in a weak manner to disguise its strength and lure, or “trap,” other players into the action

Small Blind: located just to the left of the button, it is the smaller of the two forced blind bets preflop

Standard Raise: typically, three times the big blind

Steal the Blinds: bluffing to make the blinds fold

Straight: a sequence of five consecutive cards, like 6 – 7 – 8 – 9 – 10

Straight Flush: a sequence of five consecutive cards that are all also the same suit

Suck-out: to hit a longshot draw, typically on the river

Suited Connectors: (see also, Connectors) two or more cards in sequence and of the same suit; for example: 8-9 or 10-J of Hearts

Swing: fluctuation of a player’s chip count or even overall bankroll

Table Stakes: a player can only play with the money/chips he or she has on the table in front of him or her; the player’s bet, call, or raise is limited to the number of chips he or she currently has, and the player cannot buy, borrow, or produce more chips in the middle of a hand.

Three-of-a-Kind: three cards of the same rank held in a given hand, ex.: QQQ. see also, Trips

Tournament: a competition in which all players start with the same amount of chips and play continues until one player holds all the chips

Trap: to underplay or slowplay powerful hand so as to lure other players into betting

Trips: three of a kind

Turn: the fourth community card on board, following the flop

Two Pair: a hand that contains two different pairs, like QQ and KK in the same hand

Under the Gun: the first player to act in a round of poker; preflop, under the gun is to the immediate left of the button

Value Bet: betting a hand that is perhaps not a sure thing but that over time will win more than it loses

Wheel: (aka “Bicycle”) a five-high straight: A – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5

Wired: to have a pair in the hole from the start

Game Variations

Draw poker. Five-card draw. Stud poker. Five-card stud. Seven-card stud. Razz. Community card poker. Texas hold 'em. Greek hold 'em. Omaha hold 'em. Six-plus hold 'em. Mississippi stud. Three-card brag. Three Card Poker. Four Card Poker. Chinese poker. Open-face Chinese poker.

Card and Chips
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