One of the best ways to get together and have fun is with a gold old-fashioned card game. A fun, house-rules poker night is one of my favorite ways to waste an evening with friends, and really all that is needed is a deck of cards. That being said, there is some etiquette, there are plenty of rules, and of course, you should know the rankings.

The Game

Game Types

Draw Games

In draw poker players are dealt cards and allowed to draw new cards to replace cards from the original deal. In most draw games, the cards are placed face down and stay face down. Bluffing is more effective and harder to read.

Stud Poker

In stud poker the player gets an initial deal of down cards and then a series of up cards that can be seen by other players. Usually, the last card is dealt down. Many variations exist, and a range of 5 to 8 cards may be dealt (although only the best 5 are played).

Community Poker

Community poker is similar to stud poker, but players receive an initial down deal, followed then by a series of up cards that can be played by all players. The most commonly known version of community poker is Texas Hold’Em. This type of poker game allows for large groups of players, since many of the cards are shared by players.

Getting Started

Getting started requires a little introduction to terminology and how the basics work. We’ll first hit on terminology, then we’ll look at a basic game. For a more formal set of instructions and definitions, see the Robert’s Rules of Poker.

Game Terminology

Action/Term Definition
When a player is down to his last chips. The player bets all remaining chips and announces “all-in”. Note that house rules may only allow this at certain times.
The pot builder. This is a pre-set amount that is placed into the pot prior to the deal by all players; usually it is a portion of minimum bet.
The wager, or the chips/money used by a player to bet, call, or raise
A required bet made before any cards are dealt. This is different than the ante, as in a blind game only the blind and big blind must be placed prior to dealing.
Big Blind
A slightly larger blind, usually double the blind amount.
Burn Card
Taking the top card of the deck and putting it in the discard pile prior to dealing the next round (normally done to prevent cheating).
To match the most recent bet made; the player must place the difference between their last bet and the current bet in the pot. Once the player has called, they cannot raise until the round comes to them again.
To wave the right to initiate betting in the betting round, but still retain the right to act if another player initiates betting. Note that you cannot check after a bet has been placed.
Dividing the deck into two sections to change the order of the cards. This is customarily done by the person to the right of the dealer prior to the deal.
A card played facedown in a stud game
The player removes himself from the current game and tosses the cards facedown. Do NOT show the cards you fold!
The players facedown cards
The highest unpaired card that helps determine the value of a five-card hand
A draw game where the lowest hand wins
Decline to bet; importantly in a pass-and-out game (Jacks or Better for example), a pass must fold.
Pat (or stand-pat)
Sticking with the cards you’ve got in a draw game
Pots that increase in value when no winner is determined at the end of the game, or the pot is rolled into the next game.
To increase the amount of a previous wager. Depending on the game and site rules, a limit may be placed on the number and amount of raises.
Rolling Showdown
Cards are revealed one at a time by the player until the beat the previous high hand. In other words, if Player A rolls 3, 4, 4, then Player B must roll (one at a time) cards until he can beat Player A’s hand. If Player B cannot beat Player A, a betting round commences, followed by Player C rolling his cards.
Wild Card
A card that is declared by the dealer to be equal to either a) any other card in the deck (the card can be anything) or b) is equal to another card (i.e. deuces are also able to be played as 7’s)

Basic Gameplay

While many variations exist, a basic game will have the deal, the ante, the betting round, and the showdown. In general, betting commences clockwise with the person to the left of the dealer and continues until the raise limit is reached or the current bet has been called by all players. At that point, the showdown reveals the winning hand, and the next game is played.

Game Etiquette

Part of poker is learning the etiquette. There are things you can do, and things that are absolute no-nos. The following is a short list of the don’ts:

To contrast, the following are considered good etiquette:

It goes without saying that folding is permanent. You can’t change your mind.

Hand Rankings

The showdown determines the winner of the round, and the winner is the player with the best five cards (either their own or a combination of theirs and the community cards in some community games). Rankings are as follows, high to low, and they are inclusive of wild card games.

Hand Cards
Five of a kind
Five cards of the same rank (this is only achievable in wild card games)
Royal Flush
A-K-Q-J-10 of the same suit
Straight Flush
Five consecutively ranked cards of the same suit
Four of a kind
Four cards of the same rank
Full House
Three cards of one rank and two of another. For example: 4-4, 9-9-9 (or 9’s over 4’s)
Any five cards of the same suit.
Five consecutively ranked cards of any suit. I.e., 2-3-4-5-6 or 8-9-10-J-Q of mixed suits
Three of a kind
Three cards of the same rank
Two pair
Two cards of one rank and two cards of another rank. For example, a hand of 8, 8, 2, 2, J would be expressed as 8’s over 2’s with a Jack kicker
One pair
Two cards of the same rank
High card
The highest card in the players hand when no other combination is possible.

In the event of ties, or wild card introductions, there are also rules to determine which hand is higher.

Straight Flush Tie (with wilds)

Royal Flush Ties

Straight flushes, Straights, or Flushes