Back to the basics

Jul 12, 2005 12:04 AM


Even though the World Series of Poker is slowly winding to its end, there are plenty of people here in Las Vegas who would like to know more about poker, especially from a beginner’s point of view.

The purpose of this two-part article is to review the basics of casino poker so that players, beginners as well as experienced players, will have the knowledge they need to play competively.

For starters, the objective in poker is to win the money in the pot by either having the best poker hand or by forcing all other players out of the game.

Unlike the regular casino games in which the players essentially are playing against the house (if players lose, the casino wins and vice versa), in poker, players play against each other.

In other words, the casinos do not participate in the actual playing or outcome of the game. The casino provides the table, the chips, a dealer, and a pleasant playing environment.

So how do they earn a profit? By simply keeping a portion of all the wagers made by players prior to giving the pot to the winning player. This is known as the rake.

The casino can determine the amount of the rake or what they keep by either taking a percentage of the pot (normal rake is three- to five percent of the pot) or they can charge a flat fee based upon the amount in the pot, or if they want, charge an hourly fee. Smart poker players shop around and play only in games with low rakes.

In order to play poker, you must learn the rank of the hands since this determines which player wins the pot. In poker games in which the high hand wins, the royal flush is the highest hand and a hand without a pair is the lowest

The ranking of hands from highest to lowest is as follows: A royal flush is A, K, Q, J, 10 in one suit; a straight flush is five consecutive cards in one suit; a four-of-a-kind is four cards of the same rank; a full house is three-of-a-kind with a pair; a flush is five cards of the same suit; a straight is five consecutive cards but not of the same suit; a three-of-a-kind is three cards of the same rank; two pair is two separate pairs of identically ranked cards; one pair is one pair of identically ranked cards; and no pair is a hand with five odd cards.

Cards are also ranked in poker. For games in which the high hand wins, the card rankings from highest to lowest are A, K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2. Thus, three kings, for example, is a higher hand than three queens; likewise, a pair of jacks beats a pair of nines.

In some types of poker games (known as low poker), the lowest ranked poker hand wins. In these games, the poker hand rankings are the opposite of the above rankings except that straights and flushes do not exist for determining a winning hand at low poker. Also, the rank of the cards used in low poker for the determination of winning hands in order of highest to lowest rank is A, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, J, Q, K.

All card suits in poker are equal in rank. Thus, two kings of hearts have the same rank as two kings of spades.

Let’s start by learning how to play the traditional favorite — seven card stud, high hand wins the pot.

You need a minimum of two players and a maximum of seven or eight players. An ante is used in this game. This means everyone must make a wager in the pot prior to the casino dealer dealing the cards. (Usually a sign at the table indicates the amount of the ante.)

After everyone antes, the casino dealer starts dealing the cards to the player on his left and continues dealing in a clockwise rotation around the table. The dealer will give every player two cards face down and one face up.

The player with the lowest ranked upcard gets to bet first. All other players in turn must either fold, call, or raise the bet. A player who folds throws his or her cards in and is out of the game. A player who calls bets the same amount as the previous bet made. And one who raises bets more than the previous bet.

After the last player responds to the most recent bet, the betting round is completed and the dealer proceeds to deal another upcard to each player. Another round of betting occurs in which the player with the highest ranked poker hand showing bets first or checks. The latter means the player does not want to make a bet but is still in the game.

Once that round of betting is complete, the dealer deals two additional rounds of cards face up and then one round of cards face down to each player who has not folded.

After every card is dealt to the players, another round of betting occurs. Poker pros use the term third street, fourth street, fifth, sixth, and finally seventh street to indicate the round of betting. Third street occurs after all players receive their first upcard (or third card dealt to them). Fourth street is when all players have received their fourth card and so on. The last card, seventh street, is dealt face down.

A final round of betting occurs followed by the showdown or revealing the hands. The player with the highest rank five-card hand (from the seven cards dealt) is the winner of the pot.

When playing seven card stud, here are some tips to remember to improve your chances of winning. You should fold on third street unless you have at least a pair, and if the pair is low, you should also have an ace, king, or queen odd card.

If you don’t improve your three-card flush or straight by fourth street, fold. If another player has a higher pair than yours, fold unless you also have an odd card higher in rank than the high pair.

When you have a good hand, play aggressively and raise, especially if you have everyone else beat on the table. Don’t stay in and chase other players ”” only the highest hand wins, not second best.

Next week we’ll take a close look at Hold’em, Omaha, five card draw, and five card stud.