Poker Rules, Card Combinations, Strategic Principles, Psychology and Bluffing

Poker is a worldwide known and one of the most popular card games. Hardly anybody has not heard of it or played it yet. Poker appears in old western movies, serials like M*A*S*H or in the last but one movie adaptation of the British Secret Service agent James Bond – Casino Royale.

Poker is a game of skill and art. Generally, if a good player is able to suppress a little disfavor of luck in the long run then in Poker this pays twice. It is due to tactics, knowledge of the game and the opponents, good nerves, determination to get the maximum of the game and psychology. You can have a seemingly unbeatable hand, but if nobody bets you will not win much.

You will find here: basic Poker terminology and game variations, card hands and rankings, the rules that apply when the same hands occur, Poker strategies and decision making as a headstone of success in Poker, psychology and bluffing.

Figure – Poker (or Four of a Kind or Quad) – One of the Strongest Hands in Poker

Poker is a tough game, where money scores. Good players win, bad players lose. The basic rules of Poker are not difficult. Nevertheless to become a good player requires at least three things, which will be addressed here:

  • To know the true odds – especially chances to improve a hand;
  • To keep specific rules for betting and decision making – so called Money to Pot ratio;
  • To watch the game and the opponents – to be a good psychologist.

Poker Variations

Thanks to the great popularity of the game a great number of Poker games and its modifications came into being. All of them, however, arise from two basic forms – Poker Draw (where cards can be traded) and 5-Card Stud Poker.

The basic difference between these two classic Poker games consists in the fact that in Poker Draw the cards are dealt face down (hidden from the eyes of the opponents) and all or some of them can be traded for new cards.

In the Poker Stud variations the players can receive e.g. only one or two card(s) face down and the remaining cards are visible to all players or they are even common for the players (Community Cards). The most-favored Poker variations are Seven-Card Stud and especially Texas Hold'em Poker. If you like a complex and challenging play you can try Omaha Poker or Omaha High Low that are very rich for combinations.

Basic Fundamental Terms in Poker

An initial bet that each player is required to put in the pot before the game (round) starts.
The first (opening) bet which is made by putting it in the pot. If you do not open you can either Check, Pass, or Throw-in (Fold).
The Check hands over the turn to the next player, who can either bet or raise.
The Call confirms the leveling of the previous bets.
Raises the bet of the previous player.
Giving up made by throwing the cards in.
Or so called Sand Bagging – check in the first round and raising after it.

Poker Card Combinations – Hand Rankings

The card combinations in Poker (the hands) are ranked according to the probability of getting them – the lower is the probability to get a specific hand, the stronger the hand is.

The strongest Poker hand is Royal Flush, which represents the sequence (or the straight) of Ace, King, Queen, Jack and Ten of the same color. For instance the probability to get the Royal Flush on hand after a deal of 5 cards in Poker Draw is as little as 0.00000153907716932927, in other words 1:649,739. It means that the chance AGAINST you to get this hand is the opposite value, i.e. 649,739:1.

Straight Flush is also quite a rare hand – 1:72,192. It is the straight of the same color not beginning with an Ace. Poker (Quad / Four of a Kind) is also a very strong but not as unusual combination of four cards of a kind (e.g. four Aces) – 1:4164.

The remaining Poker combinations (hands) and their illustrations are shown in the table below. They are the following: Full House, i.e. 3 + 2 cards of a kind, Flush – five cards of the same color (and not creating a Straight), Straight – a sequel of cards (the colors can be different), Three of a Kind, Two Pairs, One Pair and High Card if none of the afore-mentioned hand is made.

Table 1 – Poker Combinations, Hand Rankings
Poker Combinations / HandsHand Example
Royal Flush
Straight Flush
Poker / Four of a Kind / Quad
Full House
Three of a Kind
Two Pairs
One Pair
High Card

Evaluation of the Power of Poker Combinations / Hands

It may actually happen that two or more players have the same combination of cards. Then the following rules apply:

  • Straights (Straight Flush, "simple" Straight) – the strength of the Straight is evaluated according to the highest card; please note that there is also a specific Straight that can be created using an Ace: A, 2, 3, 4, 5, when the Ace supplements number 1. However this Straight is weaker than any other,
  • Poker (Four of a Kind) – stronger four cards are decisive,
  • Full House is evaluated according to the Three of a Kind, the pair is faint,
  • Flush is assessed via the highest card, if they are the same, then according to the second highest card etc.,
  • Two Pairs – according to the stronger pair, the other pair is faint; if two players have the same two pairs (which may happen), then the higher last card is decisive,
  • High Card – beats a lower card – similar as a flush rule.

Examples of Beating the Same Combinations

beatshigher straight is decisive: J > 10
beatsthree of a kind is decisive: KKK > QQQ
beats1st and 2nd card is the same, 3rd is decisive: J > 10
beatsstronger pair is decisive: AA > KK

Decision Making in Poker – the Fundament of Success

When playing Poker one must always keep in mind and assess the following three factors in the course of game:

  1. Cards,
  2. Money in the pot and
  3. Place at the table.

The Cards

In Poker it is important to know the probabilities of getting the cards straight from the deal. Basically higher cards are better: Aces are better than Kings, Kings are better than Queens etc. If you are dealt a strong hand, it is unlikely for other players to get it too.

However it is far more important to know the chance to improve your initial hand as, after the trade of cards or the deal of additional cards, the situation can change dramatically. The key to success is to keep the Money to pot ratio described in the following chapter.

Money to Pot Ratio

The chances against improving a hand are not purposeless. Each player must know whether he or she shall take the risk associated with an attempt to get a stronger hand – the sum of money in the pot will help.

Imagine that you have got Two Pairs and you have already bet $10. The chance against improving your hand to Full House is 11:1. If there is $110 in the pot, then you are in the right Money to Pot ratio. This mechanism is also described on the 5-Card Stud page.

But if you have already bet $20, because another player had raised the bets, then you have got the chance to win the pot in the ratio 110:20. That is 5.5:1 only, which is apparently disadvantageous, since you should require the chance to win in the ratio of 11:1. The sum of money in the pot should correspond to the winning chances. Keeping this rule is one of the keys to success in Poker!

This rule is a modification or an analogue to the concept of the Expected Value (EV). It is vital to make decisions with a positive EV to be profitable in the long run. This matter including so called Variance are described on the page Poker variance and $ EV Adjusted and Variance explained using a simple example. They are definitely worth reading. Among other things you will get to know whether it is possible to measure good or bad luck in poker. And if you play poker tournaments, it is worth looking at the Variance calculation for 9 player SNG.

Speaking about money, it is absolutely crucial to follow the rules of bankroll management, that is knowing what is a safe buy-in for the limits you play. It will help you defeat a period of bad luck and losses (aka the downswing) as every poker player is bound to go through such period at times.

Place at the Table

The important factor for a player's decision making is the place at the table. The player next to the dealer's left hand (the first to turn) shall be making decisions in a different way than the last player on turn.

If you sit close to the dealer and you open bets, you actually signalize that you think you have a better card combination than your opponents. Opening of bets may be useful as you might discourage opponents with incomplete Straights or Flushes. There is a golden rule in Poker to be kept – if you start with the best hand, you shall finish with the best hand!

If any player checks, it means usually that he or she has got a weaker combination (if not bluffing) and will be trying to improve it. Generally the more players check, the more possible it is to open bets with weaker hands.

It is absolutely crucial to diversify your game over and over again to keep your opponents insecure! If you keep up to the same style of play, your opponents will soon see through you just as you showed them your cards directly.

Sometimes it pays off just checking with a good hand. It may happen that you will win Ante bets only, but you can encourage your opponents to braver bets in upcoming rounds, which may compensate for it more than enough.

Psychology in Poker

Poker is played by people. Each player is a different personality. While it is quite simple to manage the three Poker principles with a little practice – cards, money to pot ratio and place at the table – assumption of Poker psychology is much harder and it represents the true mastership.

It may be said that knowing the opponents is far more important than knowing the mathematical odds and calculations. The players reveal a plenty of helpful details during the game – behavior when winning, under pressure, intonation of voice, managing losses etc.

A good player should try to read his or her opponents, their style of play and mask his or her own intentions at the same time. It is proven that experienced players will finally see through you if you express yourself too much.

Therefore the best strategy seems to be the Poker face as you can see it in the broadcasts of Poker tournaments. However even strong players taunt their opponents with questions during the game trying to lead them out of concentration.

Poker Bluffing

Bluffing is a standalone chapter. Bluffing denies all principles and mathematical calculations such as the expected value. Again, the knowledge of opponents and their intentions comes into play. However it may be very difficult.

Even if you are a sort of conservative player, sometimes it is necessary to bluff to keep you opponents insecure!

Pius Heinz wins the 2011 WSOP Main Event

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