Card games Betting

Poker Betting and Showdown

There are many types of poker, but one essential part of all of them is the betting process. This page describes poker betting and the subsequent showdown in some detail, and assumes some familiarity with the basics of poker, as provided for example on the poker rules page. Rules that are specific to particular poker variants are covered on the page for the variant in question.

Poker with money or chips

Poker is sometimes played for cash on the table, but it is far more convenient to use tokens known as poker chips. Traditionally these came in three denominations of different colours, white chips being the cheapest, reds being worth five whites, and blue chips equal to 5 red or 25 white. These ratios could be adjusted according to the requirements of the game. Chip sets nowadays often have a wider range of denominations, for example 1, 5, 10, 25 and 100, each of a different colour. Some sets also have 2, 20 and 50 and larger values. These chips will generally be provided by the host in a private game or the house in a public card room. The cost of 1 unit can be whatever is appropriate for the game being played - for example a 1-chip could be worth $1 or £1 or 1€ or any other convenient amount. Chips are bought from the host by the players as required for playing, and redeemed at the same rate when the player leaves.

Sometimes poker is played in the form of a tournament in which each player starts with an equal value of chips. Players who lose all their chips are eliminated, and play continues until one player has won all the chips. This form of poker is sometimes known as freezeout. If there is a large number of players, the game can begin with several tables, and as players drop out the survivors are consolidated onto fewer tables, taking their chips with them. Towards the end, all the remaining players will compete at a single final table, using all the chips. A potential disadvantage of this type of game is that players who are eliminated have nothing to do while the others complete the game, and it may take a while before only one player remains. Normally the stakes (the size of the blinds or minimum bets) are increased periodically to bring the game to a quicker end. In a large tournament, rather than give all the money paid for the initial chips to the single winner, it is divided into prizes for first, second, third place and so on, given to the players who survived longest.

It is sometimes said that poker is a game that can only be played for money, and certainly a game of poker in which players did not mind who won and how much would be fairly boring and pointless. It is possible, however, to play poker without money if the players care sufficiently about how many chips they win or lose. One way to achieve this is to play a tournament as described above, but in which the initial chips are free, or only a nominal entry fee is paid, and the prizes are objects rather than sums of money. As usual the player who wins all the chips gets the first prize, and there can be smaller prizes for runners up who survive almost to the end. The desire to win a prize may be enough motivation to stay in the tournament as long as possible and treat one's chips as though they are valuable, and the game will work in much the same way as poker played for money, perhaps without the legal and moral problems sometimes associated with gambling.

Player Preferences

There are great differences between poker players and what they expect from a game, and these are reflected in the variants and stakes chosen.

At one extreme, there are those who enjoy poker primarily as a social pastime. They like to have a small amount of money at stake, to give the game a slight edge, but well within the amount that any player can easily afford to lose. Often they will be more interested in the excitement of occasionally holding a particularly good hand or experiencing an unexpected turn of events than they are in optimising their play. They like plenty of action, if possible on every deal. On the whole such players prefer to play for limited stakes, and tend to favour exotic variants with wild cards and other innovations, often within the context of a dealer's choice game.

At the opposite end of the spectrum are professional players whose aim is to win money. They get their satisfaction from managing their chips skilfully and outwitting their opponents. If this involves folding most of the time and rarely playing a hand, that is fine so long as it is profitable. They take pride in knowing the odds, analysing the strengths and weaknesses of the other players and using this knowledge to maximum advantage. These players generally like to stick to a single poker variant for a whole session, going for long term profit over a large number of deals. They prefer to play with higher betting limits, which allow the greater scope for skill and bluff.

There are of course all kinds of players with approaches to the game that fall between these two extremes.

Betting Principles

The betting process used in poker is known to card game historians as "vying", although in practice the card game terms "vie" and "vying" are obsolete. The players vie with each other by betting on who holds the best hand of cards. The bets are made by moving chips into a central area called the pot, pool or kitty. In most versions of poker there are several betting rounds or betting intervals, during which the deal or other game play is paused while the players take turns to act - that is to choose whether or not to place a bet. Players who wish to stay in must at least match the other players' bets. These are the active players. A player who is unwilling to match the other players' bets can fold, dropping out of the action and abandoning any chance to win the chips in the pot. The betting round normally ends when the total amounts bet by all the active players are equal. If at any stage there is only one active player, that player immediately wins the pot. Otherwise, after the last betting round, the pot is won by the active player who holds the best hand.

During a betting round, the active players act in clockwise order around the table. It is very important that players act only in turn. If you act out of turn you unnecessarily give information to your opponents, and you can be held to that action when your proper turn comes. The possible actions are as follows.

Check If no one has bet so far in the current betting round, a player can remain active without adding any chips to the pot. The player announces "check" or knocks the table. In the first betting round of a new deal, if no one has opened the betting, players may say "pass", which is equivalent to checking. In this situation, if no one opens the betting but all players pass (or check), normally the cards are thrown in and the turn to deal passes to the left. Bet If no one has bet so far in the current betting round, a player can announce "bet" followed by an amount, and push chips to that value into the pool. Betting in the first round, when the previous players have all checked (passed), is known as opening the betting. It is possible to bet by simply pushing chips into the pot without saying anything, but in that case it must be done in a single unambiguous motion. If a player announces a bet of a certain amount, but puts in a different amount of chips, the verbal announcement takes priority and the number of chips must be corrected. Call Any bet or raise must be at least matched by other players who wish to remain active. A player who wants to match the latest bet or raise without raising the stake further announces "call" and adds enough chips to the pot to make his or her bet equal to that of the player who most recently bet or raised. Calling is also known as seeing the bet or raise in question (because the caller is effectively paying to require the bettor's hand to be shown, at least if this is the final betting round), or as staying. Raise After a bet or raise, another player may raise the stake further. The player announces "raise" followed by the amount by which they wish to raise, and must then add to the pot the amount required to call plus the amount of the raise they announced. Alternatively the player can simply add the appropriate chips to the pot in a single motion. If there is a discrepancy between the verbal announcement and the chips offered, the announcement takes priority. Note in particular that a player is not allowed to raise in two instalments, for example responding to a $100 bet by saying something like "I'll see your $100 ... and raise you $200" or by first putting in the chips to call and then adding a raise. This manoeuvre, often seen in old movies, is known as a string raise. It is disallowed because it is unfair to try to mislead an opponent into thinking you are calling, watch their reaction, and on that basis decide whether to raise. If a player attempts a string raise, their action should be counted as a call, and the extra chips for the raise returned to them. Fold A player who does not wish to match the latest bet or raise can fold or drop, by announcing this and discarding his or her cards face down. Cards discarded by players who have folded accumulate into an untidy heap known as the muck. You can also fold by silently discarding your cards, pushing them towards the muck. Players who have folded do not get any further turns in this or subsequent betting rounds and cannot win the pot. It is legal to fold even when there has not been a bet or raise - this is known as "checking out" - but there is generally no good reason to do this, since you could remain active without spending any extra chips.
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