One of the best features of poker is the unlimited number of possible variations. I have played in some games where ten cards are dealt and others where four different cards are wild. I have played in poker games where the lowest hand wins the pot and other games where the second highest hand wins (now that is interesting). While one of the defining characteristics about poker is its versatility, there are certain distinctive features which most poker games share.
The most important feature almost every poker game shares is the Hand Rankings. For instance, you would be hard pressed to find a poker game where a Full House does not beat a Straight. This Hand Ranking is the one universal, seemingly unchangeable, feature of poker.
Poker can just be played for fun; however it is typically played for a prize. I have played for points, matchsticks, pennies, chips, and alcohol. This prize for each hand is called the pot. The pot usually starts with an ante or a blind. An ante is a small fixed amount of money each player at the table puts into the pot before any cards are dealt. A blind is an amount of money only certain players are forced to put into the pot before cards are dealt. The blind usually applies to the player or players directly to the left of the dealer. The ante and blind are poker’s way of assuring there is always money in the pot giving players something to play for every hand.
Poker games generally have betting involved. Poker success is based on betting strategy. As a player, there is no chance over 10,000 hands that you will get significantly more or less winning hands than the guy sitting next to you. The difference between the winning player and the losing player is how they use their betting to win more pots. However, if you are playing at a casino or an online poker site, you have to beat more than the other players at the table; you also have to beat the rake.
The rake is the amount of money each hand that the casino takes in exchange for their services in dealing, refereeing, and taking care of the monetary transactions involved in each poker hand. It is usually a very small amount of money as far as the overall pot is concerned, perhaps 5%, but over hundreds of hands the rake becomes a significant amount. Poker experts will tell you a rake of 5% is hard to beat and rake of 10% is impossible to beat in the long run. Avoid games with these high rake percentages if you see them.
In February of 2004, when I last visited Las Vegas, the best place to find a low limit poker game with a low rake was the Stardust. Right next to it, at Circus Circus, was one of the worst rake percentages in Vegas. A two minute walk would have saved players a lot of money, yet Circus Circus’ poker room was packed all day, every day. Online poker rooms generally have a lower rake percentage than live rooms because they are able to deal many more hands per hour. This low rake makes online poker rooms a much more attractive place to play poker.
7 Card Stud variatons
Draw poker variations
High Low poker