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Frequently Asked Questions about Poker

This is the rec.gambling.poker Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) list. This document contains material copyrighted by various authors; reproduction in print or electronic form is prohibited. Specific permission is granted to Usenet FAQ archive maintainers to store this document, in HTML or text form, only in its entirety.

What are the basic rules of poker? What are the hand rankings?

Most variants of poker satisfy the following definition, but in a home game of course you are free to modify the rules as you see fit.

Poker is a card game in which players bet into a communal pot during the course of a hand, and in which the player holding the best hand at the end of the betting wins the pot. During a given betting round, each remaining player in turn may take one of four actions:

  • check, a bet of zero that does not forfeit interest in the pot

  • bet or raise, a nonzero bet greater than preceding bets that all successive players must match or exceed or else forfeit all interest in the pot

  • call, a nonzero bet equal to a preceding bet that maintains a player's interest in the pot

  • fold, a surrender of interest in the pot in response to another player's bet, accompanied by the loss of one's cards and previous bets

Betting usually proceeds in a circle until each player has either called all bets or folded. Different poker games have various numbers of betting rounds interspersed with the receipt or replacement of cards.

Poker is usually played with a standard 4-suit 52-card deck, but a joker or other wild cards may be added. The ace normally plays high, but can sometimes play low, as explained below. At the showdown, those players still remaining compare their hands according to the following rankings:

  1. Straight flush, five cards of the same suit in sequence, such as 76543 of hearts. Ranked by the top card, so that AKQJT is the best straight flush, also called a royal flush. The ace can play low to make 5432A, the lowest straight flush.

  2. Four of a kind, four cards of the same rank accompanied by a "kicker", like 44442. Ranked by the quads, so that 44442 beats 3333K, and then ranked by the side card, so that 4444A beats 4444K(*).

  3. Full house, three cards of one rank accompanied by two of another, such as 777JJ. Ranked by the trips, so that 44422 beats 333AA, and then ranked by the pair, so that 444AA beats 444KK(*).

  4. Flush, five cards of the same suit, such as AJ942 of hearts. Ranked by the top card, and then by the next card, so that AJ942 beats AJ876. Suits are not used to break ties.

  5. Straight, five cards in sequence, such as 76543. The ace plays either high or low, making AKQJT and 5432A. "Around the corner" straights like 32AKQ are usually not allowed.

  6. Three of a kind, three cards of the same rank and two kickers of different ranks, such as KKK84. Ranked by the trips, so that KKK84 beats QQQAK, and then ranked by the two kickers, so that QQQAK beats QQQA7(*).

  7. Two pair, two cards of one rank, two cards of another rank and a kicker of a third rank, such as KK449. Ranked by the top pair, then the bottom pair and finally the kicker, so that KK449 beats any of QQJJA, KK22Q, and KK445.

  8. One pair, two cards of one rank accompanied by three kickers of different ranks, such as AAK53. Ranked by the pair, followed by each kicker in turn, so that AAK53 beats AAK52.

  9. High card, any hand that does not qualify as one of the better hands above, such as KJ542 of mixed suits. Ranked by the top card, then the second card and so on, as for flushes. Suits are not used to break ties.

(* Such match ups are only possible in games where there are wild cards or where community cards are shared, such as Texas Hold'em.)
Suits are not used to break ties, nor are cards beyond the fifth; only the best five cards in each hand are used in the comparison. In the case of a tie, the pot is split equally among the winning hands.

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