Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
This article describes the common terms, rules, and procedures in the game, but does not cover the strategic impact of betting.
The game of poker as played today requires that players agree before play on allowable amounts for betting (called limits), and the use and amount of forced bets. These are collectively called the betting structure of the game.
The betting structure of a poker game is a more significant factor in its balance of luck and skill than the game variant being played. Higher forced bets and smaller limits increase the influence of chance. Smaller forced bets and larger limits increase the element of skill. Good games are carefully balanced so that skillful players will win in the long run while recreational players can win often enough for the game to be exciting to them.
The act of making the first non-zero bet in a betting round is called opening the round. On the first betting round, it is also called opening the pot. Some games may have special rules about opening a round that may not apply to other bets. For example, they may have a betting structure that specifies different allowable amounts for opening than for other bets, or they may require a player to hold certain cards to open.
To call is to make the total amount of one's bet equal to the amount of the immediately preceding bet (which will be the largest bet made in that round). All players must eventually call an equal amount for the betting round to end, or else one player must bet an amount that no one calls, thus ending the entire deal and awarding him the pot.
The second and subsequent calls of a particular bet amount are sometimes called overcalls.
A player calling a raise before he or she has invested money in the pot in that round is cold calling. For example, if in a betting round, Jerry bets, Sally raises, and Eric calls, Eric "calls two bets cold".
A player calling instead of raising with a strong hand is smooth calling, a form of slowplay. Smooth calling is generally done in early betting rounds and against only one or two opponents; otherwise at least one opponent may have too good a chance of drawing out on the smooth caller and the trap backfires.
In public card rooms and casinos where verbal declarations are binding, the word "call" is such a declaration. In particular, the practice commonly seen in poker games on television and in movies of saying "I call, and raise $100" is considered a string raise and is not allowed in a serious poker game. Saying "I call" commits you to the action of calling, and only calling.
When no one has yet opened the betting round, one may check, which is equivalent to calling the current bet of zero. The player declines making a bet; indicating that he does not choose to open, but that he wishes to keep his cards and retain the right to call or raise later in the same round if some other player opens. A common way to signify checking is to tap the table with a fist or an open hand.
A player with a live blind who chooses not to take advantage of his right to raise is said to check his option, which can be signified the same way.
To raise is to make the amount of one's bet greater than the amount of the immediately preceding bet, forcing all subsequent players to call the new amount. If the current bet amount is nothing, this action is considered the opening bet. A player making the second (not counting the open) or subsequent raise of a betting round is often said to reraise.
Except in the case of a live blind, a player may not raise the current bet amount if he is the one who first set it. If it is that player's turn to act who first set the current amount, the betting round is closed and no further betting may take place in this round. This occurs when all other players have either called the amount or folded. All remaining players will have bet an equal total amount (except for some rare cases covered by table stakes rules).
A universal rule in casinos in the United States, and common in home games as well, is that any raise must at least equal the amount of the previous raise. For example, if a player in a spread limit or no limit game bets $5, the next player may raise by another $5 or more, but he may not raise by only $2, even if that would otherwise conform to the game's betting structure. The primary purpose of this rule is to avoid game delays caused by "nuisance" raises (small raises of large bets that do not affect the bet amount much but that take time). This rule is often overridden by table stakes rules, so that a player may in fact raise a $5 bet by $2 if that $2 is his entire remaining stake.
In many casinos, for fixed-limit or spread-limit games, there is a limit to the total number of raises allowed in a single betting round (typically three or four, not including the opening bet of a round). For example in a casino with a three-raise rule, if one player opens the betting for $5, the next raises by $5 making it $10, a third player raises another $5, and a fourth player raises $5 again making the current bet $20, the betting is said to be capped at that point, and no further raises beyond the $20 level will be allowed on that round. It is common to suspend this rule when there are only two players betting in the round (called being heads-up). Pot-limit and no-limit games do not have a limit on the number of raises.
Although not specifically a betting action, to fold is to discard one's hand and forfeit any further interest in the hand or the current pot. Also called "drop" or "pass" (the latter term is ambiguous, because it can also mean check). This can be done verbally, or simply signalled by discarding one's hand into the pile of other discards called the muck. In stud poker played in the United States, it is customary to signal folding by turning all of your cards face down. In casinos in the United Kingdom, a player folds by giving his hand as is to the "house" dealer, who will spread the hand's upcards for the other players to see before mucking them.
It is a serious breach of etiquette to fold out of turn, that is, when it is not the folding player's turn to act, because this can harm other players. For example, if there are three players remaining and the first player in turn bets, the third player folding out of turn now would give valuable strategic information to the second player (who is in turn at this point), to the detriment of the bettor. In some games, even folding in turn when you are entitled to check (because there is no bet facing you) is considered an out of turn fold since it gives away information to which players would otherwise not be entitled. Finally, if a player folds out of turn in a stud poker game, the player in turn may demand that his upcards remain exposed until he has completed his turn.
An ante is a forced bet in which each player places an equal amount of money or chips into the pot before the deal begins. In home games, the amount of the ante is typically small. In games where the acting dealer changes each turn, it is not uncommon for the players to agree that the dealer provides the ante for each player. This simplifies betting, but causes minor inequities if other players come and go or miss their turn to deal.
After the ante, later betting always begins with the player immediately to the dealer's left.
A blind or blind bet is a forced bet placed into the pot by one or more players before the deal begins, in a way that simulates bets made during play. This is used frequently in casino and tournament games and is designed to ensure there is betting action on each hand. The most common use of blinds as a betting structure calls for two blinds: the player after the dealer blinds about half of what would be a normal bet, and the next player blinds what would be a whole bet. Sometimes only one blind is used, and sometimes three. In the case of three blinds (usually one quarter, one quarter, and half a normal bet amount), the first blind goes "on the button", that is, is paid by the dealer.
For example, the first player to the dealer's left (who would normally be the first to bet after the cards are dealt) makes a blind bet of $1, and the next player in turn posts a big blind of $2. After the cards are dealt, play continues with the next player in turn (third from the dealer), who acts just as if the $1 had been an opening bet and the $2 had been a raise, so he must either call $2, reraise, or fold. When the betting returns to the player who blinded $1, he acts just as if that had been the opening bet; he must equal the bet facing him (toward which he may count his $1), fold, or reraise.
An additional privilege is given to the player who posted the big blind to compensate for the fact that he is forced to bet. If there have been no raises by the time his first turn to bet voluntarily comes (that is, the bet amount facing him is just the $2 he originally put in), then he is given the right to raise at that point, even though his right-hand opponent's call would normally have closed the betting round under other circumstances. This "extra" right to raise (called a live blind) occurs only once: if his raise is now called by every player, the first betting round closes as usual.
In some fixed limit and spread limit games, the big blind amount is less than the normal betting minimum. Players acting after a sub-minimum blind have to the right to call the blind as it is, even though it is less than the amount they would be required to bet, or they may raise the amount needed to bring the current bet up to the normal minimum, called completing the bet. For example, a game with a $5 fixed bet on the first round might have blinds of $1 and $2. Players acting after the blind may either call the $2, or raise to $5. After the bet is raised to $5, the next raise must be to $10 in accordance with the normal limits.
A bring-in is a type of forced bet that occurs after the cards are initially dealt, but before any other action. One player, usually chosen by the value of cards dealt face up on the initial deal, is forced to open the betting by some small amount, after which players act after him in normal rotation.
The bring-in is normally assigned on the first betting round of a stud poker game to the player whose upcards indicate the poorest hand. For example, in traditional high hand stud games and high-low split games, the player showing the lowest card pays the bring-in. In low hand games, the player with the highest card showing pays the bring-in. The high card by suit order can be used to break ties if necessary.
In most fixed limit and some spread limit games, the bring-in amount is less than the normal betting minimum. The player forced to pay the bring-in may choose either to pay only what is required or to make a normal bet. Players acting after a sub-minimum bring-in have the right to call the bring-in as it is, even though it is less than the amount they would be required to bet, or they may raise the amount needed to bring the current bet up to the normal minimum, called completing the bet. For example, a game with a $5 fixed bet on the first round might have a bring-in of $2. Players acting after the bring-in can either call the $2, or raise to $5. After the bet is raised to $5, the next raise must be to $10 in accordance with the normal limits.
In a game where the bring-in is equal to the fixed bet (this is rare and not recommended), the game must either allow the bring-in player to optionally come in for a raise, or else the bring-in must be treated as live in the same way as a blind, so that the player is guaranteed his right to raise on the first betting round if he chooses.
Betting limits apply to the amount a player may open or raise, and come in four common forms: no limit, pot limit (the two collectively called big bet poker), fixed limit, and spread limit.
All such games have a minimum bet as well as the stated maximums, and also commonly a betting unit, which is the smallest denomination in which bets can be made. For example, it is common for a games with $20 and $40 betting limits to have a minimum betting unit of $5, so that all bets must be in multiples of $5, to simplify game play. It is also common for some games to have a bring-in that is less than the minimum for other bets. In this case, players may either call the bring-in, or raise to the full amount of a normal bet, called completing the bet.
Outside of the United States, pot limit and no limit games are the most common. Most American home games are played with a spread limit, while casino games are played with spread or fixed limits, though larger casinos may have a high-stakes pot limit or no limit game as well. Fixed limit and spread limit games emphasise the skill of estimating odds, whereas pot limit and no limit games emphasize the skills of game theory and psychology. Almost all poker players believe that pot and no limit poker involve more skill than fixed limit play. A few prominent players, most notably Mason Malmuth , believe that the richer tactics make fixed limit more skilled. Although the main event at the World Series of Poker is played no limit, most high stakes cash games are fixed limit, so it is unclear which format is the experts' choice.
In a game played with a fixed limit betting structure, a player chooses only whether to bet or not - the amount is fixed by rule. Commonly later betting rounds specify higher bets than earlier rounds.
- For example, a four-round game called "20 and 40 limit" (usually written as $20/$40) may specify that all bets on the first two rounds are $20, and on the third and fourth round $40. This amount applies to each raise, not the total amount bet in a round, so a player may bet $20, be raised $20, and then re-raise another $20, for a total bet of $60, in such a game.
Four Bet Maximum
Most fixed limit games are played with a four bet maximum. This means that in a given betting round, there can be no more than three raises, meaning that on the betting round, only four bets of the given limit have been made.
- Consider this example in a $20/$40 game, during a $20 round with three players that proceeds as follows:
- Player A bets $20.
- Player B puts in another bet, raises another $20, making it $40 to play.
- Player C puts in a third bet, raising another $20 on that, thus making it $60 to play.
- Player A puts in the fourth bet (she is usually said to cap the betting).
- Once Player A has made her final bet, Players B and C may only call another three and two bets (respectively); they may not raise again because the betting is capped.
A common exception in this rule practiced in some card rooms is to allow unlimited raising when a pot is played heads up (when only two players remain). Usually, this has occurred because all other players have folded, and only two remain. Many card rooms will permit these two players to re-raise each other until one player is all in.
Some variations do exist for this exception. For example, some card rooms require that the pot became heads up before the third bet has entered the pot on that betting round. It is widely believed that such this variation exists to prevent two colluding players from raising a third player out of the pot.
This exception to the four bet maximum has been observed in nearly all card rooms in the USA. It has never been observed in Internet card rooms.
In some card rooms, there is a five bet maximum instead of four.
Sometimes a fixed limit game is played as a kill game. Such a game is played with an additional blind, called the kill blind. The kill blind can be posted from any position at the table. The amount posted is typically twice the typical blind for that game. For example, in a $20/$40 game, the large blind is typically $20. If this game were played with a full kill, the kill blind would be $40.
When the kill blind is posted, it changes the stakes of the game. For that hand, the game as played as if the game were a higher limit. In a $20/$40 game with a full kill blind posted, the hand is played as if the limit were $40/$80. The kill is said to be active when the kill blind is posted and the game is played at the higher limit.
Rules on how the kill is activated vary. On the east coast of the USA, the kill is typical activated by the previous pot being over a particular value. The most typical value is ten times the value of the large bet (in a $20/$40 game, the kill would be active if the previous pot won was greater than $400). The winner of that pot is required to post the kill blind for the next hand.
In the Pacific Northwest of the USA, a kill is typically activated when a particular player wins two pots in a row. After that player wins her second pot, she is required to post a kill blind and the kill is active for the next hand.
Note that a kill need not always be a full kill. For example, it is common to find a game with a half kill. For example, when the kill is active in $4/$8 game with a half kill, the game is played at a $6/$12 limit.
The term kill, when used in this context, should not be confused with killing a hand , which is a term used for a hand that was made a dead hand by action of a game official.
A game played with a spread limit betting structure allows a player to raise any amount within a specified range.
- For example, a game called "one to five limit" allows each bet to be anywhere from $1 to $5 (subject to other betting rules). These limits are typically larger in later rounds of multi-round games. For example, a game might be "one to five, ten on the end", meaning that early betting rounds allow bets of $1 to $5, and the last betting round allows bets of $1 to $10.
A game played with a pot limit betting structure allows any player to raise up to an amount equal to the size of the whole pot before the raise.
- For example, let's assume that there is $10 in the pot at the start of a betting round. The first player may open the betting for up to $10. If he does in fact open for $10, the next player may raise to $40 (after calling the $10 bet, the total amount of the pot is $20, so he may raise $20).
A game played with a no limit betting structure allows each player to raise any amount of his stake at any time (subject to the table stakes rules and any other rules about raising).
Table stakes rules
All casinos and many home games play poker by what are called table stakes rules, which state that each player starts each deal with a certain stake, and plays that deal with that stake. He may not remove money from the table or add money from his pocket during the play of a hand. Nor is a player allowed to hide the amount of his stake from other players; he must disclose the amount when asked. This requires some special rules to handle the case when a player is faced with a bet that he cannot call with his available stake.
When a player is faced with a current bet amount that he has insufficient remaining stake to call and he wishes to call (he may of course fold without the need of special rules), he bets the remainder of his stake and declares himself all in. He may now hold onto his cards for the remainder of the deal as if he had called every bet, but he may not win any more money from any player above the amount of his bet.
- For example, let's assume that the first player in a betting round opens for $20, and the next player to bet has only $5 remaining of his stake. He bets the $5, declaring himself all in, and holds onto his cards. The next player in turn still has the $20 bet facing him, and if he can cover it he must call $20 or fold. If he calls $20, thus ending the betting round, instead of collecting all bets into the central pot as usual, the following procedure is applied: since there is an all in player with only $5 bet, his $5, and $5 from each of the other players, is collected into the central pot (now called the main pot), as if the final bet had been only $5. This main pot (which may include any antes or bets from previous rounds) is the most the all in player is eligible to win. The remaining money from the still-active bettors, in this case $15 apiece, is collected into a side pot that only the players who contributed to it are eligible to win. If there are further betting rounds, all bets are placed into the side pot while the all in player continues to hold his cards but does not participate in further betting. Upon the showdown, the players eligible for the side pot—and only those players—reveal their hands, and the winner among them takes the side pot, regardless of what the all in player holds (indeed, before he even shows). After the side pot is awarded, the all in player then shows his hand, and if it is superior to all others shown, he wins the main pot (otherwise he loses as usual).
There is a strategic advantage to being all in: you cannot be bluffed, because you are entitled to hold your cards and see the showdown without risking any more money. The players who continue to bet after you are all in can still bluff each other out of the side pot, which is also to your advantage since they reduce your competition without risk to you. But these advantages are more than offset by the disadvantage that you cannot win any more money than what your stake can cover. After all, the object of poker is not to win hands—it is to win money.
If a player goes all in with a raise rather than a call, another special rule comes into play. There are two options in common use here: pot limit and no limit games always use what is called the full bet rule, while fixed limit or spread limit games use either the full bet rule or the half bet rule. The full bet rule states that if the amount of an all in raise does not equal the full amount of the previous raise, it does not constitute a "real" raise, and therefore does not reopen the betting action. The half bet rule states that if an all in raise is equal to or larger than half the bet being raised, it does constitute a raise and reopens the action.
- For example, a player opens the betting round for $20, and the next player has a total stake of $25. He may raise to $25, declaring himself all in, but this does not constitute a "real" raise, in the following sense: if a third player now calls the $25, and the first player's turn to act comes up, he must now call the additional $5, but he does not have the right to reraise further. The all in player's pseudo-raise was really just a call with some extra money, and the third player's call was just a call, so the initial opener's bet was simply called by both remaining players, closing the betting round (even though he must still equalize the money by putting in the additional $5). If the half bet rule were being used, and the all in player had raised to $30 instead of $25, then that raise would count as a genuine raise and the first player would be entitled to reraise if he chose to (this would create a side pot for the amount of his reraise and the third player's call, if any).
When all players are all-in, or one player is playing only against opponents who are all-in, no more betting can take place. In a tournament, when this occurs, it is required that all players still playing flip up their hole cards even though the game may not be over yet. Likewise, any other cards that would normally be dealt face down, such as the final card in seven-card stud, are dealt face-up. These rules discourage collusion.
Because these rules are complicated (especially when more than one player goes all in, or there are pots to be split because of ties), informal home games often allow players to temporarily borrow money to add to their stake during a hand when necessary, which is called going light. This is never allowed in casino games.
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