Poker is a card game, the most popular of a class of games called vying games, in which players with fully or partially concealed cards make wagers into a central pot, after which the pot is awarded to the remaining player or players with the best combination of cards.
In order to play, one must learn the basic rules and procedures of the game, the values of the various combinations of cards (see hand), and the rules about betting limits (see betting). Some knowledge of the equipment used to play (see Poker equipment) is useful. There are also many variants of poker, loosely categorized as draw poker, stud poker, community card poker (a.k.a. "widow game"), and miscellaneous poker games. The most commonly played games of the first three categories are five-card draw, seven-card stud, and Texas hold 'em, respectively; each being a common starting point for learning games of the type. Dealer's choice is a way to play poker where the dealer chooses what type of poker to play.
The history of poker is a matter of some debate. The name of the game likely descended from the French poque, which descended from the German pochen ('to knock'), but it is not clear whether the games named by those terms were the real origins of poker. It closely resembles the Persian game of as nas, and may have been taught to French settlers in New Orleans by Persian sailors. It is commonly regarded as sharing ancestry with the Renaissance game of primero and the French brelan. The English game brag (earlier bragg) clearly descended from brelan and incorporated bluffing (though the concept was known in other games by that time). It is quite possible that all of these earlier games influenced the development of poker as it exists now.
English actor Joseph Crowell described the game as played in New Orleans in 1829: played with a deck of 20 cards, four players bet on which player's hand of cards was the most valuable. Jonathan H. Green's book An Exposure of the Arts and Miseries of Gambling (G. B. Zieber, Philadelphia, 1843) described the spread of the game from there to the rest of the country by Mississippi riverboats, on which gambling was a common pastime.
Soon after this spread, the full 52-card English deck was used, and the flush was introduced. During the American Civil War, many additions were made, including draw poker, stud poker (the five-card variant), and the straight. Further American developments followed, such as the wild card (around 1875), lowball and split-pot poker (around 1900), and community card poker games (around 1925). Spread of the game to other countries, particularly in Asia, is often attributed to the U.S. military.
The game and jargon of poker have become important parts of American culture and English culture. Such phrases as ace in the hole, beats me, blue chip, call the bluff, cash in, pass the buck, poker face, stack up, up the ante, when the chips are down, wild card, and others are used in everyday conversation even by those unaware of their origins at the poker table.
Modern tournament play became popular in American casinos after the World Series of Poker began in 1970. It was also during that decade that the first serious strategy books appeared, notably The Theory of Poker by David Sklansky (ISBN 1880685000), Super System by Doyle Brunson (ISBN 0931444014), and The Book of Tells by Mike Caro (ISBN 0897461002). Broadcast of poker tournaments for cable and satellite TV distribution, such as with the World Poker Tour, has added additional popularity to the game, as has the introduction of online poker.
The game of poker is played in hundreds of variations, but the following overview of game play applies to most of them.
Depending on the game rules, one or more players may be required to place an initial amount of money into the pot before the cards are dealt. These are called forced bets and come in three forms: antes, blinds, and bring-ins.
Like most card games, the dealer shuffles the deck of cards. The deck is then cut, and the appropriate number of cards are dealt face-down to the players. In a home game, the right to deal the cards typically rotates among the players clockwise, whose position is often marked by a button (any small item used as a marker, also called a buck). In a casino a "house" dealer handles the cards for each hand, but a button is still rotated among the players to determine the order of dealing and betting in some games.
After the initial deal, the first of what may be several betting rounds begins. Between rounds, the players' hands develop in some way, often by being dealt additional cards or replacing cards previously dealt. During a round of betting, there will always be a current bet amount, which is the total amount of money bet in this round by the player who bet last in this round. To keep better track of this, it is conventional for players to not place their bets directly into the pot (called splashing the pot), but rather place them in front of themselves toward the pot, until the betting round is over. When the round is over, the bets are then gathered into the pot.
After the first betting round is complete because every player called an equal amount, there may be more rounds in which more cards are dealt in various ways, followed by further rounds of betting (into the same central pot). At any time during the first or subsequent betting rounds, if one player makes a bet and all other players fold, the deal ends immediately, the single remaining player is awarded the pot, no cards are shown, no more rounds are dealt, and the next deal begins. This is what makes it possible to bluff.
At the end of the last betting round, if more than one player remains, there is a showdown in which the players reveal their previously hidden cards and evaluate their hands. The player with the best hand according to the poker variant being played wins the pot. Some deals may not reach the showdown phase if all players drop out except one.
The game of poker (or at least most of the variants) is considered to be computationally intractable. However, methods are being developed to at least approximate perfect strategy from the game theory perspective in the heads-up (two player) game, and increasingly good systems are being created for the multi-player or ring game. Perfect strategy has multiple meanings in this context. From a game-theoretic optimal point of view, a perfect strategy is a minimax one that cannot expect to lose to any other player's strategy; however, optimal strategy can vary in the presence of sub-optimal players who have weaknesses that can be exploited. In this case, a perfect strategy would be one that correctly or closely models those weaknesses and takes advantage of them to make a profit. Some of these systems are based on Bayes theorem, Nash equilibrium, Monte Carlo simulation, and Neural networks. A large amount of the research is being done at the University of Alberta by the GAMES group led by Jonathan Schaeffer who developed Poki and PsOpt .
Poker is a microcosm of all we admire and disdain about capitalism and democracy. It can be rough-hewn or polished, warm or cold, charitable and caring or hard and impersonal. It is fickle and elusive, but ultimately it is fair, and right, and just. -- Lou Krieger
If you can't spot the sucker within the first half hour at the table, then you are the sucker. -- common poker saying, as spoken by Matt Damon in Rounders; originally attributed to Amarillo Slim
Whether he likes it or not, a man's character is stripped bare at the poker table; if the other players read him better than he does, he has only himself to blame. Unless he is both able and prepared to see himself as others do, flaws and all, he will be a loser in cards, as in life. -- Anthony Holden (from Big Deal)
There are few things that are so unpardonably neglected in our country as poker... Why, I have known clergymen, good men, kindhearted, liberal, sincere, and all that, who did not know the meaning of a 'flush'. It is enough to make one ashamed of one's species. -- Mark Twain
Nobody is always a winner, and anybody who says he is, is either a liar or doesn't play poker. -- Amarillo Slim
They anticipate losing when they sit down and I try my darndest not to disappoint one of them. -- Amarillo Slim
Poker is a game of people... It's not the hand I hold, it's the people that I play with. -- Amarillo Slim
Hold em is to stud what chess is to checkers. -- Johnny Moss
The guy who invented poker was bright, but the guy who invented the chip was a genius. -- Big Julie
Last night I stayed up late playing poker with Tarot cards. I got a full house and four people died. -- Steven Wright
Cards are war, in disguise of a sport. -- Charles Lamb, Essays of Elia (1832)
You call...gonna be all over, baby. -- Scotty Nguyen, during the 1998 World Series of Poker. Down to the final 2 players, he said this to his opponent while he held the best possible hand.
- Sklansky, David (1989). The Theory of Poker (3rd Ed). Two Plus Two Publications. ISBN 1880685000.