How to play Poker

As early as the sixteenth century, Germans played a bluffing game called “Pochen.” It later developed into a French version, called “Poque,” which was eventually brought over to New Orleans and played on the riverboats that plied the Mississippi.

In the 1830s, the game was refined further and became known as Poker. During the Civil War, the key rule about drawing cards to improve one’s hand was added. A variation – Stud Poker – appeared at about the same time. There are hundreds of versions of Poker, and the game is played not only in private homes, but also in countless Poker rooms at famous casinos. Poker can be played socially for pennies or matchsticks, or professionally for thousands of dollars.

There is plenty of luck in Poker, but the game requires incredibly great skill as well, and each player is the master of his own fate.

THE PACK

The standard 52-card pack, sometimes with the addition of one or two jokers, is used. Poker is a one-pack game, but today, in virtually all games played in clubs and among the best players, two packs of contrasting colors are utilized in order to speed up the game. While one pack is being dealt, the other is being shuffled and prepared for the next deal. The procedure for two packs is as follows: While the deal is in progress, the previous dealer assembles all the cards from the pack he dealt, shuffles them, and places them to the left. When it is time for the next deal, the shuffled deck is passed to the next dealer. In many games in which two packs are used, the dealer’s left-hand opponent, instead of his right-hand opponent, cuts the pack.

In clubs, it is customary to change cards often and to permit any player to call for new cards whenever he wishes. When new cards are introduced, both packs are replaced, and the seal and cellophane wrapping on the new decks should be broken in full view of all the players.

CARD VALUES/SCORING

While Poker is played in innumerable forms, a player who understands the values of the Poker hands and the principles of betting can play without difficulty in any type of Poker game. Except in a few versions of the game, a Poker hand consists of five cards. The various combinations of Poker hands rank from five of a kind (the highest) to no pair or nothing (the lowest):

Five of a Kind – This is the highest possible hand and can occur only in games where at least one card is wild, such as a joker, the two one-eyed jacks, or the four deuces. Examples of five of a kind would be four 10s and a wild card or two queens and three wild cards.

Straight Flush – This is the highest possible hand when only the standard pack is used, and there are no wild cards. A straight flush consists of five cards of the same suit in sequence, such as 10, 9, 8, 7, 6 of hearts. The highest-ranking straight flush is the A, K, Q, J, and 10 of one suit, and this combination has a special name: a royal flush or a royal straight flush. The odds on being dealt this hand are 1 in almost 650,000.

Four of a Kind – This is the next highest hand, and it ranks just below a straight flush. An example is four aces or four 3s. It does not matter what the fifth, unmatched card is.

Full House – This colorful hand is made up of three cards of one rank and two cards of another rank, such as three 8s and two 4s, or three aces and two 6s.

Flush – Five cards, all of the same suit, but not all in sequence, is a flush. An example is Q, 10, 7, 6, and 2 of clubs.

Straight – Five cards in sequence, but not all of the same suit is a straight. An example is 9♥, 8♣, 7♠, 6♦, 5♥.

Three of a Kind – This combination contains three cards of the same rank, and the other two cards each of a different rank, such as three jacks, a seven, and a four.

Two Pairs – This hand contains a pair of one rank and another pair of a different rank, plus any fifth card of a different rank, such as Q, Q, 7, 7, 4.

One Pair – This frequent combination contains just one pair with the other three cards being of different rank. An example is 10, 10, K, 4, 3.

No Pair – This very common hand contains “nothing.” None of the five cards pair up, nor are all five cards of the same suit or consecutive in rank. When more than one player has no pair, the hands are rated by the highest card each hand contains, so that an ace-high hand beats a king-high hand, and so on.

Two hands that are identical, card for card, are tied since the suits have no relative rank in Poker. In such a case, the tied players split the pot. Note that if two hands contain the same high pair, then the ranking of the next card in the hands determines which one wins. For example: 9, 9, 7, 4, 2 beats 9, 9, 5, 3, 2. Likewise, two hands that have identical pairs would be decided by the fifth card. For example: Q, Q, 6, 6, J beats Q, Q, 6, 6, 10.

BETTING

Betting is the key to Poker, for the game, in essence, is a game of chip management.

In the course of each Poker deal, there will be one or more betting intervals in which the players have an opportunity to bet on their hands. Minimizing losses with poor hands and maximizing winnings with good hands is the underlying skill that Poker requires.

Before the cards are even dealt, the rules of the Poker game being played may require that each player put an initial contribution, called an “ante,” of one or more chips into the pot, to start it off.

Each betting interval, or round, begins when a player, in turn, makes a bet of one or more chips. Each player to the left, in turn, must either “call” that bet by putting into the pot the same number of chips; or “raise,” which means that he puts in more than enough chips to call; or “drop” (“fold”), which means that he puts no chips in the pot, discards his hand, and is out of the betting until the next deal.

When a player drops, he loses any chips he has put into that pot. Unless a player is willing to put into the pot at least as many chips as any preceding player, he must drop out.

A betting interval ends when the bets have been equalized – that is, when each player has either put in exactly as many chips as his predecessors or has dropped. There are usually two or more betting intervals for each Poker deal. After the final interval there is a “showdown,” which means that each player who remains shows his hand face up on the table. The best Poker hand then takes the pot.

If a player makes a bet or a raise that no other player calls, he wins the pot without showing his hand. Thus, in Poker, there is a bluffing element, and the best combination of cards does not always win the pot! Bluffing is one of the key reasons why Poker is so popular.

If a player wishes to remain in the game without betting, he “checks.” This means, in effect, that the player is making a “bet of nothing.” A player may check provided no one before him in that betting interval has made a bet. If another player has bet, he cannot check but must at least call the bet or drop. A player who checks may raise a bet that has been raised by another player. This is called “sandbagging,” which is allowed, unless it has been decided beforehand that this practice is forbidden. If all players check during a round of play, the betting interval is over, and all the players still in the pot remain in the game.

In each betting round, one player is designated as the first bettor, according to the rules of the game. The turn to bet always moves to the left, from player to player, and no one may check, bet, or even drop, except when it is his turn.

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