Basic Poker Rules
These basic rules are taken from Five Card Draw on which
all other poker games are based.
Two to eight or more, certain forms of poker can be played by up
to 14 people. No alliances are allowed; a player may play only for
The usage of some poker terms is not standard. In the following text
a "hand" means the cards, or the particular combination
of cards held by the player.
A single game, from one shuffle to then next, is here called a "play"
(rather than a "hand")
Each player tries to maximise his winnings. On each play all bets
are put into a common pool (the "pot").
One player wins the pool on a play if:
Rank of cards
Cards rank in the normal order. Ace usually ranks high, except in
the 5,4,3,2 ace sequence; in a "high-low" game it may rank
either high or low. Sometimes low ranking cards (2s, 3s and even 4s
and 5s) are removed from the deck to speed up the game. The suits
are not ranked.
See our Poker Hands
Hands of the same rank
When poker hands are of the same rank, the winning hand is decided
by the rank of the cards involved.The following rules apply where
no wild cards are used:
Straight flush: the highest ranking card in the
sequence decides the best hand. Thus a royal flush is the highest
when there are no wild cards. Note that the Ace in a 5, 4, 3, 2,
ace sequence ranks low, so this hand would be beaten by a 6, 5,
4, 3, 2. The same rule applies to straights
Four of a kind: the hand with the highest ranking
matched card wins.
Full house: the hand with the highest ranking "three
of a kind" wins
Flush: the hand with the highest ranking card wins.
If the highest cards are the same denomination, the next highest
are compared. This continues down to the lowest, until a difference
Straight: as for a straight flush
Three of a kind: as for a four of a kind
Two pairs; the hand with the highest raking pair
wins. If the higher pairs in the two hands are the same, the lower
pairs are compared. If both pairs in the two hands are the same,
the hand with the highest unmatched card wins.
One pair: the hand with the highest ranking pair
wins. If the pairs in the two hands are the same, the highest unmatched
cards are compared. If these are the same, the next highest are
compared. If these are the same, the next highest are compared.
This continues down to the lowest, until a difference is found
- High card: as for flush
Hands tie if they contain exactly the same denominations; the suits
are irrelevant. Hands that tie as highest in the showdown divide the
pool between them. If the pool is not exactly divisible, the amount
left over goes to the player who was "called" (i.e the player
who made the highest bet)
Sometimes at the beginning of a game the players decide to designate
certain cards "wild". A wild card is one that may represent
any denomination. Any card or any group of cards may be designated,
but the following are popular choices:
The joker (or two jokers);
The "deuce" or 2 of spades if the jokers
are not available ;
All the deuces
All the deuces and "treys" (the 3s)
In some forms of the game, a card that occupies a particular position
in the game may count as wild, for example each players "hole"
(concealed) card in some stud poker games. Two alternative rules govern
the use of a wild card. The holder may either:
use it to represent any card (denomination and
suit) he does not hold ; or
use it to represent any card, even if he holds that
In either case, a wild card ranks the same as the card it represents.
If a joker is used as a wild card, it may be used either like any
other wild card or, alternatively as a "bug". The bug may
be used to represent only an ace or any card the player needs to complete
a straight or a flush. Again, the use of the joker as the bug may
or may not be limited to cards not held by the players.
Hands with wild cards
Wild cards rank exactly the same as the cards they stand for, so when
comparing hands of the same rank, ties are possible between same denomination
fours, full houses and threes. With fours and threes, the rank of
the other cards in the hands decides the winner where possible. If
hands with wild cards are identical rank, the hand with no or fewer
wild cards, wins. If there are the same number of wild cards, the
hands tie.Where wild cards are used for any card (even one held by
the player) two new hands are possible.
Five of a kind: five cards of the same denomination.
This ranks as highest hand, above a straight flush.
Double ace high flush: a flush including two aces.
This ranks above flush and below full house.
Sometimes a wild card my be used only to make a five
of a kind- but not to make double ace high flush. This must be decided
before start of play.
A player may not attempt to make a private arrangement
with any other player (e.g. divide the pool without a showdown)
waive his turn as a dealer, unless physically unable
look at the discards (either before or after the
showdown), at undealt cards, at another players hand, or at a hole
card ( in stud poker);
take chips or money from the pool during play,
except as correct change for a verbally stated bet;
leave the table taking his cards with him (he should
ask another player, preferably a non-active one, to play his hand
for him - if he fails to do so and misses his turn, his hand is
Bluffing is allowed (i.e. trying to mislead other players by statement,
actions or manner). Bluffing may include making announcements out of
turn about one's hand or plan of playing so as to make one's hand seem
weaker than it is. Sarcasm, heckling and derision are allowed - help
In a single play there will be at least one betting interval, and
normally two or more. These always follow receipt of cards by player
but the precise number and when they occur depend on the form of poker
In each betting interval, a certain player will have the right to
bet or not to bet first. (How he is chosen depends on the form of
Thereafter players bet or do not bet in a clockwise rotation.
Principles of betting
All bets on a play are placed together near the centre of the table
to form a pool. One player bets first ("opens the betting").
Thereafter, each player in turn must either "drop out",
"stay in" or "raise".In his turn, a player announces
what he is doing prior to placing any chips in the pool.For a first
bet or a raise, he also announces the amount of the bet or the raise.A
bet is not considered made until the bettor has removed his hand from
the chips bet: until then it can be withdrawn.
Drop out (or "fold"): the player discards
his hand and gives up his chance of winning the pool on this play.
A player may drop out at any time, even if he has previously bet
on this play or in this interval; but any chips he has already bet
remain in the pool and go to the pool winner. A player who has dropped
out is no longer "active" and may not take further action
in this play.
Stay in (or "call" or "see");
the player puts in just enough chips to make the total bet he has
bet so far in this play exactly equal to the total bet by the payer
with the highest total bet.
Raise up (or "up" or "go better"):
the player puts in enough chips to stay in, plus an additional number.
The additional amount is that by which he "raises the last
bet". Every other player in the game must either then stay
in(by bringing his total bet up to the raises amount), drop out,
or raise again ("reraise")
Checking is allowed in many games of poker. A player who checks at the
beginning of a betting interval stays in the game for the moment without
making a bet. If all payers check, the betting interval ends. But if
one player bets, the interval continues as usual: all other players
(including those who have checked) must now stay in, drop out or raise.
To stay in, a player who has checked must equal the highest bet made
so far. If all players check on the first betting interval, the play
is void and ends. The next player in turn deals the round
End of the betting interval
The betting interval ends when either:
all players have checked;
only one player is still active (and therefore
wins), all the others having dropped out; or
the bets of active players are equalised. This
happens when all players still active have put equal amounts in
the pool and the turn has come around again to the last person to
raise (or, if no one raised, to the person who opened the betting):
he may not then raise again. AS long as the bets are unequal any
player may raise, but as soon as the bets are equal, no one may
Passing may mean either:
In games where checking is allowed, a player who says
"pass" is assumed to be checking, if checking is available
to him. (A player shows that he is dropping out by discarding his hand).
Games in which no checking is allowed are referred to as "pass
and out" (or "pass out" or "bet and drop").
Sandbagging is poker slang for either:
checking to disguise a good hand - this is sometimes
considered unethical, but is better accepted as a regular part of
constant raising or re-raising by two players,
forcing a third along with them if he wishes to stay in the play.
Raising to force out other players is an essential
part of poker, but beyond a certain point it can spoil the game's character.
Two optional rulings can keep it in check: limiting raises, and freezing
A limit on raises
A limit on raises is often agreed beforehand. Possible limits are
Freezing the raise
Freezing the raise is becoming accepted procedure. If there have been
two or more raises (whether by one or several players), in a single
betting interval, any player who has not raised in that betting interval
may "freeze the raise". In addition to betting sufficient
to stay in, he bets a previously agreed amount, usually two to five
times the normal maximum bet. Other active players must then drop out
or stay in by equalling his bet. This action only freezes the raise
for this betting interval.
Side bets are sometimes made between players. For example, in a "high
card bet" in stud poker, players bet on who will have the highest
A player may not:
bet for another player
borrow money or chips from another payer during
take back a bet after it has been placed in the
pool and the bettors hand has been removed. An inadequate bet must
be added to, otherwise it is lost and the payers cards are dead.
The system to be used must be decided upon before play. The betting
limits are also the raise limits. Note that a player forced to bet,
for example, the maximum amount to stay in, may still in that turn raise
by the maximum (an by any lesser amount).
Fixed minimum and maximum amounts are specified before play starts.
Sometimes it is agreed that either
any amount between the limits is acceptable as
a bet or raise;
only specified amounts between the limits are acceptable
as a bet or raise ; or
no amount between the limits is acceptable as a
bet or raise.
Specified limits, varying
The minimum and maximum limits change during play ; for example limits
for the final betting are always twice the earlier limits.
Last bet limit
The opening bet is agreed by agreed limits. Thereafter, the maximum
bet or raise is the amount put in the pool by the previous bettor's
actions.Players must decide that either:
The opening bet is governed by agreed limits. Thereafter, the maximum
bet or raise is the total amount in the pool at that time. To calculate
this, a player wishing to raise may include in the pool total the sum
needed for him to stay in. Agreement on an absolute maximum is still
Before the session, each player puts any amount of money he wishes
onto the table, or buys chips to that amount. ( A minimum is agreed
beforehand, and sometimes a maximum too.) Any amount a player wins
is added to his table amount. He may also from his own pocket, increase
the table amount - but not during a play, and only by at least the
agreed minimum. During a play a player may not:
Borrow from or owe money to the pool;
decrease his table amount or withdraw chips from
sell chips back to the banker until he withdraws
from the game.
The maximum betting limit for a player is his table amount at the time
(the minimum is the amount agreed beforehand). If a players table amount
is used up in a play, he has the right to remain in for the main pool
showdown. Any amounts bet by other players, above the amount he has
bet, are put into a side pool.
A player can bet or raise any amount. He may borrow during a play,
if he can, but he may not put IOUs in the pool. To stay in, he must
equal the highest bet. IN the old no limit games a player had 24 hours
to raise the money for a bet. No limit games have no virtually disappeared.
This can be played with any limits system except table stakes. Before
the session, each player puts an equal number of chips on the table
in front of him. Winnings are added to this amount, but no players
may add new chips, lend chips or remove chips from the game. As soon
as a player has lost all his chips, he drops out. The session continues
until one player has won all the chips.
This ruling can be played with any limits system. It applies if all
other players drop out in a play, after one player has opened the
betting. In the next play and before the deal the other must each
"ante"(put) into the pool an amount equal to the single
bet made in the previous play. The new maximum limit (for this play
only) is the total amount now in the pool before play starts (providing
that this is higher than the normal maximum). The minimum is as usual.
This ruling can be played with any limits system. After the appearance
of any very good hand (e.g. full house or better), the usual or opening
limits are doubled for the next play. Sometimes the special limits
hold for the next round of play i.e. one deal by each player.
Now visit our Poker
Versions page to learn about some of the many variations
to thes basic rules in the other versions of the game. Or visit our
and Poker Tips
pages for advice that should help you improve your game. alternatively
for information on the games origin visit our Poker