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All variations of poker include some form of betting. This means that before a player can show down a hand and win the pot (if holding the best hand), the player must match the bets of the other players. The number of betting rounds in each hand differs between the different poker variations. But regardless of the variation, individual betting rounds follow more or less the same pattern.
A typical betting round
In a typical betting round, there is already a pot of a certain size from earlier betting rounds. The player that should start betting is decided by the rules of the variation being played. The betting turn then moves to the player on the left and so on around the table.
Fold, check, bet or raise
When it is your turn to bet, you have a number of choices. If you do not like your hand, you can always fold – that is, lay down your hand and leave the pot for the other players to contest. If no one has bet before you in this betting round, you may check.
Checking means betting nothing and passing the turn on to the player on your left.
However, if a player before you has bet in this betting round, you cannot check. You can always fold, but if you want to play, you have to either call that bet or raise.
You call by putting in a bet of the same size as the last bet made before you.
You raise by putting in a bigger bet than the last bet before you.
If, for example, a player before you bet 1, you can call by betting 1 or raise by betting more than 1.
Ending the betting
When all players have either folded or put an equal amount of bets into the pot, the betting round is over. Now the next card is dealt. Or, if it was the last betting round, the remaining hands are compared to find out who wins the pot. This is called the showdown.
Winning without showing your hand
If you put in a bet or a raise and all remaining players fold, you win the pot without showing your hand. This is a common event in poker, and it is the reason why it is possible to bluff in poker. You don’t have to show a winning hand to win the pot. Bluffing may not be as common as people think, but is still a typical characteristic of the game of poker.
The First Betting Round
The first betting round is a bit more complicated than the consecutive, typical, betting rounds described above.
Blinds or antes
Before even the cards are dealt, some or all of the players must put in a mandatory bet, either blinds or antes (see below). This is to create an initial pot to compete for. If no player was forced to bet, players could sit around waiting for the very best hands before playing, and it would cost them nothing. Like that, poker could really be like watching paint dry.
When the mandatory bets have been posted and the cards have been dealt, the first betting round starts. It looks a bit different depending on whether antes or blinds are being used as the mandatory bet.
When playing with antes
An ante is a forced bet that all players must put in before the cards are dealt. It is usually about 10% of the small bet.
When the cards have been dealt, the player to start betting is decided by the rules of the specific variant. When the first player has bet, the betting turn moves to the left around the table just like the typical betting round described above.
When playing with blinds
A blind is a forced bet that some but not all of the players have to put in before the cards are dealt. Usually, it is the two players to the left of the dealer who must each put in a blind. Usually, the first player must put in a smaller bet, called the small blind, while the second player must put in a bigger bet, called the big blind.
Blinds, as opposed to antes, are considered as being live. They count as valid bets in the first betting round.
When the cards have been dealt, the first betting round is initiated by the player to the left of the big blind. Since the big blind counts as a bet, this player may not check. He can always fold, but if he wants to play he must call or raise.
To call, he must put in a bet the size of the big blind. To raise, he must put in a bigger bet than this (at least twice the size of the big blind).
Then the betting moves to the left around the table, much like in the typical betting round described above.
If you are in the small blind position when the betting comes around to you, you can either fold, call or raise. Since the small blind counts as a bet, it is a bit cheaper for you to call. If, for example, the small blind is 1, to call a bet of 4 you need to put in another 3. Calling means matching the last bet, and since the blinds are live, you can include your small blind when you calculate the amount needed to call.
If you are in the big blind position, when the betting comes around to you, you can still fold, call or raise. Since the big blind also counts as a bet, now it is even cheaper for you to call. In order to call a certain bet, you need to put in an amount equal to that bet minus the size of the big blind.
If, for example, the big blind is 2 and a player has bet 4, you call by simply putting in another 2.
Checking in the big blind
If you are in the big blind, the first betting round is a bit special. When the betting turn comes around to you, if no player has raised your big blind, you have the right to either check or bet.
This is a bit different from the typical betting round, and can be a bit confusing for the starting poker player. Not to worry, you will get the hang of it in no time!
If more than one player remain in the hand when the last betting round is completed, there is a showdown. This means that the remaining players show their cards to decide who has the best hand.
The showdown starts with the player who was first to put in the last bet. That is, the player who made the bet that the other players called.
If one player bets 5, another player folds and a third calls the bet, the first player must show his cards first.
If one player bets 10, a second player raises to 20 and the first player calls the raise, it is the second player who must show his cards first, since he was the first player to bet 20.
Not showing when you lost
In a showdown, when a player before you has shown a hand that beats yours, you do not have to show your hand.
Winning without showing your hand
If you put in a bet or a raise and all remaining players fold, you win the pot without showing your hand. This is a common event in poker, and it is the reason why it is possible to bluff in this game. You don't have to show a winning hand to win the pot. Bluffing may not be as common as people think, but is still typical for the game of poker.