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May 21, 2015

The poker room: Where to begin?

Casinos Gaming

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The poker room is one of the most exciting places in any casino. It’s filled with energy, and with players ranging from first-timers to seasoned card sharks. If you fall into the beginner category, the poker room can be overwhelming, with so many options to choose from. Not only are there numerous different and popular poker games, there are different ways of playing each of those games. Here’s a quick primer to help you navigate.

Three popular variations

“Stud,” “Draw,” and “Community Card” are the three most common versions of poker, regardless of which particular game is being played.

In stud games, each player is dealt a number of cards, generally either five or seven, and is required to use those original cards only, to make his or her best hand.

In a draw game, a player is entitled to trade some of his dealt cards in, usually a maximum of three, to try to improve his hand by replacing cards.

And community-card games are games in which a player’s incomplete hidden hand is combined with shared face-up cards. The dealer gives a player what are known as “hole cards,” face down, which are exclusively that player’s; and then the player can play off what are known as community cards, to assemble his best hand. (Obviously, the term community cards derives from the fact that the other players at the table may play off them too – community cards belong to everyone.)

Generally, in the relaxed atmosphere of a casino poker game, the dealer makes the choice of which type of game is being played. At more formal tournaments, the type of game being played is announced up-front.

Texas Hold 'Em 

If you’ve seen The World Series of Poker on television, you’ve seen Texas Hold ‘Em, which is by far the most commonly played poker game.

The dealer gives each player two hole cards (cards that belong to that player exclusively – sometimes called pocket cards). Each player then waits for a total of five shared, or community, cards to be uncovered. There are then four rounds of betting – one after the hole cards are dealt, one after the first three community cards are uncovered, one after the fourth community card is uncovered, and one when the fifth community card has been revealed. The goal is for a player to make his best hand with any combination of five cards – their own hole cards, and the community cards.


The main difference between Texas Hold ‘Em and Omaha is that in Omaha – which can be played by a few as two or as many as 10 at a time – is that each player is dealt four hole cards, and the five community cards are made visible at the beginning. In turn, players make their best hand of five cards made up of a combination of two of their hole, or pocket, cards, and three of the community cards.

Seven-Card Stud

 Here, a dealer gives each player seven cards, three face-down and the remaining four face-up. Each player must make the best possible five-card hand from his seven.

Five-Card Draw

In this game the dealer gives each player five cards, but on the very first round, each player can elect to trade in as many of three of them in assembling his best possible hand.

Other variants

Less common but still very popular are games with other twists, such as High and Low Chicago, which is a stud game that can be played for either the highest or the lowest hand (in High Chicago, the highest spade face-down wins half the pot, while in Low Chicago it’s the player with the lowest spade face-down who wins). Another popular variant is Follow The Queen, a seven-card stud game where the next exposed card after a queen is flipped is designated a wild card.

Know the rules of your game

Obviously, because of the different kinds of poker games and acceptable variations within each, rules change often. But you’ve always got to know the following to begin:

  1. The deck: Is the table using a standard 52-card deck, or a “royal deck,” in which only 48 cards are used?
  2. The limit: How much money has it been agreed upon that can be bet in any one hand?
  3. Wild cards: Are there any? Which ones?
  4. Aces: Are they high or low?
  5. High or low: Which wins the pot, the highest or lowest hand? (In some games, the highest and lowest split the pot.)

As arcane as all of this information may seem to a novice, you can commit the rules and variations to poker to memory in a surprisingly short time. All the more reason to jump in now!