The Basics of Poker
Poker is a game of chance, but it also involves a lot of psychology and skill. The rules are fairly simple: each player is dealt two cards face down, and then each person can bet on their hand by raising or folding. The highest-ranking hand wins the pot.
The best possible hand is the royal flush, which consists of a 10, Jack, Queen, King, and Ace of the same suit (clubs, diamonds, hearts, or spades). This is a very hard hand to beat and almost never happens in live play. There are a few other very good hands: straights, three-of-a-kind, and two pair.
A straight consists of five consecutive cards in the same suit (clubs, diamonds, heart, or spades). Three-of-a-kind is three cards of the same rank, and two pairs are made up of two matching cards of different ranks. The rest of the hands are all weaker, with the worst being a full house and the second-worst being a flush.
To win a poker hand, the player must bet more than everyone else in the pot. The amount of money placed into the pot by each player is a purely voluntary action, and is decided on based on probability, psychology, and game theory. This is not to say that the outcome of any particular poker hand relies solely on chance – players often make bets with good expected value, and can also choose to bluff for strategic reasons.
It is important to understand the game before you start playing. It is very easy to get tripped up by the math involved in poker, and it is very easy to lose money if you don’t understand how to properly value your hand.
If you want to be a profitable player, it is crucial to play your strongest hands as straightforwardly as possible. This means betting and raising a lot with your strong hands, and taking advantage of the mistakes of amateur players who try to outwit you by calling down your bets with mediocre hands like second and third pair, or chase all sorts of ludicrous draws.
Position is also very important in poker, as it gives you more information about your opponents than they have about you. Learning to put your opponent on a range is an advanced topic, but if you can do it, it will dramatically improve your poker skills. This is because it allows you to better understand how likely they are to be holding a specific hand, and can make much more accurate bets.
A good place to start learning this is with the The One Percent course mentioned above, and this book by Matt Janda. It is a deep-dive into the math of poker, and explores topics such as balance, frequencies, and ranges in a way that is very illuminating. However, it is not for beginners, and I would recommend reading it AFTER you have taken the course and have a solid understanding of the game.