How the Betting Works
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.
Betting Limits - Or No Betting Limits
When the betting comes around to you, and you decide to raise, how much can you raise? Well, this depends on the betting structure used in the game you play. The most common structures are fixed limit, pot limit and no limit.
In a fixed limit game, the amount you can raise is fixed. If you want to raise, you must raise that particular amount.
Small bet and big bet
The fixed limit often varies between betting rounds. For example, when playing fixed limit Texas Hold'em, all bets and raises in the first two betting rounds must be in multiples of the big blind. In the last two betting rounds, bets and raises must be in multiples of twice the big blind.
For example, with a big blind of $2, if you want to raise during the first two betting rounds you must raise $2, that is, you must bet $4. If another player wants to re-raise your bet, he too must raise another $2, that is, he must bet $6. However, during the last two betting rounds, if a player has bet the minimum $4 and you want to raise, you must raise $4, that is, you must bet $8. If another player wants to re-raise your bet now, he too must raise $4, which means he must bet $12.
When playing with a fixed limit, the number of raises allowed in a betting round is limited to four. That is, the first bet, a raise, a re-raise and than the final raise - the cap.
For example, in a game with a $2 limit, after the maximum four raises, the total bet for each player is $8.
Raise or fold
Raise or fold is a variation of fixed limit poker. In this variation, just like the name says, each time it is your turn to bet, you must either raise or fold. Checking or calling is not allowed.
In a no-limit game, as soon as it is your turn to bet, you can raise as much as you like. You may even bet all your chips at once if you want. Nevertheless, there are a few restrictions.
Even though you play no limit, you cannot bet more than the amount you have on the table. So players cannot get crazy and bet their farms. And you cannot throw in your car keys.
The minimum bet
In spite of a game being played as no limit, there is always a downward limit for your bets. For example, if you play with blinds, you can never bet or raise less than the big blind.
The minimum re-raise
If, in a betting round, a player has raised before you and you want to re-raise, you must raise at least the amount of the last raise.
Suppose the big blind is $2 and a player to your right bets $10, thereby raising with $8. If you want to re-raise that player, you must raise at least another $8, which means you must bet at least $18. Obviously, since it is no limit, you may also bet more than $18.
Some people may consider fixed limit games a bit lame. On the other hand, some people consider no limit games a bit too far on the wild side. As a sort of compromise, there is a betting structure called pot limit.
Pot limit means that each time the betting comes around to you, you cannot bet more than the amount already in the pot. In early betting rounds, this may be far less than all your chips. In later betting rounds, however, the pot can grow really fast and you can bet all you have, if you like.
If the big blind is $2, the pot is $20, and you are first to bet in that betting round, you may bet anything from $2 (the minimum bet) to $20, the pot limit bet.
Sometimes, calculating the maximum bet in pot limit games is quite complicated.