Poker rules you might be breaking without knowing it

Poker rules are pretty straightforward, right? Well, yes and no. 

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Yes, in the sense that you know the very basics - you get a pair of hole cards and you try to make the best five-card hand by using them in combination with five community cards. And no, in the sense that there's much more to learn if you want to play properly without breaking any poker rules along the way. There are round betting limits to observe, different variations to learn, different hand ranking protocols - and that's just scratching the surface. 

Today we'll focus on hard & fast poker rules every player should be familiar with before sitting at a real money or a . Let's go!

General Poker Rules

Every single poker variation out there shares some basic rules they all owe their origins to. Here's what makes any game you play fall under the "poker" category:

Player Count and Dealing

  • At least two players; usually a maximum of 6 (Texas Hold'em, Omaha) or 8 players (Stud, Draw Poker Variants)
  • Lowest ranked dealer (the one who deals the last hand) starts a new hand by shuffling the cards. If he doesn't do it properly, players can call him out on it but, usually, nothing untoward happens; it's just poor etiquette
  • After shuffling, the dealer has to offer the pack to the player on his left who cuts it
  • Dealer then deals each player a single face-down card at a time until every player has two cards
  • Before the first bet is made, the player on the dealer's left goes first and has the option to bet, check (i.e. pass the action along), or raise
  • Action moves around the table in a clockwise direction relative to the dealer (i.e. to his left)
  • When the first betting round is over, the flop is dealt - three community cards face up which anyone can use to build a hand
  • Another betting round commences, starting with the active player seated closest to the left of the dealer
  • Once the second betting round ends, a single additional community card is dealt face up; this is the turn
  • More action, again starting to the left of the dealer
  • The river, a final community card, is dealt face down
  • Final betting round ensues, ending to the left of the dealer
  • Showdown: if more than one player is left, the remaining players reveal their hands; the one with the highest ranked hand wins
  • Dealers rotate after each hand is completed. This is to ensure that each player has a chance to be the dealer, i.e. to avoid cheating
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Betting Rules in Poker

Betting is an integral part of poker, both in terms of strategy and formalities. Simply put, you need to wager money to build pots big enough to make playing decisions interesting. Also, following these poker rules will help you stay out of trouble.

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  • After the first round of betting, the player who bets the most out of those who are still actively involved in the hand is considered the "raiser". In Hold'em, this would be the person who opened the betting by raising the initial bet instead of simply calling.
  • Checking and Raising: You can only check (i.e. not bet but also not fold) if there's been a bet from another player before you. If the player before you has only made a raise, you cannot check but must make at least a call if you want to stay in the hand. In other words, you can only pretend you aren't interested by checking if everyone before you has passed / checked as well. Moreover, you cannot raise your own raise - in this case, your option is to only call your own raised bet.
  • Calling out of turn is generally allowed although you leave yourself open to accusations of not being familiar with poker rules. This can cause problems if the person accused of being out of order throws a tantrum and causes a delay/disruption. Some casinos don't allow calling out of turn; the rule is relaxed a bit in home games and in online poker rooms where automatic voiceless commands are used.
  • Unless you have a very good reason, always announce a raise by stating exactly how much you are raising the current bet by and how much the total bet now stands at. For example, "I raise 4 times, makes it 16" means "I raise from 2 to 8, makes it 8 overall."
  • Straddle bets (an extra large blind-like bet placed by a player on their left by the player on their left) are sometimes permitted but only in specific home games and high-stakes tournaments. A double straddle (two players forced to place extra blinds) is even less common.
  • All bets are supposed to be made with chips. Announcing how you're going to move the pot to you plus adding the required call on top isn't acceptable unless everyone agrees to it and you actually do make the extra movement to show you aren't trying to short the pot.

Check out our  to learn more about different types of bets and how to use them to gain advantage.

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Folding Rules in Poker

Throwing in your hand is never fun but doing so mucked up is downright frustrating. Avoid this minor annoyance by respecting these poker hand rules.

  • Players can fold at any moment by throwing their cards into the muck (the discard pile). Once the community board is complete, you can no longer fold but have to wait for the showdown.
  • You must protect your hand. This means exposing it if you're the only player remaining who is still in the hand.
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Poker Tip

Protecting your hand means moving all in if somebody tries to take the pot without a showdown.

Poker Time Limits

Solid time management skills are a must if you choose to play poker professionally or semi-professionally live. Online poker rooms take care of timekeeping for you but human dealers in brick&mortar casinos and gaming houses don't. Therefore, official tournament rules always contain clauses regarding the length of think times players are allowed to take.

  • Generally, players are expected to keep the game moving at a reasonable pace. Depending on the game type, you may be allowed anywhere from 15 to 25 seconds to make a simple call or 2-3 minutes for complex decisions during a tournament or 3-5 minutes in cash games.
  • If a player takes too long to act and it's causing a problem, the dealer or the player's neighbors should politely ask them to hurry up. If the player keeps stalling, they can be timed out and forced to fold their hand. This isn't done lightly as such a decision can otherwise angry gamblers. Make sure it's really necessary before calling the shot.
  • In professional tournaments, strict time limits will be enforced. Usually, players get 75-second intervals between rounds and 20-second raises thereafter. Failing to act within the allotted time will lead to a missed blind/antenne/ante and eventual elimination if it happens a second time.
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Poker Hand Rankings

Hand rankings differ from variation to variation. Learn them all before you start playing.

Standard Hands (most common variations)

  • Royal Flush: Five consecutive cards of different suits and ranks ranging from 10 to Ace, all in one suit
  • Straight Flush: Five consecutive cards of the same suit, regardless of their ranks
  • Four of a Kind: Four cards of the same rank, e.g. four 5s, regardless of the value and suit of the fifth card
  • Full House: Three of a kind + pair, e.g. three 7s and a pair of kings
  • Flush: Five cards of the same suit, but not in sequence
  • Straight: Five cards in a row but not of the same suit, e.g. 2C, 3D, 4H, 5S, 6S
  • Three of a Kind: Three cards of the same rank, e.g. three 9s, plus two unrelated cards
  • Two Pair: Two cards of one rank, plus another two of a different rank, plus any fifth card
  • Pair: Two cards of the same rank, plus three random cards
  • High Card: The highest unpaired card in your hand

Miscellaneous Rules

Sometimes things happen that aren't covered by the most obvious poker rules. Here's what you need to know to handle a few common situations.

  • What Happens if You Turn Over the Wrong Card? Things like human error and honest mistakes are taken care of by the "dead card" rule. Essentially, this means that if you expose a card by mistake - whether it's one of your hole cards or a community card - the card in question is dead. It doesn't count towards any possible combinations and will be replaced with the next available card.
  • What if There Are More Than Eight Players? This is OK as long as there are fewer than eight players to a hand. However, if the extra players haven't contributed to the pot in exactly the same way as the official players, their money is returned and they are deemed not to have entered the pot.
  • Can You Ask to See the Muck? If you suspect someone has thrown away a better hand than yours, you can't just demand to see what people have folded. Doing so would be considered a serious breach of etiquette and could get you in trouble. However, you can ask the dealer to look if they think someone has infringed the rules.
  • Can You Request a New Deck? Players are within their rights to ask for a new deck if they spot visible defects or if there are concerns about a potential for marked cards but only if the deck hasn't been used for long and hasn't been shuffled by the dealer. Additionally, while you can request specific colors, denoms, or brands of chips, you can't cap bets by asking for "small chips," "five $1s," etc.
  • Is Licking Cards Okay? While this might have helped Daniel Negreanu win some hands, licking cards isn't a great idea in reality. While it may help you read invisible ink writing on the cards, it won't. What it will do is mark the cards, making you commit a rather serious offense. Don't do it.
  • Does SnapGearing Qualify as a Hand? While you can wear clothes with pockets to the poker table, it's against the rules to reach into your pants by the rulebook. Still, players have gotten away with it in the past and haven't been penalized. Whether or not the exact situation will be ruled in your favor is debatable. Our advice: don't risk it.
  • What About String Bets? While string bets or raises aren't explicitly forbidden, they can cause issues. For instance, if you put a small bet out there and then lean forward to say you're actually raising, someone else may call your initial bet before you've had a chance to come back and raise. To avoid this, you need to make sure your deliberate actions represent your final bet from the very beginning.
  • Do You Have to Tip the Dealer? While tipping the dealer isn't covered by the formal set of poker rules, it's considered good manners to leave a tip if you've had a good run at their table. A general guideline is to tip the dealer the equivalent of large denomination chips you've received during the hand, e.g. if you've been mainly playing $25 chips, leaving a $25 tip would be appropriate.

Poker Rules by Variation

While Texas Hold'em is the most popular version of the game today, it isn't the only one out there. Each poker variant comes with its own set of rules. Below is a quick overview of some of the most commonly played poker games to help you stay out of trouble.

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How Not to Break Poker Rules: Etiquette Tips

While knowing official poker rules front and back is important, there's much more to being a considerate and successful poker player. Today, we'd like to share a few tips on how to treat others the way you'd like to be treated at the poker table.

  1. Don’t Lean on the Table. Poker tables aren't designed to hold up against leaning players. Furthermore, this behavior can be annoying for the people next to you, obstruct their view of the cards, and even slow down the game.
  2. Avoid Splashing the Pot. When you put your chips into the middle, try to do it in a manner that lets every player see how much you're putting in and what your bet actually is. Splashing the pot - throwing your chips in aimlessly - makes it hard for the dealer and other players to determine the amount of your bet.
  3. Don’t Use Your Mobile Phone at the Table. It goes without saying cell phones weren't around when poker was invented. Even today, mobile devices aren't allowed at the table. Besides being impolite to your fellow competitors, using your phone may also give you an unfair edge by allowing you to look up poker hand rankings or some strategic hints.
  4. Don’t Ask the Player to Show Their Cards. If you suspect the other player has a better combination of cards than you do and you're hoping they'll prove you right by showing their hand, think again. Asking a player to show their cards is a big no-no. The only time a player is obligated to display their cards is during a showdown and even then some players may muck their hand without saying a word.
  5. Protect Your Hand. Dead cards - also known as muck - is the area close to the dealer where losing combinations go to die. It is your duty to dispose of your losing hand there as soon as possible and protect your winning hand until it gets sealed in the pot. If your opponent bets and you want to call, you place your chips on top of his and are thus protecting your cards. Only after the bet is covered and you've placed your chips in the middle can the dealer collect everyone's cards. If your opponent folds before the chips are in the pot, you don't have to protect your hand because it wouldn't see a rally.
  6. Keep Your Actions Private. Another thing that wasn't accounted for in the early days of poker was players changing their minds multiple times before making a decision. Unlike movies and TV shows, real life doesn't allow you to speak your actions into existence. Changing your mind multiple times before finally folding while letting everyone know you were considering raising twice before going for a check-raise instead and, ultimately, deciding to call isn't allowed. Why? Because this gives information to the player acting last and it should only be they who decide whether or not to call you based on your final action.
  7. Don't Ask to See Other Player's Chips. You can ask the dealer to verify how many chips a player has put into the pot but you aren't allowed to ask the player directly. Similarly, players are not obliged to show you how many chips are left in their stack once an action is complete. Some people like to keep track of their chips mentally; others prefer using a chip rack. Whatever helps them manage their bankroll is fine as long as it doesn't break any poker rules.
  8. Don't Exploit Good Luck. No matter how lucky you may be feeling, rubbing your good fortune in other players' faces isn't a good idea. Reminding the others how many strong hands you've been dealt lately or how many times you hit the flush on the river may make you feel special but it can easily antagonize your opponents and spoil the atmosphere at the table. Plus, being cocky may make your opponents try extra hard to beat you.
  9. Be Quiet While a Player Is Making Up Their Minds. Once it's your turn, you need to make a decision and announce your actions before the next player acts. During this time, you aren't allowed to conversation with anyone at the table except for asking the dealer for a density chart or a new deck, asking another player what the big sweep means (and similar questions that concern everyone), or thanking your lucky stars. Anything else may buy you time or confuse your opponents, thereby giving you an unfair advantage.
  10. Don’t Ask the Dealer to Make Decisions for You. If you're checks balls and you can't decide whether to bet, raise, or fold, don't sit there in silence. The time to act has passed and now it's up to you to make a choice. Don't ask the dealer what you should do because this will only buy you another round of thinking time during a tournament or force the player acting after you to fold, thereby costing you a potential win.

Poker Cheating: Don'ts and Do's

We've talked about poker rules and poker etiquette, but what about poker cheating? Unfortunately, this is something that plagues the industry from underground games to the , so understanding the dos and don'ts of this murky area is essential. First and foremost, we want to stress that any form of deception at the table is strictly prohibited and those found guilty of cheating can lose their entire bankroll plus face legal consequences. So, what qualifies as cheating in poker?

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Types of Poker Cheating

  • Marking cards so that you can see your hand afterwards. This can include bending the cards, creasing them in such a way as to make a distinction between, for example, tens and faces, or simply writing runs of the cards on them.
  • Marking cards secretly in your mind. If you memorize the cards so well that you can instantly distinguish them afterwards, you may be seen as engaging in underhanded practices.
  • Using marks on the table to figure out where certain cards are located.
  • Switching cards, either by swapping them with another player or sneakily replacing the cards in the middle with better ones.
  • Secretly glancing at your cards when the handler isn't looking.
  • Making nonverbal agreements with other players by signalling them through gestures, eye contact, etc.
  • Taking more than the allotted time to make a decision in order to figure out what the best course of action is.
  • Wearing special glasses that allow you to see through the cards.
  • Tearing cards after declaring folding, hoping to catch a glimpse of the bottom card in the process.
  • Claiming to have put more chips into the pot than you actually have (shorting the pot); likewise, accusing someone else of shorting the pot is frowned upon if it can't be proven.
  • Stealing chips, either accidentally (hoping nobody will notice) or deliberately.
  • Changing the value of your chips after placing them down, for example, claiming that the $5 chips you've put in the middle are actually $25 pieces.
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Poker Rules FAQs

What are the basic rules of poker?

Is hitting on 16 and being dealt Blackjack considered breaking poker rules?

Does getting 21 immediately mean you automatically win?

Can you ask for another card if you got 21 right away?

Is separating two 10s before seeing what the dealer gets allowed?

What is peeking in poker?

Is touching your cards prioritized over speaking in poker?

Should you tip the dealer at the end of a good round?

Are there designated poker dealers or does it rotate?

Can you ask the dealer for suggestions on how to play a hand?

What is a cut in poker?

Who deals the first hand in a poker game?

What is a misdeal in poker?

Are house rules binding in poker?

Which poker hand is the winner?

When do you split in poker?

Is it against poker rules to make your action known out of turn?

Who has the right to expose their cards first if two players turn their hands face up simultaneously?

Do you have to pay to call the bet even if you have nothing?

Is pretending to toss chips into the pot before actually putting them in binding in poker?

What is the difference between a miscall and a sleight in poker?

Is it allowed to expose all or part of the chips meant for the call before the chip(s) for the raise?

Can you throw your cards in the muck and then ask for them to be returned?

What is a dead chip in poker?

Where can I play poker online?