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card game, believed to have originated in Asia and first played in the United States in the 19th cent. A traditional cutthroat gambling game at first, it is now also an internationally popular social pastime.

Basic Rules

Poker is fundamentally a gambling game and is played either for money or for chips purchased from the game's banker. In all of the many variations there are betting rounds during which each player in the game must fold (stop playing the hand), call (equal the bet made), or raise (increase the bet made). All bets are placed together to form a pot. The object of all poker games is to win the pot either by holding the best hand or by inducing (bluffing) the others to drop.

The two basic forms are draw poker and stud poker, in both of which a deck of 52 cards is used and sometimes a joker added. Five players are said to make the best game, although from 2 to 10 are able to play at once. All suits are equal, and cards rank from the ace as high (it is also low) down through the two, or deuce. Often deuces are designated "wild," thereby counting (at the holder's option) for any other card.

There are 2,598,960 possible poker hands with 52 cards. In both draw and stud poker the player who holds in his hand the best combination of cards wins the game. The principal combinations rank as follows: straight flush (a five-card sequence in one suit, e.g., the ace, king, queen, jack and ten, also called a royal flush, the highest possible combination in the game), four of a kind (e.g., four aces), full house (three of a kind plus a pair), flush (five of one suit), straight (a five-card sequence regardless of suit), three of a kind, two pairs, and one pair. Below this, pots are won by the hand holding the highest cards.

Draw Poker

In draw poker five cards are dealt singly, face down and in rotation, to each player who has paid an ante to the pot before play began. Betting proceeds in clockwise fashion from the player at the dealer's left, who may either put up an opening wager or check (defer to the next player). Once a player has opened the betting, the others must call the opening player's bet to stay in the game. In jackpots, perhaps the commonest variety of draw poker, a player must have at least a pair of jacks to open.

At the conclusion of the first round of betting, a player may now stand pat (hold his or her five original cards) or draw from one to four cards from the stack (after discarding the same number from the hand). Another betting interval follows, beginning with the opener. If a bet is not met, the winner is not required to show his or her hand. When a bet is called, all hands are shown and the best hand wins.

Stud Poker

In stud poker, sometimes called open poker, each player is dealt singly one card down (the hole card) and one card face up. Each player looks at the card he or she has in the hole, but lets it remain face down. The player with the highest card showing starts a betting interval, and when all players have completed their betting, another card is dealt face up. This goes on until each player has four cards showing and one face down. After the final betting interval, the hole cards are exposed and the best hand wins. The many variations of poker include high-low poker, seven-card stud poker, and spit-in-the-ocean.


See A. H. Morehead, The Complete Guide to Winning Poker (1967); A. N. Darling, The Great American Pastime (1970); J. McManus, Cowboys Full: The Story of Poker (2009).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.


a metal rod, usually with a handle, for stirring a fire


a card game of bluff and skill in which bets are made on the hands dealt, the highest-ranking hand (containing the most valuable combinations of sequences and sets of cards) winning the pool
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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