How to Bet Poker
Poker, perhaps more than any other casino game, requires you to have a solid knowledge of rules and strategies in order to leave the table a winner. Strong, disciplined players will consistently overpower weak players, so the more practice you have, either in live play or online, the better your chances of raking in the pot. You need to be able to not only identify the value of your own hand, but to decide whether it's worth your money to stay in or fold, and what the chances are of drawing to that inside straight.
At most card clubs and poker rooms, a dealer handles the cards, and a marker, called a “button,” is passed around the table to the left to denote which player is acting as dealer for a given hand. Sometimes, the player-dealer is selected by dealing the cards face-up until a joker lands in front of a player; that player then becomes the first dealer, and the action begins to his or her left.
General Rules for Betting
In most versions of poker, you ante for the right to play before the cards are dealt; the amount you ante depends on the table limits. Some games call for a “forced bring-in,” in which a player is required to bet to start the action; in seven-card stud, the player with the lowest up-card has to make the forced bring-in to get things started. Other games, like Texas Hold'em and Omaha, have blind bets, which are similar to the bring-in; blinds are paid by the player or players to the left of the dealer's button.
When you sit down to a game with blinds, the dealer will ask if you want to “post.” This means you pay a blind bet to see the cards before the regular betting starts. You are not required to post. Your best option is to say no, which means you will not be dealt any cards. Instead you will watch the game until the action comes around to you again.
After the antes, bring-ins, and blinds, betting rules vary according to the version of poker you're playing. In general, for each betting round, you have the option to check (stay in the game but not bet), call (match the previous player's bet), raise (match the previous player's bet and add another bet), or fold (withdraw from the game and forfeit any bets you've already made).
The rules for placing bets in public poker clubs and card rooms are more stringent than those you may be used to following at home. In a game with friends, you might be accustomed to making “string bets” — that is, bets that start out as calls but turn into raises, as in, “I see your dollar, and I raise you another dollar.” This is a huge no-no at a card room. Unless you announce the size of your bet before you place your chips, you aren't allowed to double-dip from your stack; you can't call and then decide to raise. In the card room, once you declare your wager, either verbally or by the amount of chips you push forward, you can't change your mind.
Understanding Betting Limits
Betting limits usually are either “spread limit” or “structured-limit.” Spread limits are expressed as a range, such as $1 to $5. This means that the minimum bet is $1, the maximum bet is $5, and players are free to bet or raise anything in between. Structured limits also look like a range, but are distinguishable from spreads because the higher number usually is double the lower number (e.g., $2–$4 or $3–$6). In structured-limit games, bets and raises are made at the lower limit in early rounds and at the higher limit in later rounds; players decide whether to bet or raise, but the amount of the bet or raise is determined by the limit.
In card rooms and poker clubs, only the dealer is allowed to touch the pot. When you make a bet, don't toss your chips into the pot; instead, place them in front of you. This allows the dealer to make sure you have the right number of chips for your ante or bet.
Most public poker games are played with table stakes, which means you can bet only the money you have on the table, and you must wait to buy more chips until the table is between hands. If you run out of chips in the middle of a hand, the dealer will announce that you are “all in.” You're still eligible to win the pot, but if other players continue to bet, their chips will be placed “on the side” in a new pot, and you cannot win that pool of money.
It's a good idea to start out playing at the lowest-limit table you can find. Learning to play in a public game can be nerve-wracking enough without worrying about whether you can afford to lose your bankroll. Use the low-stakes games to hone your skills, and move on to higher-stakes games when you have some experience behind you.