The Truth About Poker Rules Every Player Needs to Know

The Truth About Poker Rules Every Player Needs to Know

The great thing about poker is that the basic Texas Hold’em poker rules are really easy to learn. Most games proceed down similar paths, and you won’t have to worry too much about consulting your poker rule book.

When weird things happen, though, you should feel comfortable knowing that there are still poker rules set up to deal with them. What’s hard to know, though, is how any given house is going to handle those stranger poker rules.

It’s really easy to feel like the more obscure poker rules are mysterious, but the truth is that they do tend to have at least some basic reasoning behind them. They exist to deal with those anomalies at play that can end up putting one player or another’s money in danger – and that’s a good thing.

Because these poker rules are so relatively obscure, people spend a long time trying to figure out why they work. This is good as well, as knowledgeable players are less problematic in poker tournaments and friendly poker games.

What we’re going to work on is becoming the type of player who knows how to deal with the more obscure poker rules in Texas Hold’em poker. It doesn’t matter if you’re playing in cash poker games or in bigger poker tournaments – having this kind of knowledge is going to make you an asset at the table.

Poker Rules: Various Universal Issues

There are plenty of common problems, so we’re going to deal with them one by one. We’ll start with the beginning of the game and those poker rules that surround dealing cards.

Flashed Card Rules

What happens when a dealer accidentally flashes a card while dealing? It’s very common, especially when you’re playing in friendly poker games, after all. Fortunately, there are a handful of reasonable poker rules to handle this situation. The general poker rules for this situation are as follows:

The dealer should turn the revealed card face-up in front of the player to whom it was dealt.
The dealer will keep dealing out the rest of the cards to the rest of the players.
The dealer will then deal one more card to the player with the flashed card, face down.
The flashed card becomes the first card to be ‘burned’ during the flop.

What happens if there’s another flashed card? Under most poker rules, this is going to become a misdeal and dealing will follow the rules below.

Dealer Misdeals

If a dealer makes a huge mistake, he or she is going to have to take back all the cards and start over with a new deck. These are the situations that can cause a misdeal:

The dealer flashes one of the first two cards to get dealt.
More than one card gets flashed.
The dealer starts dealing to the wrong position.
One or more player receives the wrong number of cards.

Technically, a dealer is allowed to solve misdeal problems if he or she can do so without impacting how the hand is played. If the dealer deals to the wrong player first but he or she hasn’t seen the cards, the dealer can just move the cards over. If the dealer deals to a seat that’s empty that hand can just get folded. It’s usually better to keep play going when possible.

Marked Card Poker Rules

A subset of the same problems that occur with misdealing has to do with marked cards. These are not cards that a player marks on purpose – that’s just cheating. Instead, these are cards that have somehow been marked by the process of play, and having them out gives other players too much of an advantage.

It’s important to note that play doesn’t immediately get stopped if a marked card is noticed. Once the card is identified, that round of play will continue as it always does. When the hand is finished, though, the new card has to be replaced. In larger tournaments, this can actually be done by just bringing in a new card of the same suit and value. In other games, though, the entire deck will have to be replaced.

Dealing in an Extra Hand

This is kind of a silly thing to argue about, but it’s actually very common. When players come and go from a table, dealers can make mistakes. They can deal a hand to an empty seat, or they can deal one extra even when there’s never been a player in the game. What do you do?

Typically, you just ignore it. It’s a dead hand, and you can just move on. As long as no one has seen the hand, there’s really been no harm done.

Betting and Raising Rules

poker rules raising

Some of the most important poker rules are about betting and raising. Let’s take a look at how the poker rules that are used in most poker tournaments. Rules you encounter will include:

Pot Limit and No Limit games allow unlimited raises.
Check-raising is usually allowed unless you are playing specific low-ball games.
Limit games typically allow one bet and three raises.
In most games, raising will be capped after the third raise.
The exception to rule #4 is in heads-up play.
Once raising is capped, it stays that way no matter what – even if folding makes the play hit a heads-up situation.
If you’re playing a limit game, someone going all-in with less than half a bet doesn’t re-open betting.
If you’re looking at less than half a bet, you can call, complete the bet, or you can fold.
If someone goes all-in with half a bet, it’s considered a full bet.
The smallest chip you can use in a wager is the small chip that can be used elsewhere in the game (rakes, collections, antes, etc).
The chips that you use for tipping can’t be played in even quantity.
The player’s words matter. If a player makes a verbal declaration of his or her actions, that’s the action that has to be taken.
Rapping on the table with one’s knuckles counts as a check.
Players who act out of turn on purpose will be punished according to the rules of the house.
If a player puts chips into the pot, the player is bound by that bet.
In many poker rooms, pushing your chips forward in any way counts as a bet or a call.
Players must put their entire bet into the pot with one motion. No string bets are allowed.
Players have to announce their raises. If a player puts a chip into the pot that is bigger than the call without announcing the raise, it’s still a call.
Wagers and calls that are too small have to be fixed before the betting round ends.

Betting the Nuts on the River

This is one of those rules that you don’t actually see in play very often – unless you like to play in poker tournaments. In these cases, you’ll actually see this one called quite a bit. You can play a good bit and not deal with this rule, so it’s good to know that it exists if and when you encounter this specific type of play.

If you’re sitting with the best possible hand (the nuts) on the last round of betting, it’s an unwritten rule of poker that you have to bet. This is not an enforced rule everywhere – you see it in high-level professional tournaments – but it’s always considered a breach of etiquette if you fail to follow it.

This one might require a little bit of explanation for new players. Let’s say that you’ve got an unbeatable hand given the board – four aces when there’s no chance of a royal flush on the board, for example – and it’s your turn to play. Since absolutely no one can beat you, you’re not supposed to check. If you do, you can be penalized.

Why does this rule exist? Generally, it’s supposed to stop you from colluding with other players to help them win. The vast majority of the time, though, the player who does this does it because he or she doesn’t know poker rules well enough to tell that he or she has an unbeatable poker hand.

The problem with letting this slide is that it always impacts how other players participate in the game. When you do this kind of soft play, you’re not encouraging the kind of basic fair play that is required in poker tournaments and you certainly aren’t giving all the players an equal chance to act on the real information present on the board.

This rule can actually get a little bit more intense in some tournaments. If you are facing a bet and you have the best possible hand on the board, you are technically supposed to raise rather than call. Again, this is because choosing to call looks like you’re trying to save the other player money and that looks like collusion to most players.

Try to remember that all of this only applies if you are in the last poker position. It’s totally viable to try to check-raise and take money from other players. The only thing you can’t do is check around if you are the last person to go in the last round of betting.

Poker Showdown Rules

poker rules showdown

There are also some very specific rules for handling showdowns. These include:

Players have to show all of their cards face-up on the table to take the pot.
Players have the hand denoted by their cards, not their statements.
Dealers are responsible for reading the hands and declaring the winner.
Players must hold onto their cards until a winner is determined.
Miscalling a hand on purpose can lead to forfeiting the pot, depending on house rules.
Anyone at or near the table who sees the wrong amount of chips put into the pot is obliged to note the error.
Dealers have to kill losing hands before they award the pot.
Only the dealer can toss a winning hand. If a player mucks the winning hand before he or she is declared winner, that player will forfeit the pot to the next highest hand still in play.
Players may request to see any hand that’s been called even if it has been mucked. Even if allowed, this is still considered to be in poor taste.
If a player shows his or her cards to one player, every player at the table has the right to see those cards.
The player who took the final aggressive move on the last round of betting is the first to show his or her hand during the showdown. Generally, this means that the player who raised has to show the player who called.
If everyone on the final round of betting checks around, everyone has to show their cards in the order of their table position. That means that the player closer to the dealer’s left is the first to show his or her cards.
Slow-rolling is considered a breach of good taste and fair play. If you have the best possible hand on the table, it’s only ethical to show it as soon as the showdown starts. While you can slow roll, it’s a great way to get on the bad side of the dealer.

There are also very specific showdown rules that control who shows his or her hand at a showdown. These rules tend to vary wildly, and some of them are entirely informal. For example, an experienced player who is at a hand with new players is always supposed to show his or her hand first just to keep the game going.

With that said, there are some fairly hard and fast rules that can get you out of a bind when no one is willing to show their cards. These include:

Showing cards should always start with the first person to check around in those situations in which none of the players raised. From there, players must show their hands moving counter-clockwise.
When betting occurs in the final round, the last aggressive player has to show his or her hand. While this is in line with the rule stated above, it’s important to know where to go next. Typically speaking, play will proceed from the player’s left rather than in order of the remaining aggressive moves.

Dead Poker Hand Poker Rules

Dead hands are among the most difficult things to deal with in poker rules. Honestly, there are a handful of situations that can kill a hand and it’s very important that you know them all. You need to know how to keep your hand alive more than anything else – otherwise, you’re going to kill your cards.

How do you keep a hand alive? Generally, just hold onto them. If you’re not holding them, put a chip on top of them. Below are the situations that can cause your live hand to die:

Announcing that you fold automatically kills your hand.
If you throw your hand forward and another player acts, your hand is dead.
If you are playing stud and place your cards face down together, you are indicating that your hand is dead.
If you have the wrong number of cards in your hand during a game, your hand will be declared live except in those situations in which the hand might be declared a lowball hand.
If a player has a joker in the pocket and the joker is not part of the game, the hand is dead. It’s the player’s responsibility to determine if the cards in his or her hand are actually active cards in the game.
If the player exceeds the clock in a timed game and fails to bet or raise, the player’s hand is dead.
If a player’s cards touch the muck pile, the cards are declared dead.
If a player folds due to a lie on the part of another player, the player can actually retrieve his or her cards from the pile if someone on the floor decides to allow it and it’s possible to identify those cards from the others in the pile.
If a player throws his or her cards into another player’s unprotected cards, the throwing player’s cards are considered dead.

All-In Poker Rules

At some point, you’re going to hit an all-in situation. There are some very specific rules that you’ll follow, especially when you’re dealing with players who have stacks of different sizes. Below are some of the most pertinent all-in poker rules:

If two players are all in with different amounts, you take the small stack from big stack and put it into the pot, then give the remainder of the pot to the player with the big stack.
If a short-stacked player goes all-in against two players with bigger stacks, you take the short stack, the same amount from the other two players, and the blind and put them into the pot. Any one of those three players can win that pot.
In the situation above, the two players with larger stacks can play a side pot that the player with the smaller stack is not eligible to win.
If there are multiple players who go all-in you have to create multiple side pots. The first pot will be made as above, and then you’ll keep making side pots starting with the next smallest stack.

Rules for Tournament Table Balance

These are actually very important rules for anyone who wants to organize a Texas Hold’em poker tournament.

In most poker tournaments, the tables are going to lose players at different rates. If the first table loses two of its players while another player is full, you will need to pull a player from the full table in order to balance things out.

Choosing who moves will require you to do the following:

1) Look at the position of the players.
2) Move the player from the full table who is in the closet position to the space he or she will fill. If the player eliminated from Table 1 was one spot to the right of the button, you should try to move the player who was one spot from the button at Table 2.

It gets a little more difficult when you have to fully merge a table. You’re not just going to be pulling a player from roughly the same spot – you’re going to have to figure out how to reseat everyone. The rules for reseating are as follows:

1) Have players draw for their seats. Generally speaking, the player who draws the highest card will be the first to choose his or her spot.

2) If you are merging into the final table, everyone has to draw for his or her spot. No exceptions.

Poker Rules for Cashing Out Chips

If you’re going to play in cash games, you have to be prepared for players to leave the game. It’s absolutely important to know when you need to cash out – but knowing how you cash out is also very important.

One of the big questions asked by players is whether or not they can cash out a portion of their stack. It makes sense for those who want to save money, but it’s also incredibly disruptive and unfair to the flow of the game. As such, you can’t go south – that is, you cannot just cash out part of your stack.

If you really need to cash out just part of your stack, there is a format you can follow. You can leave the table and cash out your entire stack. Once a specified amount of time has passed, you can buy back in with only a portion of what you had before. This is called recycling, and it’s at least a valid (but unloved) part of the play. The time limits are usually long enough that a player will lose any monetary advantage that he or she might get from cashing out part of his or her stack.

Buying Chips from Other Players

poker rules buying

Yes, people try to do this. And yes, this is a tremendously bad idea.

No, you cannot buy your chips from another player. Yes, You can buy chips from the house or you can buy chips from the dealer. You cannot take chips out of the game by going south. You cannot take chips out of the game by buying from another person at the table. Only one person should be handling money in your game, and that’s the dealer.

Buying the Button Rules

If we’re talking about money, we should probably talk about buying the buttons. Yes, it’s possible to buy the button if you’re willing to pay both the small and big blinds. You’ll need to check house rules to see if this is allowed, but it’s a good way to grab the button instead of waiting for it to come to you.

Dealing with Stacks Below Blind Size

At some point, a player’s stack might get smaller than even the small blind. What does this mean for game-play?

Generally, it means that the player has to go all-in on the next hand from that point forward.

If the player has a stack that’s smaller than the big blind, they’ll be stuck going all-in as long as they are in any position other than the small blind.

When the player goes all-in, the player can only win as much money as is in his or her stack – plus the amount from call and blinds. Therefore, the player doesn’t pick up any more of the blind than they’ve got in their stack. Yes, this is confusing but it works out in the end.

Getting Rid of Small-Value Chips

At some point in tournament play, the little chips become irrelevant. You’ll need a whole stack of them just to pay a blind, so they’re no longer needed. This is generally done by switching them out for bigger chips.

Start this process by checking to see that these chips are obsolete. If they actually are, exchange as many of the smaller chips for bigger chips as you can. You’ll have to have a chip race with the remaining chips.

Poker Chip Racing

Chips racing is something that’s done in most major Texas Hold’em poker tournaments. The dealer is going to grab all of the odd small value chips from the table and figure out how much they are worth. Once the dealer is done, he or she will bring out the equivalent value of big chips.

Next, the dealer will start on his or her left and deal that player a number of cards equal to the number of odd chips that they have. These cards are dealt face-up. The dealer will do the same for each player who has an odd small chip.

The player who has the highest-value card facing gets one of the new, large-denomination chips. The player with the highest card will then get one, and so on. Each player can only win one chip. This can be a really fun way to deal with these left-over chips, though it’s not always used. In some cases, the tournament will just let every player round up his or her chips to get the appropriate value.

Mistakes with Turning and Burning

Cards in Texas Hold’em poker are dealt in a very specific way, even when those cards are community cards. Each specific type of mistake has its own specific solution. These include:

1) Turning without Burning: If a dealer puts out a turn card and doesn’t burn anything first, it’s basically treated like a flash. The dealer must show this card to the entire table, and then burn it. The dealer will then deal as normal.

2) Two Cards Burned: if the dealer burns two cards and then deals a third, the third card is considered as flashed. This card will then become the top burned card on the river. The second card burned by the dealer will then become the valid turn card.

3) Two Cards Burned, Two Cards Shown: This is a pretty big mistake, and not one that you’re likely to see with a professional dealer. If this happens – and it shouldn’t – the card that ought to be the turn will go back to the top of the deck. The first card that should have been the river burn will become the flash card and it will be turned face down. The second card ends up as river.

This is incredibly confusing, but it does make sure that all of the relevant cards get put into play. Again, you really aren’t very likely to see this incredibly rare turn of events – but if you do, it’s good to know that there are actually poker rules for handling the situation!

Final Thoughts

The good news is that all of these Texas Hold’em poker rules are fairly easy to parse. The bad news, though, is that every poker room and tournament can choose whether or not to implement them as they like. Poker rules always vary in different casinos as well as different poker games, so it’s a good idea to read the poker rules before you sit down at the table. A little research can save you a lot of heartache. See you at the WSOP!


Poker Rules – FAQ

Who has to show cards first in poker?

If you called someone, the other person has to show first. However, if it’s all-in in a tournament, nobody has to show first, just turn your cards up. If it’s all-in in a cash game, the losing hand doesn’t have to show.

Does the dealer deal the cards to the right or left?

Dealer deals cards to the left.

Where does the dealer button start in poker?

It will usually start in Seat 10 in a ten-handed game, making Seat 1 and Seat 2 the small blind and the big blind, respectively. The dealer button will usually start in Seat 9 in a nine-handed game.

Can you raise twice in poker?

Yes. If you raise and someone else raises, you can raise them back.

Author: Andrew Smith