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Betting (poker)

This article describes only the common terms, rules, and procedures of betting in poker. See poker strategy for the strategic impact of betting.

In the game of poker, the play largely centers around the act of betting, and as such, a protocol has been developed to speed play, lessen confusion, and increase security while playing. Different games are played using different types of bets, and small variations in etiquette exist between cardrooms, but for the most part the following rules and protocol are observed by the majority of poker players.

Procedure

Players in a poker game act in turn, in clockwise rotation (acting out of turn can negatively affect other players). When it is a player's turn to act, the first verbal declaration or action he takes binds him to his choice of action; this rule prevents a player from changing his action after seeing how other players react to his initial action.

Until the first bet is made each player in turn may "check," which is to not place a bet, or "open," which is to make the first bet. After the first bet each player may "fold," which is to drop out of the hand losing any bets they have already made; "call," which is to match the highest bet so far made; or "raise," which is to increase the previous high bet.

A player may fold by surrendering his cards (some games may have specific rules regarding how to fold--for example, in stud poker one must turn one's upcards face down). A player may check by tapping the table or making any similar motion. All other bets are made by placing chips in front of the player, but not directly into the pot ("splashing the pot" prevents other players from verifying the bet amount).

Open

The act of making the first voluntary bet in a betting round is called opening the round. On the first betting round, it is also called opening the pot, though in variants where blind bets are common, the blind bets "open" and other players call and/or raise the "big blind" bet. Some poker variations have special rules about opening a round that may not apply to other bets. For example, a game may have a betting structure that specifies different allowable amounts for opening than for other bets, or may require a player to hold certain cards (such as "Jacks or better") to open.

Call

To call is to match a bet or a raise. A betting round ends when all active players have bet an equal amount or no opponents call a player's bet or raise. If no opponents call a player's bet or raise, the player wins the pot.

The second and subsequent calls of a particular bet amount are sometimes called overcalls. This term is also sometimes used to describe a call made by a player who has put money in the pot for this round already. A player calling a raise before he or she has invested money in the pot in that round is cold calling. For example, if in a betting round, Alice bets, Bob raises, and Carol calls, Carol "calls two bets cold". A player calling instead of raising with a strong hand is smooth calling, a form of slow play.

Calling when a player thinks he does not have the best hand is called a crying call.

In public cardrooms and casinos where verbal declarations are binding, the word "call" is such a declaration. In public card rooms, the practice of saying "I call, and raise $100" is considered a string raise and is not allowed. Saying "I call" commits the player to the action of calling, and only calling.

Note that the verb "see" can often be used instead of "call": "Bob saw Carol's bet", although the latter can also be used with the bettor as the object: "I'll see you" means 'I will call your bet'. However, terms such as "overseeing" and "cold seeing" are not valid.

Check

If no one has yet opened the betting round, a player may pass or check, which is equivalent to calling the current bet of zero. When checking, a player declines to make a bet; this indicates that he does not wish to open, but does wish to keep his cards and retain the right to call or raise later in the same round if an opponent opens. In games played with blinds, players may not check on the opening round because the blinds are live bets and must be called or raised to remain in the hand. A player who has posted the big blind has the right to raise on the first round, called the option, if no other player has raised; if he declines to raise he is said to check his option. If all players check, the betting round is over with no additional money placed in the pot (often called a free round or free card). A common way to signify checking is to tap the table with a fist, knuckles or an open hand.

Raise

To raise is to increase the size of the bet required to stay in the pot, forcing all subsequent players to call the new amount. If the current bet amount is nothing, this action is considered the opening bet. A player making the second (not counting the open) or subsequent raise of a betting round is said to re-raise.

Standard poker rules require that raises must be at least equal to the amount of the previous bet or raise. For example, if an opponent bets $5, a player may raise by another $5 (or more), but he may not raise by only $2. The primary purpose of the minimum raise rule is to avoid game delays caused by "nuisance" raises (small raises of large bets, such as an extra $1 over a current bet of $50, that have little effect on the action but take time as all others must call). This rule is overridden by table stakes rules, so that a player may in fact raise a $5 bet by $2 if that $2 is his entire remaining stake.

In most casinos, fixed-limit and spread-limit games cap the total number of raises allowed in a single betting round (typically three or four, not including the opening bet of a round). For example in a casino with a three-raise rule, if one player opens the betting for $5, the next raises by $5 making it $10, a third player raises another $5, and a fourth player raises $5 again making the current bet $20, the betting is said to be capped at that point, and no further raises beyond the $20 level will be allowed on that round. It is common to suspend this rule when there are only two players betting in the round (called being heads-up), since either player can call the last raise if they wish. Pot-limit and no-limit games do not have a limit on the number of raises.

If, because of opening or raising, there is an amount bet that the player in-turn has not paid, the player must at least match that amount, or must fold; the player cannot pass or call a lesser amount.

Fold

To fold is to discard one's hand and forfeit interest in the current pot. No further bets are required by the folding player, but the player cannot win. Folding may be indicated verbally or by discarding one's hand face down into the pile of other discards called the muck, or into the pot (uncommon). For this reason it is also called mucking. In stud poker played in the United States, it is customary to signal folding by turning all of one's cards face down. In casinos in the United Kingdom, a player folds by giving his hand as is to the "house" dealer, who will spread the hand's upcards for the other players to see before mucking them.

Etiquette

Action and Betting

When participating in the hand, a player is expected to keep track of the betting action. Losing track of the amount needed to call, called the bet to the player, happens occasionally, but multiple occurrences of this slow the game down and so it is discouraged. The dealer may be given the responsibility of tracking the current bet amount, from which each player has only to subtract his contribution, if any, thus far.

To aid players in tracking bets, and to ensure all players have bet the correct amount, players stack the amount they have bet in the current round in front of them. When the betting round is over (a common phrase is "the pot's good"), the players will push their stacks into the pot or the dealer will gather them into the pot. Tossing chips directly into the pot (known as splashing the pot), though popular in film and television depictions of the game, causes confusion over the amount of a raise and can be used to hide the true amount of a bet. Likewise, string raises, or the act of raising by first placing chips to call and then adding chips to raise, causes confusion over the amount bet. Both actions are generally prohibited at casinos and discouraged at least in other cash games.

Acting out of turn

Most actions (calls, raises or folds) occurring out-of-turn - when players to the right of the player acting have not yet made decisions as to their own action - are considered improper, for several reasons. First, since actions by a player give information to other players, acting out of turn gives the person in turn information that he normally would not have, to the detriment of players who have already acted. In some games, even folding in turn when a player has the option to check (because there is no bet facing the player) is considered folding out of turn since it gives away information which, if the player checked, other players would not have.

For instance, say that with three players in a hand, Player A has a weak hand but decides to try a bluff with a large opening bet. Player C then folds out of turn while Player B is making up his mind. Player B now knows that if he folds, A will take the pot, and also knows that he cannot be re-raised if he calls. This may encourage Player B, if he has a good "drawing hand" (a hand currently worth nothing but with a good chance to improve substantially in subsequent rounds), to call the bet, to the disadvantage of Player A.

Second, calling or raising out of turn, in addition to the information it provides, assumes all players who would act before the out of turn player would not exceed the amount of the out-of-turn bet. This may not be the case, and would result in the player having to bet twice in order to cover preceding raises, causing confusion.

Cards

A player is never required to expose his concealed cards when folding or if all others have folded; this is only required at the showdown. A player may of course choose to show his hole cards in either circumstance, however, this tells other players whether or not the player was bluffing, and if other players are still in the game, it tells others that those cards are unavailable, which may confer an advantage to one or more players.

Many casinos and public cardrooms using a house dealer require players to protect their hands. This is done either by holding the cards or, if they are on the table, by placing a chip or other object on top. Unprotected hands in such situations are generally considered folded and are mucked by the dealer when action reaches the player. This can spark heated controversy, and is rarely done in private games.

The style of game generally determines whether players should hold face-down cards in their hands or leave them on the table. Holding "hole" cards allows players to view them more quickly and thus speeds up gameplay, but spectators watching over a player's shoulder can communicate the strength of that hand to other players, even unintentionally. Unwary players can hold their hand such that a "rubbernecker" in an adjacent seat can sneak a peek at the cards. Lastly, given the correct light and angles, players wearing glasses can inadvertently show their opponents their hole cards through the reflection in their glasses. Thus for most poker variants involving a combination of faceup and facedown cards (most variants of stud and community are dealt in this manner), the standard method is to keep hole cards face-down on the table except when it is that player's turn to act. 5 card draw is generally played with hands held by the players at all times.

Cash and Chips

Making change out of the pot is allowed in most games; to avoid confusion, the player should announce his intentions first. Then, if opening or cold calling, the player may exchange a large chip for its full equivalent value out of the pot before placing his bet, or if overcalling may place the chip (announcing that he is calling or raising a lesser amount) and remove the change from his own bet for the round.

Making change should, in general, be done between hands whenever possible, when a player sees he is running low on an oft-used value. The house dealer at casinos often maintains a bank and can make change for a large amount of chips, or in informal games players can make change with each other or with unused chips in the set. This prevents stoppages of play while a player figures change for a bet. Similarly, buying in for an additional amount should be done between hands once the player sees that he will be out of chips within a couple of hands (if buy-ins cannot be handled by the dealer it can take two or three hands for an attendant to bring another tray to the table).

Touching another player's chips without permission is a serious breach of protocol and can result in the player being barred from the casino or even arrested.

Some informal games allow a bet to be made by placing the amount of cash on the table without converting it to chips, as this speeds up play. However, the cash can easily be "ratholed" (removed from play by simply pocketing it) which is normally disallowed, and in casinos leaving cash on a table is a security risk, so many games and virtually all casinos require a formal "buy-in" when a player wishes to increase his or her stake.

Players in home games typically have both cash and chips available; thus, if money for expenses other than bets is needed, such as food, drinks and fresh decks of cards, players typically pay out of pocket. In casinos and public cardrooms, however, the use of cash is restricted, so players often establish a small cache of chips called the "kitty", used to pay for such things. Players contribute a chip of lowest value towards the kitty when they win a pot, and it pays for expenses other than bets such as "rent" (formally known as time fees), tipping the dealer when he leaves, buying fresh decks of cards (some public cardrooms include this cost in the "rake" or other fees, while others charge for decks), and similar costs.

Other rules

Public cardrooms have additional rules designed to speed up play, earn revenue for the casino (such as the "rake"), improve security and discourage cheating.

Forced bets

All poker games require some forced bets in order to create an initial stake for the players to contest. The requirements for forced bets, and the betting limits of the game (see below) are collectively called the game's betting structure.

Ante

An ante is a forced bet in which each player places an equal amount of money or chips into the pot before the deal begins. Often this is either a single unit (a one-value or the smallest value in play) or some other small amount; a percentage such as half or one-quarter of the minimum bet is also common. An ante paid by each player ensures that a player who folds every round will lose money (though slowly), thus providing each player with an incentive, however small, to play the hand rather than toss it in when the opening bet reaches them.

Antes are the most common forced bet in draw poker and stud poker, and are uncommon in games featuring blind bets (see next section). However, some tournament formats of games featuring blinds will impose an ante to discourage extremely tight play. Without the ante in such games, a player who has not paid a blind can toss in his hand at no cost to him; the ante ensures that doing so too often is a losing proposition. With antes, more players stay in the hand, which increases pot size and makes for more interesting play (important in a televised tournament final).

In games where the acting dealer changes each turn, it is not uncommon for the players to agree that the dealer (or some other position relative to the button) provides the ante for each player. This simplifies betting, but causes minor inequities if other players come and go or miss their turn to deal. During such times, the player can be given a special button indicating the need to pay an ante to the pot (known as "posting"; see below) upon their return.

Blinds

A blind or blind bet is a forced bet placed into the pot by one or more players before the deal begins, in a way that simulates bets made during play. The most common use of blinds as a betting structure calls for two blinds: the player after the dealer blinds about half of what would be a normal bet, and the next player blinds what would be a whole bet. This two-blind structure, sometimes with antes, is the dominating structure of play for community card poker games such as Texas hold-em. Sometimes only one blind is used (often informally as a "price of winning" the previous hand), and sometimes three are used (this is sometimes seen in Omaha). In the case of three blinds (usually one quarter, one quarter, and half a normal bet amount), the first blind goes "on the button", that is, is paid by the dealer.

For example, in a $2–4 limit game, the first player to the dealer's left (who, if not for the blinds, would be the first to act) posts a small blind of $1, and the next player in turn posts a big blind of $2. After the cards are dealt, play begins with the next player in turn (third from the dealer), who must either call $2, raise, or fold. When the betting returns to the player who blinded $1, he must equal the bet facing him (toward which he may count his $1), raise, or fold. If there have been no raises when action first gets to the big blind (that is, the bet amount facing him is just the amount of the big blind he posted), the big blind has the ability to raise or check. This right to raise (called the option) occurs only once: if his raise is now called by every player, the first betting round closes as usual.

Similarly to a missed ante, a missed blind due to the player's temporary absence (i.e. for drinks or a restroom break) can be denoted by use of a special button. Upon the player's return, they must pay the applicable blind to the pot for the next hand they will participate in. Note that this is for temporary absences only; if a player leaves the table permanently, special rules govern the assigning of blinds and button (see next subsection).

In some fixed-limit and spread-limit games, especially if three blinds are used, the big blind amount may be less than the normal betting minimum. Players acting after a sub-minimum blind have the right to call the blind as it is, even though it is less than the amount they would be required to bet, or they may raise the amount needed to bring the current bet up to the normal minimum, called completing the bet. For example, a limit game with a $5 minimum bet on the first round might have blinds of $1 and $2. Players acting after the blind may either call the $2, or raise to $5. After the bet is raised to $5, the next raise must be to $10 in accordance with the normal limits.

When a player in the blinds leaves the game

When one or more players pays the small or big blinds for a hand, then after that hand permanently leaves the game (by "busting out" in a tournament or simply calling it a night at a public cardroom), an adjustment is required in the positioning of the blinds and the button. There are three common rule sets to determine this:

  • Simplified - The dealer button moves to the next active player on the left, and the small and big blinds are paid by the first and second players remaining to the left. This is the easiest to track and always rotates the button, but results in "missed blinds". For instance, a player "under the gun" when the player in the big blind busts out ends up paying the small blind; he has "missed" the big blind he would have paid had the leaving player remained in the game. Similarly, a player in the small blind who busts out means the player in the big blind gets the button, missing the small blind.
    • In the special case of three players in a tournament being reduced to the two-player showdown, any leftover blinds from other rules are "written off" and the Simplified method is used, with the player "on the button" paying the small blind.
  • Moving button - As in Simplified, the button moves to the left to the next active player, and the blinds move to the next two active players. However, any "missed blinds" are paid by the player whom they skipped as if they were due for the upcoming hand, with one blind paid per player, per hand, biggest blind first. Any blind a player misses on a given hand because a bigger blind was due will be paid by the player in the following hand. This is the most complex ruleset to implement, especially if multiple players leave, but it is the fairest method overall in terms of paying all due blinds and rotating last action.
  • Dead button - Spots vacated by leaving players who would pay a blind or get the button during the next hand remain open for the purposes of shifting blinds and button. Thus, one or both of the blinds may not be paid in subsequent hands and are considered "dead". When the dealer button moves to an empty seat, it also is considered "dead", and the last active player before the empty seat retains the "privilege of last action" by default. While simple in tournament formats and the most equitable in terms of paying blinds as due and when normally expected, it can result in inequitable strategic situations regarding last action, and becomes harder to track if the table is "open" (players can come and go) as in a casino.

In tournaments, the dead button and moving button rules are common (replacement players are generally not a part of tournaments). Online cash games generally use the simplified moving button as other methods are more difficult to codify and can be abused by players constantly entering and leaving.

Casino card rooms where players can come and go can use any of the three rulesets, though moving button is most common. When a player immediately takes the place of a player who leaves, the player may have the option to either pay the blinds in the leaving player's stead, in which case play continues as if the player never left, or to "sit out" until the button has moved past him, and thus the chair is effectively empty for purposes of the blinds. Many card rooms do not allow new players to sit out as it is highly advantageous for the new player, both to watch one or more hands without obligation to play, and to enter the game in a very "late" position (on their first hand they see all other player's actions except the dealer's). For these reasons, new players must often post a "live" big blind to enter regardless of their position at the table. Other variations on these rules exist.

When there are only two players

The normal rules for positioning the blinds do not apply when there are only two players at the table. The player on the button is always due the small blind, and the other player must pay the big blind. The player on the button is therefore the first to act before the flop, but last to act for all remaining betting rounds.

A special rule is also applied for placement of the button whenever the size of the table shrinks to two players. If three or more players are involved in a hand, and at the conclusion of the hand one or more players have busted out such that only two players remain for the next hand, the position of the button may need to be adjusted to begin heads-up play. The big blind always continues moving to the left, and then the button is positioned accordingly.

For example, in a three-handed game, Alice is the button, Bob is the small blind, and Carol is the big blind. If Alice busts out, the next hand Bob will be the big blind, and the button will skip past Bob and move to Carol. On the other hand, if Carol busts out, Alice will be the big blind, Bob will get the button and will have to pay the small blind for the second hand in a row.

Kill Blind

A kill blind is a special blind bet made by a player who triggers the kill in a kill game (see below). It is often twice the amount of the big blind or minimum bet (known as a full kill), but can be 1.5 times the big blind (a half-kill) or any other amount according to house rules. This blind is "live"; the player posting it normally acts last in the opening round (after the other blinds, regardless of relative position at the table), and other players must call the amount of the kill blind to play. As any player can trigger a kill, there is the possibility that the player must post a kill blind when he is already due to pay one of the other blinds. Rules vary on how this is handled. See kill game for more information.

Bring-in

A bring-in is a type of forced bet that occurs after the cards are initially dealt, but before any other action. One player, usually chosen by the value of cards dealt face up on the initial deal, is forced to open the betting by some small amount, after which players act after him in normal rotation. Because of this random first action, bring-ins are usually used in games with an ante instead of structured blind bets.

The bring-in is normally assigned on the first betting round of a stud poker game to the player whose upcards indicate the poorest hand. For example, in traditional high hand stud games and high-low split games, the player showing the lowest card pays the bring-in. In low hand games, the player with the highest card showing pays the bring-in. The high card by suit order can be used to break ties, but more often the person closest to the dealer in order of rotation pays the bring-in.

In most fixed-limit and some spread-limit games, the bring-in amount is less than the normal betting minimum (often half of this minimum). The player forced to pay the bring-in may choose either to pay only what is required (in which case it functions similarly to a small blind) or to make a normal bet. Players acting after a sub-minimum bring-in have the right to call the bring-in as it is, even though it is less than the amount they would be required to bet, or they may raise the amount needed to bring the current bet up to the normal minimum, called completing the bet. For example, a game with a $5 fixed bet on the first round might have a bring-in of $2. Players acting after the bring-in can either call the $2, or raise to $5. After the bet is raised to $5, the next raise must be to $10 in accordance with the normal limits.

In a game where the bring-in is equal to the fixed bet (this is rare and not recommended), the game must either allow the bring-in player to optionally come in for a raise, or else the bring-in must be treated as live in the same way as a blind, so that the player is guaranteed his right to raise on the first betting round (the "option") if all other players call.

Post

Some cash games, especially with blinds, require a new player to post when joining a game already in progress. Posting in this context means putting an amount equal to the big blind or the minimum bet into the pot before the deal. The post is a "live" bet, meaning that the amount can be applied towards a call or raise when it is the player's turn to act.

A player who is away from his seat and misses one or more blinds is also required to post to reenter the game. In this case, the amount to be posted is the amount of the big or small blind, or both, at the time the player missed them. If both must be posted immediately upon return, the big blind amount is "live", but the small blind amount is "dead", meaning that it cannot be considered in determining a call or raise amount by that player. Some house rules allow posting one blind per hand, largest first, meaning all posts of missed blinds are live.

Posting is usually not required if the player who would otherwise post happens to be in the big blind. This is because the advantage that would otherwise be gained by missing the blind, that of playing several hands before having to pay blinds, is not the case in this situation. It is therefore common for a new player to lock up a seat and then wait several hands before joining a table, or for a returning player to sit out several hands until the big blind comes back around, so that he may enter in the big blind and avoid paying the post. For this same reason, only one set of missed blinds can be accumulated by the player; old missed blinds are removed when the big blind returns to that player's seat because the player was never in any position to gain from missing the blinds.

Straddle and Sleeper bets

A straddle bet is an optional and voluntary blind bet made by a player after posting the small and big blinds, but before cards are dealt. Straddles are typically used only in cash games played with fixed blind structures. Straddles are normally not permitted in tournament formats. The purpose of a straddle is to "buy" the privilege of last action, which on the first round with blinds is normally the player in the big blind. A straddle or sleeper blind may count as a raise towards the maximum number of raises allowed, or it may count separately; in the latter case this raises the maximum total bet of the first round. Straddling is permitted in Las Vegas but is illegal in Atlantic City due to differences in state and local laws.

Live straddle

The player immediately to the left of the big blind ("under the gun") may place a live straddle blind bet. The straddle must be the size of a normal raise over the big blind. A straddle is a live bet; the player placing the straddle effectively becomes the "bigger blind". Action begins with the player to the left of the straddle. If action returns to the straddle without a raise, the straddle has the option to raise. (This is part of what makes a straddle different from a sleeper because a sleeper does not have the option to raise if everyone folds or calls around to him.) The player to the left of a live straddle may re-straddle by placing a blind bet raising the original straddle.

Mississippi straddle

A Mississippi straddle is similar to a live straddle, but instead of being made by the player "under the gun", it can be made by any player, depending on house rules. House rules permitting Mississippi straddles are common in the southern United States. Like a live straddle, a Mississippi straddle must be at least the minimum raise. Action begins with the player to the left of the straddle. If, for example (in a game with $10–25 blinds), the button puts a live $50 on it, the first player to act would be the small blind, followed by the big blind, and so on. If action gets back to the straddle with no raise, the straddle has the option of raising. The player to the right of a Mississippi straddle may re-straddle by placing a blind bet raising the original straddle.

Sleepers

A sleeper is a blind raise, made from a position other than the player "under the gun". A Mississippi straddle is a sleeper raise given this definition, but Mississippi straddles can be disallowed or restricted while sleepers are allowed at any position. A sleeper bet is not given the option to raise if other players call, and the player is not buying last action; thus the sleeper bet simply establishes a higher minimum to call for the table during the opening round and allows the player to ignore his turn as long as no-one re-raises the sleeper bet.

Sleepers are often considered illegal out-of-turn play. and are thus disallowed, but they can speed up a game slightly as a player who posts a sleeper can focus his attention on other matters such as ordering a drink or buying a tray of chips. It can also be an intimidation tactic as a sleeper raise makes it infeasible to "limp in" (a situation where a player with a mediocre starting hand but acting late only has to call the minimum to see more cards), thus forcing weaker but improvable starting hands out of the play.

Examples

A game of no-limit poker with blinds of $1/$2. Alice is in the small blind, Bob is in the big blind, Carol is next to act, followed by David, with Ellen on the button.

  • Straddle: Alice posts $1, Bob posts $2, Carol posts a straddle of $4. The hole cards are dealt. Because of the straddle, David is now first to act; he folds. Ellen calls the straddle. Alice folds. Bob, the big blind, calls the straddle by putting an additional $2 in the pot. Carol has the option of checking or raising; she makes a raise of $8. Ellen folds. Bob calls the raise, ending betting on this round.
  • Mississippi straddle: Alice posts $1, Bob posts $2, Ellen, on the button, posts a Mississippi straddle of $4. Because of the straddle, Alice, the small blind, is now first to act; she folds. Bob calls the straddle by putting an additional $2 in the pot. Carol folds. David calls the straddle. Ellen has the option of checking or raising; she checks, ending betting on this round.
  • Sleeper: Alice posts $1, Bob posts $2, and David posts a sleeper blind of $4. The hole cards are dealt. Carol acts first as last action remains with the big blind, but the bet to her is $4. She calls. There is no additional bet to David and he has no option, so play passes over him to Ellen. She calls the $4 as well. Alice folds. Bob, in the big blind, no longer has the option either; he must either call $2, raise, or fold. He raises by $4 (total bet is now $8). Carol re-raises to $10. The bet is now $6 to David, who must now call, raise or fold; he calls, as do Ellen and Bob, ending the betting round.

Limits

Betting limits apply to the amount a player may open or raise, and come in four common forms: no limit, pot limit (the two collectively called big bet poker), fixed limit, and spread limit.

All such games have a minimum bet as well as the stated maximums, and also commonly a betting unit, which is the smallest denomination in which bets can be made. For example, it is common for games with $20 and $40 betting limits to have a minimum betting unit of $5, so that all bets must be in multiples of $5, to simplify game play. It is also common for some games to have a bring-in that is less than the minimum for other bets. In this case, players may either call the bring-in, or raise to the full amount of a normal bet, called completing the bet.

Fixed limit

In a game played with a fixed-limit betting structure, a player chooses only whether to bet or not - the amount is fixed by rule. To enable the possibility of bluffing, the fixed amount generally doubles at some point in the game. This double wager amount is referred to as a big bet.

For example, a four-round game called "20 and 40 limit" (usually written as $20/$40) may specify that each bet in the first two rounds is $20, and that each big bet used in the third and fourth rounds is $40. This amount applies to each raise, not the total amount bet in a round, so a player may bet $20, be raised $20, and then re-raise another $20, for a total bet of $60, in such a game.

Maximum number of raises

Most fixed-limit games will not allow more than a predefined number of raises in a betting round. The maximum number of raises depends on the casino house rules, and is usually posted conspicuously in the card room. Typically, an initial bet plus either three or four raises are allowed.

Consider this example in a $20/$40 game, with a posted limit of a bet and three raises. During a $20 round with three players, play could proceed as follows:
* Player A bets $20.
* Player B puts in another bet, raises another $20, making it $40 to play.
* Player C puts in a third bet, raising another $20 on that, thus making it $60 to play.
* Player A puts in the fourth bet (she is usually said to cap the betting).

Once Player A has made her final bet, Players B and C may only call another two and one bets (respectively); they may not raise again because the betting is capped.

A common exception in this rule practiced in some card rooms is to allow unlimited raising when a pot is played heads up (when only two players are in the hand at the start of the betting round). Usually, this has occurred because all other players have folded, and only two remain. Many card rooms will permit these two players to continue re-raising each other until one player is all in.

Kill game

Sometimes a fixed-limit game is played as a kill game. In such a game, a kill hand is triggered when a player wins a pot over a certain predetermined amount, or when the player wins a certain number of consecutive hands. The player triggering the kill must post a kill blind, generally either 1.5 times (a half kill) or double (a full kill) the amount of the big blind. In addition, the betting limits for the kill hand are multiplied by 1.5 or doubled, respectively.

The term kill, when used in this context, should not be confused with killing a hand, which is a term used for a hand that was made a dead hand by action of a game official.

Spread limit

A game played with a spread-limit betting structure allows a player to raise any amount within a specified range.
For example, a game called "one to five limit" allows each bet to be anywhere from $1 to $5 (subject to other betting rules). These limits are typically larger in later rounds of multi-round games. For example, a game might be "one to five, ten on the end", meaning that early betting rounds allow bets of $1 to $5, and the last betting round allows bets of $1 to $10.
Playing spread-limit requires some care to avoid giving easy tells with one's choice of bets. Beginners frequently give themselves away by betting high with strong hands and low with weak ones, for instance. It is also harder to force other players out with big bets.

There is a variation of this known as "California Spread," where the range is much higher, such as 3-100 or 10-1000. The maximum buy-in is the size of the limit, so a 3-100 game would have a $100 maximum buy-in. This effectively makes the first hand no limit. California Spread, as the name implies, is played in California where local laws forbid no limit.

Pot limit

A game played with a pot-limit betting structure allows any player to raise up to an amount equal to the size of the whole pot before the raise.

For example, let us assume that there is $10 in the pot at the start of a betting round. The first player may open the betting for up to $10. If he does in fact open for $10, the next player may raise to $40 (after calling the $10 bet, the total amount of the pot is $30, so he may raise $30). The third player would be entitled to raise to $140 (after calling $40, the pot would contain $100, thus he may raise $100). Any player may also raise less than the maximum so long as the amount of the raise is equal to or greater than any previous bet or raise in the same betting round.

Some pot-limit games make exceptions to the method described above when calculating the maximum raise in the betting round before the flop:

  • Some structures treat the small blind as if it were the same size of the big blind in computing pot size. In such a structure, a player can open for a maximum of four times the size of the big blind. For example, if the blinds are $5 and $10, a player may open with a raise to $40. (The range of options is to either open with a call of $10, or raise in increments of five dollars to any amount from $20 to $40.) Subsequent players also treat the $5 as if it were $10 in computing the pot size, until the big blind is through acting on the first betting round.
  • If the action folds all the way around to the small blind, the maximum amount the small blind can raise is also not universally agreed upon. Some games treat the big blind as a "raise" of the small blind for the purpose of calculating the maximum raise—the small blind is allowed to call the big blind, and then make a pot sized raise of twice the big blind, for a total bet of three times the big blind. Other games treat the blinds as dead money for the purpose of calculating the raise, and allow the small blind to make the same size raise as any other player, i.e. a total bet of three times the big blind plus the small blind.

Because of the disparity in methods of calculation, and the fact that the issue is certain to come up often, most major tournaments will announce the amount of the maximum opening raise to all players any time the betting limits are increased.

No limit

A game played with a no-limit betting structure allows each player to raise the bet by any amount up to and including his entire remaining stake at any time (subject to the table stakes rules and any other rules about raising). There is generally a minimum opening bet, and raises usually must be at least the amount of the previous raise.

Table stakes rules

All casinos and many home games play poker by what are called table stakes rules, which state that each player starts each deal with a certain stake, and plays that deal with that stake. A player may not remove money from the table or add money from his or her pocket during the play of a hand. In essence, table stakes rules creates a maximum and a minimum buy-in amount for cash game poker as well as rules for adding and removing the stake from play. A player also may not take a portion of their money or stake off the table, unless they opt to leave the game and remove their entire stake from play. Players are not allowed to hide or misrepresent the amount of their stake from other players and must truthfully disclose the amount when asked.

Common among inexperienced players is the act of "going south" after winning a big pot, which is to take a portion of your stake out of play, often as an attempt to hedge one's risk after a win. This is also known as "ratholing" and, while totally permissible in most other casino games, is not permitted in poker.

Table stakes are the rule in most cash poker games because it allows players with vastly different bankrolls a reasonable amount of protection when playing with one another. They are usually set in relation to the blinds. For example, in a $1/2 No Limit cash game, the minimum stake is often set at $40 while maximum stake is often set at $200, or 20 and 100 big blinds respectively.

This also requires some special rules to handle the case when a player is faced with a bet that he cannot call with his available stake.

"All in"

When a player is faced with a current bet amount that he has insufficient remaining stake to call and he wishes to call (he may of course fold without the need of special rules), he bets the remainder of his stake and declares himself all in. He may now hold onto his cards for the remainder of the deal as if he had called every bet, but he may not win any more money from any player above the amount of his bet. In no-limit games, a player may also open the betting by going all in, that is, betting his entire stack.

A player who goes "all-in" effectively caps the main pot; the player is not entitled to win any amount over his/her total stake. If only one other player is still in the hand, the other player simply matches the all-in (retracting any overage if necessary) and the hand is dealt to completion. However, if multiple players remain in the game and the bet rises beyond the all-in's stake, the overage goes into a side pot. Only the players who have contributed to the side pot have the chance to win it. In the case of multiple all-in bets, multiple side pots can be created.

For example, with three players in a game, Player A opens the betting round for $20. Player B only has $10 remaining. He bets the $10, going all in. Player C can call the full $20, and therefore must call, raise or fold. Player C has only $30 remaining, so he "raises all-in" by betting his remaining stake. The bet is now $10 to Player A, who calls. Player A is the only player at the table with a remaining stake; he may not make any further bets this hand. Because Player B can only win $10 from each of the other two players' $30 bets, that $10 is taken from all players' bets and the $30 total is placed in the main pot. The $40 remaining, for which Players A and C are separately contesting, goes in a side pot. As no further bets can be made, the hand is now dealt to completion. It's found that Player B has the best hand overall, and wins the main pot. Player A has the second-best hand, and wins the side pot. Player C is now out of the game.

There is a strategic advantage to being all in: a player cannot be bluffed, because he is entitled to hold his cards and see the showdown without risking any more money. Opponents who continue to bet after the player is all in can still bluff each other out of the side pot, which is also to the player's advantage since players who fold out of the side pot also reduce his competition for the main pot. But these advantages are offset by the disadvantage that the player cannot win any more money than his stake can cover.

Some players may choose to buy into games with a "short stack", a stack of chips that is relatively small for the stakes being played, with the intention of going all in after the flop and not having to make any further decisions. However, this is generally a non-optimal strategy in the long-term, since the player does not maximize his gains on his winning hands.

All-in before the deal

If a player does not have sufficient money to cover the ante and blinds due, that player is automatically all-in for the coming hand. Any money the player holds must be applied to the ante first, and if the full ante is covered, the remaining money is applied towards the blind.

If a player is all in for part of the ante, or the exact amount of the ante, an equal amount of every other player's ante is placed in the main pot, with any remaining fraction of the ante and all blinds and further bets in the side pot.

If a player is all in for part of a blind, all antes go into the main pot. Players to act must call the complete amount of the big blind to call, even if the all-in player has posted less than a full big blind. At the end of the betting round, the bets and calls will be divided into the main pot and side pot as usual.

For example, Alice is playing at a table with 10 players in a tournament with an ante of $1 and blinds of $4/$8. Alice is due the big blind but she only has $8. She must pay the $1 ante and apply the remaining $7 towards the big blind, and she is all in. Bob, next to act, calls $8, the full big blind amount. Carol raises to $16 total. All remaining players fold, the small blind folds, and Bob folds. The amount in the main pot is $10 (the sum of all antes) plus the full $4 small blind since Alice had this amount covered, plus $7 from Alice and every other player who called at least that amount, namely Bob and Carol. The main pot is therefore $10+$4+$21=$35. The side pot of $10 ($1 in excess of Alice's all-in bet from Bob, and $9 in excess of Alice's all-in bet from Carol) is paid immediately to Carol when Bob folds.

Incomplete bet or raise

If a player goes all in with a bet or raise rather than a call, another special rule comes into play. There are two options in common use: pot-limit and no-limit games usually use what is called the full bet rule, while fixed-limit and spread-limit games may use either the full bet rule or the half bet rule. The full bet rule states that if the amount of an all-in bet is less than the minimum bet, or if the amount of an all-in raise is less than the full amount of the previous raise, it does not constitute a "real" raise, and therefore does not reopen the betting action. The half bet rule states that if an all-in bet or raise is equal to or larger than half the minimum amount, it does constitute a raise and reopens the action.

For example, with the full bet rule in effect, a player opens the betting round for $20, and the next player has a total stake of $30. He may raise to $30, declaring himself all in, but this does not constitute a "real" raise, in the following sense: if a third player now calls the $30, and the first player's turn to act comes up, he may now call the additional $10, but he does not have the right to re-raise further. The all-in player's pseudo-raise was really just a call with some extra money, and the third player's call was just a call, so the initial opener's bet was simply called by both remaining players, closing the betting round (even though he must still equalize the money by putting in the additional $10). If the half bet rule were being used, then that raise would count as a genuine raise and the first player would be entitled to re-raise if he chose to (creating a side pot for the amount of his re-raise and the third player's call, if any).

In a game with a half bet rule, a player may complete an incomplete raise, if that player still has the right to raise (in other words, if that player has not yet acted in the betting round, or has not yet acted since the last full bet or raise). The act of completing a bet or raise reopens the betting to other remaining opponents.

For example, four players are in a hand, playing with a limit betting structure and a half bet rule. The current betting round is $20. Alice checks, and Bob checks. Carol goes all-in for $5. David, still to act, has the following options: fold, call $5, or complete the bet to a total of $20. If David calls the $5, Alice and Bob only have the option of calling or folding; neither can raise. But if David completes, either of them could raise.

Opening all-in hands

When all players in the pot are all-in, or one player is playing alone against opponents who are all all-in, no more betting can take place. Some casinos and many major tournaments require that all players still involved open, or immediately reveal, their hole cards in this case—the dealer will not continue dealing until all hands are flipped up. Likewise, any other cards that would normally be dealt face down, such as the final card in seven-card stud, may be dealt face-up. Such action is automatic in online poker. This rule discourages a form of tournament collusion called "chip dumping", in which one player deliberately loses his chips to another to give that player a greater chance of winning.

Open stakes

The alternative to table stakes rules is called "open stakes", in which players are allowed to buy more chips during the hand and even to borrow money (often called "going light"). Open stakes are most commonly found in home or private games. In casinos, players are sometimes allowed to buy chips at the table during a hand, but are never allowed to borrow money or use IOUs. Other casinos, depending on protocol for buying chips, prohibit it as it slows gameplay considerably.

Open stakes is the older form of stakes rules, and before "all-in" betting became commonplace, a large bankroll meant an unfair advantage; raising the bet beyond what a player could cover in cash gave the player only two options; buy a larger stake (borrowing if necessary) or fold. This is commonly seen in period-piece movies such as Westerns, where a player bets personal possessions or even wagers property against another player's much larger cash bankroll.

In modern open-stakes rules, a player may go all in in exactly the same manner as in table stakes if he so chooses, rather than adding to his stake or borrowing. Because it is a strategic advantage to go all in with some hands while being able to add to your stake with others, such games should strictly enforce a minimum buy-in that is several times the maximum bet (or blinds, in the case of a no-limit or pot-limit game). A player who goes all in and wins a pot that is less than the minimum buy-in may not then add to his stake or borrow money during any future hand until he re-buys an amount sufficient to bring his stake up to a full buy-in.

If a player cannot or does not wish to go all-in, he or she may instead choose to buy chips with cash out-of-pocket at any time, even during the play of a hand, and his bets are limited only by the specified betting structure of the game.

Finally, a player may also borrow money by betting with an IOU, called a "marker", payable to the winner of the pot. In order to bet with a marker, all players still active in the pot must agree to accept the marker. Some clubs and house rules forbid IOUs altogether. If the marker is not acceptable, the bettor may bet with cash out-of-pocket or go all-in. A player may also borrow money from a player not involved in the pot, giving him a personal marker in exchange for cash or chips, which the players in the pot are then compelled to accept. A player may borrow money in order to call a bet during a hand, and later in the same hand go all-in in the face of further betting; but if a player borrows money in order to raise, he forfeits the right to go all-in later in that same hand--if he is re-raised, he must borrow money to call, or fold.

Just as in table stakes, no player may remove chips or cash from the table once they are put in play (except small amounts for refreshments, tips, and such)--this includes all markers, whether one's own or those won from other players.

Players should agree before play on the means and time limits of settling markers, and a convenient amount below which all markers must be accepted to simplify play.

See also

Notes

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