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Poker is a family of gambling card games involving betting and individual play, whereby the winner is determined by the ranks and combinations of players’ cards, some of which remain hidden until the end of the game. Poker games vary in the number of cards dealt, the number of shared or “community” cards, and the number of cards that remain hidden. Betting procedures vary widely among dozens of different poker game variants.
In most modern poker games, the first round of betting begins with one or more of the players making some form of a forced bet (the blind and/or ante). In standard poker, each player bets according to the rank he believes his hand is worth as compared to the other players. The action then proceeds clockwise as each player in turn must either match, or “call”, the maximum previous bet or fold, losing the amount bet so far and all further interest in the hand. A player who matches a bet may also “raise”, or increase the bet. The betting round ends when all players have either matched the last bet or folded. If all but one player folds on any round, the remaining player collects the pot and may choose to show or conceal his hand. If more than one player remains in contention after the final betting round, the hands are revealed, and the player with the winning hand takes the pot.
With the exception of initial forced bets, money is only placed into the pot voluntarily by a player who either believes the bet has positive expected value or who is trying to bluff other players for various strategic reasons. Thus, while the outcome of any particular hand significantly involves chance, the long-run expectations of the players are determined by their actions chosen on the basis of probability, psychology, and game theory.
Poker has gained in popularity since the beginning of the twentieth century and has gone from being primarily a recreational activity confined to small groups of enthusiasts to a widely popular activity, both for participants and spectators, including online, with many professional players and multimillion-dollar tournament prizes.
There are two main types of online poker game: ring games and tournaments. Ring games are the ‘classic’ type of game than can be joined, and left, at any time. Players can choose how much of their real or virtual funds – known as their bankroll – to bring to the table, and are free to top-up or buy-in again if they lose their chips (and have more in reserve). Tournaments start at a specific time, or when a certain amount of players have registered, and usually require a one-off buy-in to play. Players who lose all their chips in a tournament are knocked out, until there is just one winner remaining. The combined prize pool of all the players’ buy-ins is shared between the players who last the longest, with the winner receiving the greatest share.
Private gaming can potentially take place on commercial premises in circumstances where a members’ club hires a room in, for example, a pub or hotel for a private function where equal chance gaming only is played. However, organisers would need to scrutinise very carefully the arrangements put in place to make sure that the particular area of the pub, hotel or other venue in which the gaming takes place is not, on the occasion of the private function, a place to which the public have access and that those participating are not selected by a process which means that, in fact, they are members of the public rather than members of the club. The law in this area is complex and organisers are strongly advised to seek their own legal advice before organising events of this nature.