A session of poker consists of any number of deals (also called "hands", but the former term is less ambiguous). During each deal, players deal cards, make wagers into a central pot, and perform other actions of the game, the object of which is win the money in the pot at the end of the deal.
A single deal of poker consists of one or more betting rounds, during which players make bets into the central pot, or may drop out, forfeiting their interest in the pot. Between betting rounds, the players's hands "develop" in some way, often by being dealt additional cards or replacing cards previously dealt.
At the end of the last betting round, if more than one player remains, there is a /Showdown in which the players reveal their previously hidden cards and evaluate their /Hands. The player with the best hand according to the poker variant being played wins the pot. Some deals may not reach the showdown phase if all players drop out but one, as explained below.
Someone must be selected to deal cards. In a home game the right to deal the cards typically rotates among the players clockwise, often marked by a button (any small item used as a marker, also called a "buck"). In a casino with a "house" dealer, a buck is still often rotated among the players to determine the order of dealing and betting in some games. At the beginning of each deal, the deck of cards is assembled and shuffled by the dealer, who offers the deck to the player on his right for a cut. That player cuts the deck toward the dealer, who then reassembles it and prepares to deal.
Depending on the game rules, one or more players may be required to place an initial amount of money into the pot before the cards are dealt. These are called forced bets, and come in three forms: /Antes, /Blinds, and /Bring-ins (see Poker/Betting structure for more details). After the forced bets have been paid, the dealer deals a first round of cards, one at a time, clockwise, beginning with the player to his left. The manner and number of cards dealt varies with the particular variant being played.
After the initial deal, the first of what may be several betting rounds begins. During a round of betting, there will always be a current bet amount, which is the total amount of money bet in this round by the player who bet last in this round. To keep better track of this, it is conventional for players to not place their bets directly into the pot (called "splashing" the pot), but rather place them in front of themselves toward the pot, until the betting round is over. When the round is over, the bets are then gathered into the pot. Beginning with a player determined by the rules of the particular game, each player in clockwise order may choose one of three actions:
- /Fold: The terms "drop" or "pass" are also used. The player places no money in the pot, relinquishes his cards, and takes no further action in this deal. This action forfeits the player's right to win the pot for this deal.
- /Call: The term "see" is also used. If the current bet amount is nothing, this action is called a /Check or "pass". The player makes his total bet for this round equal the current bet amount. For example, if he has not placed any money in the pot yet on this round, and the player to his right (who just acted before him) has placed a total of $5 in the pot, then the player must place $5 in the pot to call. If the player whose turn it is to act has already placed $2 in the pot on this round (because the betting has gone around the table more than once, or because that player posted a blind bet), then he need only place an additional $3 to bring his total bet up to the current bet amount of $5. A call maintains a the player's right to keep his cards and possibly win the pot.
- /Raise: If the current bet amount is nothing, this action is called simply a "bet", or an /Open. The player increases the current bet amount by betting more than the amount sufficient to call. All remaining players (in order) are now required to call the new current bet amount to maintain their interest in the pot. If a player raises, and every other remaining player folds, so that the raiser is the only player left who can win the pot, he takes the pot immediately and no cards are ever shown.
Except in the case of a live /Blind, a player may not raise the current bet amount if he is the one who first set it. If it is that player's turn to act who first set the current amount, the betting round is closed and no further betting may take place in this round. This occurs when all other players have either called the amount or folded. All remaining players will have bet an equal total amount (except for some rare cases covered by /Table stakes rules).
After the first betting round is complete because every player called an equal amount, there may be more rounds in which more cards are dealt in various ways, followed by further rounds of betting (into the same central pot). At any time during the first or subsequent betting rounds, if one player makes a bet and all other players fold, the deal ends immediately, the single remaining player is awarded the pot, no cards are shown, no more rounds are dealt, and the next deal begins. This is what makes it possible to /Bluff.
After the final round of betting as determined by the game, if more than one player remains, then all players' hands are exposed and the player with the best hand (as determined by th rules of the game) wins the pot. This is called a /Showdown. In the case of ties, the pot is split among the tied players.
Here are some sample deals to show the order of betting. Assume that Alice is dealing, that Bob sits to her left, Carol to his left, and David to her left. Sitting at a table with actual chips will make it considerably easier to follow and understand the text below.
All players ante $1. Alice deals five cards to each player one at a time, beginning with Bob, and ending with herself. Bob has the first turn to bet, and there is no current bet amount, so he verbally declares "check"; this action calls the current bet amount of zero, so he keeps his cards. Carol now bets $2, placing that amount in front of her toward the pot. This is a raise, and makes the current bet amount $2. David calls, by placing $2 in the pot (he did not have the option to check, because there was a non-zero bet amount facing him). Alice now reraises, placing $10 in the pot. This makes the current amount $10. It it now Bob's turn again. He folds, discarding his cards, and will take no further part in the action. On this deal, he has lost $1, the amount of his ante. Carol now calls Alice's raise by placing $8 more into the pot, which, along with the $2 bet she made earlier, matches Alice's $10. David now folds, discarding his cards. He has lost $3 on this deal: the $1 ante and his $2 call of Carol's first bet. Because it is now Alice's turn, and she was the player who set the current amount, the betting round is closed (she cannot raise her own bet). All remaining players (Alice and Carol) have now bet an equal amount ($10). All of the bets are now gathered into the central pot, which is now $26. A second round begins with Alice and Carol replacing one or more of their initial five cards with new ones from the remainder of the deck (they are playing a variant of draw poker). It is Carol's turn to act first on this round (she is the first player to the dealer's left now that Bob has folded). She checks, betting nothing. Alice bets $10. Carol calls, closing the second betting round. The new bets are gathered into the pot, which now contains $46. Because the game they are playing has only two rounds, the betting is now complete and Alice and Carol show their hands. Carol has the best hand, so she wins the showdown and takes the $46 pot. She has made a profit of $25 ($46 less the $21 she bet). Alice has lost $21.
On this second deal there is no ante. Alice deals three cards to each player, two downcards (dealt face down) and one upcard, as called for by the game they are playing (a variant of stud poker). David is dealt the lowest-ranking upcard, so according to the betting structure of this game, he is required to post a bring-in of $1. This is a forced bet under the game rules, so he may not check even though there is no current bet amount facing him. He also has the option to bet more than the required bring-in if he desires, but he chooses to simply bet the required $1, which sets the current bet amount to $1. It is now Alice's turn, and she can either call the $1, fold, or raise (she cannot check, because David's $1 set the current bet amount). She folds, indicating this by turning her upcard face down and discarding her cards. Bob now bets $5, setting the current amount to $5. Carol folds. David may now call by placing additional $4 with his initial $1 bring-in, but he chooses to fold, relinquishing his $1. Bob is now the only remaining player, and so he wins the pot (which consists only of David's $1 and his own $5). There is no showdown, but Bob chooses to voluntarily show his cards anyway, and shows a worthless hand. Bob's bet was a /Bluff, and was successful.
On this third deal there is no ante, but Bob posts a $1 blind and Carol posts a $2 blind. Alice deals two downcards to each player. It is now David's turn to act (because he is the first player after the big blind), and the current bet amount facing him is $2, so he cannot check. He chooses to fold. Alice calls the $2. Bob also calls, placing an additional $1 with his small blind to bring it up to $2 total. It is now Carol's turn. She is the one who set the current bet amount of $2, so this would normally end the betting round; but because her $2 was a "live" forced blind and she has not had an opportunity to raise voluntarily, she is given the option to raise at this point. She chooses not to, an action called checking her option. This ends the first betting round, and the $6 pot is gathered into the center of the table. Alice now deals three face-up /Community cards in the center of the table as called for by the game they are playing (a variant of Texas holdem). It is now Bob's turn to act first, since he is on the dealer's left. He checks (there is no current amount facing him on this betting round). Carol bets $2. Alice folds. Bob calls, ending the round (the pot is now $10). Alice now deals another community card, and a third betting round begins with Bob again. He checks. Carol bets $4. Bob now raises, betting $8 (he has just made a deceptive play called a /Check-raise). Carol calls, placing an additional $4 on her bet to match Bob's. This closes round three, and the $26 pot is gathered. Alice deals a final community card. Bob now checks, and Carol checks. The fourth betting round is thus checked around, and ends. This is a four-round game, so that ends all betting. Bob and Carol show down their hands, and see that their hands are equal under the rules of their game. They therefore split the $26 between them, each getting $13.