Hoyle's Games Modernized/Poker

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POKER.

There are several varieties of Poker, distinguished by the names of "Straight," "Draw," "Stud," and "Whiskey" Poker respectively. These, again, are played in different ways, varying with the locality, scarcely any two States of America, the home of the game, being fully agreed as to its correct form. So fully is this divergence recognised, that even in America a company, sitting down to play Poker together for the first time, usually begin by discussing how the game shall be played in respect of the various points of difference. We shall endeavour to give a clear idea of what (if any) may be called the standard games, with a few of the more important variations.

The most popular variety is Draw Poker, though the full name is rarely used, the single word "Poker" being usually understood to indicate the "Draw" game.

Draw Poker is played with the full pack of fifty-two cards. There is no set limit to the number of players, but five make the best game and six should be the maximum. As each player holds five cards at the outset, and has the right, if he so pleases, to "draw" five more, it is obvious that if even six players exercised their right to the full extent, the pack would not suffice to supply their demands. As they never do fully exercise it, with six players there is a sufficient margin; but with seven the margin is inconveniently small.

The stakes are represented by counters, known in America as "chips." We will suppose that these are equivalent to pence. A certain amount, say twelve counters, is fixed upon as the limit of the stake. As will be seen hereafter, such limit is rather imaginary than real, applying merely to the successive stages by which the ultimate total is reached, the latter being (unless, by agreement, a limit is placed on this also) an unknown quantity.

The dealer having been selected, and the pack shuffled and cut, he proceeds to deal round, one at a time, five cards to each player. First, however, the elder hand, at this game known as the "Age," before seeing his cards, starts the pool with a preliminary stake known as the "ante."[35] This must not exceed one-half the limit. Thus, in the case supposed of the limit being twelve counters, the Age has the option of putting up any number from one to six, as he pleases. This stake, from the fact that it is made without seeing the cards, is known as a "blind."

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We will suppose that five players are taking part, whom we may distinguish as A, B, C, D and E; that they are seated in the order indicated in the diagram, and that A is the dealer. The deal passes from A to B, and so on. B is in such case the Age, and has put up, by way of ante a single counter.[36] Each player looks at his cards, whose value depends upon his possession of certain combinations, ranking in proportion to the rarity of their occurrence. C is the first to declare. If his cards are so bad that he has no hope of winning, he may "pass," i.e. go out of the game altogether for that hand. In such case, he throws his cards, face downwards, in front of the Age, who will in due course be the next dealer. If, on the other hand, C thinks his cards worth playing on, he "goes in," i.e. he puts in the pool double the amount staked by the Age. D, E and A in rotation do the same, either "passing" and throwing up their cards, or "going in" and placing in the pool a like amount to that just contributed by C. When the turn of B (the Age) is reached, he has to make a similar decision, and, if he decide to go in, must put in the pool a like amount to that which he first staked, thereby placing himself on an equal footing with the other players.[37]

There is, however, another possible contingency. B has put up, by way of ante, the minimum, one counter only. If either of the players holds a hand which seems a probable winner, he may desire to put a heavier stake on it. In such case, he must first make good the ante (i.e. hand in two counters), and may then "go better," or offer a higher stake to the extent of the limit. C, we will suppose, has simply made good the ante. D not only does the same, but goes four better. He thus contributes in all, six counters to the pool, and any subsequent player who desires to "go in," must also hand in six counters. Having done so, such subsequent player has the option of again going better on his own account. We will suppose that E makes good D's "raise," and goes three better, making in all nine counters. A, we will assume, has but a poor hand, and sees small chance of winning. Such being the case, he passes out, and throws up his cards, still, however, retaining his functions as dealer. It is now the turn of B, the Age, who has to consider whether, under these conditions, it is worth his while to go in. Should he elect to do so, he must hand in eight counters, i.e. nine, less the single counter which he staked by way of ante. If C still elects to go in, he must pay seven counters, in addition to the two he has already paid. D, in like manner, three counters.

Having reached this stage, the standing players proceed to draw to "fill their hands," i.e. discard their least valuable cards (throwing them face downwards on the table), and receive a like number from the dealer.

At this point, it may be convenient to state wherein the strength of a poker hand lies, and what, therefore, is the object of the players. A poker hand is valuable in so far as it contains certain cards, or combinations of cards, ranking as under. We begin with the highest.

1. A Straight Flush, i.e. a sequence of five cards, all of the same suit.

N.B.—As between two sequences, that beginning with the highest card has the preference. The ace may be treated at pleasure either as the highest card or the lowest, and will, therefore, form a sequence either with king, queen, &c., or with two, three, &c. Ace, king, queen, knave, ten is the highest possible sequence. Ace, two, three, four, five, the lowest.

2. Fours, i.e. four cards of the same denomination, with one indifferent card, the higher four having priority.

[Aces in this case count as highest, so that a four of aces is the best possible.]

3. A Full, i.e. three cards of the same denomination, and a pair.

[As between two fulls, the comparative value of the three cards in each case decides priority.]

4. A Flush, i.e. five cards of the same suit.

5. A Straight, i.e. five cards in sequence, but not of the same suit.

6. Threes, i.e. three cards of like denomination, with two indifferent cards.

7. Two Pairs, with an indifferent card.

8. A Pair, with three indifferent cards.

9. Highest Card. Where no hand has either of the above combinations, that containing the highest card is the winner.

[As between pairs or sequences in opposing hands, the highest wins. Where each holds two pairs, the two best are compared, and the highest wins. In the event of equality of pairs, the hand containing the highest indifferent card wins. In the event of absolute equality between the two best hands, the pool is divided.]

A study of the foregoing table will make clear the objects aimed at by each player, and the principles which regulate his discard. It may be taken for granted that a player, having received a scoring combination, however small, will certainly hold it. Thus with a pair and three indifferent cards, the player would certainly retain the pair and exchange the rest, in the hope of converting his pair into threes, or something better. With threes, he would, as a rule, exchange the two indifferent cards, in the hope of receiving a pair, and so transforming his "threes" into a "full." With two pairs, he would exchange the odd card, in the hope of receiving another of like denomination with one or other of his pairs, which again would give him a "full."

It may occasionally happen that a player receives in the first instance a hand so good that he is not likely to gain anything by drawing, and prefers, therefore, to stand on the cards given him. Such a hand is known as a "pat" hand. The most obvious example of a hand which cannot gain by drawing is that of fours. This, as we have seen, is the second highest hand that can be held; indeed, a straight flush is of so rare occurrence, and the holding of two fours by different players so unlikely a contingency that a hand of "fours" is practically a safe winner. The odd card is in such case worthless, but nothing for which it could be exchanged would add to the value of the hand.

There is, however, another consideration to be taken into account in determining whether to draw or not. This we shall deal with hereafter. For the moment we will revert to our imaginary game. A has passed out; B, C, D and E have respectively raised or made good the raise (to the extent, including the ante, of nine counters each). We will now examine their cards. B's hand consists of ace of hearts, queen and three of diamonds, queen of clubs, and five of spades. He has thus a pair of queens, but the remaining cards are at present worthless. C has ace of clubs, three and four of spades, nine of hearts and two of diamonds, four out of the five cards being in sequence. D has ten and eight of hearts, ten of spades, knave of clubs, and eight of diamonds; a fairly good hand, for it contains two pairs. E has five cards without any scoring combination, say eight and three of clubs, king and four of hearts, and knave of spades.

B has the first claim to draw. He might very well discard all three of his non-scoring cards, but such a proceeding would be tantamount to an acknowledgement that he only had as yet a pair and one of the main points at Poker is to keep the adversaries in the dark as to the strength of the player's hand. He has nearly as good a chance of making a three, or two pairs, by exchanging two cards only, and accordingly does so, retaining the pair and the ace of hearts. We will suppose that he draws the queen of hearts and nine of diamonds. He has now threes of queens. C exchanges the nine of hearts, in the hope of completing his sequence, but draws, say, the knave of diamonds, which makes him no better. D, having already two pairs, discards the odd card on the chance of drawing another eight or ten, either of which would make him a "full," but actually draws, say, the five of diamonds, which is useless. E's hand is absolutely worthless as it stands. He might exchange all five cards, in the hope of drawing better, but to do so would be to confess his weakness, and at Poker it is not always the best hand that wins. He exchanges one card only, leaving it to be inferred that he has either two pairs, threes, fours, or a flush or sequence lacking one card. He discards the three of clubs, and receives, say, the ace of spades, leaving his hand still worthless.

The betting is now resumed. In regular order it would be for B (the Age) to start it, but he has the privilege, if he so pleases, of "holding the age," i.e. reserving his stake till the other players have had their say.[38] C, therefore, is the first to declare. His cards are worthless, and he decides to pass out. D has but a moderate hand, for two pairs may easily be beaten. On the other hand, they frequently win, and it would be foolish to show the white feather until he knows a little more about the hands of his adversaries. He goes five counters. E, as we have seen, has nothing. He has two alternatives, either to go out and sacrifice what he has already staked, or to endeavour to drive others out by a false pretence of strength. Deciding for the latter alternative, he not only makes good D's stake, but goes ten better, as though he held a capital hand. A has already passed out; and it is, therefore, B's turn. He has "threes," a much more than average hand, and far too good to be driven out of the field without a struggle. Under such circumstances two alternatives are open to him. He may simply make good the last raise, and say, "I'll see you" (in which case all turn up their cards, and, having the better hand, B wins the pool), or he may be inclined to speculate a little further. He makes good the raise, and goes five better. C, it will be remembered, has already passed out; and D, inferring from the persistence of E and B that they hold pretty strong hands, thinks discretion the better part of valour, and goes out also. The battle is now solely between B and E. B has a good hand, and E has nothing; but if he is a bold player, he may still win. B's last raise, which was to only half the limit, tends to indicate that he has not a very strong hand, and perhaps a little "bluffing" (as the betting upon a worthless hand is called) may frighten him out of the field. Accordingly, E not only makes good B's raise, but again goes the maximum (ten) better. Unless E has the reputation (a very undesirable one) of a habitual bluffer, B will probably begin to feel alarmed. E's repeated raises, coupled with the fact that he only drew one card—a sign of a pretty strong hand—suggest that he holds probably fours, if not a "full," "sequence," or "flush," either of which would put B out of the running. He is again confronted with the same alternatives—viz. to make good E's raise and see him (in which case B would win); to go better, which seems hazardous; or to pass out, thereby avoiding the necessity of making good the last raise. If he is a timid player, he may possibly (either at this stage or later) adopt the latter course, in which case E takes the pool without showing his cards, thereby concealing the fact that they were worthless. This privilege is very important, for "bluffing" is an essential part of the game of Poker, and to bluff with success depends mainly on the adversaries' ignorance of the habitual tendencies of the player in this particular. If a player is known to be in the habit of bluffing, he does so at a great disadvantage. The man who can bluff most successfully is the steady-going player with whom high stakes are the usual indication of good cards. When such a one begins to "plunge," the other players are apt to place themselves in the position of the coon sighted by the crack marksman in the American story, "Don't fire; I'll come down." Obviously, to expose the cards on which a player has been steadily raising all competitors, and reveal the fact that, instead of the expected "full," or "flush," there is not even a solitary "pair" among them, would tend heavily to discount the effectiveness of the same player's bluffing in a subsequent round. Hence the rule of not showing the cards in such a case, which is always adhered to.

The probabilities of receiving by the deal one or other of the Poker combinations are thus stated by "Cavendish:"

Odds against a straight flush  649,999 to 01
" fours 4,164 to 01
" a full 693 to 01
" a flush 507 to 01
" a straight 254 to 01
" triplets 45 to 01
" two pairs 20 to 01
" one pair 13 to 10

It is obvious that the privilege of filling the hands tends greatly to diminish these odds against any given hand (say by one-half, as the player may if he pleases have ten instead of five chances), but the relative frequency of the hands will remain pretty much the same. Bearing in mind the considerations above suggested, it is obvious that the ultimate chances are in favour of holding a pair, and as each player has the same chance, a pair, and particularly a low pair, is but a poor hand. From this to two pairs is a long step, and a player who invariably held triplets would, in the long run, be a heavy winner. A fortiori, any hand above this limit stands to win, and should be backed accordingly.

The smaller the number of players, the more freely may a fair hand be backed, as there is the less probability of its being surpassed by other players.

In drawing to a pair, if one of the indifferent cards should be an ace or court card, this card should be retained, and only the other two exchanged.

Holding "threes," the player may please himself whether to draw two cards or one only, but the latter is preferable, as giving less information to the enemy.

With "fours," the odd card should always be exchanged, for the same reason. The hand cannot be improved by the exchange, but the adversaries are left in uncertainty as to its value.

Holding four of the needful cards to make a flush or straight, the player should go in, and exchange one card, in the hope of completing the desired combination. With less than five cards, the attempt has but little chance of success.

The Straddle.

In Poker as originally played, there was no "raise" prior to the filling of the hands. Each player who went in simply put up the double ante, and all further staking was suspended until the hands had been filled. But such a comparatively slow procedure did not suit the more go-ahead players, and the "straddle" was invented to accommodate them. This queer term is another name for "doubling." The privilege of starting a straddle was confined to the player to the left of the Age. Assuming that the Age had put up one counter by way of ante, the next player, instead of putting up two, would put up four, saying, "I straddle you." The next player may in like manner "straddle the straddler," putting up eight counters, and so on, up to the "limit," which must not be overpassed. Should any player, however, omit to exercise the right in his turn, it is thereby extinguished, and cannot be exercised by any subsequent player.

Where it is permitted to players to raise on the ante before filling the hand, the straddle ceases to have any importance, and is not usually recognised.

Jack-Pots.

This is one of the latest innovations in the game of Draw Poker, and in New York is accepted as an integral part of the game. It was invented to meet the not unfrequent case of the whole table declining to "go in," in which case the Age simply repocketed his ante, and the deal passed, nobody being either the better or the worse. In such a case, instead of the Age withdrawing the ante, each of the other players puts up a like amount (single, not double). The cards are then dealt by the next player. There is in this case no Age, but any player who chances to hold a pair of jacks, or anything better (according to the scale already given), puts down any stake he pleases; thereby "opening the jack-pot," as it is called. The player to his left must either make good the stake or go out, and so on round the table in the usual way, any player having the privilege of raising, in which case the raise must be made good by the other standing players. And so the round proceeds, till some one brings it to an end by "calling," i.e. declaring that he will "see" his predecessors, when the best hand wins. Should no one "go in" save the original opener of the jack-pot, he takes the pool; but in this case he is bound to show, to preclude fraud, that his cards really did include a pair of jacks, or some higher combination.

It may, however, happen that the second round passes without any player holding the needful cards to open the jack-pot.[39] In such case each player puts another chip in the pool, and there is a fresh deal by another player. This is repeated until the jack-pot is actually opened.

Table Stakes.

These are now made the rule by many players, and the practice is a wholesome one. The term signifies that each player puts on the table before him (either in cash, or in counters for which cash has been paid), the whole amount he intends risking, and cannot be "raised" to any greater amount. If a player has no money on the table, he must either make good the deficiency before taking up his cards, or retire from the game.

 

For the reasons previously stated, there is no universally accepted code of Laws for Poker. For a code which is believed to represent the most usual practice in the cases for which it provides, the reader may be referred to The Book of Card and Table Games. Another set of laws will be found in Round Games, by "Cavendish" (De La Rue & Co.).

 

We now proceed to discuss the alternative versions of the game. First in order comes—

Straight Poker.

This game, sometimes known as "Bluff," differs from "Draw" Poker in several particulars—viz.:

1. There is no filling of hands, each player retaining the cards first dealt to him.

2. Each person puts up an agreed amount by way of ante. As a matter of convenience, it is frequently arranged that each player in turn puts in for all. To avoid dispute as to whose turn it may be a pocket-knife, known as the "buck," is passed round, resting with the player whose turn it is to "chip" for the remainder. Having done his duty, he passes the buck to his neighbour on the left, who chips for the next deal, and passes the buck to his next neighbour, and so on in rotation.

3. The elder hand, or "Age," has no privilege.

4. The deal passes, not in rotation, but to the player who takes the pool.

5. Any player may "pass," and come in again, unless some other player has raised in the meantime, in which case he is excluded.

6. If all pass, or if there is a misdeal, there is a fresh contribution to the pool, and the elder hand deals. The pool is then known as a "double header."

In all other respects (as to raising, seeing, &c.), the game is played precisely as Draw Poker.

Stud Poker.

This is a special form of Straight Poker. Its essential difference is that one card only of each hand is dealt face downwards, the remaining four being dealt face upwards. Of course, the value of the hand depends in great degree on the nature of the concealed card. The players, beginning with the elder hand, make their stakes, raise, &c., as at the ordinary game, till either all but one have passed out, or some player decides to "see" his adversaries. The concealed cards are then turned up, and the strongest hand takes the pool.

Whiskey Poker.

This is a family version of Poker. Each player puts in the pool an agreed amount by way of ante. Five cards are then dealt to each player, with an extra hand, known as "the widow." The elder hand may either play his own hand, pass, or take the widow. If he adopts either of the former alternatives, the next player has a similar option, and so on till some one elects to "take the widow." He takes the spare hand, and lays his own on the table face upwards. The next in order is entitled to take in either of the exposed cards, discarding in its place one of his own, which is added to the remaining four on the table. The next player has a like choice, and so on round and round, till some player is content with his hand, which he signifies by a knock on the table. Each of the other players may still make one more exchange, after which the cards are exposed, and the best hand takes the pool.

Should any player knock before the widow is taken, the five cards are turned up, and each player (other than the one who knocked) has one draw from them. Should the round of the table have been made without any one taking the widow, the five cards are turned up, and the players draw from them in rotation until some one expresses himself content.

There is in this case no "raising" or betting on the hands, the stakes consisting solely of the amount originally placed in the pool.

Mistigris.

This is a variation which may be introduced into any version of Poker. Mistigris is the "blank" card usually sold with a pack to show its pattern. This is shuffled with the rest, and the fortunate player to whom it falls is entitled to "make" it represent any suit and value he pleases. Thus if he has three sevens and mistigris, mistigris will represent the missing seven, and make him "fours." In conjunction with two pairs, it makes the hand a "full." If the player has four hearts and mistigris, he can claim a flush; and should his four hearts be in sequence, he is considered to hold a straight flush, the mystic mistigris representing the particular card required to complete it.

The Tiger.

The Tiger consists of the lowest "straight" that can be made, and reckons as one degree better than an ordinary straight. It is a recent innovation, and is wisely ignored by the majority of players.


35 ^  As the game is sometimes played, the dealer, and not the Age, puts up the ante, but the contrary is the more usual practice.
36 ^  This being a compulsory stake on an unknown hand, it is prudent to make it as small as possible.
37 ^  The Age, as a rule, goes in, even with poor cards; if he passes, he is bound to lose the half stake already put up, and it is, therefore, generally worth his while to risk the other half.
38 ^  Should B have already thrown up his cards, the privilege does not pass to C. There is a maxim on this point, "The Age never passes."
39 ^  Some players on a second round only allow the jack-pot to be opened by a pair of queens, or better; on a third, only by a pair of kings, or better; and on a fourth, only by a pair of aces, or better; but the practice is not recommended.
No player, even though holding the needful cards, is bound to open the jack-pot unless he pleases.