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The Laws of Poker

It has often been said that poker has no official laws. I have been guilty of making that statement myself. When I reconsider I realize that exactly the opposite is true. Poker has innumerable sets of official laws.
There is no disagreement about the laws of correct procedure. Everyone agrees on the rank of the cards, the order of play, the method of betting, etc.

The only disagreement is on irregularities and what should be done about them. The ethics in a tough club game are entirely different from the ethics in a polite parlor game. If a player miscounts his chips and puts into the pot more than he should, a group of strangers might make him leave them in, a private men's club might slap on him a penalty of a chip or two, and a group of personal friends would let him withdraw the excess without any question whatsoever. If a player acts out of turn, a gambling house will let him get away with it because to inflict a penalty might offend the player and lose a customer; a group of his friends might penalize him in a good-natured way; a mixed group of husbands and wives in a family game probably would not even notice it.

If a man says he has filled a flush, bets, and then is found to be bluffing, in a family game he is considered a trifle dishonest; in a men's club he is considered to have played exactly according to the traditions of the game. To sandbag—to check and then raise when someone bets into you—is considered the essence of poker by the majority of serious players but so enrages most people that professional clubs have had to make a rule against it. In a tough game one can make the most outrageous statements about his hand and the practice is not only tolerated but is sneered at as being kid stuff that has no chance to fool anybody; but in the refined purlieus of a society living room it is considered a little less than nice. You can imagine what the general attitude would be in a game among experienced players if someone, before betting, asked, "I've forgotten—does a full house beat a flush?" But in the casual family game such a question is not too unusual and no one draws any particular conclusions from it. It would not even arouse any comment unless the woman who asked happened to hold neither a full house nor a flush, in which case she would probably be gossiped about as being a bit too smart for her own good.

In the game of poker these dilemmas are solved by the fact that every club, group, or even an individual social game has the right to make its own rules. The rules can be and are made so as to conform to the temper and preferences of the players in the game.

Nevertheless it is not only desirable but almost essential that such rules be written. Then, when any misunderstanding or question arises, the players can consult the written rules and stick by them, whatever they say, so that there can be no hard feelings.

The poker laws on this website are recommended for adoption by any game or group of players. These laws follow those adopted by principal clubs and gambling houses throughout the United States, and especially from Nevada westward. There are several other admirable codes of poker laws and from a practical standpoint it does not make a great deal of difference which code is adopted as long as the players adopt some code and stick by it.

Since a poker game is "every man for himself," poker players are by nature rugged individualists. A group of serious players seldom see why anyone else should be permitted to make laws for them. They prefer to make their own, or to at least look over the available remedies that have been tried and select the ones they like best. There is nothing wrong with this as long as every player in the game clearly understands what procedure will cover each particular case and as long as the laws are written so that there can be no misunderstandings about them.

The Forms of Poker

As mentioned above, there are innumerable ways to play poker. All have some features in common, such as the rank of the hands and the basic fact that each hand eventually consists of five cards; all have their points of difference that affect not only the procedure of play but also the strategy of play. The selection of a game is not wholly a matter of taste. Some games are definitely more suitable to a particular group or a particular setting (such as a home or club) than other games. I will list the main subdivisions of the game and make some observations on their suitability for particular groups and occasions.

The main division of poker games is into two large classes: closed or draw poker, in which all cards are kept face down until the showdown; and open or stud poker, in which some cards are exposed to all players as the betting progresses.

 
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