The game of poker requires the ability to minimize losses with bad hands and maximize winnings with good ones. This requires a combination of luck, skill, and proper use of the game rules. A written code of poker laws serves as the final arbiter of any disputed issues. Local customs and preferences are encouraged to form house rules, but they must conform to the written code of poker rules.
Before a hand is dealt, players contribute an initial amount, called the ante. This is used to seed the pot and ensure that all players have an opportunity to act on their hands. The antes may also serve as a deterrent against all-in betting and raises.
Each player is issued a set of poker chips, often with different colors and denominations. The most common are white, black, and red. A single white chip is worth a minimum ante or bet; a black chip is worth 10 or 25 whites, depending on the poker game; and a red chip is usually worth two, four, or five whites. A player can request to change the color of his or her chips.
A standard pack of 52 cards is used in the game, although some games add one or two jokers. Cards are ranked (from high to low) Ace, King, Queen, Jack, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3 and 2. The highest hand wins the pot.
The most important rule is that each player must protect his or her own hand. This is achieved by placing either the player’s hands or a piece of paper on top of the cards. A player who does not protect his or her cards can be penalized by having their cards mucked before the other players have the opportunity to make a decision on them.
While a player’s right to protection is guaranteed by the rules, it is not a guarantee of a win. Even a superior hand can lose to another player who makes a better play.
It is the responsibility of each player to declare his or her intentions clearly: using non-standard betting terms like bet, raise, call, fold, check, all-in, and pot (pot-limit only) will confuse other players and could result in a ruling other than what the player intended. The same is true of using non-standard gestures; tapping the table does not always constitute a check, for example.
A player must keep his or her eyes on the action and not receive coaching from a guest. A player who is sitting behind a guest must also keep his or her hands off the table.