Players in a poker game act in turn, in clockwise rotation (acting out of turn is a breach of etiquette and can negatively affect other players). When it is a player’s turn to act, the first verbal declaration or action he takes binds him to his choice of action; this is to prevent a player from changing his action after seeing how other players react to his first action.
A player may fold by surrendering his cards (some games may have specific rules–for example, in stud poker one must turn one’s upcards face down). A player may check by rapping the table or making any similar motion. All other bets are made by placing chips in front of the player, but not directly into the pot (this is called “splashing” the pot, and is also a breach of etiquette, because it prevents other players from verifying the bet amount).
The act of making the first voluntary bet in a betting round is called opening the round. On the first betting round, it is also called opening the pot. Some poker variations have special rules about opening a round that may not apply to other bets. For example, a game may have a betting structure that specifies different allowable amounts for opening than for other bets, or may require a player to hold certain cards to open.
To call is to match a bet or raise. A betting round ends when all active players have bet an equal amount or no opponents call a player’s bet or raise. If no opponents call a player’s bet or raise, the player wins the pot and the hand is over.
The second and subsequent calls of a particular bet amount are sometimes called overcalls. A player calling a raise before he or she has invested money in the pot in that round is cold calling. For example, if in a betting round, Alice bets, Bob raises, and Carol calls, Carol “calls two bets cold”. A player calling instead of raising with a strong hand is smooth calling, a form of slow play.
In public card rooms and casinos where verbal declarations are binding, the word “call” is such a declaration. In particular, the practice of saying “I call, and raise $100” is considered a string raise and is not allowed. Saying “I call” commits you to the action of calling, and only calling.
If no one has yet opened the betting round, a player may check, which is equivalent to calling the current bet of zero. When checking, a player declines making a bet; indicating that he does not choose to open, but that he wishes to keep his cards and retain the right to call or raise later in the same round if an opponent opens. In games played with blinds, players may not check on the opening round because they must either match (or raise) the big blind or fold. A player with a live big blind who chooses not to exercise his right to raise is said to check his option. If all players check, the betting round is over. A common way to signify checking is to tap the table with a fist or an open hand.
To raise is increase the size of the bet required to stay in the pot, forcing all subsequent players to call the new amount. If the current bet amount is nothing, this action is considered the opening bet. A player making the second (not counting the open) or subsequent raise of a betting round is said to reraise.
Standard poker rules require that any raise must at least equal the amount of the previous raise. For example, if a player in a spread-limit or no-limit game bets $5, the next player may raise by another $5 or more, but he may not raise by only $2, even if that would otherwise conform to the game’s betting structure. The primary purpose of this rule is to avoid game delays caused by “nuisance” raises (small raises of large bets that do not affect the bet amount much but that take time). This rule is overridden by table stakes rules, so that a player may in fact raise a $5 bet by $2 if that $2 is his entire remaining stake.
In most casinos, fixed-limit and spread-limit games cap the total number of raises allowed in a single betting round (typically three or four, not including the opening bet of a round). For example in a casino with a three-raise rule, if one player opens the betting for $5, the next raises by $5 making it $10, a third player raises another $5, and a fourth player raises $5 again making the current bet $20, the betting is said to be capped at that point, and no further raises beyond the $20 level will be allowed on that round. It is common to suspend this rule when there are only two players betting in the round (called being heads-up), since either player can call the last raise if they wish. Pot-limit and no-limit games do not have a limit on the number of raises.
To fold is to discard one’s hand and forfeit interest in the current pot. Folding may be indicated verbally or by discarding one’s hand facedown into the pile of other discards called the muck. In stud poker played in the United States, it is customary to signal folding by turning all of one’s cards face down. In casinos in the United Kingdom, a player folds by giving his hand as is to the “house” dealer, who will spread the hand’s upcards for the other players to see before mucking them.
It is a serious breach of etiquette to fold out of turn, that is, when it is not the folding player’s turn to act, because this can harm other players. For example, if there are three players remaining and the first player in turn bets, the third player folding out of turn gives valuable strategic information to the second player (who is in turn at this point), to the detriment of the bettor. In some games, even folding in turn when a player is entitled to check (because there is no bet facing the player) is considered an out of turn fold since it gives away information to which other players would otherwise not be entitled. Finally, if a player folds out of turn in a stud poker game, the player in turn may demand that his upcards remain exposed until he has completed his turn. When folding, concealed cards should not be exposed unless no further betting is possible in the hand (i.e., unless the fold awards the pot to the only remaining player). A player is never required to expose his concealed cards when folding prior to the showdown.
- Robert’s Rules of Poker by Bob Ciaffone are a widely referenced set of poker rules.