All poker games require some forced bets in order to create an initial stake for the players to contest. The requirements for forced bets, and the betting limits of the game (see below) are collectively called the game’s betting structure.
An ante is a forced bet in which each player places an equal amount of money or chips into the pot before the deal begins. In games where the acting dealer changes each turn, it is not uncommon for the players to agree that the dealer provides the ante for each player. This simplifies betting, but causes minor inequities if other players come and go or miss their turn to deal.
A blind or blind bet is a forced bet placed into the pot by one or more players before the deal begins, in a way that simulates bets made during play. The most common use of blinds as a betting structure calls for two blinds: the player after the dealer blinds about half of what would be a normal bet, and the next player blinds what would be a whole bet. Sometimes only one blind is used, and sometimes three. In the case of three blinds (usually one quarter, one quarter, and half a normal bet amount), the first blind goes “on the button”, that is, is paid by the dealer.
- For example, in a $2-$4 limit game, the first player to the dealer’s left (who, if not for the blinds, would be the first to act) makes a blind bet of $1, and the next player in turn posts a big blind of $2. After the cards are dealt, play begins with the next player in turn (third from the dealer), who must either call $2, raise, or fold. When the betting returns to the player who blinded $1, he must equal the bet facing him (toward which he may count his $1), raise, or fold. If there have been no raises when action first gets to the big blind (that is, the bet amount facing him is just the amount of the big blind he posted), the big blind has the option to raise or check. This right to raise (called the option) occurs only once: if his raise is now called by every player, the first betting round closes as usual.
In some fixed-limit and spread-limit games, the big blind amount may be less than the normal betting minimum. Players acting after a sub-minimum blind have the right to call the blind as it is, even though it is less than the amount they would be required to bet, or they may raise the amount needed to bring the current bet up to the normal minimum, called completing the bet. For example, a game with a $5 fixed bet on the first round might have blinds of $1 and $2. Players acting after the blind may either call the $2, or raise to $5. After the bet is raised to $5, the next raise must be to $10 in accordance with the normal limits.
When a player in the blinds leaves the game
When one or more players in the small or big blinds leaves the game, an adjustment is required in the positioning of the blinds and the button. The two most common tournament rules for handling this situation are the dead button and the moving button rules. In online card rooms, a simplified moving button rule is usually employed. Note that other variations on these rules exist.
Dead button rule
Under the dead button rule, the big blind is posted by the player due for it, and the small blind and button are positioned accordingly, even if this means the small blind or the button is placed in front of an empty seat, giving the same player the privilege of last action on consecutive hands.
- If the small blind busts out (leaves the game), the button moves to the seat vacated by the eliminated small blind. The player who was the big blind now posts the small blind and the player to his left posts the big blind. Since the button is now located at an empty seat, the player who was the button will, in effect, be the button once again.
- If the big blind busts out, the button moves to the player who was the small blind and the player to the left of the eliminated big blind posts the big blind. There is no small blind for that hand. On the following deal, the button moves to the empty seat vacated by the eliminated player and the two players to the left post the normal blinds. Since the button is now located at an empty seat, the player who was the original small blind will, in effect, be the button once again.
- If both blinds bust out, the same player will effectively be the button three hands in a row. The button moves to the now empty seat vacated by the eliminated small blind and the player to the left of the eliminated big blind posts the big blind. There is no small blind for that hand. On the following deal, the button moves to the next empty seat (the seat vacated by the eliminated big blind player) and the two players to the left post the normal blinds.
Moving button rule
Under the moving button rule, the button always moves forward so that a player never has the right to act last for two consecutive hands. The blinds adjust accordingly, which may result in more than one small blind, and/or more than one big blind being posted in a given hand.
These rules are always followed when assigning the blinds:
- The button always moves forward to the next seat occupied by a player.
- The player two seats to the left of the button always posts a big blind, as well as any players that the big blind has skipped past.
- Any player that posted a big blind in the previous hand, must post a small blind.
For the following examples, consider a hand just finished with Alice, Bob, Carol, David, and Ellen seated in order after the previous hand’s dealer. Alice was the small blind in the previous hand, and Bob was the big blind.
- Under normal conditions, Alice will have the button the next hand, Bob will post the small blind, and Carol will post the big blind.
- If Alice busts out, or steps away from the table, the button will skip past the vacated seat to Bob. Bob will post his small blind on top of the button. Carol and David will both post big blinds.
- The subsequent hand, Carol will have the button. Carol and David will both post small blinds, and Ellen will post the big blind.
- If Bob busts out or leaves the table, the button will move to Alice. Carol and David will both post big blinds.
- The subsequent hand, Carol will post a small blind on the button. David will post a small blind and Ellen will post the big blind.
- If Alice and Bob both bust out, or step away from the game, the button will skip ahead to Carol. Carol, David, and Ellen will all post big blinds.
- The subsequent hand, David will have the button. Carol will post a small blind behind the button, as well as David and Ellen posting small blinds, and the player after Ellen posting the big blind.
The moving button system can cause irregular blinds for several hands after a player leaves the game, and further complications can arise if players bust out on consecutive hands. However, the blinds will always eventually resolve to their normal positions.
Simplified moving button rule
Under the simplified moving button rule, normally used in on-line card rooms, the button always moves forward to the next player and the small and big blinds post in the two seats to the left of the button. Players may miss blinds.
When there are only two players
The normal rules for positioning the blinds do not apply when there are only two players at the table. The player on the button is always due the small blind, and the other player must pay the big blind. The player on the button is therefore the first to act before the flop, but last to act for all remaining betting rounds.
A special rule is also applied for placement of the button whenever the size of the table shrinks to two players. If three or more players are involved in a hand, and at the conclusion of the hand one or more players have busted out such that only two players remain for the next hand, the position of the button may need to be adjusted to begin heads-up play. The big blind always continues moving to the left, and then the button is positioned accordingly.
- For example, in a three-handed game, Alice is the button, Bob is the small blind, and Carol is the big blind. If Alice busts out, the next hand Bob will be the big blind, and the button will skip past Bob and move to Carol. On the other hand, if Carol busts out, Alice will be the big blind, Bob will get the button and will have to pay the small blind for the second hand in a row.
A bring-in is a type of forced bet that occurs after the cards are initially dealt, but before any other action. One player, usually chosen by the value of cards dealt face up on the initial deal, is forced to open the betting by some small amount, after which players act after him in normal rotation.
The bring-in is normally assigned on the first betting round of a stud poker game to the player whose upcards indicate the poorest hand. For example, in traditional high hand stud games and high-low split games, the player showing the lowest card pays the bring-in. In low hand games, the player with the highest card showing pays the bring-in. The high card by suit order can be used to break ties if necessary.
In most fixed-limit and some spread-limit games, the bring-in amount is less than the normal betting minimum. The player forced to pay the bring-in may choose either to pay only what is required or to make a normal bet. Players acting after a sub-minimum bring-in have the right to call the bring-in as it is, even though it is less than the amount they would be required to bet, or they may raise the amount needed to bring the current bet up to the normal minimum, called completing the bet. For example, a game with a $5 fixed bet on the first round might have a bring-in of $2. Players acting after the bring-in can either call the $2, or raise to $5. After the bet is raised to $5, the next raise must be to $10 in accordance with the normal limits.
In a game where the bring-in is equal to the fixed bet (this is rare and not recommended), the game must either allow the bring-in player to optionally come in for a raise, or else the bring-in must be treated as live in the same way as a blind, so that the player is guaranteed his right to raise on the first betting round if he chooses.
A straddle bet is an optional (voluntary) blind bet made by a player before receiving his cards. Straddles are only used in games played with blind structures. Straddles are normally not permitted in tournament formats.
The player immediately to the left of the big blind may place a live straddle blind bet. The straddle must be a raise over the big blind. A straddle is a live bet; the player placing the straddle effectively becomes the “bigger blind”. Action begins with the player to the left of the straddle. If action returns to the straddle without a raise, the straddle has the option to raise. The player to the left of a live straddle may re-straddle by placing a blind bet raising the original straddle.
A Mississippi straddle buys last action before the flop. House rules permitting Mississippi straddles are common in the southern United States. Usually, a Mississippi straddle can be made from any position, although some house rules only permit the button or the player to the right of the button to place a Mississippi straddle. Like a live straddle, a Mississippi straddle must be at least the minimum raise. Action begins with the player to the left of the straddle. If, for example (in a game with $10-$25 blinds), the button puts a live $50 on it, the first player to act would be the small blind, followed by the big blind, and so on. If action gets back to the straddle with no raise, the straddle has the option of raising. The player to the right of a Mississippi straddle may re-straddle by placing a blind bet raising the original straddle.
A sleeper is a blind raise placed from any position at the table other than under the gun.