Poker: Money is aim of the game

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IT'S AS well to recognise that the aim of poker is to win money. That is how you measure the score at the end of the night. In other games, points, runs or goals may decide the issue. But poker is played directly with money, in the form of chips.

The winners end up with the chips of the losers, and some people feel that it is not very nice to try and win money off their friends. Maybe so - but it's a whole lot better than losing money to your friends.

The origins of poker, in the early 19th century, are not entirely clear. The game, based on older card games which had an element of bluff or brag in them, was adapted by French settlers in New Orleans. One suggestion is that the name derived from the German pochen - to brag.

The game spread, via the famous Mississippi steamboats through the south and west of the United States. Even today, the two stock images of a poker player are the Mississippi gambler with his bootlace tie and the cowboy in the western saloon.

Draw poker, the first game to emerge, remains the classic and all understanding of poker is based on its principles. One of the things about poker is that the rules can be learnt in three minutes.

In draw, the players are dealt five cards each, there is then a betting round, followed by a 'draw' in which players may change any of their cards from the dealer, and a second round of betting.

Draw: (x-x-x-x-x) - bet: (draw) - bet

Poker is a combination of maths and psychology. The latter means knowing your opponent, and will change from game to game. The maths remain constant. The probability of being dealt a royal straight flush (A-K-Q-J- 10 suited) is remote; 1 in 649,740 hands. But the chance of being dealt a pair is quite high - 1 in 2.4 hands.

The golden rule of poker is to start with the best hand. If you start with the best hand, you are likely to end up with the best hand. The dilemma is you don't know for sure if you are starting with the best hand. Nor do your opponents. In a five-handed draw game, someone will be dealt a pair of jacks just under half the time. But second- or third-best hands may improve on the draw. Or a player may bluff, by betting as if he has improved. Your judgement of the opposition and the betting of the hand will deliver - you hope - the answer.