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Tabletop Game / Poker

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"2,598,960 possible five-card hands. 1,277 flushes in any given suit. 1,980,240 ways to make two pairs. And yet, the game can't beat a man. Man only beats himself (and on and so forth)."
Mr. Burt, The X-Files ("Improbable")

Poker is played with a standard 52-card deck. Well, mostly — there are variations which don't use all 52 cards, or add one or more jokers. Mostly played for money, sometimes just for fun, and sometimes for the clothes you wear. The Professional Gambler does this as a kind of day job.

The basic play of poker is: people are dealt a hand of five cards, which have a certain 'ranking' and will beat poker hands of a lesser ranking (ranking is generally determined by the rarity of the hand — a straight of ten, jack, queen, king, ace will beat a hand with just a pair of queens, for example). They keep their hand secret, and then bet money on it. The other players have to put in at least the same amount of money if they want to continue, or — critically — forfeit the money already agreed to, to the eventual winner. If it comes down to a showdown, the players show their cards, and the best hand wins all the money bet by all the players! This is why bluffing is possible; you can put in more money than your hand is really worth, in the hope that players will think you've got something great, and back down.

The history of poker is a bit unclear; some claim it developed from the old German board game Poch, which already had hand rankings, bluffs and bets on cards. It gained a lot of popularity in the Wild West and on Mississippi River steamboats, and much later again with Chris Moneymaker after he won the World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event in 2003.

Currently the most popular and well-known variant is No Limit Texas Hold'em, largely because it's what they play in most of the public events such as the aforementioned WSOP Main Event,note  and looks very exciting on TV (to the extent that from 2006 to 2009, the HORSE game, a staggering of various fixed-limit games, became NLHE at the final table for ratings' sake, until a variant was introduced with an NLHE game every orbit, which even then made it exclusive at the final table for two years). This can lead to Anachronism Stew moments in fiction when you see people e.g., in the Wild West, playing it; the game was actually invented in the early 20th century. Before the ascent of Texas Hold'em, the most popular variant of the game was Five Card Draw, in which each player has their own hand of five cards and there are two rounds of post-ante betting, between which each player can discard cards from their hand and be dealt new ones from the deck, followed closely by the five- and seven-card variants of Stud.

Poker often has cases of Beginner's Luck. Reverse Psychology often helps here. Also expect I Know You Know I Know on higher levels, as many top poker players have developed Awesomeness by Analysis. In media, depictions often use The Magic Poker Equation. Several pros use Trash Talk for more success.

Most often the game in cases of Gambling Brawl and Lost Him in a Card Game.

Inspired the trope name Misery Poker. May have inspired in some way Bluffing the Murderer, Bluff the Impostor, and other tropes with "bluff" in the name.

Remember: Aces and Eights are the Dead Man's Hand, thanks to Wild Bill Hickok losing his life while holding it (as dramatized in Deadwood, among others).

Also, always keep in mind: Know When to Fold 'Em, which this named. A Fool and His New Money Are Soon Parted.

Also see Playing Card Motifs and Cunning People Play Poker.

Tropes found in poker:

  • Appeal to Force: Card shark Canada Bill Jones' famous saying, "A Smith & Wesson beats four aces".
  • Awesomeness by Analysis: The surest way to succeed.
  • Beginner's Luck: Justified. Someone whose grasp of basic odds and strategy are tenuous will be much harder to predict than someone with moderate experience.
  • Big Book of War: Doyle Brunson's Super/System and its sequel are the traditional Big Books of Poker. Their advice is typically considered out-of-date these days, leaving the title up for grabs. Phil Gordon's Little Green Book and Daniel Negreanu's Power Hold'Em Strategy are two contenders. Caro's Book of Poker Tells (Mike Caro) is another classic, if more specialized.
  • Dead Man's Hand: The Trope Namer. Getting two aces and two eights will draw attention to the other players, as this was Wild Bill Hickok's hand before he was shot. It signals a death omen in fiction.
  • I Know You Know I Know: Often present in high-level play.
  • Kansas City Shuffle: A common ploy against opponents of moderate skill. Holding a strong hand, the player makes an overly large bet, trying to appear as though they're bluffing so that the opponent will call or raise. Conversely, holding a weak hand, the player makes a suspiciously small bet, trying to appear as if they're trying to suck the opponent in so that they'll fold or just call as opposed to raising.
  • Know When to Fold 'Em: Recognizing when one's hand is beaten and the opponent cannot be bluffed into a fold is a crucial skill. See Sunk Cost Fallacy below.
  • Literal Wild Card: In some variants, the dealer decides at the beginning of the game which cards, if any, are wild.
  • Professional Gambler: This is known as the only casino game at which one can reliably make money. Since the players are facing off against each other rather than the house, one only has to do well enough to "beat the rake" to make a profit. note 
  • Reverse Psychology: The foundation of strategy: convince your opponent that you want them to call, raise, or fold, so that they'll do the opposite.
  • Strategy, Schmategy: Novices and amateurs can often defeat professional players by making strategies that no professional would be stupid enough to use. Because they're not playing the odds properly, they trip up the pros who think they're also playing against pros.note 
  • Strip Poker: A staple of cool college parties you weren't invited to.
  • Sunk Cost Fallacy: Technically, being statistically "pot-committed" is an aversion of this trope; however, it's not uncommon to fall victim to it in other ways, such as continuing to play while "on tilt" (frustrated) in an attempt to get "unstuck" (win back previous losses) instead of recognizing that one is playing against superior opponents or just having an off day and cutting one's losses.