Poker Table Stakes

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A final important concept for this chapter is the concept of “table stakes.” In short, table stakes means that the number of chips you have on the (virtual) table at the beginning of the hand is what you are eligible to wager on the hand. Two critical points arise from this rule:

✦ First, a poker player may not “go into their pocket” to bring out more money during the hand. One reason, obviously, is that it is unfair to the other players for one player to be able to decide how much they like their cards before deciding how much they’ll put at risk. Many decisions as to whether to bet and (where applicable) how much to bet are made based upon how much money an opponent has left to risk. Playing table stakes means there is no money-related camouflage.

✦ Second, because a player isn’t allowed to bring out additional money during the hand, they do not automatically lose if they run out of money during the hand. For example, if the bet is $10 and you only have $5 left, your hand is not folded. Instead, you may put your final $5 into the pot. If there is only one other player in the hand, the betting is over. The player takes back $5, and the hand is completed with the pot going to the winner. If another player decides to match the $10, your $5 and the other players’ $5 are put into a “main pot,” while the extra $5 from the other players are put into a “side pot,” which you are not eligible to win. The players with money remaining play the hand out and “showdown” for the side pot. After the side pot is awarded, your hand is shown and compared with the side pot winner’s hand, with the main pot going to the better hand.

An easy way to understand the idea behind the second point is that you may only win as much from other players as you had when the cards were dealt. If you have $20, the most you can win from any other player is $20. If you and nine other players put in $20 and you win, you have $200! Good work if you can get it, but don’t count on it.

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