General Poker Rules Part 1

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PokerListings is proud to present part one of an updated version of our General Poker Rules. This part one of our detailed list of poker rules covers the buy-in and the deal.

The Buy-In

Once you get a seat at a table (this is usually done by putting your name on a waiting list), the first thing you have to do is buy in. There is always a set minimum you can buy in, and often a set maximum. As with any rule  you're unclear on, you can always ask the dealer what the minimum and maximum are and they'll let you know. For those of you who want to get some idea ahead of time, keep reading.

Limit Poker

In fixed-limit poker, the minimum buy-in amount is typically 10 times the higher limit. This means in a $5-$10 Limit game, the minimum buy-in would be for $100. There is no maximum amount you can buy in for in a Limit game. If you want to know how much to buy in for, just look at the size of stacks on your table, and match the average higher stacks.

No-Limit (And Pot-Limit) Poker

In No-Limit poker, guidelines around buy-in amounts vary more from one game to the next. There is no standard, and buy-in amounts are set by the room, so you're going to have to ask. If you're looking for a general idea, then go with this: the minimum buy-in in a No-Limit game should be 100 times the small blind, and the maximum buy-in should be equal to, or more than 100 times the big blind.

So in a No-Limit game with the blinds $2/$5, the minimum buy-in should be $200, and the max should be $500 or more. $500 is the lowest maximum buy-in you should ever see for this game. It will commonly be $1,000, or even, in some cardrooms,  unlimited.

Special Circumstances

There are a number of special situations you'll run into in a poker room, each with its own set of rules to govern it. Here are a few of the common ones to do with buy-ins:

Adding to Your Stack

David Benyamine
David Benyamine, one of the worlds greatest high-stakes players, both online and live.

You can add to your stack at any time. If you are in a hand when you announce you would like to add on, the additional funds will not be live (meaning it's as if they do not exist) until the next hand is dealt.

There is no minimum amount for adding on to your stack. As long as you have a single chip left from an original full buy-in, you can add on any amount you wish, with one exception: You can never add chips to your stack if it will put your stack above the maximum buy-in amount.

Moving Tables

If you are moving to a different table of the same structure and limit, you must bring your exact stack from the old table to the new table. You are allowed to buy more chips when you reach the new table, as long as you don't exceed the maximum buy-in. If you have more than the maximum amount already, you must keep all of those chips in play.

If you move from one limit to a different limit, you are viewed as a new player, and must adhere to the buy-in rules for that new limit, whether that means buying more chips, or cashing some out.

The Short Buy

Technically you are allowed to make one short buy. This means that after you bought in once for an accepted amount and subsequently lost all your chips, you are allowed to buy in for less than the minimum one time. This maneuver isn't recommended. But rules are rules, and you can do it one time if you please.

The Size of a Game

How big a game plays, meaning how much money you need to play and how big the pots are, are dictated by two different factors, depending on the type of game. In Limit poker, the size of the game is dictated by the bet sizes. A $5/$10 game will play much smaller than even a $10/$20.

In No-Limit poker, the blinds, or bet amounts, have little to do with the size of the game. The size of a No-Limit game is dictated by the maximum buy-in. In a $2/$5 with a $500 max buy-in, a standard game would have the average pot size around $200, while a $2/$5 with an unlimited buy-in can have average pot sizes of $500+.


Various rules govern the dealing of the cards. Here are some common dealing anomalies you may run into at a poker table.

Flashed Cards

Sam Farha
Dealers make mistakes, Sam Farha seems to know this well.

During a deal, it's common for the dealer to accidently flip one card over, or "flash" enough of its face for another player to see the face value of the card. In such a situation the dealer does the following:

  • The flashed card is turned face up in front of the player it was supposed to be dealt to.
  • The dealer continues dealing as if nothing has gone awry, until all players have their proper amount of cards.
  • The dealer then deals the player with the flashed card a new card from the top of the deck and announces to the whole table the value and suit of the card exposed.
  • This exposed card now becomes the first "burn card," and play continues as it normally would. (A burn card is a card dealt face down on the table before dealing the next round. It's used to make stacking a deck to cheat more difficult.)

There can only be one flashed card per deal. If more than one card is exposed, the deal is considered a misdeal. Also, any card that falls off the table due to the dealer's action is considered a flashed card, regardless of how many (if any) players have seen its value.


A misdeal is when the dealer makes a mistake large enough during the original deal to warrant taking in all the cards and starting over with a freshly shuffled deck. There are a couple of circumstances that precipitate a misdeal.

  • The first or second card to be dealt gets flashed (one or more players at the table sees the face value of the card).
  • More than one card being dealt gets flashed.
  • Two or more boxed cards are found (meaning the cards are upside down in the dealer's deck).
  • The dealer starts the deal on the wrong player.
  • One or more players receive more or fewer than the proper number of cards.

There are a few other dealing situations that can come up, but they typically don't result in a misdeal. If the problem can be fixed without affecting the hand, it usually is remedied rather than being declared a misdeal. For example, if the dealer deals the first three cards before realizing that she started on the wrong player, providing no one has looked at their cards yet, she can just move the cards to their proper places and continue.

If a hand is dealt to a seat with no player, typically that hand is just killed, meaning it's folded.


Glitches sometimes occur in a game of poker. Some are unique; others happen more often. How to deal with these irregularities is always up to the floorperson's discretion. Here are some common irregularities, with accepted methods of recourse.

  • You must protect your hand at all times. You cards may be protected with your hands, a chip or other object placed on top of them. An  unprotected hand can be killed accidently, or mucked by the dealer. Many a winning hand has been mucked this way, costing the player a large amount of money in the process.
  • If a card with a different color back appears during a hand, all action is void and all chips in the pot are returned to the respective bettors. If a card with a different color back is discovered in the stub (the deck of cards yet to be dealt), it is removed and all action stands.
  • If two cards of the same rank and suit are found, all action is void, and all chips in the pot are returned to the players who wagered them (subject to next rule).
  • A player who knows the deck is defective has an obligation to point this out. If such a player instead tries to win a pot by taking aggressive action (trying for a freeroll), the player may lose the right to a refund, and the chips may be required to stay in the pot for the next deal.
  • If there is extra money in the pot on a deal as a result of forfeited money from the previous deal (as per the previous rule), or for some similar reason, only a player dealt in on the previous deal is entitled to a hand.
  • A joker that appears in a game where it is not used is treated as a scrap of paper. Discovery of a joker does not cause a misdeal. If the joker is discovered before a player acts on his or her hand, it is replaced by the top card from the dealer. If the player does not call attention to the joker before acting, then the player has a dead hand.
  • If you play a hand without looking at all of your cards, you assume the liability of having an irregular card or an improper joker.
  • One or more card(s) missing from the deck does not invalidate the results of a hand.
  • Before the first round of betting, if a dealer deals one additional card, it is returned to the deck and used as the burn card.
  • If a card is exposed due to dealer error, a player does not have an option to take or reject the card. The situation will be governed by the rules for the particular game being played.
  • If you drop a card on the floor out of your hand, you must still play that card.
  • If the dealer prematurely deals any cards before the betting is complete, those cards will be collected, and shuffled into the remainder of the deck.

Stay tuned for part two. The second half of this article focuses on the rules surrounding dead hands, betting and the showdown.

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