Poker is a card game in which players place bets on the strength of their hands. Although the game requires a certain amount of luck, it also involves considerable skill and psychology. Players can minimize losses with poor hands and maximize winnings with good ones by betting strategically.

Players begin the game by placing forced bets, called antes or blind bets (these vary by game), into the central pot. The dealer then shuffles the cards, and each player, in turn, may cut the pack (though this is not always possible). Cards are dealt face up or down, depending on the game. The first of what might be several betting intervals begins, with each player either calling or raising the previous player’s bet.

A player who wants to remain in the game but does not want to put any money into the pot can “check,” meaning they will not raise or call a bet that has been raised by a preceding player. This practice is known as sandbagging, and is not usually allowed unless the game rules allow it.

If a player calls a bet, they must match it with the amount that their opponent has raised, or else lose their chips in the pot. If they want to increase their bet, they must say “raise,” indicating the desired amount. Alternatively, a player may fold their hand and exit the game. The player with the best hand wins the pot.