Poker Dealing & Gameplay

With almost as many play variations as there are card combinations, poker dealing is a nuanced topic that will change depending on how many players are at a table, whether you’re playing at a casino or home game, and – of course – which version of the game you are playing at the moment. While professional dealers undergo a rigorous training process to ensure that they all but eliminate any mistakes from their deals(players tend to have little humor when a dealer’s mistake costs them money, after all), players who find themselves dealing in a home game will likely face less stringent restrictions. Even if you plan to play online exclusively, an understanding of the general ins and outs of poker dealing can help give you a leg up on the competition when you hit the virtual table.

Deal to the Left

There are few rules that govern all variations of poker, and fortunately, they are among the simplest to learn. The first rule that every dealer must abide by is that all cards are dispersed beginning to their immediate left. Each player in any given hand will be dealt cards face down, one at a time. Each player at the table will be dealt a card in a leftward circle, and the process will repeat until the proper number of cards has been dealt to each player. Depending on the type of poker being played, players can be dealt between two and five cards.


Order of dealing – to the left of the dealer and around the table.

Dealer Button

Whenever a hand is completed, the responsibility of dealing will transfer one position to the left, as will the dealer button. This small plastic disc travels around the table throughout the game and denotes the player currently considered the dealer. While in a home game this would mean that individual is actually dispensing the cards, in casino or online play it is mainly a means of staggering forced bets known as blinds and allowing each player the ability to be the first and last to act during the rotation. As the order of play begins to the dealer’s left, those holding the dealer button will always be the last to act during the hand.

Betting Rounds

Before the cards are ever dealt, most forms of poker will require a round of betting to get the action started. There are two different kinds of bets that may have to be made before the hand is dealt, antes and blinds. Antes are small bets that all players currently in the hand will be required to make, regardless of their position or current chip standings. Blinds, on the other hand, are larger than antes, but are only required of the two players sat immediately to the left of the current dealer. The player closest to the dealer will make a smaller contribution, known as a small blind, while the player to his or her left will double that that wager, a contribution known as a big blind. The big blind will serve as the minimum bet that all other players must match (or exceed) in order to continue with the hand. Not every type of poker will require both antes and blinds, but players should be prepared to pay one if not both of these bets before each hand. The amounts and requirements for these wagers will be set by the card room, and will typically increase over time during tournament play.


Order of betting begins to the left of the dealer with the small blind.

Empty Seats

As the game roles on, you may notice your table shrinking as players bust out or get up and leave. As players leave the game, the dealer will omit those positions from their rounds – yet players who get up from the table without removing their chips from the felt will still be treated as active players. What this means is that individuals who get up to go to the bathroom, answer a phone call or grab a snack will still have cards dealt to their position – cards that will be folded automatically if the player does not return in due time. As active participants in the game, these players will still be subject to any antes or blinds that they would be otherwise required to make if they had been at the table the whole time. Busted players can actually still occupy a position in the blinds as well, a circumstance known as a dead blind. This will only happen to ensure that no player is forced to pay fewer/additional blinds compared to their opponents. As such, should a player be eliminated from the big blind, the next hand will see a dead small – meaning no player will have to put this bet in.


Each player is initially dealt two face down cards.

These rules are common across almost all of the different forms of poker, but there are some rules for poker dealing that only work with certain varieties.

Community Cards

Some of the most popular forms of poker, such as Texas Hold ‘em and Omaha, will also feature a collection of shared community cards known as “the board.” The board can vary in size from five to seven cards, and will usually be presented in a staggered manner. Once the hole cards have been dealt to all players in the hand, there will be another round of betting. After that, the dealer will deal one card face down – an action known as burning – before laying out the flop, the first three community cards, face up. The dealer will burn a card before dealing any further community cards as well.


The first three community cards dealt are called “the flop”.

Drawing Cards

Many poker varieties also employ drawing rounds, where players that survived the opening betting round can replace any cards they had been dealt at the outset. Players can turn in any or all of their cards, or keep them. Like everything we’ve discussed to this point, the player to the left of the button will have the first chance to trade in their cards, and the option will pass around the table from there. Once this is complete, a further round of betting will commence.