The art of the deal (aka How to deal a poker hand)

Five Poker Myths

Unless you’re intending to splash out a few hundred dollars for a casino professional to attend your home game, you’re going to need to learn how to deal. Without cards in your hand, you can’t play poker and so this is a vital skill.

The good news is that dealing poker is a lot like playing poker. It might seem difficult and daunting when you first try it, but you can pick it up if you’re prepared to learn it, and the more you do it, the easier it gets.

Most commonly, you’ll be playing Texas hold’em — the most commonly played poker variant. It follows that most commonly you’ll be dealing Texas hold’em too, so that’s the game we’ll focus on here.

A dealer’s role at a poker table can be broken into three principal tasks, the chronology of which overlaps in places. The dealer needs to i) shuffle the cards (this always comes first), ii) deal the cards in accordance with the rules, and iii) oversee the betting to ensure the right amount is in the pot, and that it goes to the right winner.

Five Poker Myths

The tools of the dealer’s trade

In reality, in a home game, the dealer will probably be playing a hand too, so it will be everyone’s responsibility to ensure the betting and pot values are accurate. There’s usually at least one player more competent than the others with calculating pots, and it’s probably wise just to let them.

Let’s look at all of these sections in order.


You’ve probably all seen the way professional dealers manage to shuffle the deck of cards in a matter of seconds, effectively, tidily, and with a satisfying swishing sound. There’s a simple reason for that: they’ve done it thousands and thousands of times.

Shuffling truly is the one poker skill that only gets better with practice. And the good news is that you can practice a lot. Why not sit with a deck of cards when you’re playing online poker, and shuffle them between mouse clicks? Why not sit with a deck of cards when you’re watching TV, and shuffle them as you get to grips with the plot? In order to get as good as the pro dealers, you simply need to do it over and over again. Eventually you’ll pick it up.

The most commonly used shuffle by casino pros is the “tabled-card riffle shuffle”, where a dealer splits the deck in two, keeping the bottom cards flat to the table, and then riffles the cards into each other, overlapping them, to consolidate them again in one pile. The pros do it very quickly, and repeat it several times, before cutting the deck and preparing to deal. You can watch training videos on how to do it and, remember, practice makes perfect.

Shuffling is simply about randomising the deck effectively

But even if you’re completely new to the game, you can still produce a successful shuffle. You just need to remember what the purpose of this exercise is. You’re intending to randomise the deck, to make sure there’s no predictable patterns to how the cards are arranged and to make sure no player at the table is able to know what’s coming next.

You can achieve this by spreading all the cards face down on the table and mixing them up. It really is that simple. You might think that that kind of shuffle is amateur and that it betrays inexperience. But it’s not so. Pro dealers do this as part of their shuffle. It’s a far more effective way of randomising a deck than any clunky, cack-handed, holding shuffle. If you know you can’t do an elegant riffle shuffle, just spread them out and mix the cards well, face down on the table.

Just remember to keep the bottom card hidden. A “cut card” is a vital piece of equipment for this purpose.


In Texas hold’em, each player gets two cards, face down. The dealer is required to provide them, one at a time, to each player in turn. The first player to get a card is the person to the immediate left of the dealer button (or the actual dealer, if they’re playing too), and then players get one each, moving clockwise around the table. The last person to get a card is the dealer themselves. The second card is then pitched in the same fashion and in the same order.

Home-game flops are rarely this neat

The pre-flop betting round then takes place (we’ll look at betting below, including placement of the blinds), during which some players are likely to fold. Folded cards are dead. They cannot be retrieved by any players, nor can they be looked at, so a dealer should pull them into a pile somewhere and keep them face down for the remainder of the hand. This pile is known as the “muck”.

If two or more players are still involved at the end of this pre-flop betting round, we can move onto the flop.

Before the actual flop is dealt, however, the dealer needs to remember about what’s called the “burn card”. The burn card plays no active role in a hand; it is simply there to be discarded. But it does serve a purpose. The burn card sits on top of the deck, face down like all the others, when players are betting, obscuring the back of what will become the actual flop card. This just adds an additional layer of security. If there was a mark on any of the backs of the cards (not likely, but possible), players would not be able to see it. The burn card is discarded only when betting for the round is complete. The dealer slides it to the side, still face down, into the rest of the mucked cards, and then deals the flop.

The flop comprises three cards, face up in the middle of the table. Active players then bet.

If two or more players are still active at the end of this betting round, the dealer “burns” another card (i.e., pushes the top card to one side, into the muck) and lays the turn card face up beside the flop.

Note: the turn card will usually be placed to the right, from the dealer’s perspective, of the flop. This is not mandatory, and many home game dealers toss the community cards in all kinds of messy arrangements on the table. But if we’re keeping things neat, place the turn to the right of the flop.

After the turn betting round, it’s time to repeat the process one more time and see the river. So: burn another card face down, and then turn the river over, face up, to the right of the turn.

No further cards will be used after this stage, so the dealer can place the deck down on the table, alongside all the mucked cards.

The final betting round takes place and, possibly, the hand will go to showdown, where the winner will be decided. When the pot has been awarded, the dealer hauls in all the cards again, making sure nobody gets to see any of the mucked cards, and it’s time to go back to the shuffling stage.


It’s also the dealer’s responsibility in poker to look after the pot. This means that the dealer needs to make sure all bet sizes are correct, that players are betting/calling the right amount, and that, at the end of the hand, the winner (or winners) get what they have earned.

The very first responsibility with respect to the pot comes pre-flop, where the dealer needs to ensure blinds and antes are posted. In most conventional games, the player to the left of the dealer places the small blind, then the player one seat further around places the big blind (twice the small blind). The dealer needs to ensure these blinds are in place before any cards are dealt.

If an ante is in play, players also need to put these forward before the cards are dealt. (If you’re playing a “big blind ante” game, the player in the big blind pays all of this.) Betting conventions will vary, but the important point is that the dealer needs to make sure everything is in the pot before the cards come out.

Dealers need to award the pot to the winner

Through each betting round, the dealer will need to make sure that players are putting the correct money in the pot. This is easiest in a no limit game, where players can bet anything they want, over the minimum. (It’s harder in a pot limit game, where there are limits on the amount of money a player can bet.) The dealer needs to make sure that all “active” players in a betting round either put forward the correct amount of chips to see the next card, or they fold and surrender their cards.

It is not required by the rules of the game for players to announce their bet sizes verbally. If they toss chips forward silently, then the size of the bet is everything they have moved over the line. The dealer then tells the rest of the table how big the bet it.

Sometimes a player might push forward a chip of, let’s say, 500 denomination but announce a bet of “Three hundred”. Whatever is announced is the size of the bet, and the dealer can give change to the player from the rest of the pot. If insufficient smaller-denomination chips are available, the dealer should ask another player to break down the big chip, and then give change. Again, in a home game, where the dealer might also be playing, these kinds of things can take place without the dealer doing it all themselves. But officially, this is the dealer’s responsibility.

At the very end of a hand, one person should be the winner, either because everyone else has folded or because there is a winning hand at showdown. (Although this will almost always be self evident, the dealer is the arbitration committee in case of a dispute.) The dealer should then push everything in the pot to the winning player.

Sometimes, two (or more) players will have the same hand and the pot needs to be split between them. Again, it is the dealer’s responsibility to count up the full size of the pot, break it down into two (or more) equal portions, and award those portions to the winning players. Any spare change, if the pot doesn’t divide evenly, goes to the player closest to the dealer.

And then the whole process starts again.

Author: wpadmin

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