Poker is a card game in which players place bets on the likelihood that they have a winning hand. It requires good bluffing skills, and the ability to stay cool under pressure. It also tests one’s ability to read opponents and understand odds. Some people consider it a game of pure chance, while others see it as a combination of skill and luck.

The game can be played with 2 to 14 players, but the ideal number is 6. Players each make forced bets before cards are dealt, and the object of the game is to win the pot, which is the sum of all bets made during a single deal. Players can raise their bets during each round of betting.

After the dealer has shuffled and cut the deck, each player receives two cards face down (his hole cards) and one card face up. The player to his left is first to act, and he must either bet or check. The player who has the highest-ranking poker combination in his face-up cards wins the pot.

A successful poker strategy involves learning to read your opponents’ betting patterns. It is important to identify conservative players who fold early in a hand, as well as aggressive players who often bet high and can be bluffed out of their hands. Spend time studying a player’s tells, which include eye movements, idiosyncrasies, hand gestures and betting behavior. A player who frequently calls and then suddenly makes a big raise may be holding an exceptional hand.