Whether you’re playing poker in a home game, in a casino or over the Internet, it’s important to have a good understanding of basic strategy. You’ll also need to know how to deal with other players, especially those who are bluffing or trying to make a good hand with weak cards.

Normally, you place money into the pot only if you believe that your action will have positive expected value (i.e., you want to call a bet, raise a bet or try to bluff). The decision-making process is complex and involves elements of probability, psychology, and game theory. Although the outcome of any particular hand depends heavily on chance, long-run expectations are determined by actions chosen on the basis of strategy.

When a player has a strong enough hand to win the pot, they “show their cards.” The winning hand is then declared. The pot is divided between the winning and tied players.

If you have a strong enough hand to win the pot, you may wish to bluff and force other players to place their chips in the pot with weak hands. In order to do so, you must be able to read your opponents and determine their confidence level in the game.

In the early 1970s, MIT mathematics graduate student John von Neumann proved that players could achieve long-term profitability if they bet large with their best hands and small with a defined percentage of their worst hands. His “Theory of Games” opened the door to many other fields in which competitive interactions can be mathematically analyzed, including auctions, submarine warfare and even the way species compete to pass their genes on to future generations.