In every hand of poker chips are placed in what is known at the pot. At the end of the hand, the player who wins the hand receives the pot; if multiple players tie they divide the pot.
In the beginning of the hand, the pot consists of the blinds and/or the antes. Antes are chips that all players are sometimes forced to contribute to the pot before the hand begins. The blinds are bets that certain players are forced to make. The players that pay the blind bets into the pot rotates around the table. This provides the incentive of players with less than the best possible hand to try and win the hand, so they can get the pot, which in turn gives other players a reason to fight them for the pot. Over the course of the hand, more money will usually go into the pot and often it will dwarf the size of the original blinds and antes.
The hand either ends after a fixed number of rounds of betting, at which point players can reveal their hands in what is known as a showdown. In this case, the player with the best hand wins the pot (if there is a tie, the pot is divided evenly), or when all but one player gives up by refusing to call a wager made by another player. A player who does so is said to fold, is out of the hand and surrenders their hand and all claim to the pot. The one remaining player then wins the pot without revealing their cards.
That process sounds simple enough, but there are two key parts of it that most players intuitively get wrong.
One error is that many players, especially new players, will try to win pots rather than trying to win chips. This is a case of scope insensitivity. It does not matter how many pots you win; what matters is how many chips you get out of those pots, minus the number of chips you gave up in antes, blinds and other wagers. It feels great to win the pot, but the pot is only valuable because it contains poker chips. Winning a pot is better than not winning the pot, since all the chips you wagered to win the pot are then returned to you, but not every pot is worth pursuing. When the cost to contest the pot exceeds the expected returns, including factoring in what may happen later in the hand, it’s time to fold and move on to the next hand. This ratio of the cost to the potential reward is referred to as the pot odds.
The other common error, and one that many veteran players continue to make, is a form of the sunk costs fallacy: They think there is a difference between the chips they’ve wagered and other chips someone else wagered. Players often feel the need to “protect their investment” or even “their babies,” and worry that if they fold all the chips they’ve put at risk will be lost. The moment a chip is wagered, it is no longer yours. It is part of the pot, and it is no different from any other chip. All that matters is how many chips are in the pot and whether that pot is worth trying to get.
Always remember The Objective of Poker. What counts is how many chips you’ll have to risk, how many chips you stand to win and with what probability you will succeed. Also remember that there’s potentially a lot more at stake than the chips already in the pot. On any given hand you can bet and lose every chip you have in front of you, or inflict the same fate on another player.