In Texas Hold’em and Omaha, before dealing the flop, turn or river you will see the dealer discard the top card on the deck, face down thus putting it out of play. This face-down card is called the “burn card.” The dealer will burn three cards during the course of the hand; one before the flop, one before the turn and one before the river.
The first card burned will be prior to the delivery of the flop, the second prior to the turn, and the third prior to the river. In a Seven Card Stud game there will be four burn cards, one each for fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh streets. These burn cards are not exposed; they are spread out face down so they can be counted and are kept separate. Burning a card helps prevent the top card of the deck from accidentally being exposed.
If a dealer does expose a card during the initial deal, he first completes the deal and then replaces the exposed card with the burn card. The exposed card is placed face up on top of the deck for all players to see, and is used to protect the deck and replace the burn. The exposed card is treated just like a burn card. After the betting, and before the next cards are delivered, the exposed burn is placed face down in the burn pile.
The burn card has an interesting origin that isn’t really an issue today. Back in the old days of poker when people would mark cards or try to study the existing marks on cards they would then memorize them and what card it was. When that card was next to be dealt, like the flop in Texas Hold’em, they would know what it was beforehand and bet accordingly. This would give them an unfair advantage and create problems at the table.
The way that dealers learned to counteract this and stop the advantage from happening was to burn a card. They would take the top card from the deck, the one that people might be studying, and burn it so that it is no longer part of the hand. This would allow everyone to be on the same page when the flop was dealt. They would then do the same thing for the turn and river cards.
With today’s technology and all the cameras in casinos, marking cards or identifying cards with marks on them is clearly a thing of the past. The cameras in the casino would pick that up in an instant and a new deck would be put into play immediately. Still, the burn card has become a part of the game of poker and will stick with us for the rest of it’s days. The burn card is as much a part of poker as the flop, the turn and the river card and it’s here to stay. Whether it’s original purpose still exists or not.
Additional Burn Card Questions: