Home Gambling Guides How To Play Poker – Learn the Rules of Poker
Johanna Gullberg
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So, you want to learn how to play poker but don’t know where to start. Poker is a highly complex game filled with strategy, skill, and gambling fun, yet it’s easy for anyone to pick up. The popular card game comes in many styles and variations, but they all contain a few essential components to nail down before you can start placing wagers with confidence.

If you’re thinking about getting into poker, you’ve come to the right place. In this poker-playing guide, I’ll cover everything from poker rules for beginners and a complete terminology cheat sheet to strategizing tips you can use as you ease your way into the game.

How to play poker - all you need to know

How To Play Poker Online – The Essentials

Poker encompasses a family of popular card games, all of which follow very similar techniques, strategies, and rules. You can play poker either in person at land-based casinos, or at casinos online via live sessions through the web browser or dedicated casino apps. You play with other players or against machines that use Random Number Generators to determine the poker game’s outcome. So, what is the purpose of the game? If you’re looking to play poker with crypto, check out our page about the best crypto casino sites.

When you play poker, your goal is to have the best hand based on the rules of the game. For example, the best hand may be four matching numbers, straight numbers in a row, a high card, etc. I will cover the winning hands below.

The game begins when the dealer distributes cards to each player. The number of cards you receive depends on which variant you play, but expect to receive between two and five cards. If you don’t receive a full hand of five cards, the dealer distributes the rest to a community deck in the center of the table throughout the poker game.

To join the round, you often must place a blind bet before even looking at your cards. Now, you may look at your hand. Certain hands are stronger than others, as I’ll cover below, so you’ll have an indication of how strong your hand may get based on the cards you’ve already received.

Poker rounds progress as the dealer distributes community cards into the center of the table, assuming you don’t already have a full hand of five cards. During each round, you can make betting choices, such as the following:

  • Call: Matching or raising another player’s bet
  • Raise: Adding to another player’s bet to up the stakes
  • Fold: Withdrawing from the game
  • Check: Neither betting nor withdrawing (only allowed in select scenarios)
  • All in: Betting all available funds

I will cover the vocabulary in more detail below. The turns continue progressing until all poker players are satisfied with their betting or folding decisions. Each remaining player reveals their hand to see who has the strongest cards based on the game’s rules. The strongest hand wins the full pot.

The Poker Deck

Poker is traditionally played with a standard 52-card deck, minus the jokers. In more recent years, most casinos have begun using two decks for efficiency purposes so the dealer can begin shuffling the second deck while the first one is still in rotation. You will still only ever play with one deck at a time.

Card Rankings

To properly learn poker techniques, you must understand card values. When playing poker, an Ace qualifies as the highest card in the deck. Understanding this is vital, as a Royal Flush is the best possible (and rarest) hand in the poker game. To achieve this, you would need a straight ending in an Ace (10, Jack, Queen, King, Ace), as I describe below.

When comparing high cards, the Ace, King, Queen, and Jack rank as face cards, though they never carry a numerical value. An Ace may also count as a low card if it benefits your poker strategy in lower straights. Finally, suits are ranked alphabetically, with clubs being the lowest and spades being the highest.

Poker Hand Rankings

In any variant of poker, you will end up with a full hand of five cards by the end. Some of these cards may be in the community deck, or you may have started with all five. Regardless of which version you play, you will use all five of these cards to create the best possible hand based on the standardized poker hand rankings, as all forms of poker follow the same rules. For a deeper insight in poker hand rankings, take a look at our poker cheat sheet page.

Hand Description Number of Ways Probability Odds Against
Royal Straight Flush You have five cards of matching suits that are also in sequence, and the top card of the sequence is an Ace (e.g., 10, J, Q, K, A – ALL HEARTS) 4 0.000154% 649,739 to 1
Straight Flush You have five cards of matching suits that are also in sequence (e.g., 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 – ALL CLUBS) 40 0.00139% 72,192 to 1
Four of a Kind You have four cards of matching ranks (e.g., 9, 9, 9, 9, 3) – fifth card doesn’t matter 624 0.02401% 4,165 to 1
Full House You have a three of a kind plus a two pair (e.g., 8, 8, 8, J, J) 3,744 0.1441% 694 to 1
Flush You have five cards of matching suits (spades, hearts, diamonds, or clubs) but not in sequence 5,108 0.1965% 509 to 1
Straight You have five cards ascending or descending in a sequence, but they are not all the same suit (e.g., 8, 9, 10, J, Q) 10,200 0.3925% 255 to 1
Three of a Kind You have three cards of matching ranks 54,912 2.1128% 46 to 1
Two Pair You have one pair of matching ranks plus a different pair of matching ranks (e.g., 5, 5, 6, 6, 9) – fifth card doesn’t matter 123,552 4.7539% 20 to 1
One Pair You have one pair of matching ranks 1,098,240 42.2569% 1.37 to 1
High Card No players have any pairs, consecutive straights, or matching suits, but you have the highest-value card 1,302,540 50.1177% 1 to 1

Basic Poker Rules – How a Betting Round Unfolds

Most poker games follow the same basic step-by-step rules. While different poker variations may enforce varying rules on betting, all poker variations will follow a similar poker theory as the betting rounds unfold:

1. Choose Your Poker Table

First, you must choose your poker table. Each table may offer a different variant of the game or have varying bid-ins, representing how much you need to bet before joining the game. Make sure to pick a table with a minimum bet in line with your bankroll.

When playing poker online, you will also have access to free poker tables where you can practice your poker strategy before wagering real money.

2. Place Your Wager

Some poker tables require all tables to place an “ante” which is a blind bid before the game begins. You may see this requirement during tournaments.

Aside from this, before any round of poker may begin, the small and the big blind players must buy into the game. The small blind player is the one sitting directly to the left of the dealer, while the big blind sits to the left of the small blind. The big blind’s buy-in will be double that of the small blind.

You will not know what cards you have at this point, so you will be placing a blind bet. This initial buy-in is typically low, but some high-roller tables may require high bids of up to $5.

All of the poker players’ bids will go into a center pot, funding the total amount the winner can earn. Tables with high buy-in requirements reflect an opportunity to potentially earn a big pot if you win.

3. The Pre-Flop Round

Now, all players may look at the cards in their hands. Depending on the version of poker you’re playing, you will have two to five cards in your hand. From here, a round of betting will occur in a clockwise direction, allowing each player to call the current bet, raise the bet, fold their hand, or check.

4. The Dealer Deals the Cards Face Up

In poker games where you do not receive a full five-hand card from the beginning, the dealer will begin by flipping the community cards. Typically, the dealer places five face-down community cards in the center of the table at the beginning of the game. After the pre-flop round, the dealer flips over one card before another betting round ensues in the same clockwise direction.

If the flipped card improves your hand, you can adjust your poker game strategies accordingly.

5. The Betting Rounds Continue

The betting rounds continue as the dealer flips over each community card one at a time, with betting rounds between each flip. Numerous players typically fold throughout this process, as not everyone will have a strong enough hand to match all bets.

5. The Final Players Reveal Their Cards

The game continues until all community cards are flipped and all players are satisfied with their betting decisions. Now, the remaining players flip over their hands so the table can see who has the winning hand. In most variants, the player with the strongest hand wins the entire pot.

Poker Game Terminology

If you want to nail all the basics of playing poker, you need to know the lingo. During any round, the players around you will be using the words below, which can sound like a foreign language if you aren’t familiar with these terms:

  • Action – Any betting movements, such as raising, folding, calling, checking, etc.
  • Ante – Mandatory blind payments required by all players before the game can begin (does not occur in all poker games)
  • All-in – A betting action when a player decides to wager all of their funds
  • Blind – Any bet done without seeing your cards first
  • Buy-in – The amount of money required to join any given poker table
  • Call – Matching the existing wager of the current betting round
  • Check – Choosing not to make a wager, which is only an option if all players before you also chose not to make a wager or if you were the first player to make a betting action that round
  • Raise – Increasing the size of the bet of that round, requiring all players to meet your new bet
  • Check-raise – Raising the previous check streak to a new bet
  • Dealer – The person who deals the cards (can be a player or casino employee)
  • Fold – Exiting the current game before or during any betting rounds because you do not wish to match the wager set by the other players
  • Hand – The cards you were dealt plus any currently available community cards
  • Pot – The area on the table where all wagered bets or chips go, resembling the total amount of money the winner will receive
  • Heads-up – Any poker betting scenario where only two players go head-to-head
  • Chips – Small tokens that represent the money you are using to place bets
  • Bet – Any wager you make during various rounds using your poker chips
  • Pre-flop – The first betting round before the community cards are revealed (only applicable in certain poker games)
  • Flop – The second betting round in which the community cards are dealt (only applicable in certain poker games)
  • Turn – The third betting round in certain poker games
  • River – The final betting round in most poker variants
  • The table stakes – A poker rule that prevents players from needing to put down more chips than they have

If you want to learn how to play poker, you must understand the different poker formats and variants so you know which tables to choose when you’re ready to begin playing. Here are a few of the most popular poker formats:

Poker Tournaments

Poker tournaments require all players to buy in blindly to join the event. Your buy-in will give you a certain number of chips allowing you to “pay” to join various tables.

Throughout the tournament, you will play rounds of poker following all standard rules. The winner of each game gets all the chips from the table. The chips you receive as the winner may not be cashed in for money; instead, you can use these chips to continue joining more tables throughout the tournament.

The tournament will progress until all players are eliminated and only one person stands after winning all chips (rules can vary in different scenarios). The winner may receive a prize.

Cash Games

A poker cash game is typically the most common form of poker, where you play with chips. At the end of the game, you can cash your chips in for real money.

Freerolls

Poker freerolls are tournaments that charge no entry fees for you to join, but you still have a shot at a real-money prize if you win. Typically, freeroll tournaments have sponsorships allowing them to fund the event without charging for entry.

Sit and Gos

Poker sit and gos are single-table tournaments where you must pay to buy in and receive chips, but you can receive a cash-out based on what place you end in, not how many chips you have at the end of the game.

Satellites

Poker satellites are tournaments where the prize gifted to the winner is simply a seat in another, larger tournament rather than a cash-based prize.

Texas Hold'em poker variant

Not only does poker come in many formats, but it also comes in numerous variants. As I mentioned previously, when you play poker, you may receive two to five cards, and you may also need to bet over the community cards. This is where the different poker variants will affect your gameplay:

Texas Hold em

Texas Hold’em is one of the most popular poker variants where each player receives two face-down cards before the pre-flop, flop, turn, fourth street, river, and other betting rounds ensue. The dealer will turn over five community cards one by one, giving you seven cards to choose from when building your five-card hand.

Omaha Poker

Omaha poker (including pot limit Omaha and Omaha hi-lo) is another community card version of the game where you can only use three of the five community cards that have been dealt. This game also differs from the previous variation because you will receive four face-down cards instead of two, giving you many options to choose from when building your final five-card hand. You must always use two of your initially dealt (hole) cards plus three community cards when building your hand.

Stud

Stud poker covers any poker variations where players receive face-up and face-down cards throughout the betting rounds. For example, seven-card stud gives you two face-down cards, then five face-ups with betting rounds in between, while five-card stud follows a similar structure with fewer cards. Stud hi-lo splits the pot, allowing the lowest-hand player to win half the pot, while Mississippi Stud Poker and Caribbean Stud Poker use community cards.

Three-Card Poker

In three-card poker, you receive three cards and play against the dealer, but the dealer must meet certain requirements to stay in the round.

Video Poker

Video poker is a computerized version of poker usually based on the five-card draw poker variety. You will receive five cards that you can either keep or discard to receive new ones as the rounds progress. The setup of the game can feel similar to slot machines since you are playing a computerized game.

Pros and Cons of Online Poker

Online poker offers advantages and disadvantages when compared to playing at land-based facilities:

Online poker Poker at a land-based casino
Pros
  • Convenience and flexibility
  • No travel requirements
  • Options to play for free
  • Ample gaming variety
  • Socialization aspect
  • Easier to view other players’ mannerisms
Cons
  • Minimal social interactions
  • Potentially smaller prize pools
  • Less player traffic
  • Travel costs and burdens
  • Fewer gaming options
  • Stricter buy-in and ante requirements

Poker Tips for Beginners

Learning how to play poker isn’t everything. You must also learn the basic betting patterns and poker strategies:

When To Fold

First, you need to know when you should fold so you don’t lose too much money on an unworthy hand. If you don’t have good cards and the players around you continue raising the bet as if they do, you may need to fold before you put too much money in.

When To Bet

On the opposite end of the spectrum, you also need to know when you should bet to potentially win a hand. Based on my table detailing the order of winning hands above, if you have good cards with the potential to build a strong hand, you may want to bet.

When To Call

If you’re unsure about your current cards and want to see what actions other players take or how the community cards will look once they’re flipped, you may want to consider calling if the current bet isn’t too high.

When To Raise

Many assume that if they have strong cards, they should raise. In some cases, yes; if you’re confident about your hand, raising can help you increase the pot. You also must be careful of raising too much, though, as this could make other players suspicious of your hand, causing them to fold, ultimately decreasing how much you can win.

The Importance of Position

Where you sit at the poker table can affect your betting. For example, if you sit next to highly experienced players, you may have to bet more, but if you sit in front of these players, you may have more control over your actions.

Reading Your Opponents

The actions other players take often show the strength of their hands. For example, if someone frequently raises, they may have a really strong hand, so you may want to fold if you aren’t confident in your hand. Reading opponents takes practice.

Practice Playing Free Poker Games

One of the best ways you can sharpen your skills is by practicing with free games so you don’t lose too much money in the beginning.

Bankroll Management

Bankroll management is critical in any casino game. Set strict spending limits for yourself, withdraw earnings regularly, and stick to your comfort zone.

Poker Tips for Advanced Players

Poker is a game of skill

As you progress into an intermediate or advanced player, adopt these tips to sharpen your gameplay:

Bluffing Techniques

Bluffing is a poker strategy where you pretend you have a good hand by placing big bets to essentially scare all other components out of the game so you can win the pot. In this technique, you would place gradually increasing bets each round until everyone folds, even though you don’t have a good hand. Bluffing requires a lot of knowledge, experience, and comfort in taking risks.

Pot Odds

With pot odds, you calculate the total size of the pot versus the size of the bet you’re facing to measure potential outcomes. In general, pot odds become favorable when they are greater than the odds against your hand, like four or five to one.

Adapted Strategies

Adapted strategies involve any situation where you can adapt your gameplay to the variant or format of poker you’re playing or to the way your opponents are acting. For example, if you decide to play a form of the game where you receive five cards and the dealer puts out five community cards, you will need to make a lot of adjustments.

Poker Etiquette

Here is some basic, good poker etiquette to maintain a friendly and respectful game environment:

  • Follow the rules of the specific game you’re playing
  • Place your entire bet in one motion
  • Don’t wait to reveal your hands in the final round
  • Pay attention throughout the gameplay
  • Try to continue playing after winning a big pot
  • Don’t take long during turns
  • Clearly display all chips
  • Be kind to all poker players and the dealer
  • Don’t act when it isn’t your turn

Responsible Gambling

Responsible gambling ensures you set safe limits on your spending and gambling time to protect your finances and mental health. As you learn how to play poker, here are some resources on responsible gambling:

FAQs

Are Online Poker Games Rigged?

Can I Win Real Money Playing Poker Online?

Is It Difficult To Become a Good Poker Player?

What Suit Is the Highest in Poker?

Johanna Gullberg

Johanna Gullberg

With over a decade of experience in the online casino industry, Johanna is a seasoned expert and passionate advocate in this field. Her role as Casino Editor at Tech Report is enriched by years of writing specialized iGaming content for several different markets. Johanna is an authoritative source for everything related to online casino gaming, providing insights on where and how to play. Her expertise ensures players have a comprehensive and well-informed gaming experience.