How to Play Poker – Beginners Guide to Rules and Strategy

How to Play Poker – Beginners Guide to Rules and Strategy

2021/01/15

One of the reasons tens of millions of people around the world are fascinated with poker is because it is a community game that combines luck and skill. Although it may take you a while to master your poker skills, you can learn and understand poker rules pretty quickly. So once you understand the basics, you can join a table of players at your level and start improving your skills and poker strategy at one of our recommended online casinos.

As you become a better poker player you will climb through the ranks. And in addition to the new and exciting challenges you will get a chance to win respectable prize pots. But again, at first you must learn some simple poker rules. Throughout this guide we will cover the game rules, different poker variations, including video poker, and all the basics you need to know in order to begin playing the exciting game of poker and develop your very own poker strategy.

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Played on Mississippi Riverboats in the 1800s and in bars out West during the Gold Rush, poker has been a big part of American history and culture for decades. With the online revolution that made the game popular all over the world, poker has grown to become a lot more than an American gambling staple.

Today, poker is played all around the world as a casual game amongst friends and family, as well as at land-based casinos. There are also millions that play online at amateur and professional levels, all the way to world-class professional events that are televised globally and give winners prizes worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Texas Hold’em is by far the most popular variation of poker, and in fact one of the most common forms of gambling around the world. Its popularity makes it famous and readily available online. And Texas Hold’em tables dominate brick and mortar casino floors as well. Usually Texas Hold’em poker is also the game of choice for friendly poker nights at home. So if you are a beginner that is just taking his/her first steps in learning to play poker, you would most likely want to start your poker journey by learning the rules of Texas Hold’em.

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However before we roll our sleeves, stack our chips and get busy learning how to play Texas Hold’em poker, keep in mind that there are many more exciting poker variants that are worth exploring as you progress. Many poker game rules are consistent across poker variations. But there are a few unique rules that give each game an exciting twist of its own. Learning these differences can open up an entire new world of poker possibilities such as Omaha, 3 and 5-Card, 7-Card Stud, RAZZ, Open Face Chinese (OFC) and many more exciting poker variations. Caribbean Stud Poker is another popular version that many players enjoy.

Especially if you are interested in Texas Hold’em, poker is not too difficult to learn. As this guide will show you, it is not hard to learn basic poker rules. So you can use it to quickly learn the game and join the poker tables in no time. Mobile casinos offer poker on their platform too which makes it handy to play on the go.

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Poker Hand Rankings

Although poker rules change between different game variants, the main aim of every poker game is for the players to construct a winning hand of cards. According to most poker game rules, the hands rank from the lowest to the highest values:

    ♣️High Card: A hand valued by its highest single card in the case where no other combinations can be made. If more than one player has the same high card, the hand that also includes the second-highest card wins.

    ♣️One Pair: Two of any similar cards.

    ♣️Two Pairs: Two pairs of any similar cards. In case more than one player has two pairs, the highest pair wins.

    ♣️Three of a Kind: Three of any similar cards.

    ♣️Straight: A hand consisting of five cards of a running sequence, regardless of the suit.

    ♣️Flush: Five cards of the same suit regardless of the sequence. If two players have a Flush, the highest card in a suit wins.

    ♣️Full House: Three of a Kind and a Pair in the same hand.

    ♣️Four of a Kind: All four cards of a given number.

    ♣️Straight Flush: Five consecutive cards, all from the same suit.

    ♣️Royal Flush: The best hand, formed by a Straight Flush that runs to the Ace. This is the highest possible Flush, with a 1 in 650,000 chance of being dealt in a game.

How to Make These Winning Hands

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‘Which poker hand wins?’ or ‘What hand do I have?’ are very common questions that beginner and intermediate poker players ask at the table. With the excitement and pressure of the game, even players that already know the poker rules will sometimes find the hand ranking confusing.

If you are playing online, there are different hand-rank calculators that you can use. And in case you are playing a live game, there are card-sized charts that show the different hands and their rankings. Still, there are a few key points to remember that will make things a bit less confusing and give you more control of the game.

As most poker games use the same hand ranking, we listed below a few tips that will help you figure the best 5-card poker hand in a Texas Hold’em game:

  • Use any of the 7 cards: In Texas Hold’em poker your final 5-card hand can use any of the Community or Hole Cards. You can use 1, 2 or none of your Hole Cards. Meaning, that your hand can actually be made by the 5 Community Cards in case that’s the best option.
  • Look for the highest pair: The 2 highest pairs are the best Two-Pairs along with the next Kicker Card from either the table or your Hole Cards. But if two players have Two-Pair hands, the player with the highest pair wins even if the hand’s second pair is lower than the other player’s two pairs.
  • Split pot: If a Showdown reveals that two players have the same hand, the pot will be split between them and the money is divided equally.
  • Highest flush: High cards in a Flush look great, but it doesn’t matter when comparing Flushes. If two players have a Flush, the Flush with the single highest card wins. For example, if you have a King high Flush and your opponent has Queen high Flush, you have the strong hand here and will win the pot.
  • Two Full-House hands: If two players have a Full House, the player with the highest Three of a Kind wins.

Always remember that some poker players will use bluffing as a technique. This is where your opponent will make you think they have a stronger hand than they actually do!


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Texas Hold’em Rules

Most poker games are played with a standard 52-card deck. Texas Hold’em (which we would refer to as the default in this guide unless stated otherwise) can be played with as little as 2 players, but is usually played with between 6 to 10 players at a table.

Players will receive a number of chips which they will use to buy a stake in the game. The chips that are bet by all players will make the Prize Pot, with the house taking a percentage of the pot as a Rake fee.

Rake

Think of the Rake as the commission that the casino or poker website will charge on each pot that is played in a poker cash game. In tournaments, there will not be a rake that is taken from the pot. Instead, the operator will charge a Tournament Buy-In fee from every player that wants to participate in the game.

Blinds

In Texas Hold’em, a disc-shaped Dealer Button (marked with a ‘D’) is put in front of the player that is the designated dealer for the current round. The player that is seated clockwise next to the dealer will post the first bet which is the Small Blind and the next player seated clockwise will post the Big Blind which is usually a bet double the size of the Small Blind. Still, blinds can vary depending on the stakes and game.

Betting Rounds

The First Hand begins with every player being dealt 2 cards face down (which only the player is allowed to see and use). These are called Hole Cards.

If the player decides to play the hand throughout all the way to the end of the game, there are four possible betting rounds to go through:

    ♣️Preflop: The first round, where players will need to make a betting decision based only on the Hole Cards they have been dealt.

    ♣️Flop: Once the first round is complete, 3 cards are dealt face up at the middle of the table. These are known as Community Cards as all players can see and use them to make their card hand.

    ♣️Turn: If there are still active players remaining in the game, a fourth card is dealt. This is again a Community Card available to all players.

    ♣️River: If there are still active players at this stage, the fifth and last Community Card is dealt.

Once the River is dealt, the remaining players have a total of 7 cards available to them (2 Hole Cards + 5 Community Cards). They will need to use 5 of the 7cards to construct the best possible Hand. Note that you are not required to use your hole cards to make a hand.

Showdown: Often there is a player that will win the prize pot before the River is dealt (when everyone except for that one player folded already). But in case there are 2 or more players left until the last round, the cards of all players are revealed and the player with the best hand wins the money in the prize pot.

Betting Options

At each stage of the game you will need to make betting decisions in order to maximize your card and stake value. The following are the betting options you can make:

  • Check: If no other player puts money into the pot during a round, you can bet nothing and pass it on to the next player.
  • Bet: If no other player puts money into the pot during a round, you can increase your stake in the game by adding more money to the pot.
  • Raise: You can increase your stake if money was already added to the pot during the round.
  • Call: Match the amount the player before you has added to the pot in order to stay in the game.
  • Fold: Retire your hand and forfeit your stake in case you don’t feel like your hand is worthy to continue playing with.

The game will continue clockwise around the table until all players have made their betting decisions. These rounds will continue until all the players but one retire. Or until the River is dealt and the Showdown between the remaining players reveals the winner.


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Omaha Poker Rules

Although nowhere near Texas Hold’em, Omaha Poker is the distant, second-most popular variation of poker.

The one main difference between Omaha Poker and Texas Hold’em is that in the Omaha variant players receive 4 Hole Cards instead of 2. In order to produce a winning hand the players must use 2 Hole Cards. But they cannot use more than 2. Similar to Texas Hold’em Poker, Omaha Poker has 5 Community Cards dealt with a Flop, Turn and River.

There are different Omaha Poker rules and variations that include Omaha High and Omaha 8-or-Better. It is often played in a Limit or Pot-Limit format. In Omaha High that features many of the Texas Hold’em Poker rules, each player aims to win the pot with the best high hand. But in Omaha High-or-Better the pot is split between the best high hand and best low hand.

3-Card Poker Rules

Although 3-Card Poker still uses ‘poker’ in its name, it is more of a casino game that uses the standard poker hand ranking order. 3-Card Poker follows many standard poker rules but you actually compete against the dealer. If you beat the dealer with a better hand you will win your bet (or bets) and a premium hand like a Flush or Straight will usually get you a premium payout. If you lose to the dealer you lose your bets.

When playing 3-Card Poker you can usually choose from a few types of bets before cards are dealt. Depending on the table you play at, bets typically include Ante Bet, Play Bet, PairPlus and combined Ante and PairPlus bets. There is no poker strategy per se, as the game doesn’t involve calling or making bets against other players. You are simply dealt cards and hope for the best. Although following common poker rules, 3-Card Poker still has some exceptions in hand rankings.

5-Card Draw Rules

5-Card Draw is a fast-paced poker game where the object is to make the best 5-card poker hand possible after one draw and bet accordingly. Because it is one of the simplest variants of poker, 5-Card Draw is often used as the first introductory poker version to new players.

Once all the players have placed their bets, each player receives 5 cards face down and a round of betting occurs. If more than one player remains in the game after the first round of betting, each active player will say if/how many cards he/she wishes to discard and replace with a new card from the deck.

Once the draw is completed, another round of betting takes place. If more than one player remains in the game, a showdown occurs and the player with the best hand wins.

7-Card Stud Rules

Before the meteoric rise of Texas Hold’em, Seven-Card Stud Poker was one of the most popular poker variations. The game can be played with between 2 and 8 players, with the biggest difference being that Seven Card Stud doesn’t involve a Flop, and in most cases doesn’t involve any Community Cards.

At the beginning of each hand a player is dealt the first two Hole Cards face down, and the third card which is called the Door Card facing up. Based on these three cards, the player will decide whether to fold or continue playing the hand. Then each player is dealt four more cards facing up. From these seven cards, the player will need to make the best 5-card hand combination in order to win. Hand Rankings in Seven-Card Poker are identical to those of Texas Hold’em.

More Poker Variations

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Many poker fans think that poker is synonymous to Texas Hold’em and perhaps some also think of Pot Limit Omaha. But there are many more fascinating poker variants that use the basic poker rules and game formula. Yet these offer an entirely new range of poker possibilities and strategies.

If you already know the basic poker rules and would like to expand your horizons and explore more exotic variations of the game, you can consider Razz, Chinese Poker, 2-7 Triple Draw, 2-7 Single Draw, Ace-5 Lowball, H.O.R.S.E Poker and many more interesting variations that are available online and in land-based casinos.

Understanding the Texas Hold’em rules will already give you preliminary grasp of many of these games, so you can hit the ground running by focusing on learning the unique aspects of each.


Want to learn about more casino games? We’ve got you covered. Click below for our guides on the most popular tables games you will find at online casinos.


Cash Game and Tournament Rules

In addition to the many poker game variations and betting options, there are different game formats that allow you to join the action at the poker tables. The main two formats for playing poker are Cash Games and Tournaments.

Cash Games are the most popular way to play poker. They are available both online and in brick and mortar casinos and cardrooms. There is usually a minimum and maximum buy-in where each player pays cash and receives chips at the value of their deposit. Cash Games are usually played at one table and players have the option to quit the game at any time. The blinds also stay the same for each hand depending on the stakes. If you lose all your chips/money in a Cash Game you can buy-in again and continue playing.

At Poker Tournaments players buy chips at a certain value (tournament buy-in), and play against more participants for a final prize. If a player loses all of his/her chips he/she is knocked out of the tournament. The last player remaining in the tournament, or the one left with the highest stake at the end of it, is the winner. Usually, tournaments divide the prize pot between the winner and the runner ups. The most popular tournament in online poker is the Sit N’ Go, which is a tournament for a set amount of players, that starts when all the seats at the table are filled.

Final Words on Poker

Whether playing online against other players from all over the world, at a brick and mortar casino or with friends at your kitchen table – poker is an amazing game that involves a community of players and requires strategy and skill. However keep in mind that there’s an element of luck in poker, and it is still considered a form of gambling. So always gamble responsibly, set limits, time constraints and watch your bankroll closely. In case you need help, contact a responsible-gambling support line. Always gamble safely and responsibly, so you can come back to the tables and enjoy a lifetime of poker excitement

FAQ

♠️ What is the most popular kind of poker?

Of all the variations of poker available, Texas Hold’em is the most popular and well-known version. It is played at various international poker tournaments, including the World Series of Poker, and is widely available in online casinos, land-based casinos and mobile casino app form.

♠️ How many cards do you need to play poker?

You can play basic poker with a standard deck of 52 cards, but some variants are played with multiple decks. Some versions of the game are played with the Joker cards added, but most simply require the 2 to 10, Jack, Queen, King and Ace cards.

♠️ How many times can you bet in poker?

In Texas Hold’em, there are 4 betting rounds. If you play through until the end of the hand, you can bet on the Preflop (when you see your Hole cards), the Flop (where 3 face-up community cards are dealt), the Turn (when the fourth community card is dealt) and the River (when the final community card is dealt).

♠️ Can you have a tie in poker?

You can have a tie in poker. If two players have the same hands, a tiebreaker is usually applied. Whoever has the highest-ranking card will win the hand. However, if the tiebreakers can’t determine a winner, then it’s a tie and the pot is split between the two winners.
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Ziv Chen

Ziv Chen

Ziv's Story

Ziv Chen has been working in the online gambling industry for over two decades in senior marketing and business development roles. Ziv writes about a wide range of topics including slot and table games, casino and sportsbook reviews, American sports news, betting odds and game predictions. Leading a life full of conflict, Ziv constantly struggles between his two greatest loves: American football and US soccer.