A Beginner’s Guide to Poker – Play Your Cards Right!
There are lots of card games, but none compare to poker when it comes to sex appeal and charisma. Who can buy a tray of chips without thinking of James Bond casually outplaying a supervillain in a high-stakes game? Poker is undeniably cool.
You’ll look the part after reading this beginner’s guide to poker. Ante up. It’s time to play.
Origins of the Game
Nobody’s quite sure where poker started. The Chinese invented paper – and playing cards – about 2,000 years ago. An early version of poker called primero was so popular in England that Shakespeare depicts Henry VIII neglecting royal duties because he’s in the middle of a game.
Primero led to poque, which was popular in 17th century France. The French took the game to Louisiana, where modern poker emerged as a pastime on Mississippi River steamboats.
We don’t know what the future will bring, but poker games were depicted frequently in “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” suggesting that the game will still be popular in the 24th century.
Beginners Guide to Poker Hands
The first thing you must know is which hands beat other hands. No matter what kind of poker you play, knowing the difference between a flush and a straight will be important. Here is a helpful rundown of hands from highest to lowest value.
- Royal flush – Five cards of the highest rank, all of the same suit: A♣, K♣, Q♣, J♣, 10♣
- Straight flush – Five cards of the same suit in sequence: 9♦, 8♦, 7♦, 6♦, 5♦
- Four of a kind – Four cards of the same rank: 7♠, 7♣, 7♥, 7♦
Those are the top three hands. Keep going – we’re learning to play poker!
- Full house – Three cards of the same rank and a pair of a different rank: Q♥, Q♣ , Q♠ ,4♣ , 4♦
- Flush – Five cards of the same suit: K♣, 9♣, 7♣, 4♣, 2♣
- Straight – Five cards of mixed suits in numeric sequence: 10♥, 9♣, 8♠, 7♠, 6♦
- Three of a kind – Three cards of the same rank: 7♠, 7♣, 7♥
- Two pair – Two pairs: 7♠, 7♣ and 2♦, 2♣
- Pair – Two cards of the same rank: 4♥, 4♠
- High card – When none of the players have any of the hands listed above, the player with the highest card wins
Knowing the basic poker hand rankings can help you evaluate the strength of the cards you’ve been dealt and decide whether to bet against other players.
How to Play Texas Hold ’em
Today’s most popular poker game is no-limit Texas hold ’em. It can be played by two to 10 players at a single table with a single standard deck of 52 cards.
Like most poker games, Texas hold ’em requires that players make initial bets – “ante up,” in poker parlance – before each hand.
There are many different types of poker. Most require each player at the table to ante an identical amount before each hand. In Texas hold ’em, the player to the dealer’s left bets the required minimum – the small blind. The next player makes a bigger bet: the big blind.
Each player is then dealt two face-down cards – the hole cards.
At this point, the first round of betting commences. Each player has five options:
- Bet. In no-limit hold ’em, the minimum bet is the amount of the big blind and there is no maximum.
- Check. This essentially means “pass,” and players who have good poker hands don’t do it unless they are trying to lull other players into a false sense of security. After you pass, the next player is called upon to bet. Play will return to you and you will have another opportunity to bet before the next cards are dealt.
- Call. You bet an amount that matches the current high bet.
- Fold. You forfeit the amount you have already bet and withdraw from the hand.
- Raise. You match the highest bet and bet an additional amount. Other players must match your bet or fold.
Steps 3 to 5 continue until everyone has called or folded.
Basic poker rules for hold ’em require that after the first round of betting is complete, the dealer deals three community cards that anyone can use face-up on the board. Those three cards are called the flop.
After that, another round of betting starts with everyone going through steps 1 to 5 again.
If a player wishes to call but doesn’t have enough chips to cover the bet, they may go “all-in” by betting all their remaining chips. The player remains in the hand as if they have called all bets until the end of the hand.
How does poker work? This is how: successive rounds of betting every time new cards are dealt.
When betting on the flop is finished, a fourth community card – the turn – is dealt face-up and another round of betting commences.
After the fifth community card – the river – is dealt, everyone has a chance to bet once more.
If two or more players have not folded after this last round of betting, their hole cards are revealed, their hands are evaluated, and the highest-ranked hand wins the pot.
Different types of poker fall into three main categories.
- Draw poker is played with all cards dealt face-down. Players have an opportunity to replace cards in their hands by drawing new ones in an attempt to improve their hand rankings.
- Stud poker calls for players to receive one hole card and a series of face-up cards, with a round of betting after each face-up card is dealt.
- Community card poker is played with community cards that players combine with cards in their face-down hands. Texas hold ’em is a variety of community card poker.
These games can be modified by resetting the order of what are considered good poker hands. There are two popular variations:
- Lowball games are played with reversed card rankings. Depending on the particular game, aces can be counted as high or low. Straights and flushes may be ranked differently. In any case, the goal is to have the lowest hand.
- High-low split games are among the most complicated forms of poker. The pot is split between the player with the highest-ranking hand and the player with the worst hand. These games have complex rules and conventions. On rare occasions, one player can have both the lowest and the highest hand at the same time. Because of the complexity, these games are not recommended in games of poker for beginners.
Poker games can also vary according to limits on bets and pots.
- Fixed-limit games have a maximum bet limit. The usual practice is to increase the limit round by round and to limit the number of times each player can raise the bet.
- No-limit games don’t define a limit to the number of raises a player can make during a betting round – except that the player can’t bet or raise by more than the chips they have on the table. When you are learning to play poker, this is the easiest betting format for mastering the complexity of checking, betting, raising, and folding.
- In pot-limit games, betting and raising are influenced by the number of chips in the pot and the size of the current bet. The betting minimum is determined by the size of the blinds. The bet limit is the sum of the total chips in the pot plus the previous bet. This betting variation is not recommended for players who are new to the game.
These variations on poker game rules can be refreshing if you want to switch up your regular game and try something refreshing or challenging. Lowball games can be fun if you want to change the pace and try to have the lowest-ranked hand. Getting a royal flush or another great hand can be quite ironic when you’re playing lowball – especially if you recently fell short while playing a regular Texas hold ’em or draw poker game. Playing a game with a fixed limit can help speed up the game if players are having a hard time deciding how much to wager.
Poker Tutorial For Beginners
Poker is a game of chance that requires you to calculate risk versus reward. Although there is an element of chance, there is also room to influence the results and turn the tables in your favor. Here are a few tips to get you started:
Don’t play every hand. Playing every hand doesn’t work to your advantage. You may have been dealt a bad starting hand. Even if you had to bet the small or big blind, it may be more advantageous for later rounds if you skip this hand and wait for better hole cards. This should be rule number one in poker for dummies. The exception: If you are not playing cash games, playing poor hands can be fun – especially if you pull off a win with a bad hand or bluff your way to the pot.
Predict what cards other players have. Knowing what cards are on the board and in your hand lets you estimate with fair probability what cards are in the other players’ hands. It is also helpful to know the probability that you will be dealt certain hole cards. This is surely one of the more useful poker tips. Here are some odds to get you started:
- pocket pair 16:1 (5.9%)
- specific pair 221:1 (0.45%)
- suited cards 3.3:1 (23.5%)
- connected cards 5.4:1 (15.7%)
- ace and king suited 331:1 (0.3%)
These probabilities can be helpful. Knowing how unlikely it is to have two aces before the flop can put your hand in perspective.
Bet instead of calling. Betting is usually a better option than calling. Betting increases the stake for other players so you can win without revealing your cards. When you take control and bet, other players may fold because of the cost of staying in play.
Play your position. The most important tip in our poker tutorial is to take advantage of your position at the table. When you’re the dealer for the round, you have an opportunity to see how other players are placing bets, opportunities to bluff, and more information to guide your decisions.
Right-size your bets. The size of the bet should depend on the cards in play. As a rule of thumb, the maximum bet should be between half the pot and the full pot in no-limit Texas hold ’em.
How to Get Better at Poker
“Practice makes perfect” is as true in poker as in any other pursuit. To play better, get more experience.
Learning poker online is a good idea, especially since you can find websites where you can play for free and practice your game. This can help you when you are learning to assess your chances. After a few rounds, you will see which hands commonly win an average game. It’s rare to win with a royal flush or straight flush. In most games, the most common winning hand is two pairs or three of a kind.
With few online games under your belt, you will develop a sure grasp of the rules. Now you can confidently play a live low-stakes game with friends without worrying that you don’t know the rules of poker. You could even join a casino site and try your luck with real-money online poker.
If you’re playing face-to-face in a casino or with friends, these tips will help you get invited to play again.
Pay attention to the game. Always think ahead about your potential actions. Decide in advance whether you will fold or call so you don’t hold up the game. Taking prompt action improves game flow and it’s a way of being considerate toward other players.
Don’t “hit and run.” This expression is used for players who leave the game right after winning a large pot. Gamblers frown upon this poker practice – it’s only fair to give them a chance to win their money back. Make a quick exit and you may not be invited back.
Be respectful. It’s frustrating to discover you have the second-best hand in the game. But that doesn’t excuse being rude, swearing, or acting out. The best players are graceful in victory and defeat. Being a good loser is a great show of maturity and fair play. Don’t complain about the dealer, other players, or your bad luck.
Glossary of Poker Terms
Like many games, poker has its jargon. We’ve compiled a list of the most commonly used terms as a part of this beginner’s guide to playing poker.
- All-in. The player bets all remaining chips. Until the end of the hand, the player is treated as if they have called in each round of betting.
- Ante. This is a mandatory bet that is made before cards are dealt. In most poker games, all players ante.
- Blinds. This is short for “blind bets” – the antes made by the player to the dealer’s left and the next player in line before the first cards are dealt in Texas hold ’em. The first player bets the small blind and the second player bets twice as much: the big blind.
- Bluff. You are bluffing when you are statistically unlikely to win because you don’t have one of the best poker hands to play but bet confidently anyway to persuade other players that you have a strong hand. You hope the other players will fold and you will win the pot despite your poor hand.
- Board. These are the community cards that are placed face-up in Texas hold ’em.
- Button. The button is a physical marker that moves around the table to indicate who is dealing the current hand. The current dealer is sometimes referred to as the button.
- Call. This means you match another player’s bet.
- Cap. This is the maximum number of raises allowed in a round of betting. The cap is set aside when only two players remain in the hand.
- Cashing out. No quick guide to poker is complete without defining the term for exchanging chips for cash after the game.
- Check. Equivalent to “pass” during a betting round.
- Chips. These round plastic tokens are used in place of money.
- Fold. This is when you discard your cards, leave the current hand, and forfeit the chips you’ve put in the pot.
- Hole cards. These are the cards you are dealt face-down.
- Pocket pair. When your two hole cards make a pair in Texas hold ’em, that’s a pocket pair.
- Pot. The pile of chips in the center of the table during a hand of poker. According to poker rules, different-colored chips are worth different amounts of money.
- Raise. This term refers to increasing the wager during a round of betting. Other players at the table must match the new bet amount or fold.
- Suited. Multiple cards of the same suit.
- The flop. In Texas hold ’em, “the flop” refers to the first three community cards that are dealt after the hole cards.
- The river. In general, the term “the river” refers to the final card that is dealt in any hand of poker. The term has become widely known from televised Texas hold ’em tournaments, where it refers to the fifth card on the community board.
- Turn. In Texas hold ’em, “the turn” is the fourth card (out of five) dealt face-up on the community board.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the easiest poker game to learn?
Although the game was virtually unknown a generation ago, most young players today learn poker by learning to play no-limit Texas hold ’em, which is one of the most popular poker games in the world. Anyone wondering “How does poker work?” can observe a game of Texas hold ’em in a casino or on television and quickly gain a rough idea of how the game works.
What type of poker do pros play?
Pros mostly play Texas hold ’em and Omaha hi-low. Hold ’em is especially popular because it is easy to learn and fun to watch. The game has found a following because of televised World Series of Poker tournaments and other well-publicized events.
Is it hard to learn to play poker?
Poker is easy compared to other popular games like bridge. Once you have memorized the hand rankings, the mechanics are simple and easy to master. A few minutes with a beginner’s guide to poker should prepare you to play some no-money practice games online, and after a week or two, you’ll be ready to experiment with low-stakes games for real money.