The Ultimate Guide to Playing Poker – Get Started Now
Poker is one of those games that’s relatively easy to learn to play but incredibly difficult to master. I realised this soon after I started playing and I’ve been acquiring new skills and perfecting old ones ever since.
If you’re daunted by the idea of learning how to play this popular game, I’ll tell you straight away that there is no need to feel that way.
In this article, I will share with you everything I know so you can learn how to play poker and increase your chances of winning when playing in a casino, online poker rooms or against friends.
The information on how to play poker is out there, but it is horribly scattered. You’d have to browse for hours to learn everything you need to get started. That’s why I’ve decided to write a poker-playing guide that will encompass all that information, providing you with all the knowledge you need in one place.
This guide will consist of the following chapters in which I will write about each topic in detail:
- Basic Poker Rules
- Poker Gameplay Explained
- Main Poker Variations
- Types of Poker Tournaments
- Winning Poker Tips & Tricks
- Frequently Asked Questions About Poker
Let’s begin by learning about poker basics and cover the most important rules that govern the game!
Chapter 1: Basic Poker Rules
As I have already said, learning to play poker is pretty easy. As you probably know by now, poker is a card game played with a single 52-card deck, jokers removed. What makes it different from other card games is that it is played with stakes.
The first thing you need to play poker is opponents. The minimum number of people who can play a poker game is two, whereas the standard maximum is 9 or 10, sometimes even 11. Apart from the players, the table you’re playing at will also include a dealer who is responsible for distributing cards to the players and ensuring the rules are being followed.
The objective of the game is to have a better-ranking card than your opponents at the end of a round. Another way to win is to get all other players at the table to fold (surrender), which you usually do by violently raising the bet when you have a strong hand (or when you’re bluffing).
In each poker game, players usually go through several rounds of betting before the remaining players in the game show their cards and the winner is determined.
Poker Hands Ranking
The first and the most important thing to learn before playing your first poker game is the hand rankings. The biggest mistake you can make when playing poker is to think that you have a winning poker hand when you don’t.
The hand rankings are the same in all poker games, except for the games that use reversed hand rankings.
For now, you should memorise the following winning hands, listed from the strongest to the weakest:
- Royal Flush: A hand that consists of A, K, Q, J, 10 in the same suit. This is an unbeatable hand.
- Straight Flush: A hand that consists of any five consecutive cards in the same suit. For example, 5,6,7,8,9.
- Four of a Kind: Four cards of the same kind. For example, A, A, A, A.
- Full House: Three cards of the same kind, plus a pair. For example, A, A, A, K, K.
- Flush: Any five cards in the same suit.
- Straight: Five consecutive cards not in the same suit.
- Three of a Kind: Three cards of the same kind.
- Two Pairs: Two pairs of cards. For example, 9,9,7,7.
- Pair: One pair of the same cards.
- High Card: If you have none of the above hands, the highest card in your hand will be considered at the showdown at the end of a round.
As you can see, poker hands are not complicated at all. However, you will need some time to memorise them and always know with certainty how strong your hand is. If you cannot memorise them fast, many casinos allow players to use poker cheat sheets.
Some common mistakes beginners make include believing that a straight is stronger than a flush or that two pairs are stronger than three of a kind. So make sure you remember the hands in the exact order and practice until you reach perfection.
Stud Games and Draw Games
When it comes to differences in gameplay, the two most popular types of poker games are called draw poker and stud poker. Both are unique, played with a different set of rules, and have a long history.
Draw poker is the older of the two and more popular around the world. It is a poker game you usually see in Hollywood movies and westerns.
This type of poker is unique because the players have a chance to improve their hands by replacing some of the cards they receive. Initially, each player receives five cards face down, and after the first round of betting is completed they can replace one, two, or three cards, or keep the ones they have.
Stud poker, on the other hand, does not allow players to replace any of the cards they receive. In some games, such as Texas Hold’em, players are dealt two cards face down while another five community cards are placed on the table. The goal is to create a 5-card winning combination by combining your two cards with some of the five community cards.
In other games, such as 5-card stud or 7-card stud, players receive five or seven cards. Some of these are face up and some face down, both of which players need to use to create a winning hand.
Before you head to an online or land-based casino or just to a home poker party, you need to learn the language of poker. It’s part of the standard casino etiquette.
When you learn the most important terms, you will know exactly what is happening at the table and you’ll be able to avoid making strategic mistakes.
Here are some of the most important terms to keep in mind when playing:
- Ante: A small bet players must make before the cards are dealt.
- All-In: A bet a player makes by wagering all of their chips.
- Small Blind: The number of chips the first player to the left of the dealer has to bet in the first round. The number depends on the stakes determined before the game. It’s usually half the amount of the big blind.
- Big Blind: The number of chips the second player to the left of the dealer has to bet. It’s usually double the amount of the small blind.
- Buy-In: The minimum amount needed to sit at a particular table or enter a poker tournament.
- Bluff: To raise and pretend you have a strong hand when you actually have a weak one.
- Dealer Button: The button that indicates which player shuffles and deals the cards. The dealer button is also used to determine the position of the small blind and the big blind.
- Hand: Five cards a player uses to create a winning combination.
Basic Poker Playing Options
The beauty of poker and the reason why it is so easy to learn is that there are not many moves you can make. In any poker game, there are basically four moves and decisions you can choose from. These are:
- Check: If the player before you did not raise the bets, you can do the same by checking and continuing the round.
- Call: If the player before you has bet some chips, you can bet the same amount and continue the round by calling. In the first round of a poker game, you call by matching the big blind bet.
- Fold: If you do not want to bet anything and want to “surrender”, you can fold.
- Raise: To bet more than the minimum required to call. If other players at the table want to continue the round, they must match your bet.
To master poker, you need to learn when to check, call, raise, and fold. The most important thing to remember is not to call in every round. Folding in poker is not the same as surrendering or chickening out. It is a strategic move that lets you save your chips and wait for a better hand to multiply them. Poker games generally have high payouts, but you need to play your cards right to benefit from them.
Chapter 2: Poker Gameplay Explained
In this chapter, you will learn everything about the poker gameplay. You will learn how a round unfolds, which stages it follows, as well as many other aspects of the game, such as the table limits, buy-ins, blinds, and a lot more.
Poker chips are the official “currency” used in poker. These are little plastic chips with different denominations. Each chip value is coloured differently, so it is easy to recognise what its value is.
If you’re playing in a land-based casino, you can exchange your money for chips before the game begins and sometimes at the table as well.
In online casinos, this is done automatically when you choose how much money you want to bring to the table.
When you play poker and you want to call or raise, you will take your chips and put them in front of you, toward the center of the table. Other players will do the same. When you win a round, you will receive your chips back and other players’ chips on top of that.
What Are Buy-Ins and Table Limits?
A poker buy-in is a term used to refer to the amount of money a player is required or allowed to bring to the table to be allowed to play.
In most poker games, both the minimum and the maximum buy-in amounts are predetermined.
The size of the buy-in is normally influenced by the limits at the table, so it’s important to explain that as well.
In most casinos out there, the minimum buy-in is typically 20 to 40 times the big blind. The maximum buy-in is usually around 100 times the big blind.
The limits refer to the maximum amount you can use to raise a bet in a game of poker. Some games have limits that are the same as the big blind, whereas others have no limits, which means you can go all-in.
In games in which the bets are limited, the buy-in usually isn’t and players can bring any amount to the table because having more money does not give them an advantage.
On the other hand, in no-limit games, where all-in bets are allowed, the buy-in is usually limited in order to make all players at the table equal before the round begins.
When deciding how much money to bring to the table, make sure to keep bankroll management in mind. Never bet more than your finances can handle.
Dealer, Big Blind and Small Blind
There are three important buttons in poker called the dealer, big blind and small blind. These determine the gameplay and ensure the game is dynamic and the pot worth playing for.
The dealer button is given to the person who deals the cards to other players. The dealer may or may not be one of the players in the game.
The first player to start the round is the player next to the dealer, so the dealer has the advantage of playing last.
The big blind button is given to the player sitting to the left of the dealer and the small blind to the second player to the left of the dealer. The big blind and the small blind are bets placed before the cards are dealt. The small blind is half the bet limit, whereas the big blind is the full amount of the bet limit.
These three buttons are passed forward to give the advantages and disadvantages they carry to all players. When the buttons make a full circle around the table, that is called one “orbit”
A Walk Around the Poker Table
Now that we know all the important aspects and concepts of a poker game, let’s take a walk around the table. I will take you through one round of a Texas Hold’em game and show you how a round of poker unfolds, one step at a time.
Thanks to the rapid development of the online gambling industry, if you play online the gameplay will take care of itself.
However, it’s still crucial that you understand it well.
Let’s imagine that we are playing a $20/$40 Texas Hold’em game. Before the cards are dealt, the big blind and the small blind need to place their bets. The small blind bets $20 and the big blind bets $40. After that, the dealer serves two cards face down (hole cards) to each player and three community cards face down, and the round begins.
The first player to make a move is the person to the left of the big blind. They have the choice to call, raise, or fold. After all the players have made their calls, and nobody has raised the bets, the big blind can raise and another round of betting begins.
After that, the three community cards (known as the flop) are turned face up and another round of betting begins. After that round, the fourth face up card (called the turn) is added to the flop, which is followed by another round of betting.
Finally, the fifth community card (known as the river) is added to the flop and the last betting round begins. After it is completed, the showdown commences when the remaining players at the table must show their hole cards and the winner is determined.
Fixed Limit, Pot-Limit, and No-Limit Games
Finally, let’s learn about the three main poker variations based on the maximum size of the bet players can make. The three main types are:
- Fixed Limit
No-limit Texas Hold’em poker is the most popular of the three and the one most commonly featured in Hollywood movies. You’ll understand the reason after I explain these variations below.
In fixed limit poker, the maximum amount a player can bet is determined before the game begins. This rule ensures a much more even playing field for all players involved. These games are usually played slowly and strategically and they last for a long time. In some games, the limits can be doubled after each orbit of play.
Pot-limit poker is the variation in which the maximum amount a player can bet is the same as the number of chips in the pot. This variation is more fun and dynamic, but it still ensures that players with a lot of money don’t gain a strategic advantage over those who have less.
Finally, no-limit poker is a game in which the maximum amount a player can bet is not determined. A player can go all-in at any point in the game and bet all of the chips they have. The other players must match that bet or bet all of the chips they have if they have less than required.
Chapter 3: Main Poker Variations
The beauty of poker lies in the fact that it is an assortment of different games. There are many variations of poker out there you can play, some more and others less popular.
That means you will never get bored with poker as you will always have a chance to start learning and mastering a new variation.
Let’s learn more about the eight most popular ones below.
Texas Hold’em Poker
Texas Hold’em is by far the most popular poker game you can find both in online and land-based casinos. Especially the live dealer casino version.
This game is played with two hole cards served to the player and five community cards placed at the center of the table.
The goal is to combine one or two of your hole cards with three or four community cards and make a 5-card winning combination.
The game goes through four betting rounds and can be played as a no-limit, pot-limit, and fixed-limit game. The most popular of the three is the no-limit variation.
Pot-Limit Omaha is a game that’s most popular in Europe. It’s a game packed with action and high stakes, so it is a favorite among players who like fast-paced and exciting poker.
Pot-Limit Omaha is very similar to Texas Hold’em but it also has some crucial differences. Namely, each player in Pot-Limit Omaha receives four hole cards while another five community cards are placed on the table.
Each player must combine exactly two of their cards with three community cards to make a strong 5-card combination.
All other rules, including betting and hand rankings, are the same as in Texas Hold’em. Hence, if you know how to play one, you’ll know the other as well.
Seven-Card Stud used to be the most popular poker game several decades ago before Texas Hold’em became the favorite of the majority of players out there. This is a slow game, so it’s suitable for players who like to play strategically and focus on patience and memory.
There are no community cards in Seven-Card Stud and the game is usually played with fixed limits.
The game begins by all players paying an ante and being served three hole cards. Two of these are face down and one is face up. After a round of betting, another card is dealt face up. The pattern continues and players receive the fifth and the sixth cards face up as well. Finally, the seventh card is dealt face down.
After the last round of betting, players must show all of their cards and make a winning 5-card combination.
Razz is a unique game because the hand rankings are turned upside down. Such games are called lowball games because the goal is to make the worst possible hand according to standard poker hand rankings.
Straights and flushes in Razz don’t count and the ace is the lowest card. Therefore, the best hand to make is a 5-4-3-2-A.
The gameplay in Razz is the same as in Seven-Card Stud, so you can play one if you know the other. But make sure to memorize the hand rankings that are quite unique in Razz.
Omaha Hi-Lo is another unique poker variation because the winnings are split between the player with the highest and the lowest hand.
The gameplay is the same as in Pot-Limit Omaha, with some crucial differences when it comes to hand rankings. Namely, each player must use exactly two of their hole cards and three community cards to create a high combination and the other two hole cards and three community cards to make a low combination.
If one player has both the highest and the lowest combination, they “scoop” the pot, winning all the money in it.
2-7 Triple Draw
If you like Razz, you will love 2-7 Triple Draw. This is another lowball game, but it differs a lot from Razz.
This game is played with five hole cards and no community cards. After the players have been dealt their five cards, they go through four betting rounds and three drawing rounds. During each drawing round, they can choose to change any number of their cards, or none at all.
In this game, the ace is high and straights and flushes do count. Therefore, the best worst hand you can make is the unsuited 2-3-4-5-7.
Five-Card Draw is the easiest poker game of all. Most of us have played it when we were kids. This game is played with five hole cards dealt face down and no community cards.
There is one drawing round during which players can change any number of their cards or none at all if they like their initial hand. This is a high game, so it uses standard hand rankings.
Finally, we come to the most challenging poker game. The name of this game is an acronym in which each letter represents a different poker game:
- Omaha Hi-Lo
- Seven-Card Stud
- Seven-Card Stud Eight or Better
Each of these five games is played for one orbit before moving to another game. The game starts with Texas Hold’em and ends with Eight or Better. All five games are played with fixed betting limits.
Chapter 4: Types of Poker Tournaments
Poker tournaments are poker games that can be played by anywhere between 10 and 1,000 players. These players usually play at different tables, eliminating other players and moving closer to the final game where the winner of the tournament will be determined.
There are numerous poker tournaments people can participate in. Below are some of the most popular types.
Freezeout Poker Tournaments
The freezeout is basically a poker tournament format that does not allow players to rebuy chips after they run out of them the first time. The majority of tournaments fall into this group, including almost all high-profile ones.
However, some tournaments allow players to rebuy chips during the first hour of the tournament or before they have run out of their initial chips.
As you can probably guess, rebuy tournaments are completely different from freezeout tournaments.
These tournaments are great for players who want to have a second chance and try their luck once more.
Some tournaments allow players to rebuy chips during any stage of the tournament, but these are rare. Most often, players can only rebuy during the early stages.
Turbo & Super Turbo
Turbo & Super Turbo tournaments are very fast and exciting games.
In a normal poker game, the blinds are increased every 15 minutes on average.
However, in turbo games, the blinds are increased every 5 minutes. In super turbo tournaments, they’re increased even faster.
Therefore, players who enter these tournaments should have a lot of experience and a strong focus. It’s essential to play with a good strategy or you will be pushed out quickly.
Guaranteed Poker Tournaments
Guaranteed poker tournaments provide players with a guaranteed prize instead of a collective prize that depends on the amount collected from buy-ins.
If you entered a $50,000 GTD tournament, that money will be split between the winners at the end of the tournament.
If more players than expected enter the tournament, the guaranteed reward will increase.
Satellite tournaments allow you to enter high-profile tournaments for a fraction of the original price.
For example, if you want to participate in a tournament where the buy-in is $10,000 but you cannot afford it, you can participate in a satellite tournament. If you win, you might only be required to pay a $5,000 buy-in for the main tournament.
Shootouts are the most popular live and online tournaments you will encounter. Basically, the table is active until only one player remains at it and all the other players are eliminated.
That player then moves to the final table where he’s joined by the winners from other tables in the tournament. This tournament plays out quickly, which is why it is so popular.
Freeroll tournaments are the best option for inexperienced players. The reason is that these tournaments are played without the buy-ins.
Players play for free and take any wins they have accumulated. The risk is small, but the potential profit is usually also not impressive.
Bounty hunter tournaments are unique because they give you a chance to win money without winning the tournament. Every player pays a buy-in, one part of which becomes the bounty.
When a player is knocked out of the tournament, the player who knocked them out will receive the bounty.
For example, if the tournament buy-in was $100, the bounty might be $20. If you eliminate a player during the tournament, you will get their $20.
Sit N Go Tournaments
Sit N Go tournaments are tournaments without a fixed starting time. Basically, they begin as soon as enough players have sat at the table and paid the required buy-in.
Most online casinos offer these tournaments around the clock, so you can play them whenever there are enough interested players.
Chapter 5: Winning Poker Tips & Tricks
Now that I have shared all the technical poker knowledge with you and you’re ready to start playing, it’s time to learn how to master this game. Even the AI is struggling to do it, so don’t get frustrated if it takes time.
I have been playing different variations of poker for decades. During that time, I have learned about numerous tips and tricks one can use to increase their chances of winning.
Here are my favourite ones I regularly use to gain an edge over my opponents. You should do it too!
# Don’t Play Every Single Hand
The worst thing you can do when playing poker is to play every single hand, even though some bad guides recommend it. It’s true that, with a bit of luck, you could win the pot with any hand. However, the chances of winning with some hands are very slim.
Therefore, the first thing you need to remember is to learn how to recognise which hands are worth playing and which are not. By doing that, you will be able to survive longer at the table and attack when you’ve been dealt a really strong hand.
# Know When to Fold
In addition to what I have said above, you should learn when to fold and you should not be afraid or ashamed to do so. Sometimes the best thing you can do is fold and protect yourself from losing more money than you need to.
If you started to play a round because you thought you had good cards but things took a turn for the worse, you should fold immediately. Sometimes, you can bluff yourself out of a critical situation, but that’s a risk that’s not always worth taking.
# Forget About Your Favourite Hand
All players have favourite hands. I used to have one too. But after playing poker for a while, I realised that was a mistake. Therefore, I no longer have a favourite hand and I’m doing much better when playing poker.
A favourite hand is basically a combination of cards players think brings them luck. Therefore, they always play aggressively when they’re dealt those cards. However, as we have learned by now, there are no black-and-white situations in poker. So play this game with your brain rather than your heart.
# Play Good Hands Aggressively
When you play poker, you will be dealt both good and bad hands. You should fold bad hands and attack good hands. By playing good hands aggressively and using the situation to your advantage, you can quickly increase your pot and then protect it when a dry spell comes again.
There’s a limit to how many big blinds you can pay in a game before you run out of money. If you try to play too many hands and you do not follow through to the end and win, your chip stack will simply bleed away slowly until it disappears.
# Learn How to Bluff
If you want to become a true poker pro, you must learn how to bluff. Bluffing is a two-edged sword. Sometimes it might help you get out of a tough situation, while other times it might cost you a lot of money for no good reason.
The best way to bluff is to let the cards tell you when the right time for bluffing has come. This means you should only bluff with hands that have a chance of improving and becoming really strong. This way, even if you don’t have a strong hand, you can trick other players into believing that you do.
# Defend the Big Blind
The big blind is a special position because you have already invested some money in the pot and you will not get it back unless you win. Therefore, you should do your best to increase your chances of winning your big blind hands.
However, one advantage the big blind gives you is that you’re the last player to act in a round. Therefore, you can play more strategically based on what other players are doing.
# Never Stop Learning
Last but not least, the key to being good at poker and increasing your chances of winning is to never stop learning. There is always a poker skill you can practice more. You should familiarise yourself with your weaknesses and do your best to eliminate them or at least diminish their presence at the table.
The best way to learn is to play as much as possible and get practical experience. That way, you will learn about different types of players and you’ll get a chance to test out different strategies you have learned.
If you’re looking for quick answers to some specific questions you came up with while learning how to play poker, check out these frequently asked questions below.
What is the best poker game?
What is the main objective in poker?
What are big and small blinds?
Is it better to play poker tournaments or cash games?
Is playing poker legal?
What is the difference between fixed-limit and pot-limit games?
What moves can players make when playing poker?
Call – The player bets the same amount those before him have bet.
Raise – The player bets more than the minimum amount required to stay in the game.
Fold – The player decides to “surrender” and step out of the round.
What is a buy-in?
What is the easiest poker game to learn?
How to choose a good poker site online?
Is it a good idea to bluff when playing poker?
Why is No-Limit Texas Hold’em the most popular game?
What does bankroll management refer to?
What is the difference between stud games and draw games?
Do I need to know poker terms in order to play?
I hope you have found this guide useful and learned a lot from it. After reading it one or more times, you should be ready to start playing poker and have an advantage over other players.
If you have any further questions about playing poker or any comments about this guide, I’d love to hear them. Feel free to post them in the Comments section below and I’ll answer them as soon as possible.