How to Play Poker

If you’ve heard about people having fun, beer-fueled poker nights and want in on the action – but don’t know how to play – we’re here to help. Learning how to play poker takes some time and dedication. Players must have a thorough understanding of the rules, a grasp of basic strategy, and a determination to improve. So we’ve created a simple guide that covers the basics of poker for players of all skill levels. By the end of this guide, you’ll have no problem playing in a game of your own.

how to play poker

Learn How to Play (Step-by-Step)

  1. Ante Up


    All players obligated to post money must do so before the hand begins. The number of people will vary from game to game. In Texas Hold’em, the two players to the direct left of the dealer button must post the Small Blind and Big Blind.

  2. Shuffle Up and Deal


    The dealer shuffles the cards and deals them one at a time in a clockwise direction, starting with the player in the Small Blind.

  3. Get The Action Started


    The first betting round begins after the cards are dealt. In this betting round, you can call, raise, or fold, depending on how strong you think your hand is.

  4. Subsequent Betting Rounds


    Depending on the game you’re playing, there are varying numbers of betting rounds. For example, Texas Hold ’em has three betting rounds after the initial preflop round. During each round, new cards are dealt: three on the flop, one on the turn, and one on the river. These are called “community cards,” and every player can use them to improve their hand.

  5. Showdown


    When the final betting round is complete, if two or more players remain, they must show their hands to see who wins. The player with the best hand is declared winner and takes the pot.

Basic Poker Rules

“Poker” isn’t just one universal game; it’s a term that covers a range of different games, all with different rules. Therefore, it’s important to know the differences between each poker variant. Below is a list of the top variants with an in-depth look at their rules:

Poker Hands Ranking

Hand rankings are how players determine the winner of the pot if two or more players reach a showdown. Knowing these hand rankings is important; otherwise, you’ll have no idea how strong or weak your hand is!

Hand Name
Hand Description
Royal Flush
A Royal Flush is made out of a 10, Jack, Queen, King, and an Ace, all of the same suit.
Royal Flush image
1 in 649,737
Straight Flush
A Straight Flush is five sequential cards all of the same suit.
straight flush image
1 in 72,193
Four of a Kind
A Four of a Kind is the same card in each of the four suits.
Four of a kind image
1 in 4,164
Full House
A Full House is a pair plus three of a kind.
Full house image
1 in 693
A Flush is five cards of the same suit.
Flush image
1 in 508
A Straight is five cards in a numerical order.
Straight example image
1 in 253
Three of a Kind
Three of a Kind is three of the same card.
Three of a Kind image
1 in 46
Two Pair
Two Pair is two different pairings of the same card.
Two Pair example
1 in 20
One Pair
One Pair is two of the same card.
A single Pair example
1 in 1.36
High Card
High Card refers to a hand with no matching cards.
High card example
1 in 0.99

Poker Table Positions

Each seat at the poker table can be grouped into one of five different positions. Knowing these positions is vital because your preflop strategy should change depending on your poker position at the table.

Poker table made of green cloth isolated on white background outlining the poker positions

  • The Button – The best seat at the table. You’re guaranteed to act last on every postflop street, giving you an informational advantage over your opponents. You’re also in an excellent position to try to steal the blinds if the action folds to you.
  • Late Position – Comprises the two seats before the Button, often called the Cutoff and the Hijack. From here, you’re in a good position to steal the blinds, and you’re likely to be the last to act postflop.
  • Middle Position – Unsurprisingly, these seats are considered the middle of the table – not quite early and not quite late. The Lojack and UTG+2 are the seats that usually makeup Middle Position. You should start to play tighter from these seats, as you’re not always going to act last postflop.
  • Early Position – These are the seats that act first preflop. At a nine-handed table, Early Position comprises UTG (Under the Gun) and UTG+1. You should play tight from these positions because of all the players left to act.
  • Blinds – These positions are the last to act postflop but are at an automatic disadvantage because of the money they have to post. They’re also guaranteed to be out of position postflop, which makes them very tough to play.

Blinds and Antes

The blinds are forced bets in poker and are split into the Small Blind and the Big Blind. The size of the blinds is determined before the hand starts and must be posted before the cards are dealt at the beginning of each hand.

For example, if you want to play a Hold ’em cash game, you can play with blinds of $1 and $2 (commonly called a $1/$2 game). This means that the Small Blind will be $1, and the Big Blind will be $2. These are posted by the two players to the left of the button, with the player to the dealer’s immediate left posting the Small Blind and the next player posting the Big Blind.

Antes are forced bets that must be made by everyone at the table before the games begin. They’re often a tiny fraction of what a Big Blind or a Big Bet would be in the game being played. Antes are often used in poker tournaments to increase the pace of play. In poker tournaments, antes are commonly 1/10th the size of the Big Blind, though they can be as high as 1/6th the size.

For example, if the level has 200/400 blinds, the ante will likely be 40. However, suppose you’re playing a live tournament where they do not have low-denomination chips. In that case, they may round the ante up to their closest denomination chip. In this example, antes may be 50 rather than 40.

The Actions

Here are the various decisions one can make while playing a hand of poker.

  1. Call


    Calling is the act of matching the size of the last bet or raise that’s been made.

  2. Raise


    Raising is an act of increasing the size of the current bet or previous raise.

  3. Fold


    Folding is the act of surrendering your hand and forfeiting your chance to win the pot.

  4. Check


    Checking is the act of declining to bet while not surrendering your hand. This can only be done postflop if no other player has made a bet before you act.

  5. Bet


    Betting is the act of making a wager in the hand. A bet can only be made if no other player has made a bet before you; if they have, it is called a raise.

Betting Rounds

There are four betting rounds in the most commonly played poker games, such as Texas Hold’em.

Preflop Icon


Preflop is the first betting round. It begins after each player has been dealt their initial two cards. Players can either call to match the big blind, raise to increase the size of the bet, or fold their hand.

The Flop Icon


Before the next betting round begins, the first three community cards, called the flop, are dealt face-up in the middle of the table. After the flop is dealt, the betting round begins with the player to the left of the button. Players can bet or check if no one else has made a bet before their turn. Players can call, raise, or fold if a bet has been made.

The Flop
The Turn Icon


After the flop betting round is over, the fourth community card, called the turn, is dealt face-up in the middle of the table. The turn betting round begins with the player to the left of the button. Players have exactly the same options as the flop betting round.

The River Icon


The final betting round. It begins after the fifth and final community card, called the river, is dealt face-up in the middle of the table. The action starts with the player to the left of the button. All players have the same options as the flop and turn betting rounds. Suppose two or more players remain after the river betting round is over. In that case, the remaining players must turn their cards over, and the player with the best five-card poker hand wins the pot.

Betting Limits

Four different betting limits can be applied in poker games: No Limit, Pot Limit, Spread Limit, and Fixed Limit. Certain games are better suited to specific betting limits. For example, Hold’em is most commonly played as a No Limit game, whereas Stud is often played as a fixed-limit game. While casinos will tell you the betting rules of the game before you play, there are no hard and fast rules on the limits you can use for these games. Games such as Hold’em are popular with multiple betting limits. So, nothing is stopping you and your friends from playing a No Limit Stud game if that’s what you want!

No Limit

There are only two rules to a No Limit poker game. The minimum bet must be equal to the Big Blind, and the minimum raise must equal that of the last bet or raise. For example, if you are playing in a $1/$2 game, the minimum you can bet is $2. If you face a bet of $2, you must raise by a minimum of $2, meaning that the minimum you can make a bet is $4. Apart from that, there is no limit to the amount you can bet or raise – you’re welcome to bet your whole stack at any point!

Pot Limit

In Pot Limit, players must follow an additional rule on top of the minimum bet/raise rules. The maximum a player can bet or raise is the size of the pot. This means that a player cannot go all-in unless their stack is equal to or below the size of the current pot. If you’re playing online, the maximum you can bet is calculated for you. Still, if you’re playing live, you can ask the dealer to calculate the maximum amount.

Spread Limit

Spread Limit is a game where players can only bet or raise within a designated range of sizes. The exact range size depends on the casino, though you’ll often see a spread of around $10. For example, in a $2-$12 spread limit game, the minimum you can bet is $2, and the maximum you can bet is $12. These games aren’t widespread but are still occasionally found in US casinos.

Fixed Limit

In Fixed Limit, the amount you can bet or raise is fixed to the limits of the game. The limits are often split into Big Bets and Small Bets, with Small Bets used in the early betting rounds and Big Bets used on the later streets. For example, in a $4/$8 Limit Hold’em game, the Small Bet of $4 will be used preflop and on the flop, and the Big Bet of $8 will be used on the turn and river. This means that on the flop, any bet or raise must be exactly $4. Someone may bet $4; then another player can raise $4 to $8 total, another player raises $4 to $12 total, and so on. Fixed Limit games often have a betting cap of four bets on each street.

Game Stakes

Game stakes refer to the amount of money at risk at any one time during a poker game. Different game types will have different levels of risk and ways of describing the stakes.


Poker tournaments have a set buy-in that you must pay if you’d like to play. Once you have paid your buy-in, you’re given chips to play with that have no cash value. You are awarded prizes depending on where you finish in the tournament, with the top 10-20% of finishers getting prizes. For most tournaments, the maximum you can lose is your buy-in amount, although some tournaments allow re-entries/rebuys and add-ons. However, the amount that you risk is always fixed.

Cash Games

In cash games, the stakes are usually described using the blind amounts used for that game. For example, you may hear people say they’re playing in a $1/$2 game or a $5/$10 game when describing the size of their game. When using the blind amounts, it’s often assumed that the average buy-in will be around 100 Big Blinds, so a $1/$2 game will have approximately $200 at stake for each player.

However, the amount you can buy-in for in cash games isn’t limited to 100 Big Blinds. Most casinos will have a minimum buy-in amount of around 40bb and a maximum buy-in amount of 250bb. This means that at a $1/$2 game, you can have as little as $80 or as much as $500 at risk at any time.


Freerolls are free-to-play online tournaments allowing you to win cash prizes without paying a tournament buy-in. These are great for beginner players who don’t want to risk their own money while learning the game.

Online vs. Live

While the game’s mechanics are the same, poker is often played very differently live to online. Online poker is much faster-paced than live poker, so you can expect to see many more hands per hour. This means you need to increase your focus, as you don’t get a 5-minute break once you’ve folded a hand. In addition, online poker plays much more aggressively preflop than live games, so expect to see a lot more 3betting and 4betting with marginal hands.
Live poker is considered softer and contains more passive players that will call down with weak hands. Against these players, you want to value bet your strong hands and take advantage of loose players that call too often. Bluffing these players will only be successful sometimes and isn’t always necessary as part of a winning strategy. Online poker has much stronger players who aren’t as passive, so a balanced, aggressive strategy is needed to succeed.

Poker Etiquette

While we’ve covered a lot of the written rules of poker, there are quite a few unwritten rules that players follow to ensure the game runs smoothly and fairly. Look at the list below to ensure you don’t run afoul of these etiquette rules in your game.

Don’t disclose your hand strength.

If you folded preflop but would have made a monster hand on the flop, avoid indicating that you would have done so. The fact that you would have made a strong hand is information that will affect the decision of the players left in the hand. This means that you should not show another player your hand, tell someone else what you had, or react in any way that would indicate you folded a monster.

When you fold, keep quiet.

Once you’re out of the hand, it’s best to stay quiet to allow the other players to concentrate. No one wants to be making decisions for hundreds of dollars while someone loudly explains how they think the new Star Wars film sucks to the rest of the table.

Don’t Slowroll.

We’ve all seen Hollywood films where the hero lets the villain think they’ve won before turning over the winning hand. We take great delight in watching their smug grin slowly disappear from their face as they realize they’ve lost. While it’s great for film, it’s not so lovely in real life. If you have the winning hand, turn it over immediately. Don’t deliberately make your opponent think they’ve won; otherwise, you may be asked outside for a little “chat.”

Wait for your turn to act.

Every action at the poker table should be made only when it’s your turn to act. Otherwise, you’re giving the players ahead of you more information than they should be entitled to, which could affect the action. For example, you’ve been dealt 72o and really need to use the bathroom. A player ahead of you takes a long time to make their decision, so you decide to fold out of turn so you can run and use the facilities. Now the player knows they have one less person to get through if they were to bet, which may make them more inclined to make an aggressive action.

Put your big chips in front.

Some new players try to hide their high-valued chips behind their lower-valued chips to dupe their opponents into thinking they have less money. While nothing in the rules explicitly forbids this, it’s highly unethical to do so. The best practice is always to make your chips as visible as possible, particularly high-valued ones, so other players can easily estimate how much you have in front of you

Intermediate Poker Tips

So you’ve been around the block a bit and no longer consider yourself a poker beginner. Congrats. But that doesn’t mean you have nothing else to learn. The best poker players are constantly learning and improving, and so should you. They say the day you stop learning is the day you become a losing player, so make sure you’re constantly topping up your knowledge! Check out these helpful tips if you’re looking for ways to take your game to the next level.

Think About Hands in Ranges

Beginner players often think about poker hands individually. They’ll try to put their opponent on a particular hand and then play against it. While this is great if you’re right, you won’t be right anywhere near often enough for it to be an effective strategy, and you’ll often end up making a mistake. The best way to think about a hand of poker is in ranges. There are often many hands that your opponent will play the same way, so you must think about them when making your decision.

Use the Semi-Bluff Aggressively

Another mistake beginners make is that they’re too passive with their draws. If they hold a straight or flush draw, they’ll just call their opponent’s bet and hope to hit, rather than take matters into their own hands. On the other hand, good players are often very aggressive when they have a strong draw. This gives them two ways to win the hand; either they get their opponent to fold to a semi-bluff, or they make their hand by the river. Start aggressively playing your draws by betting more and raising your opponents more often. You’ll find these hands become a lot more profitable.

Consider Your Opponent’s Playing Style

Once you become a decent poker player, you realize there’s a world outside your own hand. It’s not enough to just think about how strong your hand is; you need to consider your opponent and how they play. Understanding how your opponents play and how that should affect your strategy is vital to maximally exploiting them. If you have a player at the table constantly bluffing, should you bet your strong hands like you usually would, or should you slowplay and let them bluff into you? Picking up on tactics like this can drastically increase your win rate.

Practice Bankroll Management

When you’ve graduated from being a beginner and start to take the game more seriously, one of the most important things you should do is practice bankroll management. By this point, you should know what games you enjoy playing and what stakes you’re comfortable playing. Once you’ve established this, you should have a poker bankroll that gives you enough buy-ins to play that game without the risk of going broke. Poor bankroll discipline will lead to more deposits and more spending overall. While there’s nothing wrong with redepositing if things go awry, the aim should be to do it as little as possible.

Advanced Strategy

Now that you’ve reached the end of this article, you should have a good idea of how to play poker. However, we’ve only covered the rules of the game; if you want to know how to play it well, you should check out our advanced strategy guides to give yourself an edge at the tables.

How To Play Poker FAQs