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. Let’s begin with the video below that will give you a quick glance at the fundamentals of the game:

LEARN HOW TO PLAY (STEP-BY-STEP)

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 Hand Rankings

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!

If you’re entirely new to poker, you may be unfamiliar with the terminology poker players use. Here are the most popular poker terms and what they mean so you don’t get confused at the table:

  • Ante – Chips placed into the pot before the start of the hand, usually made by every player at the table.
  • Blind(s) – Chips placed into the pot before the start of the hand by the two players sitting to the left of the dealer button.
  • Call – To match the amount of the previous bet or raise.
  • Raise – To increase the amount of the previous bet or raise.
  • Community Cards – Cards placed face up in the middle of the table that anyone can use to make the best five-card poker hand.
  • Kicker – The highest unpaired card(s) that make up your five-card poker hand.
  • Flop – The first three community cards dealt in games like Texas Hold’em and Omaha.
  • Bluffing – Betting to get a better hand than yours to fold.

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 Positions Table

  • 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.

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.

BETTING ROUNDS

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

PREFLOP

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.

FLOP

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.

TURN

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.

RIVER

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.

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 3-betting and 4-betting 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.

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.

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Jackpot! You’ve flopped a winning hand! This article has surely added some extra chips to your stack. Tune in for more valuable insights and pro-level strategies!

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Jordan conroy

Author
Jordan Conroy, a respected name in the online poker arena, has cultivated his authority through years of dedicated play and content creation. Since 2020, he has earned a stellar reputation for his in-depth analysis of poker theory and his ability to keep a finger on the pulse of the latest developments in the poker world. Jordan's dedication to staying at the forefront of poker knowledge allows him to consistently deliver top-quality content that resonates with both novice players and seasoned professionals. Beyond his poker expertise, he brings a diverse perspective, closely following other competitive domains like soccer, snooker, and Formula 1, enriching his insights and providing a comprehensive understanding of the gaming landscape.
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