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How to Play Poker (For Beginners)

Poker is a game of wit, strategy and skill that has seen famous poker players earn millions. It's unsurprising then, that more and more people are learning how to play poker every year.

Texas Hold'em poker is the most popular and widely played poker variation, and one of the easiest to learn. So, to get started, take a look at our How To Play Poker video which offers a brief tutorial on how to play Texas Hold'em.

Watch tutorial

To summarize, the aim of Texas Hold'em poker is to create a five-card hand that is of greater value than the other players at your table. This hand is created using any mixture of the five shared 'community' cards and your two 'hole' cards. This does not mean you need a royal flush to win every game, only that you have a better hand than the other players.

Let's break it down, step-by-step:

  1. Every player is dealt two cards facedown. These are your hole cards.
  2. You then either check, bet, raise, or fold.
  3. Once betting has finished, three community cards are dealt faceup in the middle of the table. This is called 'the flop'.
  4. Another round of betting starts, and then the fourth community card is dealt faceup. This is called 'the turn'.
  5. Another round of betting starts, and then the final community card is dealt faceup. This is called 'the river'.
  6. There is a final round of betting. If all but one player has folded their hand by this point, the last remaining player takes the pot. Otherwise, players reveal their cards in a 'showdown'.
  7. The player with the best final five-card hand wins the pot.

Now that you've grasped the basic rules of the most popular variation, let's move on to cover the other basic concepts that are present in most modern versions of poker.

1. Different Styles of Poker

Before starting a game of poker, you'll want to make sure you've picked a game that's right for you by looking at the betting style and stakes.

The most common styles of poker include:

No-limit

A no-limit game is one in which players may wager any amount (above a minimum bet) up to the total cash they have at the table at any time. This is the most popular form of Hold'em.

Limit

In limit poker, all bets and raises are restricted to a certain size. This style of play is now quite uncommon in tournament play but remains reasonably popular in real money games.

Pot-limit

A pot-limit game is one in which players have the choice of how much to bet but are limited to increasing bets only up to the current size of the pot (the total amount bet by all players). This style is relatively uncommon in Holdem but is much more popular in Omaha.

Have you picked a type or style that most suits you?

Nice.

Now you will need to know the stakes at which you'll be playing at.

For Texas Hold'em games, at a no-limit or pot-limit table, these numbers represent the size of the blinds, a concept we'll explain a little later. At a limit Hold'em table, these numbers tell you the size of the bets.

For example:

A $2/$4 limit table means that all bets in the first two rounds of betting are in $2 increments, while the last two rounds of betting feature $4 bets.

Once you've found the type of game you want to play in, and an appropriate stake level, you are ready to take your place at the table.

2. Playing Your First Hand

In poker, you are always looking to make sets of cards based on either their suit, their value, or rank e.g. king, queen, jack, 10 and so on. Good hands will have pairs (like two aces) or cards of the same suit in a sequential series (i.e. cards that follow each other; 9, 8 and 7 or ace, king and queen).

In our example, you've just sat down at a $1/$2 no-limit Hold'em table.

At the start of any Texas Hold'em hand, two players are forced to make small bets to ensure there's at least some money in the pot to play for.

These two bets are known as the blinds and are made by the two players to the left of the dealer (in online poker this person is assigned as the 'button.') The player directly to the left of the dealer pays the small blind, while the second player pays the big blind. In no-limit games, the stakes dictate the blinds; in this case, the small blind is $1, while the big blind is $2.

Each player receives two facedown cards that only they can see. An easy way for beginners to learn what a good starting hand is for beginners, is to look at our guide to starting hands and poker hand rankings. Or a simple strategy would be to look for pairs of cards, preferably higher value cards.

Pair of nines

When you can bet depends on where you are seated. Your 'position' is determined by how far you are from the dealer. Being further along will allow you more opportunity to see what your opponents have.

If you are sitting on the dealer button you'll be the last to act.

As we've mentioned, play begins with the player directly to your left. However, on the first round of betting, or the pre-flop phase, the first two players have already paid their blinds, so it's the next player to their left who has the first decision.

That player has the following choices:

  • FOLD: A player can fold their hand, which means they are giving up and will no longer have a chance to win the pot.
  • CALL: A player can call the current bet by betting whatever amount is necessary to match the current bet in this case, $2.
  • RAISE: A player can raise the current bet to a higher amount. In no-limit games, the raise must be at least the size of the last bet or raise, so the minimum raise in this case would be to $4 the $2 bet, plus another $2.

The first player decides to fold, and the action then moves to the left.

Two more players fold, but the next player calls.

The rest of the players fold, and now it is your turn to act!

3. To Bet or To Fold: Playing the Pre-Flop

As it becomes your turn, you'll be presented with a few possible options: in this case, to fold, call, or raise.

Since this is a no-limit game, you can choose to raise (online versions of poker will have a slider that allows you to choose how much you raise to) although, in this case, we'll choose to call (not necessarily the best play), meaning you put $2 into the pot.

The action then moves back to the small blind, who calls by betting an additional $1 (remember, they had to put in $1 at the beginning of the hand). The big blind then has the option to either raise or check - as he has already paid the $2 which is the current bet. The big blind checks. All the bets go into the pot, creating a pot of $8.

In a real hand, a small percentage of this money would go to the 'rake' - the money the poker room keeps - but for the purposes of making the math simpler in our example, we'll ignore that.

What is Pre-Flop?

Pre-flop refers to the phase before the flop, so after blinds have been posted and players have been dealt their pocket hands but before the dealing of the first three faceup cards to the board (the flop). First bets are played during this phase, which is also called the pre-flop betting round.

The three things you need to take note of in pre-flop are:

  • Equity: How much of the pot your hand is worth i.e. the better your hand, the bigger your equity)

  • Implied Odds: The theoretical odds you have of winning as the game progresses due to opponents' mistakes and more i.e. what are the potential winnings for that hand versus how much you would need to bet to make next call.

  • Position: Broken into early, middle, and late, your position refers to when you can place your bets. The later your position, the more information you have about your opponents' hands and the more aggressive you can be in your pre-flop play.

You will need to weigh up all these things before making your first bet in poker.

The best hands to play in poker pre-flop will always be your big pocket pairs such as ace-ace, king-king and queen-queen, followed by big-suited connectors such as suited ace-king and finally your big connectors who do not share a suit.

4. Later Rounds and Community Cards

Once everyone remaining in the hand has called the current bet that betting round ends. Alternately, if at any time there is only one player remaining in the hand, they win all the money in the pot and the hand is over.

Poker table showing the flop

After the first betting round the dealer then spreads three community cards (the flop) faceup on the center of the table. These cards can be used by all players to help complete their five-card poker hand. In our hand, the community cards are: 9♦ 6♣A♥

Play begins to the left of the button.

Until a bet is made, players have the option to check, declining the opportunity to bet. Both the small and big blinds do just that but the other player in the hand bets $5. It is now your turn to act, and you have the chance to either fold, call the bet, or raise the bet.

Looking at your hand, you realize you now have three-of-a-kind, which is a very strong hand.

You decide to raise an additional $10, making your total bet $15. Both of the blinds fold, but the other player in the hand calls the additional $10. With those bets, the pot is now $38.

Poker table showing flop and turn

After that round of betting concludes, the dealer places a fourth community card - the turn - on the table. While that means each player now has six cards to use (the four community cards and their two hole cards), remember that Hold'em is a five-card game; only your best five-card hand counts, though you can use any combination of your hole cards and the community cards. In our hand, the fourth card is the queen of diamonds, making the board read: 9♦ 6♣ A♥ Q♦

The other player remaining in the hand acts first and decides to check to you. You bet $20, which he immediately decides to call.

The pot is now $78.

With that round of betting out of the way, there's only one more community card left to deal: the river. Once that card is revealed, just one round of betting remains.

In this case, the river is the ace of spades: 9♦ 6♣ A♥ Q♦ A♠

Poker table showing flop, turn and river

Your opponent acts first and checks a final time.

You decide to bet $50.

The action returns to your opponent, who surprises you by raising to $100!

With this move you're scared that you might be beat but, with so much money in the pot and only needing to spend $50 to find out if you've won, you decide to call, putting another $50 in the pot.

That makes the final pot size $278.

Since more than one player is still in the hand after the river, we've reached a showdown, where players must reveal their hands to find out who has won the pot. The player with the best hand will win all the money in the pot; in the case of an exact tie between two or more players, the pot will be split as evenly as possible among the tied winners.

Since more than one player is still in the hand after the river, we've reached a showdown, where players must reveal their hands to find out who has won the pot. The player with the best hand will win all of the money in the pot; in the case of an exact tie between two or more players, the pot will be split as evenly as possible among the tied winners.

The last player to make a new bet on the river is the first to show their hand: in this case, your opponent, since he made the last raise on the river. Your opponent reveals that he's holding a hand that gives him three aces:

If you couldn't beat this hand, you'd have the option of simply folding your hand rather than showing what you held, but that's not a problem here; when you show your 9s, you reveal that you have a full house: three 9's and two aces. That beats your opponent's hand, giving you the $278 pot!

As you can see, you won the pot because your hand outranked that of your opponent, not necessarily because you had the best starting hand.

The key to playing successful poker? It's knowing when to hold tight and when to fold.

While this only really comes with experience, we have gathered a few tips to help you through your teething stages so that you can learn how to play poker at a casino easily, regardless of the type of poker you choose to play:

  • Don't play every hand you are dealt: Yes, it is possible to win with most starting hands, however, it is also unlikely, especially as a beginner.
  • Don't play above your bankroll: The easiest route to problem gambling is biting off more than you can chew financially.
  • Not every game can be won: Accepting that losses are a part of the learning process is important.
  • Don't play for money if you are not in the mood: Doing well in poker requires concentration so, if you know your emotions will affect how well you make decisions, don't play to win.
  • Always pay attention to cards played: This will indicate what your next move should be.
  • Pick the right game for your skill level: We cannot all be poker masters: start small and enjoy the ride.

5. Pulling It All Together

Now that you've seen how a normal game of Texas Hold'em plays out, you can see that, while there's a lot to think about during a hand, it's not a particularly difficult game to play.

Here are a few articles that can really help you to improve your game once you get a good grasp on the basics:

As you play more hands, you'll find that the natural flow of a poker hand becomes second nature.

While there are a few unusual situations, most hands you play will follow the same pattern as the one above. If you pay attention to the order of play and how players perform their actions, you'll pick up the nuances of the game even more quickly.

We hope that this introduction to playing poker has answered all your questions.

If you're ready to play, you can find real money poker sites here.

Good luck at the tables!

visit the strategy section for more articles like this!