Fifty million Americans play poker. And why not?
Just think about it. Poker has it all. Fun, exhilaration, suspense, hope, and, thanks to all the Hollywood movies: glamour and mystery. No one can ever blame them for wanting in on the action.
And you can join in the fun as well. While some luck doesn’t hurt, playing poker is mainly about skill and strategy. Fortunately, these are things you can learn.
If you are tired of being on the outside looking in, this guide will teach you everything you need to know about playing poker like a pro.
Let’s start from the beginning.
What is poker?
Poker is a game played with a deck of 52 cards. Players can play purely for fun or money. Players playing for money can use hard cash or plastic or ceramic discs called chips. In most professional settings and casinos, chips are preferable because they are easier to count and handle.
At the end of a game, dealers will count the chips to determine the order of winners. The overall winner can then swap their chips for cash.
How Poker Came About
In the early 16th century, Germans played a game called “pochen.” Pochen was primarily a bluffing game and was later adopted in France, with the French version becoming known as ‘poque.’
The bluffing game then got into America through New Orleans, where it was played on riverboats sailing on the Mississippi.
The game transformed through the years, and in 1930, the refined version became known as poker. During the civil war, a new rule was introduced, where players could draw cards to improve their hands.
How to play poker: The Basics
Playing poker requires some basics and a good understanding of the rules and standard terms often used around the poker table.
What You’ll need
Poker blinds are mandatory bets placed into the pot before dealing the cards. One or more blind bets are placed to initiate play and simulate action.
Without them, players might be tempted to keep folding until they get premium cards.
A deck of cards refers to a pack of cards with 52 different pieces. The word ‘decks’ is plural for a deck. Some games require a single deck, while some, like blackjack, can be played with up to six decks.
You will quickly notice the heavy investment if you play at a brick-and-mortar casino. Physical casinos sit in buildings with utilities to be paid, employees, and so on. Online casinos are not as expensive, but they do have running costs.
These are paid for from the rake. The rake is a commission charged by casinos, typically as part of tournament buy-in costs.
In cash games, the dealer drops a percentage of each pot. If you play in a casino, you will spot the dealer taking some chips off the pot. This is the rake.
These are made from porcelain or plastic and are used to represent money thanks or their easy handling. Once a game is over, players can cash in their chips.
You can play poker alone, though you need several people when playing for money. For this, you need one or more people. The more, the merrier.
You need a deck of 52 cards. This forms the complete array of cards you need for a game. One deck is enough for a small group of people, while you might need more for larger groups.
The brand doesn’t matter as long as they are of good quality and are a complete deck.
In most cases, the banker refers to the dealer. The exception is baccarat.
In baccarat, players bet on hands and different outcomes. There are three outcomes in total: player, banker, and tie. So while banker means the dealer in most games, in baccarat, a banker is one of three outcomes.
Poker Hand Rankings
The poker hand ranking system classifies the strength of the various hands you can play. This helps players determine which hand is best.
Let’s look at the rankings, from the strongest to the weakest.
This is the best hand possible. It consists of five consecutive cards from the same suit. These are in order of value from 10 to ace.
These are five cards in a row, all from the same suit. This hand can only be beaten by a royal flush or another straight flush.
Four of a Kind
This is the same card in all four suits. This hand is completed by either the highest card on the table or in your hands.
This comprises a pair and three of a kind in the same hand.
A flush is five cards in the same suit, but not in numerical order. If two players have flushes, the flush bearing a hand with the highest value wins the hand.
A straight has five cards in numerical order, but not from the same suit. If a hand has an ace, it can rank above the King or below a 2. However, you can not apply both on the same hand.
Three of a Kind
This is three of one card and two non-paired cards.
These are two different sets of two cards with a similar rank. The highest ranked card that remains wins the hand.
A pair is a pairing of similar cards.
A high card is a hand without any matching cards.
Ties and Kickers
Poker gives players seven cards. These are two individual hole cards and five community cards. You should make the best five-hand poker hand from the seven cards.
Now, some games lead to ties with four of a kind, three of a kind, one pair, two pairs, or a high card. When this happens, a side card or a kicker is used to decide the winner.
Very rarely will a second, third, or even fourth kicker fail to determine the winner. However, if it does happen, the players involved share the loot.
You can win poker hands without always having the best hand at the table. This is done by making other players believe you have the best hand.
This is known as bluffing.
Bluffing requires you to project a lot of confidence in your hand. Do this well enough to make your opponents believe your hand is much better than it actually is. Bluffing aims to make your opponents fold instead of risking a showdown.
A forced bet is also known as a blind or ante. Blinds are included in most forms of poker and are a sort of compulsory bet at the beginning of a hand.
A blind can be big or small; a big blind is generally twice as large as a small one.
On the other hand, an ante is a forced bet that each player must pay before cards are dealt, and a round begins.
Whether you are playing poker online or at a physical casino, a dealer determines the order in which blinds are put up and how players make their bets.
Games typically go in a clockwise direction from where the dealer is. Unlike friendly poker games you play at home, poker games at brick-and-mortar casinos and online apps do not include the dealer as one of the players.
What Betting Options Do Players Have?
After a forced bet, the initial round of betting begins. To set off the action, players can choose various betting options, depending on the hand they have.
Call – a player can match another player’s bet or raise it.
Raise – raising means increasing the size of your initial bet while still in the same round of betting.
Fold – this means withdrawing from an active game. Once a player does this, they sacrifice any bets they had previously made.
Check–until the initial bet in a betting round is made, a player can choose to check. When a player decides to check, they decline to take a bet at the moment. However, they still have the right to do so later during the round.
All-in – players will use their chips to make bets throughout a round. At some point, players might find themselves with an inadequate number of chips when they need to call a bet.
Such a player can play all their remaining chips, essentially going all-in. All other bets after a player has gone all in take place in a side pot.
What Is A Betting Round?
Every round of poker allows a player to use any option listed above. They can call, raise, fold, check or go all in.
The option a player goes for is informed by their confidence in their hand and their perception of how good/bad their opponent’s cards are. You can estimate this by how much other players are raising and betting.
All betting types go at least one round, with most doing two rounds. Their primary purpose is to allow players to strategize as the hand progresses.
Community card games like Omaha and Texas Hold ’em can have up to four betting rounds.
How To Play Poker: A Quick Step By Step Guide
There are many forms of poker, the most common being Texas Hold ’em. Let’s take a quick snapshot and see how this variation is played. We will, later on, look at the other forms of poker as well.
1. The dealer begins by giving each player two cards
2. The forced bet is put in place by placing the small blind in place, followed by the big blind
3. The first round of betting begins with players making bets going by how confident they feel about their hand
4. The dealer then deals three ‘community cards’, face-up
5. The second round of betting starts
6. The dealer deals the turn, which is the fourth community card
7. The third round of betting starts
8. The dealer deals the river, which is the fifth community card
9. The final round of betting begins
10. If you still have two or more players that are yet to fold, they have to show their cards
11. The winner is the one with the best hand according to the poker hand rankings (from the royal flush to the high card).
There are multiple ways in which betting can be structured in poker. However, the pot limit, fixed limit, and no limit are the most common. They are also what you will typically find listed alongside the type of poker when playing online.
Let’s see what these entail.
Abbreviated as PL, The pot limit allows a player to bet or raise any amount provided it does not exceed the size of the pot.
The fixed limit is abbreviated as FL, and raising and betting can be done in specified amounts.
Shortened as NL, the no-limit structure allows players to bet all their chips at any point, provided it’s their turn to bet.
We have severally mentioned that there are different types of poker. We can categorize these different types into four:
Community Card Poker
Players get several cards that are fewer than the complete five-poker hand. Then a number of face-up cards are dealt. The aim is to see players make the best possible hand with five cards from their cards and the community cards.
Texas Holdem and Omaha are good examples of community card poker.
The five and three card brags belong in this category which also happens to be among the premier forms of poker.
For straight poker, players get a full hand comprising five cards. A round of betting then begins, and players can keep raising until the game ends.
Players receive all five cards at the start of the game, just like in straight poker. Players can then try to improve their hands by dropping some cards and getting replacements.
The five-card draw falls in this category.
With stud poker, the dealer deals cards one at a time in a specified combination of face down and face up cards. This typically happens with a round of betting between each dealt card.
The seven card stud and razz are categorized as stud poker.
Learn How To Play The Most Popular Types Of Poker Games
So how do you actually play poker? While the mode of play is relatively similar, you find some differences with some variations.
Here is a guide on how to play the most popular poker types.
- Texas Hold ’em
Players get two personal cards or hole cards, then get into a round of betting. Three board cards known as flops are turned before another betting round.
Then two more board cards are turned one at a time, each punctuated by a betting round.
These board cards are community cards, and players can combine a five-hand set using their personal cards and those from the community board. Players can also ‘play the board,’ which means forming their set of cards purely from the community board.
Typically, you begin the game with two blinds. However, players can also use one blind, an ante, or multiple blinds. A game can also kick off with an ante and a blind combined.
During each round of betting, players can raise, call or fold.
After the final round of betting, the remaining players show their hands, with the last raiser leading the pack. The highest five-card hand takes the pot. In case of a tie, the winning hand holders share the loot.
With blackjack, a dealer is often in charge of all aspects of play, from shuffling to dealing to handling the bets.
You can play blackjack with a standard 52-card deck, but most casinos use six packs totaling 312 cards.
To win, each player seeks to get a count as close to 21 as possible without going past 21. Cards 2 to 10 count as face value, face cards (J, K, and Q) count as 10, and an ace can be 1 or 11, depending on which value helps the hand.
- Omaha Hi
While you get two-hole cards when playing Texas Holdem, Omaha begins with four-hole cards. Then three community cards, followed by one community card and another single community card.
Players must use two hole cards and three board cards to make a hand.
The betting form here on takes the same form as the Texas Holdem.
After the final betting round, each player shows their hand starting with the last raiser or first bettor.
- Short Deck
The short deck is much like Texas Holdem though many players find it much more entertaining. This is partly because the game is played with fewer cards (36 instead of 52). This makes it somewhat easier for players to come up with a made hand, and so do their opponents!
Fewer cards come with a higher variance and the chances of making strong cards more often.
To play, each player gets two hole cards and combines these with five community cards to create a strong hand. A game features:
· A pre-flop
· A flop
· A turn
· A river
- Five Card Draw
This is one of the simplest games and a favorite with new poker players.
The game’s rules are similar to those of most other poker variations, and the aim is to make the strongest hand.
Each game begins with players posting blinds. This is done by players seated at the left of the dealer position. Antes are not compulsory but are very common in five card draws.
After the blinds are posted, cards are dealt, with the first card off the deck going to the player in the small blind position, then round the table clockwise. Each player gets five cards, face down. Players can then fold, raise or call. The remaining players can then draw 0 to 5 cards.
After this draw, one more round of betting happens before the showdown. Here, the player with the best hand takes the pot.
- Seven-Card Stud
The seven-card stud begins with one up card and two down cards. These are dealt before the first round of betting begins.
This is followed by three more up cards, a betting round after each card, and a down card.
After the last down card, there is a final round of betting, after which the best five-card poker hand wins the bet.
With all fixed-limit games, the smaller bet is wagered on the first two betting rounds, while large bets come in after the betting rounds on the fifth, sixth and seventh cards.
Any player can make a small or large bet whenever there is an open pair on the fourth card.
One thing you shouldn’t do during a game is changing the order of your up cards in a stud bet, as this misleads other players. Always play fair.
After the final round, every player shows their hand with the last raiser or first bettor showing first. Remember that a hand with more or fewer than seven cards is dead.
You will often find Horse in high stakes live games and prominent tournament series like the World Series of Poker.
Horse poker consists of five individual rounds combining Holdem, Omaha Hi/ Lo, Razz (stud Lo), Stud (Stud Hi), and Eight or Better (Stud Hi /Lo).
Players that fold in one type of poker remain in the game at the beginning of the following variant. This unique structure makes it possible to play poorly in one or two variants but still win the game.
How to Play Poker Online
Today, you can play poker online as a beginner or a veteran on any internet-enabled device. This is called online poker.
The game’s rules for online poker remain the same as when playing live.
To start playing, you can choose to begin by sampling free online games. This is often advised because playing free games helps you get your feet wet and learn to play risk-free.
After enjoying free games for a while, you should consider playing with the big boys by depositing some cash and playing for actual money. Again, start small, and work your way up.
For example, a $50- $100 deposit can keep you playing for a long time. As you start, join $1 tournaments and work towards winning and growing your bankroll. Then, as your bankroll grows and you gain more confidence in your game, you can gradually increase your buy-in.
Something else you can do to boost your bankroll is to find sites offering bonuses on deposits.
Online Poker vs. Live Poker
Online poker means playing over an internet-enabled device, while live poker has players seated at a table playing in person.
Some of the differences between these two modes of play include:
· Live poker is much slower than online poker. Most players find the latter more entertaining
· Online poker can bring together tough players, making online games more competitive than live games
· Live poker typically has narrower hand ranges, while online poker has a higher variance
· Live players tend to be a bit passive, while online players are more aggressive
· Online poker offers more convenience and accessibility than live poker
· Online poker lacks the social aspect of a game. Live poker allows people to talk, laugh, bond, and so on
· Online poker has inexhaustible real estate, which allows for an enormous number of games. However, live games, even those in the largest poker rooms, tend to be limited compared to online poker sites.
Here are some quick q’s and a’s.
Can poker be played by just two people?
Yes, poker is played with a minimum of two people. However, the more players you have, the more exciting it becomes.
What does muck mean in poker?
Muck is the pile where players place their discarded cards when they fold. It’s also where dealers place burned cards.
When to play poker hands?
It would help if you played the strongest hand in the early position, good ones in mid-position, and a few more in the late position. Only play a premium hand when there is no raise ahead of you.
How to play poker without Chips?
If you are playing at home, you have the option to use cash.
How can you play poker online for real money?
Yes, you can. You can review this list of poker sites as well as poker apps for ideas on where to play poker online for real money.
How many poker chips do you begin a game with?
You need 40-50 chips per person for a typical home game. However, many tournaments start with at least 25 small blind chips per player and 50 big blind chips.
Is learning to play poker difficult?
It is not. It takes some getting used to and some practice, but once you get the hand of it, it becomes easier to learn multiple variations. Essentially, playing is the best way to learn how to play poker. You can play online poker or live.
What is the highest hand you can have?
The highest hand you can have is the royal flush.
Final Take on Learning How to Play Poker
Looking at all these rules, terms, and poker variations, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Don’t be.
You will notice that specific rules and trends cut across all the poker variations. This means once you master one type, learning how to play another becomes that much easier. So there is your in: pick one type, master the ins and outs and go from there.