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How to Play Poker for Beginners (February 2024)

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Introduction to Poker

If you want to learn how to play poker, you have come to the right place. Whether you want to play with friends, go to casinos and play at tables, or play online against people from all over the world, it is very easy to get started. As you gain more experience and start to build your own strategies, you will find out what works for you, and whether you want to enter big tournaments or just play the casual game every now and again. 

There are many variants of poker, all with similar principles. The best place to start is with Texas Hold'em Poker, which is the most popular variant. If you have watched the World Poker Series and the likes of Daniel Negreanu, Doyle Brunson, Phil Ivery and Phil Hellmuth, you will be familiar with this variant of poker. If you go to a casino or visit a poker room, you will definitely find Texas Hold'em Poker.

Poker Basics

In poker, players gather around a table (or a virtual one in the case of online poker) and rounds are divided into five stages: PreFlop, Flop, Turn, River and the Showdown. The player that has the best 5-card hand in the Showdown wins the round and takes whatever money was put into the pot during the round.

Best Hand

Before going into the different stages of each round, it is important to define what a poker hand is. Basically, you will be dealt 2 cards, called Hole Cards. These two cards are yours and yours alone, and no other player can see them until the end of the round. There will also be 5 communal cards that will be dealt in each round. The aim is for players to form the best 5-card hand using their cards and the communal cards. Remember though, that the communal cards are for everyone. If there is a three of a kind or a pair of Aces in the communal cards, all the players will have them. Therefore, your best hand has to include one or both of your communal cards.

Poker Rounds, Step by Step

PreFlop

Before any cards are dealt, the Small Blind and Big Blind must be placed. The player sitting to the left of the dealer needs to submit the Small Blind, and the player to their left needs to place the Big Blind. These values are usually fixed (unless otherwise stated). There may be games where the Small Blind/Big  Blind is $1/2, $2/4, $3/6, and so on. Once the blinds have been put into the pot, all players will receive 2 cards face down. They can then either Call, Fold or Raise.

Calling is when you meet the bet in the round. In this case, it is the Big Blind, and you should place an amount equal to the Big Blind into the pot to continue playing. 

If you Fold, you basically do not put down any money into the pot, and simply throw away your two cards without showing them. You will not take part in the rest of the round.

Raising is when you Call the bet, and then add more money to the pot. The other players must react to your raise either by Calling, Folding or they can even Raise again.

Once all the players have Called the biggest Raise (or Folded), the next stage can begin.

The Flop

The dealer will place three Communal Cards, facing up, in the middle of the table. This is where the game starts to take off, as the players will try to form the best poker hands using these cards, and the cards that are dealt in the following rounds. Once again, the play will go around the table, and each player can decide whether they want to Check, or Call/Fold/Raise. As there are no blinds for the Flop, the players can opt to Check, in which case they do not increase the bet. Once a player Raises, then all others must either Call, Fold, or they can increase the Raise. Once All players have met the top Raise, or Folded, the round continues.

The Turn and River

The dealer deals one more card, taking the number of Communal Cards up to 4. The players can once again decide whether they want to Check, Raise, and then Call or Fold. After the remaining players have Called the biggest Raise, they proceed to the River. The dealer draws a final Communal Card, and then there is one final chance for players to Raise. If they do, the others must Call or Fold.

The Showdown

If there are two or more players still in the game after the last round of betting, then they must reveal their cards. The player with the strongest poker hand wins the pot. This pot includes all the bets made from the very start of the round, including the Big and Small Blinds.

Poker Hands

Royal Flush

This is the best hand you can form in poker. It is a 10, Jack, Queen, King and Ace, of one suit (Diamonds, Hearts, Clubs or Spades)

Straight Flush

A Straight Flush is the combination of a Flush and a Straight. For example, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 of Clubs

Four of a Kind

This is when you have four cards of the same value. For example, 4 Kings (of Diamonds, Hearts, Clubs or Spades)

Full House

A Full House is a combination of one pair and one Three of a Kind. For example, three 7s and a pair of 4s

Flush

A Flush is when there are five cards of the same suit. For example, 2, 3, 7, 9 and Queen of Hearts

Straight

A Straight is when you can form a line of 5 sequential cards. For example, between your hole cards and the communal cards, you can form a line of 8, 9, 10, Jack and Queen

Three of a Kind

This is when you have three cards of the same value, such as three Queens

Two Pairs

If you have two pairs, it means that between your two hole cards and the five communal cards, there are two pairs. For example, you can have a pair of Jacks and a pair of 4s

Pair

This is when you can form a pair of cards with the same value, such as two Kings or two 6s

High Card

The player with the highest valued card. The cards are valued from 2 up to Ace

Should you want more information about the hands, you can always refer to our poker hands guide. This basically takes you through each of the hands in more detail, including what the probability of landing them is. There are also a few examples with which you can practice learning the hands.

Poker: Types and Variants

If you play online or go to a casino to play poker, then you will eventually run into different types of poker. These games follow similar principles, but the slight deviations in the rules mean that you need a completely different strategy to play them. They are still bundles of fun, and you may find that there are some which you are better at than others.

Types of Poker

Stud Poker

Stud poker variants are games in which each player receives a number of face-down and face-up cards. The rounds in these games are also split into different stages, though the betting order may change during each round. The most popular stud poker variants are Five Card Stud and Seven Card Stud.

Draw Poker

These are games in which players receive complete hands, which are faced down. They must improve the hands they are dealt by replacing cards. This variant of poker is not very common, but it is highly fun to play. It usually involves tables of 2 up to 8 players, and the most common variant is Five-Card Draw.

Community Card Poker

This is the most common type of poker, in which Texas Hold'em and Omaha Hold'em fall into. It involves players receiving hole cards, and they have to form hands using a number of communal cards.

Most Common Variants

Texas Hold'em Poker

This is the most widely played type of poker. At poker sites, the majority of the games and the biggest tournaments will most likely be Texas Hold'em.

Omaha Hold'em Poker

This game is extremely similar to Texas Hold'em, only the players receive 4 hole cards instead of 2. The rounds are held in the same way, and the players need to make 5-card poker hands. The only difference is that they can pick from the best 2 of the 4 hole cards to make a hand. This makes the game even more exciting and increases the possibility of players forming stronger hands.

Short Deck Hold'em Poker

Short Deck Hold'em is also very close to Texas Hold'em, only it features a smaller deck. Several cards are removed from the deck, therefore reducing the number of straights that can be made in the game. The most common form of Short Deck Hold'em is 6+ Hold'em, in which the cards 2 through 5 are removed from the deck.

Added Variations

Why should the variations stop there? There can be variations to how much you can raise by, which way the pot is split, and many other interesting features to make games even more exciting.

No Limit

As you can probably guess, these games have no limits as to how much a player can raise. This opens up the game to a lot more aggressive and fast-paced action.

Pot Limit

Typically, Omaha Hold'em games are played with a pot limit. This is basically a limit as to how much a player can raise the pot by.

Lowball

Generally, you want to form the best hand in poker, but not in these games. In lowball variants, the player with the weakest hand wins the pot.

High Low

In high low poker games, you either want to have the best or the worst hand in each round. This is because at the end of each round, the player with the highest hand wins half the pot, and the player with the lowest hand wins the other half. It puts a whole different dynamic on the game, as you do not know whether a player is bluffing with a higher or a lower hand.

Conclusion

After going through the different variants, you may feel like there is a lot to learn, and there is. But you do not need to start playing every single variant out there. Across all the different variants, there are some universal underlying principles. You are playing against other players, the player with the best (or worst) hand wins, and you can expect rounds of betting and increasing the pot.

Texas Hold'em is a great place to start as it is the most widely available. It is not a bad step to watch the WSOP or similar poker tournaments. By watching people play, you will start to become more familiar with the terms and also the strategies involved. Some online poker sites offer you a chance to watch game sessions. As online poker differs enormously from live poker, it is well worth watching a few of these games.

Whenever you feel ready to, you can sit down and begin to play. Be sure to make a budget for yourself and preferably start with games that have $5 or $10 buy-ins at most. The blinds in these sessions can start as little as $0.01/$0.02 which is perfect for beginners. Remember to play patiently, and build your confidence step by step. Most importantly, play for fun and enjoy each game.

Lloyd is passionate about online gambling, he lives and breathes blackjack and other table games, and he enjoys sports betting.