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Poker Basics: How To Play Poker For Beginners

Learning poker for beginners might sound easy, but it requires a lot of terminology and other information. It's easy to overlook the poker basics when you're excited to play cards online. The guide below provides basic rules for playing poker, the hand rankings and poker instructions for joining an online card room.

If you start playing and find you still need a primer on how to play poker for beginners, bookmark this page. That way, you don't have to learn basic poker all in one sitting. Once you have poker explained a second and third time, you'll become a better poker player.

How To Play Poker

Many people learned how to play poker around their kitchen table as a kid. If not, then you can learn to play poker online with free poker tools and tutorials. Our introduction starts with the poker basics. Whether you want to play Texas Hold'em, Omaha or Seven-Card Stud, we'll start with what is common to the poker experience across all game types.

  • Blinds and Antes: Most poker variants have a mandatory bet that drives the betting action. If these didn't exist, the best strategy would be to dump cards until one had a virtually unbeatable hand. Texas Hold'em and Omaha have big blinds and small blinds. Seven-Card Stud and most games of draw have an ante bet. The size of a blind bet or ante bet dictates one's poker strategy.
  • Dealer Button: In Texas Hold'em and Omaha, the button indicates where the big blind and small blind are for that hand, as well as the order of betting.
  • Poker Hand Rankings: No matter what variant of poker you play, the poker hand rankings stay the same. Read the chart below for a full breakdown of the poker hands.

Poker Hand Rankings

  • Royal Flush - Explained: AKQJ10 all of one suit.
  • Straight Flush - Explained: Suited cards that are five in a row.
  • 4 of a Kind - Explained: 4 cards of the same hand rank.
  • Full House - Explained: 3 of a kind combined with a pair.
  • Straight - Explained: Cards that are five in a row (but unsuited).
  • 3 of a Kind - Explained: 3 cards of the same hand rank. Called a set or trips.
  • Two Pairs - Explained: 2 different pairs of cards. Example: Two 7s and two 4s.
  • One Pair - Explained: One pair of cards. Example: Two 7s.
  • High Card - Explained: An ace is the highest card and a two is the lowest.

High Card Hand Ranks

Whether two players have high card, a pair, two pairs, a straight or a full house, hand ranks settle ties between hands. The higher card wins when these ties happen. From highest to lowest, the hand ranks are: Ace, King, Queen, Jack, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3 and 2.

  • Texas Hold'em Basics: Each player is dealt two face-down cards, called hole cards. Five community cards are dealt in three stages: the flop (1st to 3rd cards), the turn (4th card) and the river (5th card). Four betting rounds happen: pre-flop, flop, turn and river. The object of the game is to build the best five-card hand using any of the seven available cards.
  • Omaha Hold'em Basics: Each player is dealt four face-down cards, called hole cards. Five community cards are dealt in three stages: the flop (1st to 3rd cards), the turn (4th card) and the river (5th card). Four betting rounds happen: pre-flop, flop, turn and river. The object of the game is to build the best five-card hand, using two of the four hole cards and three of the five community cards.
  • Seven-Card Stud Basics: Each player is dealt two hole cards and one face-up card before the first round of betting. This is followed by three more upcards and one final hole card, with a round of betting between each card. The object of the game is to make the best five-card hand.

Poker Tips For Beginners

  • Learn the Poker Hand Ranks and Basic Rules: Study the poker rules first. This includes the poker hand ranks, such as full houses, flushes and straights.
  • Learn Table Position: Learn how betting works, plus the basics of table positions. Learn about the button and how it relates to the big blind and small blind.
  • Start at Low Stakes: Until you gain levels of poker mastery, you'll be paying to learn the game. Start at the penny stakes and don't move up until you win consistently.
  • Play a Tight/Aggressive Style: Tight means you fold a lot and don't play as many hands. Aggressive means you raise bets instead of calling when you do play a hand.
  • Play One Table at Once: Most people can't multi-task and that definitely applies for beginner poker players. Don't play at multiple tables at once, because it distracts you.

Poker Tips For Intermediate Players

  • Understand Poker Odds: Learn to calculate your pot odds, so you understand the percentages of each play. Learn about variance – which is the ups and downs of play – so you're less likely to go on tilt when bad luck happens.
  • Learn How to Semi-Bluff: Betting on some hands isn't purely a bluff, even if you don't have the top pair. Flush draws and open-ended straight draws have a good chance of hitting, but are losing to other hands on the flop.
  • Master Betting with Small Pairs: This might seem like a beginner tip, but many players misplay small pairs. If players call without raising, then you might have a chance to win with a small pair. If players are raising and re-raising, it's a good idea to fold.
  • Don't Be Results-Oriented: Don't judge yourself on the latest poker session. Variance means you'll sometimes make the correct call and lose. Once you learn the game, judge yourself based on whether you made the best decisions available.
  • Understand Expected Value: Expected value or EV is how you expect to win or lose. Each play in poker has an expected value. This is intermediate poker math that helps you know what the right decisions are (by the book).

Poker Tips For Expert Players

  • Play Non-Made Hands with Backdoor Flush Draws: If you have the initiative, bluff using unpaired hands with a backdoor flush draw. This is especially true if you have position on your opponent. These bets become effective bluffs on the turn whether the turn appears to give you a flush draw or could complete the draw.
  • Check-Raise for Value: Check-raising is a good idea for players who c-bets with too many weak hands. These have equity if you don't check-raise, so don't let the opponent stay in the hand to potentially realize that equity. Also check-raise (at times) as a bluff when the board has a chance to raise a straight or a flush.
  • Playing Pocket Pairs vs Multiway Pots: If a pot is likely to go multiways, play hands that have a possibility of being two pairs or better. Thus, play pocket pairs and suited connectors in a multiways pot, because it's these types of hands that usually win in a multiways hand. Remember, pocket pairs hit a set 11.8 percent of the time.

How To Play Online For Real Money

  1. Learn Basic Poker Strategy: View free poker tutorial videos on YouTube. Read poker how-to guides posted online by experienced card players. Learn the basics before wagering your hard-earned cash on poker.
  2. Find a Poker Website: Sign up at a real money poker site that has a wide range of bet ranges. Playing poker for real money doesn't have to be expensive. Start playing for real money at $0.01/$0.02 cash games and $1 Sit & Go tournaments. 
  3. Make a Deposit: Log in to your account, then visit the Cashier page in order to make a deposit. Players have many banking options, including credit cards, debit cards, cryptocurrencies, web wallets and bank transfers.
  4. Choose a Game: Visit the events page to choose among a huge list of poker tournaments, Sit & Go events, and cash games. Choose according to the bet sizes, prize money, poker variant and number of entrants.
  5. Play for Real Money: Play poker for real money. Choose appropriate blinds or antes – games that are significantly small. Increase bet sizes as you build your bankroll, thus proving you've mastered that level of play. Keep studying and improving.

How Online Poker Tournaments Work

Online poker has a lot of terms, which can make it confusing for newcomers. Below are the basic types of online poker events. Read through the list, which serves as an informal poker tournament glossary.

  • Freeroll Tournaments: Players can join freerolls without a buy-in fee – yet still win real money. Poker sites offer freeroll entries to new depositors and high rollers alike.
  • Multi Table Tournaments: Throughout the week, join in multi table tournaments for the biggest prize pools. Be ready to play poker for hours.
  • Big Weekend Tournaments: Saturday and Sunday typically have the biggest multi table tournaments. These have huge fields and guaranteed prize pools that reach into the millions of dollars
  • Re-Buy Tournaments: If you lose your chip stack, you can buy a new chip stack. Some re-buys allow one extra buy-in, while others have multiple re-buys. Some also have add-ons, where you get more chips before you lose the whole stack.
  • Freezeout Tournaments: The opposite of the re-buys. This is like the WSOP Main Event. You only get one stack of chips. When you lose the chip stack, you're out of the tournament.
  • Sit & Go Tournaments: Typically, a single-table event with nine or 10 players, though multi table SNGs exist. They don't have a scheduled start time but begin when the table fills up. The single-table Sit & Go's are like playing at a final table. These are popular because they don't take as long.
  • Double or Nothing Tournaments: A type of Sit & Go event with 10 players and five players who finish in the money. If you make the top five, you make double the amount of your buy-in.
  • Bounty Tournaments: Players receive bounty money if they knock others out of the tournament. This drives aggressive play.
  • Satellite Tournaments: Play-in events for a much bigger tournament, which can be online poker events or live poker tournaments. If you win the event, you'll gain free entry. Several WSOP Main Event winners won satellite events to gain entry into the event.

Poker Basics FAQ

How do you play poker for beginners?

Usually in online poker cash games with blinds at the $0.02/$0.01 range. Playing penny poker lets you learn the game, make rookie mistakes and keep your bankroll intact. Read our guide to poker basics above in order to build your knowledge of the game. In time, you'll want to branch out to intermediate and advanced poker guides.

What is the basic poker game?

That depends. The most popular poker variant is Texas Hold'em. Since it's the game played most often in online poker rooms and live poker tournaments, many would say that Texas Hold'em is the basic poker game. Many others in previous generations learned five-card draw first (at home in private games), so they would say it's the basic poker game. In fact, most video poker games use five-card draw as its base game, so draw poker is a popular version of the game.

What are the steps in poker?

It depends on that poker variant being played. In the most popular version of poker, Texas Hold'em, a hand begins with players placing the big blind and small blind bets.

Is learning poker easy?

Like chess, poker is easy to learn but hard to master. The rules of poker are simple and repetitive. After you play a few hands of any variant, the order of play is easy to remember. Mastering the game is complicated, though.

For some players, the betting order in Texas Hold'em and Omaha might seem complicated. Once you're at the table, it's easy to figure out, because it moves around the table in a clockwise direction. Games like H.O.R.S.E. or Dealer's Choice can be confusing for beginners, because the player must know several games at once.

Why is poker so hard?

Poker is hard because it requires many disparate skills. The best players have a firm understanding of poker's math and odds. At the same time, they need a keen understanding of human psychology and the ability to read body language. A player should have good instincts, the ability to maintain self-control, to disguise one's own motives and emotions, and also adapt to opponents' strategies.

What is the best way to play poker?

The best way to play is a tight/aggressive style. This means playing fewer hands and folding often, but playing the few hands you do play aggressively. One axiom suggests that a player should either raise or fold instead of calling. If you don't feel comfortable enough to raise, then you probably should be folding the hand.

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