This is a general introduction to poker, geared for beginning and medium skill level players.
Most Popular Poker Games
Thanks to televised and online poker matches, how easy it is to play, and the ever alluring possibility of taking someone else’s money, poker is a very hot game these days.
Playing poker in casinos and online is fun, but it is no easy street when it comes to winning. The truth is, there are some very seasoned players out there and novices are quickly separated from their money. The odds are even tougher when you are up against the house. Still, the game is simple enough that anyone can learn the basics very quickly.
Here are the three main types of poker:
Draw poker: Each player “draws” five cards, face down. You can improve your hand by replacing cards.
Stud poker: The dealer passes each player a combination of face-up cards and face-down cards in multiple betting rounds. Two main versions of this game are 5-card stud and 7-card stud.
Community poker: Each player’s incomplete hidden hand is combined with shared face-up cards. The most popular version of community poker is Texas Hold ‘em.
No matter which version of poker you play, there are two basic ways you can win: either by betting enough to convince other players to fold, or by having the best hand and besting other players at the showdown.
Casino Tip: All casino tables have defined betting stakes. For example, a $5/$10 Fixed Limit game requires a minimum bet of $5 (used on the first two rounds of betting) and a $10 (available on the last two rounds of betting). The limits go up at different tables.
FIVE CARD DRAW
- Each player puts up a forced bet, called an “ante” (i.e. $1).
- The dealer gives five cards to each player. The first betting round begins with the player on the left. Each player has a chance to bet, call, raise or fold. If you fold, you forfeit the ante and anything you have bet.
- Once the first round of betting is done, players have an option to “trade in” up to 4 cards.
- With the new cards in hand, a second betting round begins with the first player to the left.
- Players can go back and forth with their bets, calling, raising, folding, etc.
- Finally, it is time for the Showdown. The player with the strongest 5-card poker hand wins the pot.
FIVE CARD STUD
- All players ante up.
- Each player is dealt one card face down, followed by one card face up (beginning with the player to the dealer’s left).
- After the deal, whoever has the lowest face up card has to bet the “bring-in”, which is a forced bet made by that player. If two players have the same low face up card, the bring-in is decided by suit rankings (diamonds are best, then clubs, then hearts, then spades).
- After the first betting round is complete, another face-up card is dealt to each player.
- Betting continues with the player whose upcards make the best poker hand. On this and subsequent betting rounds, the player to act first may check or bet up to the game’s limit. The second betting round is followed by a third upcard to each player and a third betting round. A fourth face-up card and fourth betting round is followed by the showdown, which is between whichever players have not yet folded.
SEVEN CARD STUD
- All players ante up.
- The dealer deals one card at a time clockwise, with each player receiving two face-down cards and one face-up card. The face up card is known as a “Door Card.”
- There are five rounds “or streets” of betting in Seven Card Stud. The first two rounds use lower limit bets and the last 3 rounds use higher limit bets.
- Stud is usually played with either Fixed Limit or Spread Limit betting. In a Fixed Limit Stud game, the betting limits are predetermined. In a $5 / $10 game, for example, the big bet is $10 and the small bet is $5. Raising and betting is done in increments of the small bet in the first two betting rounds and increments of the big bet in the last three betting rounds. No more than three or four raises can be done in one betting round, depending on where you play. Spread Limit betting is usually only used in Stud poker. In a Spread Limit Stud game, the betting limits are determined according to a specific spread, such as $2 to $10. Players can bet any amount in this range.
- Betting starts with the player holding the lowest Door Card. This first bet is known as the “Bring in” or the “opening bet.” If two players hold the same value Door Card then the Bring in is decided by suit, in alphabetical order (clubs, diamonds, hearts, spades)
- All players must then call, fold, or raise, following the betting rules.
- Second round of betting: “4th Street”: Every player still involved in the pot is dealt another card face up (an up card). Betting on this round begins with the player holding the two strongest up cards. Strongest hands are determined by regular Poker hand rankings, i.e. high card, pair, two pair etc.
- Third round of betting: “5th Street”: Every player still involved in the pot is dealt another up card. The player with the strongest up card combination starts the betting on this round.
- Fourth round of betting: “6th Street”. Every player still involved in the pot is dealt another up card. The player with the strongest up card combination starts the betting on this round.
- Fifth round of betting: “The River”. Each player still involved in the pot is dealt one final card face down. So, each player now holds 4 up cards and 3 down cards. Betting begins with the player holding the 4 strongest up cards and continues clockwise around the table.
- Showdown in 7 Card Stud: Once all betting is complete players reveal their down cards and the player with the best 5 card hand wins. The player who made the last bet reveals his/her hand first. If there is no betting on the last round then the player with the highest value of up cards reveals first. In the case of players holding the same winning hands normal split pot rules apply.
Texas Hold ‘em
- Depending on the limit and betting structure, players will place out blinds and antes so there is an initial amount to get things started. This is called posting. A dealer button is used to represent the player in the dealer position; the dealer button rotates clockwise after each hand, changing the position of the dealer and blinds.
- Blinds: The small blind is posted by the player to the left of the dealer and is usually equal to half of the big blind. The big blind, posted by the player to the left of the small blind, is equal to the minimum bet. Based on the limits, players are required to put up mandatory bets before the cards are dealt. These blinds count toward the total investment toward the first round of betting. If the pot isn’t raised preflop, the small blind will only have to put in another half a bet to call. Likewise, the big blind won’t have to put anything more in the pot, although the big will have the ability to raise his own blind. In an unraised preflop pot, this is referred to as having the option.
The amount that is put out depends on the limit. In fixed limit poker, the big blind puts up a bet equal to the small limit. The small blind puts up half that amount. So if the limit is $5/$10, the big blind is $5 and the small blind is $2.50.
- Each player is dealt two private cards face down. These are called your hole cards or pocket cards. These are the only cards each player will receive individually, and they will only be revealed at the showdown.
- Play begins with each player being dealt two cards face down, with the player in the small blind receiving the first card and the player in the button seat receiving the last card.
- A round of betting starts with the player to the left of the blinds. This is the preflop betting round. Players can call, raise, or fold.
- After the betting round ends, the dealer discards the top card of the deck. This is called a burn card.
- Note that the blinds are considered “live” in the pre-flop betting round, meaning that they are counted toward the amount that the blind player must contribute. If all players call around to the player in the big blind position, that player may either check or raise.
- The dealer then flips the next three cards face up on the table. This is called the flop. These are communal cards that anyone can use in combination with their two pocket cards to form a poker hand.
- The player to the left of the dealer starts another betting round.
- After the betting concludes, the dealer burns again then flips another communal card onto the table. This is called the turn.
- The player to the left of the dealer begins another round of betting. In many games, this is where the bet size doubles.
- Again, the dealer burns a card and places a final card face up on the table. This is called the river. Players can now use any of the five cards on the table or the two cards in their pocket to form a five card poker hand.
- There is one final round of betting starting with the player to the left of the dealer.
- After that, the showdown begins. If a player bets and all other players fold, then the remaining player is awarded the pot and is not required to show his or her hole cards. If two or more players remain after the final betting round, a showdown occurs. Players who have not folded reveal their hands, beginning with the player to the left of the last player to call. Players use a combination of their pocket cards and the community cards to form the best five card hand possible. The player with the best hand wins.
- If the five community cards form the player’s best hand, then the player is said to be playing the board and can only hope to split the pot, because each other player can also use the same five cards to construct the same hand.
Basic Poker Strategy
One of the great things about poker is that players can use a range of strategies to win. It might be enough to simply draw the best cards, but not usually!
1. Wait for a Good Starting Hand
A good poker player only plays about 20-30% of dealt hands. This means you must sit out of 7 out of 10 hands. If you are able to wait until you have a good hand, your bets will have a much better chance of paying off. Loose players play more hands and tend to continue with weaker hands. Tight players play fewer hands and tend to fold more often.
2. Find Your Skill Level
Your ability to win is directly related to the skill (or lack of skill) of your fellow players. If you are interested in holding onto your money, find a table or game that matches your skill level.
3. Understand Pot Odds
Betting involves balancing two things—how your hand is shaping up and how much it will cost you stay in. For example, if you need to bet $5 for a chance to win a $20 pot, the pot odds are 4-to-1. To win money, a player’s odds of winning must be better than their pot odds. So, if your odds of winning are also 4-to-1 (20% chance of winning), your expected return is to break even (on average, you will lose four times and win once for every five times you play with a pot that size).
4. Raise, Call, Check or Fold?
Like the song says, you got to know when to hold em, know when to fold em…etc. This is easier said than done, especially when you don’t know what the other players have!
When to raise: There are several reasons you raise the pot:
- Up the money in the pot
- Drive other players out of the hand
- Bluff others into thinking you have a better hand than you do
When to call a bet: There are several reason you call:
- See more cards
- When you have adequate pot odds, but need to keep your stakes lower
- To conceal the strength of your hand. If you have a very strong hand, you might smooth call on an early betting round to avoid giving away the strength of your hand and thereby get more money into the pot in later betting rounds.
- To manipulate the pot odds—keeping more players in the hand to build the pot.
Tip: When you finally get a hand you can bet, go for it! If you have the best hand, force out the players with worse hands.
Bluffing is an art form and one of the most enjoyable ways to win. Be careful with bluffing though—if someone calls your bluff, you will be exposed, lose your dough, and look a little silly!
But even if your bluff fails, it can benefit you later. If you bluff and get caught, this may make other players more likely to call you later, at which point you might have the cards to back it up.
Know when to Quit
Poker players have a term for when a player has become emotionally unable to play a good game. Its called “tilt.” If you find yourself losing too much, you should walk away or take a break.
Hand reading is when you make educated guesses about the possible cards an opponent may hold based on the sequence of actions in the pot. A tell is when a player changes his or her behavior or demeanor that gives clues about their hand.
Poker Tools and Resources
Poker Betting Sites
- Lock Poker
- Cake Poker
- Bodog Poker
- Full Tilt Poker
- Ultimate Bet Poker
- Players Only Poker
Poker Site Reviews