How to Play Poker: A Beginner’s Guide

Kane Pepi
Last updated: | 21 min read

Learning how to play poker can be daunting for beginners, especially with the number of variants and modern formats available. But don’t worry, as getting to grips with the basic concepts and rules governing popular options like Texas hold ’em and Omaha isn’t particularly difficult.

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Our CryptoNews experts have delivered a comprehensive poker guide, helping you understand the main principles behind this fascinating game. We’ll cover simple poker rules, the most popular variants, winning hands, essential tips to increase your chances, and more.

Playing Poker for Beginners: The Basics

By far, the most fundamental aspect of learning how to play poker is understanding that the main objective across all variants is to form the highest-value hand out of your personal cards and the community cards on the table. The poker game rules regarding how you’re allowed to do so differ, but this primary objective is always the same.

Unlike other card games, like blackjack or baccarat, poker is predominantly played against other gamblers rather than a dealer or the house. A typical game can feature dozens of hands, with several betting rounds (also known as ‘streets’) for each one. Players must decide whether to bet, abstain, or drop out of each round depending on their hands and the perceived quality of their competitors’ cards.

To help clarify all rules, we’ve outlined the basic steps and actions below:

Simple Poker Rules: Betting Rounds

You’ll need a basic understanding of the different betting rounds to begin playing poker. Each variant has a slightly different approach, so we’ll use Texas hold ’em as an example to keep things from getting too confusing. The main betting rounds or streets for this popular variant are:

  • Pre-Flop: The first betting round commences after players are dealt their primary two hole (personal) cards.
  • Flop: The second betting round starts with the first three community cards dealt on the table.
  • Turn: The third betting round begins with the fourth community card being dealt.
  • River: The last betting round features the fifth community card, giving players the opportunity to use the full set of community and personal cards to create the most valuable five-card hand.

Essential Actions

Another highly important part of mastering poker is learning the potential actions for each betting round. As a beginner, you’ll need to familiarize yourself with these actions:

  • Open: Aside from the big and small blinds (which we’ll explain in a second), the open bet is the first wager of the round.
  • Check: If no other preceding bets have been made during a round, you can check. This is essentially abstaining from betting for that round.
  • Call: To remain in the hand without increasing the wager, you must call to match the current bet.
  • Raise: If you want to up the ante, perhaps because you have a strong hand, raising enables you to increase the current bet amount. This requires other players to match the increased bet, raise it further, or fold.
  • Fold: Don’t be afraid to fold if your hand looks inferior to other players. You’ll drop out of the current round and lose any wagers, but it can be far more advantageous than staying in a round you’re destined to lose.

Poker Basics: Big Blind & Small Blinds

The big and small blinds are designed to initiate the betting in each round before any cards are dealt. These positions shift clockwise around the table after each hand, meaning all players must regularly pay these wagers. Here is a quick overview:

  • Small Blind: Paid by the player to the left of the dealer and usually equal to half the minimum bet.
  • Big Blind: Paid by the player next to the small blind and usually double the value.

What is Bluffing?

Understanding the concept of bluffing is an exciting part of learning the art of playing poker. Beginners should always master the basic poker game rules before exploring this area, but it will quickly become a vital part of your poker arsenal once you understand the theory.

Essentially, players can bluff their way to victory by increasing the bets on the table to cast the illusion that their hand is stronger than it actually is. In doing so, you could convince other players with better hands than yours to fold so you win the round. We won’t expand on bluffing too much in this beginner’s guide to poker, as it’s quite an advanced concept, but make sure you don’t forget about it once you have mastered the basics.

What Are Winning Poker Hands?

Understanding poker requires in-depth knowledge of winning hands and their respective rankings. While the specific rules differ depending on the poker variant, all players must form hands with their personal cards alongside the community cards on the table. The individual with the highest-value hand at the end of each round takes the chips, so knowing the main combinations is essential.

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Memorizing the winning poker hands and their respective power rankings not only gives a solid foundation for understanding the strength of your own cards but it can also help you predict other players’ actions and potentially bluff your way to victory. We have put together the table below as an easy resource for you:

Ranking Name Combination
1 Royal Flush Same Suit A-10
2 Straight Flush Five Same Suit Cards In Numerical Order
3 Four of a Kind Four Equal Value Cards All Different Suits
4 Full House Three Equal Value Cards & One Pair
5 Flush Five Cards of the Same Suit (Unordered)
6 Straight Five Cards In Numerical Order
7 Three-of-a-Kind Three Equal Value Cards Across Three Suits
8 Two Pair Two Pairs of Identical Cards
9 One Pair One Pair of Identical Cards
10 High Card The Highest-Value Cards In Your Hand

Strong Hands

Poker hands like a royal flush or straight flush are the strongest combinations, but they are also the rarest. We’ve listed the approximate probability of the strongest five poker hands below as an indication:

  • Royal Flush: 0.000154% (649,738:1)
  • Straight Flush: 0.00139% (72.192:1)
  • Four of a Kind: 0.02401% (4,165:1)
  • Full House: 0.14% (694:1)
  • Flush: 0.367% (508:1)

There’s no need to meticulously commit these statistics to memory, but knowing an estimate of these probabilities can help you learn to play poker with more success. For example, if you’re lucky enough to have a royal flush, you’ll know this is exceptionally rare. Consequently, you could bet aggressively, knowing that you’ll almost certainly be the winner of that round.

Poker Game Formats

Modern poker players have several possible formats to enjoy, from live poker to traditional in-person poker. We’ll run through the main options below, explaining the key differences to help you make the best choice for your preferences:

Online Poker

Online poker is arguably the most popular option nowadays, with platforms like PokerStars and GGPoker offering features like multi-table gameplay and a rich plethora of competitions. The main difference compared to classic in-person poker is the fast-paced nature of the game; dealing times and the ability to play several tables at once greatly increase the number of hands you can play during a set amount of time. Online poker also enables you to play against other people, unlike video and live poker.

Classic Poker

For many people, it’s difficult to beat the experience of playing classic in-person poker at a casino or friend’s house. The gameplay is slower than online poker but offers a far better opportunity for bluffing and learning how each player bets. You can also pick up on facial cues far more easily, helping you deduce your competitors’ hands.

Live Poker

Classic poker may also be referred to as live poker by some parties, but following the release of games like Evolution’s Casino Hold ’em, the phrase has taken on a new meaning. Live poker games use live dealer casino software to allow players to enjoy variants like five-card poker via video link. It’s a great option for beginners who want to get to grips with the poker basics without playing against other people. Unlike video poker, it also includes a welcome human element with a real croupier at a real table.

Video Poker

Video poker is the simplest format, blending traditional poker elements with the fast-paced and convenient fun offered by slot machines. Most examples enable you to swap a certain number of cards to create the highest-value hand possible. These follow traditional poker hand rankings, making video poker another great format for learning some of the basic poker rules in a less competitive setting.

Betting Structures

Don’t forget about the importance of betting structures, as this can have a major bearing on the amount each player is allowed to wager. Check below for an overview of the three most common categories:

Limit

Arguably the best poker for beginners, limit variants feature a predetermined betting limit during each round. Players can only bet or raise to a certain amount, restricting potential losses and wins. Additionally, most rules only allow for a set number of raises during each round.

Pot Limit

Pot limit offers slightly more flexibility than limit poker, with the current size of the pot influencing the maximum amount each player can bet during a street. Popular variants like Omaha are typically played with a pot limit.

No Limit

No-limit poker throws the doors wide open, allowing players to bet without any maximum caps. This is where the most exciting action happens, but it can be more risky if you’ve only just started learning how to play poker. It’s important to remember to set your own budget and stick to it, even if you want to try no-limit tables.

Poker Variants

You can enjoy dozens of poker variants nowadays, all with subtly different rules and regulations. Our beginner’s poker guide focuses on the five main variants you need to know starting out:

Texas Hold ’em

Texas Hold ’em is widely regarded as the most popular poker variant. You must create the strongest possible five-card combination using your two personal cards and the five community cards. These are dealt across three betting rounds, so you’ll need to think strategically in the early stages to predict the eventual strength of your hand.

Omaha

Omaha is another great variant for learning how to play poker, using similar rules to Texas Hold ’em. The main difference is that players receive four personal cards, and your final hand must contain two personal hands and three community cards.

Stud

Stud poker variants are less common than Texas hold ’em and Omaha, but they can be more enjoyable depending on your preferences. There aren’t any community cards to worry about, with each player being dealt a mix of face-up and face-down cards. Face-down cards are revealed after each betting round before each player submits their strongest five-card hand.

Draw

Unlike most other variants, draw poker allows players to exchange cards in between each betting round. For example, in five-card draw, you’ll receive a full five-card hand at the beginning, followed by a betting round. After this, you can decide whether to swap your hand with randomly dealt cards or stay put. At the end, the player with the strongest five-card hand wins.

Mixed-Game

If you fancy a challenge, mixed-game poker blends multiple variants and provides a shifting landscape. Better suited to experts than beginners, some of the most popular examples include HORSE, a combination of Texas Hold ’em, Omaha, Hi, Razz, Stud, and Eight. Ensure you have an in-depth understanding of how to play poker before trying this variant, as it’s far more complex.

How to Play Poker: A Step-by-Step Guide

Now you’ve got a foundational knowledge of the most important rules and formats; we can cover a step-by-step approach to playing poker. We’ve used Texas hold ’em as an example, as it’s the most popular variant and is also very similar to other popular options like Omaha. Check below for a step-by-step poker guide:

Step 1: Set-Up

Setting up for a poker game is an essential first step. For online poker, this involves creating an account and depositing the funds you wish to play with. If you’re playing together with friends, check your deck of cards, distribute enough chips, position the big/small blinds, and decide on a dealer. Finally, collect the big and small blind money before moving into the pre-flop.

Step 2: Pre-Flop

Once the first two personal or ‘hole’ cards have been dealt, it’s time for the pre-flop. This allows players to fold, check, call, or raise. We recommend exercising caution here, as the full extent of your potential hand is still far from being realized.

Step 3: Flop

The first three community cards are revealed during the ‘flop’ stage. Following the reveal, players have another opportunity to place bets, starting from the left-hand side of the dealer.

Step 4: Turn

The ‘turn’ stage begins with the fourth community card being revealed. This gives players a much better idea of how their eventual hand might look and is one of the most important parts of learning how to play poker. Each contestant is allowed to fold, check, call, or raise before moving onto the river.

Step 5: River

The ‘river’ refers to the last community card. Once this is revealed, you’ll have the full set of options available to form your five-card hand. The final betting round commences after the dealer reveals the last community card.

Step 6: Post-River

If you’re still in the game at this point and haven’t folded, it’s time to build your final hand. Hopefully, you’ll have an obvious high-value combination, but more often than not, you’ll have to think tactically to form a pair or even a high card.

Step 7: Showdown

Last but not least is the showdown. All remaining players lay down their cards to see who has the strongest selection. The winner takes all the chips currently on the table, and the round restarts with a new selection of cards.

Poker Strategy For Beginners

Ensuring you have an adequate understanding of how to play poker is the first step towards an enjoyable and successful experience. But this is just the start if you truly want to take your gameplay to the next level. Our dedicated poker guide for winning strategies explains several tactics in comprehensive detail, but we’ve listed a few of the main tips below:

  • Consider Your Position: The way you approach each hand will differ subtly depending on your table position. For example, if you’re in a later position, you’ll have more of an opportunity to monitor other players’ actions and find better opportunities to bluff.
  • Manage Your Bankroll Effectively: Bankroll management is a fundamental part of playing poker for beginners. Always set an overall spending limit before each hand, and don’t get drawn into going over budget if other players raise the stakes beyond your limits.
  • Don’t Be Afraid to Bluff: Bluffing is one of the most exciting parts of understanding poker game, allowing you to get out of a tight spot with a poor hand simply by the powers of illusion. While we always recommend beginners learn the basics first, don’t be afraid to bluff when you feel the time is right. The easiest way to do so is to bet aggressively after the flop, encouraging other players to fold.
  • Use Online Tools & Resources: There is an almost endless number of online tools and resources explaining simple poker rules alongside more advanced tactics. Read these daily to enhance your strategy and overall understanding of how to play. You can also use personal stat trackers to analyze your previous games and find areas to improve.

Common Errors When Playing Poker

Learning how to play poker successfully is as much about avoiding common pitfalls as it is about taking advantage of different tactics. Here are some of the main errors to avoid:

  • Overvaluing Hands: Be careful not to get carried away with betting on a hand that isn’t as valuable as you expected.
  • Being Impatient: Poker rewards patience over rashness. Beginners can get caught up in the excitement, playing too many hands or chasing their losses.
  • Emotional Gambling: You must never play poker emotionally, as this often clouds judgment and leads to rash decisions.
  • Inconsistent Betting: Don’t underestimate how much advanced poker players can gather from your hand simply by your betting. Inconsistent betting patterns can alert other players to when you have a strong hand, for example, reducing the amount you could win.
  • Poor Bluffing: If you’re going to bluff, make sure you do it properly. Failing to keep a stern poker face can immediately give away your intentions, potentially leading to greater losses than you would have sustained otherwise.

Choosing the Right Online Poker Platform

Selecting the right platform is one of the most important steps in your poker journey. Not doing so can result in several negative consequences. For example, you could register at a site without your preferred payment method or poker variants. Even worse, you may sign up at a dangerous platform without valid licensing or security measures. Here are some simple poker rules for finding the best-suited platform for your interests:

Format

Deciding whether you want to enjoy traditional online poker, live poker, or video poker is crucial. Online casinos tend to have a mix of live and video poker, but for traditional online poker against other players, you must find a dedicated platform like PokerStars. If you choose an online casino, make sure it’s one of our best payout online casinos, that will give you a good value for your money.

Poker Variants

While most online poker platforms have popular variants like Texas hold ‘em, players searching for rarer options will need to do some research to ensure their chosen site has their preferred variants.

Interface

Don’t underestimate the importance of a slick and intuitive online poker interface. The best platforms offer a blend of advanced functionality and streamlined design, enabling players to make quick decisions at the press of a button. Reading user reviews is a great way to ascertain how each platform’s interface performs.

Mobile App

Unless you’re planning on playing poker at your computer 100% of the time, checking for a high-performing mobile app is a good idea. This enables smoother mobile gameplay, allowing you to keep track of tournaments and individual games while on the move.

Safety

You must ensure your chosen poker platform has stringent security measures to keep your personal data safe. Look for valid licensing from a regulatory body like the UK Gambling Commission or Malta Gaming Authority. Additionally, ensure security features like SSL encryption are being used.

Payment Methods

Checking the available payment methods is another consideration when choosing a platform. Ensure you’ve done this before registering, as it’s frustrating to find your preferred option is unavailable after you’ve created an account.

Player Skill & Concentration

Many beginner’s guides to poker won’t tell you about the differences in player skill and concentration on online poker platforms. This can make a fundamental difference to your chances, especially as a beginner. Read reviews and find platforms with less skilled players to ensure you don’t end up facing pros in your first games.

Bonuses

Using deposit bonuses and other offers is a great way to top up your funds at the beginning of your poker journey. Choose a generous online poker platform to help you enhance your enjoyment and give you some room to test your skills with bonus funds.

Setting Up Your Online Poker Account

Once you’ve considered the factors above and chosen an online poker platform, follow the steps below to create an account:

  1. Click the ‘Register’ or ‘Sign-Up’ button
  2. Supply personal information, validate your email address, and satisfy any KYC steps
  3. Create a strong password and enable two-factor authentication where possible
  4. Deposit funds using your chosen payment method and ensure you satisfy welcome bonus terms and conditions
  5. Download and install the online poker client or app for more convenient gameplay
    Enter a demo or fixed-limit game initially to get to grips with the interface

Payment Methods Possible in Online Poker

Choosing the most suitable payment method is an important practical step to ensure you don’t have any problems depositing and withdrawing from your account. Here is a quick breakdown of the most popular options:

  • Debit Card: Using Visa or Mastercard is the most familiar method for many players, involving the same steps as purchasing products online.
  • E-wallets: PayPal, Skrill, and other e-wallets offer a streamlined option for players to fund their accounts. Many people prefer e-wallets as they minimize direct contact with your online poker account and bank.
  • Prepaid cards: Prepaid cards like PaySafeCard are fantastic for budgeting and online security, as they only allow players to deposit a set amount. However, they are a bit less convenient than debit cards or e-wallets.
  • Cryptocurrency: Funding your online poker account with cryptocurrency offers near-complete anonymity, instantaneous transfers, and top-spec security. The only problem is not every platform accepts it, however, you can choose one of the casinos from our best bitcoin poker sites and best ethereum poker sites lists .

Online Tournaments

Once you have learned all rules and regulations, you can consider entering online tournaments. These can pit thousands of players against each other, with huge prizes on offer for the winners. Some of the most popular online poker tournament categories include:

  • Sit & Go: Fast-paced elimination tournaments typically featuring a maximum of ten players that are usually over within an hour.
  • Multi-Table Tournaments: Often shortened to MTTs, these tournaments feature dozens of different tables, with players competing to reach the final table and win the overall prize.
  • Satellite Tournaments: These competitions offer winners entry to prestigious tournaments like the World Series of Poker.
  • Turbo & Super Turbo: Fancy a high-octane burst? Turbo and super turbo tournaments increase the blinds much faster than usual, resulting in super fast-paced gameplay.

Online Poker for Beginners: Etiquette and Safety

The final part of our comprehensive poker guide focuses on etiquette and safety. Poker is a highly social game, so don’t forget to be mindful of other players and follow basic etiquette. For example, refrain from using bad language in the chats and respect your fellow players. And, just like at a real casino table, make sure you pay attention to the game and don’t keep other players waiting when it’s your turn to play. You must also strictly avoid colluding with other players or doing anything else that could be considered unethical or even cheating.

In terms of safety, always ensure you have secure passwords and use two-factor authentication where available. More importantly, only register with licensed and regulated sites. Unregulated platforms can cheat you out of winnings or even compromise your data, so be careful.

Additionally, never lose sight of responsible gambling principles. Online poker should always be a hobby. If you find you’re spending more time or money playing than you are comfortable with, or need support or advice about your gambling habits, you can contact organizations like GamCare and BeGambleAware.org.

Summary

We’ve listed everything you need to know about poker rules and gameplay, the rest is down to you. We highly recommend playing with friends before committing any actual money to online poker, as this is the best and most enjoyable way to further your understanding. Once you’re ready, there’s a whole world of online poker to enjoy. We’ll see you at the table!

Playing Poker FAQs

How to start playing poker?

After learning the fundamentals of how to play poker, gather a group of friends or register with an online poker platform to get started.

How do you deal poker for beginners?

Poker dealing differs depending on the variant. For Texas hold ’em, each player is dealt two cards face up. The dealer then places three community cards on the table, followed by two more on the subsequent betting rounds.

Can I play poker for real money?

Yes. You can play poker for real money at online poker sites, casinos, and among friends.

How does poker work online?

Online poker pits players from across the world against each other on virtual tables. Alternatively, you can play against dealers or computers with live poker or video poker.

How much money do you need to play online poker?

You can play online poker with as much or as little money as you want, but make sure your choice game format and stakes reflect your available bankroll. Never spend outside your means and budget strictly to ensure you don’t spend what you cannot afford.

How to play online poker effectively?

Playing online poker effectively involves astute adherence to a number of strategies. Basic steps include learning the rules, understanding hand strength, knowing how to bluff, and reacting to other players’ actions.