Learn How To Play Poker
Learning how to play poker is not as difficult as you might think, and this article will surely help you understand the basic poker rules and dynamics of this game.
While it might take some time to master all the rules of poker, I am sure that you will quickly get a hold of this game and learn how to win.
However, let’s clarify one thing out of the bat.
Poker has many different variations, so we need to specify the format if we actually want to discuss a concrete game. Many players assume they are thinking about Texas Holdem rules when they want to learn how to play poker, but it is actually just one of the alternatives.
This article will help you learn poker rules of all the most popular poker games and be an ultimate guide on how to play poker.
Just before that, we have to cover poker basics and game-flow rules so that you know what’s happens at the table.
Poker Pregame Setup
If you are playing poker online, then most of the preparation is done for you, and you only need to sit down to enjoy the action.
However, you still need to understand what is needed for this game and how to follow poker rules when playing, so let’s start from the beginning and cover what you will need to play poker.
Poker Cards Deck
According to the official poker rules, this game is played with a standard 52-card deck containing cards from Deuces to Aces.
While poker movies seem to like the idea of adding Jokers in the deck as well, this is not the case in real poker games, and you will hardly find any poker action that includes Jokers in the mix.
Of course, this might be the case in some video poker formats, but not in real poker games according to the basic rules.
You should know that poker is played strictly with one deck.
However, you might see some casinos using the second one to speed up the game along with automatic shuffling machines (ASM). If a casino is using an ASM, this is how it looks:
- The dealer uses the 1st deck to deal the cards and play the hand while the 2nd deck stays in the shuffling machine.
- When the hand is over, the dealer takes the 2nd deck out of ASM and places the first one into the machine.
- Then he can deal the second hand without the need to shuffle cards which saves a lot of time
- When the hand finishes, the dealer repeats the whole process so everyone can play poker without interruptions.
This is used to speed up the action and is only relevant in a professional setup or for high-stakes poker games, so one deck is enough for organizing a home game and even for the most casinos for that matter.
While it is not mentioned in poker rules, chips are actually another part of the game you can’t go without.
Of course, you can use something else instead of actual chips to measure the betting and the pot, but it is still needed to play a proper game of Poker.
You need poker chips to make your bets, count the pot, and even know how much you have in your stack, so there is no workaround.
Luckily it is not complicated. If you want to understand how to play poker with chips and set up the games, you can see typical poker chip values and use this info when needed.
If you are organizing your own poker games, then you should buy a proper set instead of using monopoly money or anything else.
It will help you create a unique feel of the real game, so you should invest a couple of $ to get poker chips set for your games.
Most importantly, always distribute enough chips at the start of the Poker session so that every player can easily make bets and wouldn’t need to exchange chips back and forth constantly.
The Dealer Button
If you want to learn how to play poker professionally, you will also need to have a dealer button in your poker game.
Luckily, this can be anything used to mark who is dealing the cards.
While this might sound not as important initially, it is one of the poker basics that have to be in the game.
- The dealer’s button marks who is the last to act in the hand
- It shows where the small and big blinds are
- It helps to deal cards in the right order
You will see a small mark with a “D” letter in online poker games to know where the dealer is, but you surely need something to mark it in your games as well to avoid all of the confusion.
The Buy-in and Fees In Poker
When you have everything prepared for a great Poker night, you need to decide how much money will be involved in the game, commonly referred to as a buy-in.
Buy-in is the minimum amount of money required to sit down in a specific poker game.
It can further be divided into Tournaments (MTT) and Cash Games buy-ins, so let’s break it down:
- Tournament buy-in is usually listed along with the fee that you have to pay for the organizer. For example, $100+$10 buy-in means that $100 will go to the prize pool, and $10 is a fee paid to cover the organizer's expenses.
- According to the Poker Rules, cash games buy-ins are usually referred to as the maximum amount you can bring to the table. For example, in an NL100 game, the maximum buy-in is $100, and you will be playing with the big blind of $1.
Various stakes and buy-in levels range from microgames with just a couple of $ to absolute nosebleeds where people put millions of dollars on the line.
Understanding the Buy-in is very important when learning how to play poker since you do not want to jump into the games you can’t afford or are not yet prepared to counter.
Dealing The Cards In Poker
When you are prepared to start playing poker, you need to deal the cards for every player at the table.
Before the action starts, you have to decide who is going to be the dealer.
The standard practice is that everyone draws a card, and who has the highest ones becomes the dealer in the first hand. After that, the dealer button moves to the left, and everyone will be the dealer when it is their turn.
While some of the formats apply different governs, you should be following these tips for the most part:
- Dealing starts with the first player in the immediate left to the dealer and continues clockwise.
- Deal one card to each player at a time.
- Do not throw cards too high in the air to avoid anyone seeing it.
- Make sure each player secures his cards.
This is how cards are dealt in casinos and most professional games, so make sure to understand the hand's flow and deal in the same fashion if you are the one who has to do it.
Here is a short video on how to deal cards according to Texas Holdem's official poker rules.
Community card games like Texas Holdem and Pot-limit Omaha have different Poker Rules than Stud or Razz variants.
In community card games, every player gets the hole cards that only he can use, and then community cards are dealt in the middle for everyone.
Let’s take Texas Holdem rules as an example. So this is how the flow of the hand looks:
- Every player receives 2 hole cards that only they can use.
- The first betting round happens, and then 3 community cards are dealt in the middle of the table that everyone can use.
- The second betting round happens, and the 4th community card is dealt at the middle of the table.
- The third betting round occurs, and the last 5th card is deal in the middle for everyone.
- The final 4th betting round happens, and players go to showdown if there is more than one left in the pot.
The idea of community cards in Poker Rules is quite simple since it can be used by every player to make the best possible combination, and it makes the game much more “scientific.”
Since you know five of the cards in the middle, you can estimate what your opponent might have and make your decisions based on that.
In games without community cards, such as 5 card draw, there is a lot of guessing since you do not have much information on your opponent’s hands.
Positions at the poker table
Few things are as important as positions at the table when you began playing, so I will cover the most important things.
However, not to make this article longer than it needs to be, I will not dive deep into the strategy, so just read the dedicated post about poker positions strategy and how to get the most out of it.
That said, here how it actually looks at the table:
As we discussed earlier, you start dealing cards from the Small Blind position and then continue clockwise until everyone has their hole cards, and then the poker hand begins.
The first player to act will always be the one who is in the immediate left of the big blind.
Like with dealing cards, the action continues clockwise, and every poker player has different options depending on what has happened before in the hand. We will discuss this in more detail in the next paragraph.
Now, I want to highlight why your position at the table is so important when learning how to play poker.
- It determines how many opponents you have left to act after you.
- The position is the most important consideration when choosing which hands to play.
- It defines your seat after the flop and your absolute position for all later streets.
- Late positions enable you to bluff more often and steal blinds.
The best position in poker is the Button (BTN) since you are always last to act after the flop and can see what other players do before making your decision, which is a huge advantage on its own.
The second best position is CO, then MP, and so on until we reach the Small and Big Blinds, which are the worst positions in poker since you have to put your money before the hand even start without knowing your cards. That’s why it is called “blinds.”
The most important adjustment you need to make when learning how to play poker is to adjust your opening ranges based on your seat at the table.
To learn optimal play here, you can get the poker cheat sheet with all the information in one place.
Poker Rules and Actions at the table
Betting is an essential part of Poker and is very strictly defined by poker rules to avoid any confusion.
Basically, there are five different actions you can perform at the table:
If you decide that you do not want to play your hand, you can fold it any time when playing Poker, but you must only do it when it is your turn to act.
This action can only be performed if no one bet before you, but you already have contributed to the pot, which means passing the action to another player.
Preflop, it can only happen to the Big Blind player if no one raises, and one or more players decided to call the initial BB amount, then the player in the Big Blind can check and see the flop.
However, every player can opt to check postflop and pass his action to another player or see the next card without investing any more in the pot, if no one has made a bet before them.
Calling is the passive action of putting the same amount of money into the pot as someone already bet.
You can call a bet preflop and postflop, as long as you do not want to fold your poker hand or increase that bet to get more money in the middle.
Betting means placing a bet if no one has made it before you.
This refers to postflop action since if you opt to bet preflop, it means you are actually making a raise, which is the next term of poker rules that we will discuss.
So if you see the flop, turn, or river and your opponent check and you decide to put some money into the pot, it means you are betting since you are the first one to put your chips in the middle in this particular round.
Last but not least is raising. It simply means that you are going over the top of the current bet made by another player and re-open the action.
When you raise, another player will have an option to decide if he wants to raise back, call, or fold to your bet.
Many games have specific limits according to the Poker rules, which is often seen in the name. Here are three of the most popular options:
- NL – refers to “no-limit,” which means you can bet any amount from your stack at any time in the hand.
- PL – is the shortcut for “pot-limit,” which means that the maximum amount you can bet in any given situation is the amount that is already in the pot.
- FL – this is “fixed-limit,” meaning that you can only make fixed bets that are specified in the Rules of Poker for that game. For example, if you are playing a fixed limit cash game with $1/2$, you will only be able to bet or raise in the increments of $1 and 2$ depending on the street in the hand and rules for that specific format.
The most popular option is NL games, and it is almost always used when playing Texas Holdem.
However, some Poker games such as Pot Limit Omaha are often played as PL, and games such as Stud or Razz are often played with a Fixed Limit option.
Poker Betting Rounds
Different Poker formats can have different betting rounds, but the action follows the same logic in all of it so it is worth spending a couple of minutes to understand the game flow when learning how to play poker.
We can take Texas Holdem as an example and analyze different betting rounds to understand how it works.
Preflop – The first betting round
When the Poker hand is dealt, the first betting round begins with the player sitting to the Big Blind's left.
- He can FOLD – if his hand is weak and he does not want to play it;
- He can CALL – match the amount of the big blind if he chooses;
- He can RAISE – increase the bet to the size that he wants, which follows the game's limits.
When the first player makes the decision, it is time for one sitting in immediate left to him, and all action continues clockwise until everyone makes the decision and matches bet sizes or folds.
If a player decides to fold, he is not going to be involved in the hand anymore.
Other players also have these three options and can decide based on their hand's strength if everyone folded until them.
For example, if the first player calls, the second one raises, and everyone folds to the first player he can fold, raise, or call and see the flop.
When everyone makes their decisions, and the bets are matched (someone raised, another player called), you are going to see the flop.
The Flop – Second betting round in Poker
This is where it gets interesting. When the preflop round ends, the first three community cards are dealt on the flop, and everyone can evaluate if it helped improve the hand with their hole cards.
The action starts with the first active player sitting in the dealer's left and continues clockwise like always. Again, all players have to make their decisions and can choose from:
- betting (placing a bet if no one did that before them),
- checking (passing the action to another player, can only be done if no one bet before you),
- calling (matching the amount of the bet another player made),
- raising (increasing the initial bet by putting more chips in the middle),
- folding (letting go of your hand if you do not want to play it).
When everyone announces the action and bets are matched, you continue to the third betting round on that Poker hand.
The Turn – Third betting round
When everyone acted, and all bets are matched on the flop, you will see the turn card.
After seeing the fourth community card, the entirely new betting rounds begin, and the action follows in the same way as on the flop.
The River – Forth betting round
The last community card, which you will see, is called the river. The fifth card is placed face-up, and another betting round occurs in the same way as on the previous street.
Depending on your spot, you still have an option to check, bet, raise, call, or fold.
When all the betting action is completed, the remaining player will go into the showdown.
Everyone opens their hole cards, and the player with the best five-card combination takes down the pot.
If everyone folds before reaching the showdown, the last player standing in the pot takes it down without even showing his cards.
Poker Rules: The Showdown
According to official Poker Rules, the player who made the last aggressive action (bet or raise) has to show his cards first when you reach the showdown.
If you bet on the river and your opponent called, you will need to show your hand before your opponent does.
This basic rule of poker is in place to avoid ego battles and unnecessary discussion at the table, making things easier for everyone. However, if you know you have the best possible hand in the end, you can feel free to show it first and avoid slow roll, which is considered unethical behavior.
That being said, do not make the mistake of rushing into things when all cards are tabled at the end.
If you are uncertain who wins or how to proceed further, simply wait for the dealer to announce the winner of the hand, according to the Poker Rules.
While all of this happens automatically in online poker games, you do not need to do anything even in a brick and mortar casino. The dealer will take care of everything and declare the winner of the hand and push chips to the player who is taking down the pot.
However, learning and understanding how to rank winning hands is an essential part of playing poker, so we will cover it next.
Poker Hand Rankings
In this part, you will find the list of all possible combinations ranging from the strongest hand – Royal Flush, to the weakest – just a high card.
You can learn everything there is to know in our detailed guide about poker hand rankings, but this is one of the essential parts of Poker Rules, so you should not start a game if you have any doubts about what beats what in poker.
To make things clear and easy, this is a list of the best poker hands in order:
#1. Royal Flush: Ace, King, Queen, Jack and a Ten of the same suit – A♣ K♣ Q♣ J♣ T♣
#2. Straight Flush: five cards in a row with the same suit that is not A-high, such as – T♠ 9♠ 8♠ 7♠ 6♠
#3. Four of a Kind: combination with 4 cards of the same rank, like 8♠ 8♥ 8♦ 8♣ 4♣
#4. Full House: three cards of the same rank and a pair, like J♥ J♦ J♣ 5♥ 5♣
#5. Flush: five cards of the same suit that are not in a row, like K♥ Q♥ 8♥ 5♥ 3♥
#6. Straight: five cards in a row, like 5♥ 6♦ 7♣ 8♣ 9♦
#7. Three of a Kind: three cards of the same rank and two cards that do not match, like 9♥ 9♠ 9♣ 6♦ 3♠
#8. Two Pair: combination with two different pairs, like 4♣ 4♠ 7♣ 7♠ K♣
#9. One Pair: two cards with the same rank and three random cards, like A♦ A♥ J♣ 7♦ 3♥
#10. High Card: when all your cars are with different ranks and with no combination, like K♥ Q♠ 8♣ 3♠ 2♦
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If you are not sure if you have a winning hand or why the pot was rewarded to one player instead of another, refer to this part of Poker Rules, and you should have all your questions answered.
That being said, there will be situations where both players have a similar hand, and you still need to declare the winner.
If both players have equal strength hands, then “poker kicker” comes into play, and the extra card of this combination determines the winner. For example, A A J J 5 would lose to A A J J Q since Queen is higher than a 5.
While this might be confusing while learning how to play poker and all of this game's ins and outs, you should quickly get a hold of it since previously mentioned hand rankings can easily determine the winner.
Poker Rules FAQ
If you still seek answers about Poker Rules or how to play poker to win more often, these frequently asked questions should give you the answers you need.