How to play poker: a beginner’s guide to poker rules
Published by: PokerOrg StaffLast updated: March 2, 2022 4:00 pm EST
Poker is one of the world’s most popular pastimes, and millions of people play poker around the globe. Live poker rooms, online poker sites, and poker home games are available to players in many areas of the world, and it’s never been easier to find a place to play poker.
While getting into a game might be simple, learning how to play poker can present an intimidating task. The Poker.org Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to poker offers everything you need to understand the rules, common terms, and other nuances of the most popular poker variants played around the world. In this guide, you will learn how to play poker, from the simplest of rules to understanding a full round of betting.
What are the basic rules of poker?
Poker embodies many different card games, each with its own set of rules. Texas Hold’em stands as the world’s most popular poker game.
Other common poker games played at the world’s biggest poker rooms include Omaha and Five Card Draw. While all of the different poker variants play with unique rules, the fundamentals of betting, bluffing, common terms, and poker hand rankings apply to nearly all varieties of the game.
The Poker.org Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to playing poker outlines the basics for three of the world’s most popular poker variants: Texas Hold’em, Five Card Draw, and Omaha.
Rules of Texas Hold’em
The world’s most popular card game vaulted into mainstream notoriety after the 2003 World Series of Poker Main Event. Americas Cardroom Team Pro Chris Moneymaker shocked the world by winning the prestigious poker tournament for a $2.5 million first-place prize, and interest in Texas Hold’em skyrocketed around the globe.
The object in Texas Hold’em is to make the best five-card hand using a combination of two hole cards and five community cards. The first round begins with each player getting two hole cards, which are dealt face down and are only seen by the player holding them until the end of the hand.
When each player receives their two hole cards, the pre-flop betting round begins. After that, the dealer puts the first three of five community cards on the table. Those three cards are face up and known as the flop.
After the flop hits the board, another betting round commences. The flop betting round is followed by another community card (also face up) hitting the board, known as the turn.
The turn betting round is followed by the dealer putting a fifth card on the board, known as the river. The dealing of the river begins the final round of betting, after which all remaining players show their hole cards. The player with the best five-card hand, using any combination of hole cards and community cards, wins.
Rules of Five Card Draw Poker
Five Card Draw isn’t as popular as Texas Hold’em, but it’s still played at the World Series of Poker each year. Some online poker rooms also spread Five Card Draw games, and most video poker machines at live casinos play as a form of Five Card Draw.
Before Texas Hold’em poker surged in popularity in the 2000s, Five Card Draw was perhaps the most commonly played poker variant in the world. A game of Five Card Draw begins with each player dealt five hole cards, all of which are face down and visible to only the player holding them.
After the deal, a betting round commences. Following that betting round, all players get the opportunity to discard as many cards from their hand as they wish, with the dealer replacing those discards with new cards.
When all players have discarded and drawn their selected number of cards, a final round of betting takes place. All remaining players (players who haven’t folded at some point in the hand) then showdown their cards, and the best five-card hand is the winning hand.
Rules of Omaha Poker
Omaha Poker plays similarly to Texas Hold’em, but with a few fundamental differences. Each player in a game of Omaha is dealt four hole cards instead of two.
Like Texas Hold’em, the dealer puts five community cards on the table, across three betting rounds known as the flop, turn, and river. In Omaha, however, players must use exactly two hole cards in combination with three community cards to make the best hand. As expected, the best hand wins.
Other Poker Variations
In addition to these three most common types of Poker, there are other variations that you may want to be aware of. A few other poker variants include:
- Crazy Pineapple
- Seven Card Stud
Poker Hands Rankings
Most poker variants use the same system of poker hand rankings to determine the winner of each hand. The standard poker hand rankings include hands like the royal flush, straight flush, four of a kind, full house, and others.
The royal flush represents the strongest and rarest hand you can make in a poker game. A royal flush consists of a ten-to-ace straight, with all cards of the same suit.
Royal flushes sit at the top of the poker hand rankings, and all hands below it lose to the royal flush in a head-to-head showdown. The lower the probability of making a hand, the higher it ranks in the poker hand rankings.
For example, if you draw five random cards out of a standard 52-card deck, the odds against making a royal flush out of those five cards is 649,739-to-1. By comparison, the lowest-ranking hand in the rankings, the high card, gives about an even-money chance of drawing it randomly from the deck.
Here’s a quick look at the highest-ranking poker hands, from strongest to weakest:
- Royal Flush
- Straight Flush
- Four of a Kind
- Full House
- Three of a Kind
- Two Pair
- One Pair
- High Card
Note that some hands on this list overlap. For example, a straight flush consists of a straight and a flush in the same hand. The straight flush outranks both a flush and a straight, however.
In a battle between two hands of the same strength, the strongest high card wins. Check out Poker.org’s poker hand rankings chart for a detailed look at how all of the possible made hands in a game of poker rank against each other.
How to play a round of poker
Different poker variants can involve varying game rules, betting structures, and common terms. Most poker games operate the same way as far as the execution of the game, however.
Almost all poker games begin with each player dealt at least two cards. From there, players begin betting. The first designated player (according to a particular game’s betting rules) gets the opportunity to either call, bet, or fold.
From there, the action moves clockwise to the left of the dealer around the table until each player has the opportunity to bet, call, raise, check, or fold. After each player has a betting opportunity, the next round of action begins.
How to play a round of Texas Hold’em or Omaha
A round of Texas Hold’em begins with the two players in the small blind and big blind positions posting the blinds. The blinds are mandatory bets that rotate around the table, moving clockwise one player after each hand. The size of the blinds determines the stakes of the game. A $1/$2 No-Limit Hold’em game, for example, denotes a Texas Hold’em game with a no-limit betting structure, a $1 small blind, and a $2 big blind.
Once the players in the blinds have posted the mandatory bets, the dealer begins dealing cards to each player. Starting with the player in the small blind, the dealer gives each player one card at a time until all players have two hole cards in front of them for Texas Hold’em, or four cards for Omaha.
After the deal, the pre-flop betting round begins. The player to the direct left of the big blind (known as the “under-the-gun” player) gets the option to either call the big blind amount, raise to a higher amount, or fold.
For instance, let’s say the first player to act decided to raise. The raise must be at least the size of the previous bet or raise, so in this case, the under-the-gun player has to raise to at least $4 (the amount of the $2 big blind plus the $2 minimum raise).
If the under-the-gun player raises to $4, the player on the direct left of under the gun then gets the option to either call (match the $4) bet, raise (increase the amount of the bet), or fold. The action moves around the table clockwise in this fashion until each player has the opportunity to call, raise, or fold.
The Flop, turn, and river
After the pre-flop betting round closes, the dealer puts three community cards on the board, known as the flop. Another betting round commences, this time starting with the player in the small blind, or the first still-active player on the left of the small blind.
At the end of the flop betting round, the dealer places a fourth community card on the board. This card is known as the turn, or fourth street.
When the turn betting round closes out, the dealer puts the fifth and final community card on the board. This card is known as the river, or fifth street.
After the river hits the board, all remaining players go through a final betting round, starting with the player left of the dealer. At the end of this round, all remaining players show their hole cards, and the player with the strongest hand wins. In the event that there’s a tie, the player with the highest card wins.
How to play a round of Five Card Draw
Most Five Card Draw games either use blinds or antes as the core betting structure. The blinds work the same way as in Texas Hold’em or Omaha, while antes are a forced bet that acts as a buy-in for every player before each hand.
Once the blinds or antes are posted, the dealer deals five cards to each player, one at a time. When all players have five cards, the first betting round begins.
After all players get the chance to check, bet, raise, or fold, each player then has the opportunity to discard as many cards from their hand as they would like, and replace them with new cards from the undealt portion of the deck.
If a player wants to keep all five cards, they can “stand pat” and not discard or draw any new cards. After the discard round, another betting round takes place.
Once the final betting round is complete, all remaining players show their hole cards. The player with the best five-card hand wins the pot.
How to bet in poker
Texas Hold’em, Omaha, and Five Card Draw can all be played with a variety of different betting structures. The betting structure of a game can dramatically change the strategy.
The most common betting structures used in poker games around the world include no-limit, pot-limit, and fixed-limit structures.
No-Limit and Pot-Limit
No-limit betting allows any player to bet all of their chips at any time. Pot-Limit structures limit the maximum size of a bet or raise to the size of the pot that’s already in the middle.
Fixed limit betting dictates a fixed maximum bet and raise for each betting round. Also known as simply “limit” betting, fixed limit games play significantly differently than games with no-limit or pot-limit rules.
Betting in Texas Hold’em
No-Limit Texas Hold’em stands as the world’s most popular poker game. No-Limit Hold’em denotes Texas Hold’em played with a no-limit betting structure.
At any given point in a hand of No-Limit Hold’em, any player can go all-in, putting all of their chips in the pot. Players can go all-in during any betting round, including preflop, the flop, the turn, or the river.
If a player raises pre-flop without any previous calls or bets, that player is said to be “open raising” or “opening.” If the first player to enter a pre-flop pot calls the big blind, that player is said to be “limping.”
Re-raising against the original raiser in any betting round is known as “three-betting.” A raise against a three-bet is called a “four-bet,” and raising a four-bet is called a “five-bet.”
This naming for raises goes on from there, but it’s rare to see anything bigger than a five-bet in a No-Limit Hold’em game. Pre-flop five-bets often put a player all-in.
Another common term in Texas Hold’em is the “continuation bet”, or “c-bet.” A continuation bet happens when the last player that raised in the previous betting round makes the first bet in the next betting round.
No-Limit Texas Hold’em games allow players to go “all-in” at any time, putting all of their chips into the pot. Texas Hold’em can also be played with a pot-limit or fixed-limit betting structure.
Betting in Omaha
Omaha plays similar to Texas Hold’em, but players receive four hole cards instead of two. No-Limit Omaha games are rare, while Pot-Limit Omaha (PLO) is the world’s second most popular poker game.
The betting terms of Pot-Limit Omaha are identical to No-Limit Hold’em. In any pot-limit game, however, the maximum allowed bet or raise is equal to the amount of money already in the pot.
If it’s your turn to bet in a PLO game, the “pot” is calculated as the amount in the middle before the previous bet, plus that previous bet, plus the amount that would be in the pot if you called. Once you’ve calculated that amount, you can then raise it by a maximum of that amount.
Luckily for players, online poker sites make this calculation for you. Betting or raising the max in a PLO game is known as “potting.” In a live game, declaring “pot” commits you to making a pot-sized bet or raise.
Betting in Five Card Draw
Five Card Draw games can include no-limit, pot-limit, or fixed-limit betting structures. Unlike Texas Hold’em or Omaha, the game doesn’t involve community cards, and the betting is limited to two total rounds.
Once the cards are dealt, each player has the chance to either bet, raise, call, or fold. The first betting round commences when all players have gotten the chance to make an action.
After that, each player can discard as many cards as they like and replace them with new cards from the undealt deck. Once the discard round is done, a final betting round takes place.
Knowing When to Bet
For a beginning poker player, the best advice is to raise or fold most of the time. Reserve calling and checking for spots when the other options are no good. Some players choose to bet their best and worst hands, playing more carefully with medium-strength hands.
This approach means you sometimes win with the worst hand, and your opponents will have to call sometimes when you have a very strong hand because they know you’re capable of bluffing.
Consider your opponent’s cards
It’s important to think about what your opponent might hold when deciding if it’s the right time to bet, or if you should be a little more cautious. When you’re feeling cautious, check so you can see what the next card brings.
Some players also choose to bet more when they’re last to act, and check more often when they’re first to act. There are no poker rules for knowing when to bet — just general advice and your best guess.
Most important poker terms
Chips – Poker chips represent money at the table. In a cash game, the different chip colors are equivalent to varying dollar amounts, and redeemable for real money. Tournament chips carry no cash value. For example, a T10,000 chip isn’t equivalent to $10,000.
Banker – In a home game, the banker is responsible for exchanges of cash and chips for all players. For private online games, the banker can use a payment processor like PayPal or Venmo to facilitate transactions.
Betting Limits – Betting limits denote the maximum allowed bets and raises in games using a limit betting structure. A $4/$8 Limit Omaha Hi-Lo game, for example, allows a maximum bet/raise of $4 for the pre-flop and flop betting rounds, and an $8 maximum bet/raise for the turn and river rounds.
Fixed Limit – Also known as simply “limit,” fixed-limit games cap the maximum allowed bet or raise. For most games, the early betting rounds allow a “small bet” and the later rounds allow the “big bet.” For instance, in a $4/$8 Limit Texas Hold’em game, the first two betting rounds use the small bet ($4), and the final two rounds use the big bet ($8).
Pot Limit – Pot limit games allow a maximum bet or raise that’s equal to the size of the pot. Pot-Limit Omaha is the most popular game that uses this betting structure, but pot-limit betting rules can be applied to almost any game.
No Limit – Games with a no-limit betting structure allow players to put all of their chips in the pot at any time.
Table Stakes – Table stakes denote the amount of the big blinds or the betting limits in a given poker game. A $1/$2 No-Limit Texas Hold’em game uses a $1 small blind and a $2 big blind, for example. In limit games, the stakes denote the maximum allowed bets and raises.
How to get good at poker
Success at the poker table is tougher than to attain than ever 2021. The modern poker landscape includes a wealth of training sites, free strategy resources, poker videos and online tools.
A player who puts time into poker study will always enjoy an edge against another player who doesn’t put work into the game. A solid poker strategy base begins with fundamental knowledge of common terms, poker hand rankings, betting rules, and bankroll management.
Poker players can access many different resources for studying the game. Putting study time into poker away from the table is essential to winning in the modern era.
The good news is that there are lots of poker strategy resources online. Also, there are plenty of books to help you learn poker. Online poker training sites feature videos from pros explaining their thoughts on poker strategy. Through these videos, the pros will teach you through their play by analyzing hands after the game is over.
Depending on whether you’ll play cash games vs. tournaments, there are many options for improving your game. You can learn a lot from simple articles like this one that help you learn the rules of poker. But don’t be afraid to dive into in-depth poker strategy books that delve into game theory.
You can even find educational apps and software that help you learn poker by looking at your play online and finding mistakes.
Poker pro tips for getting good at poker
Americas Cardroom Team Pro Ebony Kenney contends that the amount of work an aspiring poker player puts in away from the table will directly affect results at the table.
“The biggest tip I would say is to be honest with yourself and take the time to learn,” Kenney says. “It’s never been easier to get better at poker, with all the free content out there now. So get out the pen and paper, take notes, and make a list of your strengths and weaknesses.
“BE HONESTTTT. And don’t be afraid of your mistakes. Don’t be embarrassed. Every expert was once a beginner. Create a routine and system that is sustainable and KEEP GOING.”
Is it Easy to Learn Poker?
As with any game or skill, learning is a function of how dedicated you are to practicing. The game mechanics of Poker are simple enough to pick up within an afternoon. Whether you attain the skills to consistently win Poker games or even win money online will be entirely dependent on how much you practice.
It’s also important to make your practice efficient. Just playing poker is not the same as studying and working hard to improve. Playing very small games at first will help preserve your bankroll until you’re strong enough to beat bigger games. Talking through hands with a friend or a coach can help you move up much faster.
Online forums can be a big help, too. There are thousands of people out there trying to learn the rules of poker just like you are. Finding a community can help keep your study routine going and give you some honest feedback about your play.
How to play poker without real money
One of the best ways to become familiar with poker is to play at free online poker sites. Free poker apps like Zynga Poker, PlayWSOP, PlayWPT and Replay Poker all offer online games at play money stakes.
Many of the world’s biggest online poker sites also offer play money games. Another way to play free poker is with friends, with something other than money on the line, such as plastic chips.
Cash Games vs Tournaments
While they generally use the same rules, there are some big differences between cash games and tournament play. In a tournament, you’re limited to the chips in front of you. As the blinds increase, the stacks will generally be much shorter. Cash games often have an average stack of over 100 big blinds.
To be a successful tournament player, you’ll need to learn to play a short stack well, and to play against short stacks too. And learning to use a big stack properly is one of the biggest differences in cash games vs. tournaments.
Cash game players need patience as well as aggression — a tough combo to balance. The ability to move to a better table and choose when and where you play is a big advantage for cash game players who can hunt for the best games. Tournament players must stay at their assigned table and deal with the opponents they have in front of them.
How many people do you need to play poker?
Poker games can run with a minimum of two people. A one-on-one game of poker is known as a “heads-up” game, and heads-up matches frequently occur between high-stakes players.
For Texas Hold’em, the maximum number of players seated at any one table is generally nine, though some poker rooms will seat ten players at a table.
Various games use different guidelines for the maximum number of players allowed. In general, ten players maximum at a table represents a good guideline for most games.
Playing poker at home vs. online
Home poker games are common around the world, and the groups of players sitting in on a home game are often friends and associates. The setting for a home poker game is often more relaxed and loose than what you would see at a casino.
Stepping into the online poker world presents an entirely different level of competition. When you play online real money poker, you’re often playing against solid competition.
The feel of online poker is much different than a home game, and winning at online poker generally requires more study work versus playing in a home game.
How to play poker FAQs
What are the different variations of poker?
The most popular form of poker is Texas Hold’em, but it’s not the only variant of the game you can play. Other games include Omaha, Five Card Draw, Seven Card Stud, and Crazy Pineapple. You can play most of these at online poker sites and in live poker rooms.
What is the best hand in poker?
The best hand in poker is known as a royal flush, which consists of ten-to-ace straight, suited. Next is a straight flush, followed by four of a kind, a full house, and a flush. Landing a royal flush is extremely rare, with odds of 649,739 to one!
What are the different betting options in poker?
Each poker game can be played with different betting structures, but the most common are no-limit, pot-limit, and fixed-limit games. In a no-limit game, you can bet all of your chips in one go, while a pot-limit game limits the maximum bet size and relates to the current size of the pot. In a fixed-limit game, there is a fixed bet and raise size for each betting round.
What’s the difference between a cash game and a poker tournament?
The main difference is that you have a limited number of chips to play with in a poker tournament. To succeed, you must develop a winning short-stack strategy, plus know how to bully other players when you have a large stack. Once you lose your tournament chips, you’re out. In a cash game, you buy in to play the players at one table. If you lose your chips, you can buy in again.
How to play poker online?
Playing poker online is easy, and you can get started with free games or low-limit cash games to get started. Free poker sites include WSOP, Zynga, and PlayWPT, or you can sign up for a range of poker or gambling sites to enjoy online poker games there.
How to play poker at a casino?
If you would prefer to play poker in person, you can look for a casino with a designated poker room in your state. The best poker rooms put on cash games and tournaments, covering a variety of stakes.
Featured image source: Flickr by Jun used under CC license