How to play poker: A beginner's guide to poker rules

WPT Table with Cards and Chips
Author Adam Hampton
Adam Hampton
Posted on: May 04, 2021 07:10 PDT

Looking for a guide on how to play poker for beginners? At PokerOrg we love poker and can give you all the information you need to get playing in no time.

Read on for rules and explanations of the most popular poker games around.

Want to skip the backstory and just get playing straight away? Go check out our beginners’ guide to Texas Hold’em, the world’s most popular poker game.

What is poker?

When learning how to play poker, you should know that there are many different forms of the game. Most are played with a standard deck of playing cards, but a version can also be played with special dice. Poker dice games work in a very similar way to poker card games, which are much more popular and widely played, so we’ll focus on card games here.

The heart of all poker games is essentially the same: using a mix of skill and luck to create a stronger combination of cards than your opponents. These combinations - one pair, two pair, three-of-a-kind, and so on - are ranked in a set order, so everyone knows the relative strength of their own hand.

Visit our poker hand rankings page for a full guide to the hierarchy of poker hands, or check out this handy poker rankings chart.

Betting in poker

Poker games involve wagering on the strength of your hand - how confident you are that you have the strongest poker hand. So if you’re learning how to play poker, you’ll need to know how a betting round works.

The most important thing to know about betting in poker is that if one player makes a bet by putting chips into the pot, everyone else must put the same amount in too, in order to stay in the hand. Matching someone else’s bet, without raising, is known as a ‘call’; increasing the size of the bet is called a ‘raise’. If someone bets and you don’t want to call - because you think they have a stronger hand than you, for example - you can discard your hand and give up any chance of winning the pot. This is called 'folding'.

Table stakes

Wherever you play poker, you will almost certainly be playing ‘table stakes’. This means you can only ever wager the chips you had in front of you when the hand was dealt. Ignore those old movies when a cowboy bets the family farm, or a gangster tosses their car keys in the pot; if it’s not in your stack at the start of the hand, you can’t bet it.

Betting all-in

Another myth from old movies you should ignore is not being able to afford to continue in a hand; if that were true, the richest player at the table would win every hand! You can never lose a hand because you don’t have enough to cover the bet. If there are 10 chips in the pot, your opponent bets 100 and you only have 1 in your stack, you can still call. You won’t be able to win all those 100 chips your opponent bet, but you’ll be eligible to win the 10 in the pot, plus 1 more chip from your opponent; they’ll just take back the 99 you can’t call.

Bluffing in poker

All true poker games involve ‘restricted information’, usually by dealing cards to a player that only they can see. Because no one can see your cards, it’s possible to pretend you have different cards than you actually do.

If everyone folds, you win the pot, so it’s possible to bet big amounts - as if you have a very strong hand - to make this happen. When you bet specifically to make them fold, it’s called bluffing.

Many people learning how to play poker think that bluffing is one of the most important elements to master. It’s true that bluffing is a big part of poker, but there are other areas we would recommend starting with, such as learning what makes a good starting poker hand.

Value betting in poker

The opposite of bluffing is value betting - making a bet that you hope your opponents will call. This is something you do with a very strong hand when you are confident you won’t be beaten, and just like bluffing is a skill that requires a good understanding of your opponents and a canny eye for the right bet size. Bet too much and they’ll fold, but bet too small and you’ll be missing out on some extra chips you could win!

Different betting formats

Betting in poker generally follows one of three formats: limit, no-limit or pot limit. These relate to how much any player can bet at any time.

In limit games, all bets are made in predetermined sizes. For example, in a $2/$4 limit game all betting in the early rounds of a hand will use $2 units, with $4 units used in later betting rounds.

No-limit games are just like they sound: there’s no limit to the size of a player’s bet, other than the size of their stack.

In pot-limit games, the maximum bet is restricted to the current size of the pot.

Luck and skill in poker games

It’s an amazing fact, but statistically a shuffled deck of cards will never be in the same order twice. Because of this unpredictability, luck is a factor in most card games, including poker. So is poker just a game of luck?

Of course not. Poker is a game of weighing probabilities, and understanding which events are more likely to occur than others is a skill in itself.

Let’s say we pick a card from a full deck at random and bet if it’s going to be red or black. Which is the smartest choice? In this case, it doesn’t matter; the probability of each outcome is 50%, so you have the same chance of winning whichever option you choose.

Now let’s remove all the diamonds. Which would you pick now, red or black? If you said red, think again; there are now twice as many black cards as red in the deck! The probability of a black card is now 66.6%, with red just 33.3%.

This basic example illustrates a key element of poker: understanding probabilities in order to make the smartest decisions. This is one way you can use skill to your advantage at the poker table to give yourself a winning edge.

Different poker games

Learn the basics of how to play poker and you’ll unlock a whole world of different poker variants. These are the most popular types of poker game you’ll find.

Texas Hold’em

The world’s favorite poker game, Texas Hold’em is played with two hole cards and five community cards. We’ve got a whole page on how to play Texas Hold’em, so head there for all the details.


Once you’ve learned how to play poker the Texas way, picking up Omaha is a cinch. Instead of two hole cards, you get four, and you have to use exactly two of them in combination with three of the five community cards to make your hand. Omaha is often played in the pot-limit format, and we’ve got a detailed guide for you on how to play Omaha.

Seven-Card Stud

Unlike Texas hold’em or Omaha, this game uses no shared community cards. To start, players are dealt two cards face-down and one face-up, followed by three more up cards and a final card ‘in the hole’, with betting rounds after each new card. Stud games are almost always played in the limit format.

Hi/Lo games

Hi/Lo is a twist which can be applied to games such as Omaha or Seven-Card Stud, where half the pot is awarded to the best poker hand, and half to the worst hand. Often the lowest hand must ‘qualify’ by including no cards higher than an 8, and no pairs. Omaha and Stud give you plenty of cards to choose from, so it’s often possible to win both high and low by using your cards to create two different five-card poker hands.

Lowball games

Some games turn traditional poker on its head by rewarding players who make the worst hands! These ‘lowball’ games include 2-7 Triple Draw and Razz, and while they are not as widely played as the variants above, they aren’t just reserved for the kitchen table; the World Series of Poker (WSOP) even has championship events for these unusual games.

Whatever form of poker you learn first, you’ll quickly pick up the rules to other variants once you’re comfortable with the game you know. We recommend learning how to play Texas hold’em as your first port of call, as it’s such an easy, fun and widely played game.

Go check it out, and always remember the first rule of poker: it’s a game - enjoy it!