There are tons of classic card games, but poker is unequivocally the classic card game. It’s not like Chess, Go, or Backgammon, which all have thousands of years of history. It is much more modern, dating back to 16th century Persia. But in that time, it has proven to be intuitive, exciting, and layered in a way that few games can be.
What makes poker so special is the fact that its players operate under two limitations: Chance and limited information. Today, we are going to explore how to play poker in casinos, the different types of poker you can find, and where to play poker online.
How to Play Poker for Beginners – Useful Basics
To begin with we need to make it clear that we are going to talk about Texas Hold ‘em first. This is the type of poker played in most casinos, and it is the type of poker you will usually find at “no limit tables”. A “no limit table” will let you bet as much money as you want.
Poker games are done in phases called “hands”. Each hand is divided into the Hole, the Flop, the Turn, and the River. The best way to learn how to play poker is by learning these parts.
Poker will start with the dealer handing each player two face-down cards, called “the Hole”. If you have ever heard the phrase “ace in the hole”, it is poker-speak for “ace in the hand”. Players should not show their cards to other players, though there technically isn’t a rule against it. This is hidden information, so saying “ace in the hand” means “ace where other players can’t see it”.
Whenever anything happens in poker, players are allowed to adjust their bets. A poker table will usually have an “ante”, or “minimum buy-in”, which is the minimum amount of money required to participate in the game. However, most tables (though not all) will only require players to put this forward once they have looked at their cards. After that, there is a phase of betting.
So, the initial cards are dealt with, and buy-ins are made. Most tables will also have a phase of bets after the buy-ins (sometimes at the same time as the buy-ins) before the next step in the hand.
If a player does not wish to buy in, they say they “fold”. If they want to bet more, they say they “raise”. And if they want to stay in the game, but not bet more, they “check”. If they want to match someone’s raise, they say they “call”. And if the bets are getting too confident and a player wishes to cut their losses, they say they “fold” there too.
Once everyone has their bets placed on their initial cards, the dealer then lays three cards out on the table face-up. Everyone can see these cards, and everyone has access to these cards. What does it mean to “have access” to these cards? That means that these three cards are all part of a player’s “hand”, and the player with the strongest hand wins the game.
But we’re not there yet. Because after the flop has been revealed, players have another opportunity to place bets. And this is where the real psychology of poker comes in. No one knows what’s in your hand. All they can see is your bets and the flop.
Imagine that you’re watching someone play poker, but you cannot see their hand. Their cards are dealt, and they place a moderate bet. The flop is revealed, and it contains an ace. That player then makes a huge bet. The question is: Does the player have an ace in the hole?
Of course, there are three cards in the flop. That means they could be confident for a huge variety of reasons, depending on things like if the cards are the same suit, royalty, and so on.
After another round of bets, one more card is revealed. This is called the Turn. After this, there is one more round of bets. Remember, rounds of bets continue until players are not making any other actions. You can have an extremely short round of bets or a drawn-out battle.
Because the Turn is a single card, a player’s intent will be a lot more transparent. If the Turn is a king, for instance, and a player suddenly goes all-in, then it is like he has a hand that benefits a king. You can also take the Flop into consideration alongside this. If there is a king on the Turn and a queen and a jack on the Flop, he might have an ace and a ten in the Hole.
Once bets on the Turn are complete, you go to the final card in the hand.
Once bets from the Turn are settled, next comes the River. The main reason the River is interesting is because of how poker strategy works. Players, generally speaking, are aware that if someone makes a bet on the Turn, then the Turn gave them exactly the card they need.
For that reason, a player might wait until the reveal of the River to make the bet that they would have made on the Turn. Of course, they might also have nothing, or the River might give them the card they really needed. And it’s totally possible that a player puts a bet on the River that they have been wanting to place since the Flop, but have kept hidden.
After the River, there is one last round of bets. Once this round is done, the dealer will call for a show of cards. Players reveal the cards in their hand and the dealer measures them to show which one is the winner. But which hands are the best? And what happens if there is a tie?
How do Poker Hands Work?
Learning how to play poker is part of learning the lingo and rhythm of the game and part of learning the hands themselves. There are nearly infinite possible hands in poker, but only a few hands that are actually worth anything. The value of a hand is determined by the number of cards, the suit of the cards, the sequence of the cards, and the amount of the cards.
The number of the cards refers to the number printed on the cards, not how many of those cards you have. There are 52 cards in a deck used in poker, and each one is unique. The numbers 2 through 10 will be printed on 36 of them. If one player has a 2 and a 3 in the hole while the only other player in the game as a 4 and a 5 in the hole, the second player wins.
Simply put, higher numbers are more valuable. Except in the case of an Ace. The Ace is the card replacing something labeled as 1, and it is considered more valuable than anything. A card might also have a King, Queen, or a Jack printed on it. These are more valuable than a 10, with the Jack the least valuable of the three, the King the most valuable, and the Queen in between.
The Suits of a card are represented by the symbol printed on the card. There are four suits: Hearts, Diamonds, Spades, and Clubs. None of them are more valuable than the others, but these are the reason why a deck can have more than one number in them.
For example, there will be a 4 of Clubs, a 4 of Diamonds, and so on. That means you can have a pair of 4s in the hole and find another 4 on the Flop, and then the last 4 on the Turn or the River. That would give you “4 of a kind”, which is extremely valuable.
One of the middle-value hands you can have is a “flush”. This is when you have two of the same suit in the hole and three of the same suit on the table. If you have an ace of hearts and a 4 of hearts in the hole and there are three cards of hearts on the table, that is a flush.
When we say, “the sequence”, we simply mean when cards of sequential value are next to each other. If you have a 2 and a 3 in the hole and there is a 4, 5, and 6 on the table, that is a “straight”. If you had an ace on the table rather than the 6, that would also be straight.
Straights are essentially measured by sequential value. Remember how the Jack is less valuable than the Queen, and the Queen is less valuable than the King? That is part of their “sequence”. You can get straight from a 9, a 10, a Jack, a Queen, and a King.
We mentioned this already, but we will go over it again to be sure: You can also have a winning hand through the sheer amount of cards you own of a specific number. The higher the number or amount, the more valuable a hand, with the amount trumping the number.
That means that a 3-of-a-kind of 2s is more valuable than a 2-of-a-kind of Kings.
What are the Most Valuable Poker Hands?
Now that you know what makes a hand valuable in poker, you are probably wondering which hands are the most valuable. Nine times out of ten, the value of a hand is determined by how improbable it is. But since most players are familiar with probability, we’ll break it down simply.
If it comes time to show hands and every player somehow has nothing greater than a pair, flush, straight, or anything else, then the winner is the player with the highest value card. As we talked about before, the 2 is the lowest value card, and the Ace is the highest value card.
The suit of a card does not impact its value.
Pairs and Two Pairs
Above high card is a two-pair hand. This can be two pairs in the hole, or you can have one card in the hole that matches with another card of the same number with a different suit on the table.
Right above a pair is two pairs.
Three of a Kind
Just like with a pair, this is when you either have a pair of a card in the hole or one card in the hole while the other or others of different suits are on the table.
This is where things get confusing for players. It makes sense that a pair is valuable, and a three-of-a-kind is more valuable than a pair. But a straight is more valuable than either a pair or a three-of-a-kind, but less valuable than anything else.
A straight is when you have a five-card sequence of cards. If you have a four-card sequence, then it doesn’t matter, and a six-card sequence won’t make the straight better. It’s five cards or nothing. If two players have straights, the higher number value straight wins.
Right above a straight-in value is a flush, which is when you have five (no more, no less) of the same suit between your cards in the hole and on the flop.
After a flush is a full house. This is when you have three of a kind of one number and two of a kind of another number. An example of this is if you have a King and an Ace in hand, and there is one King and two Aces on the table. That would be a “full house, Aces full of Kings”.
Four of a Kind
New players are generally surprised to see that there is such a large gap between the value of three of a kind and the value of four of a kind. The best way to remember the hands in poker is to remember that there are three types of hands between three of a kind and four of a kind.
After four of a kind is a straight flush, which is a combination of a straight and a flush. That means you have five cards in sequence that are also all of the same suit. So, a 2, a 3, a 4, a 5, and a 6 that are all also spades is a straight flush. It is very hard to get this hand and hard to beat it. In fact, there is only one type of hand in poker that beats it.
The Royal Flush
Technically speaking, you automatically win if you get a royal flush, as it is definitionally impossible for another player to get a royal flush at the same time. A royal flush means you have a straight of a 10, a Jack, a Queen, a King, and an Ace. They must also all be the same suit. It is impossible for another player to get this because it is so exclusive.
For this hand to happen, you need to have at least one of those five cards in the hole. And if you have one of those in the hole, then that disrupts the sequence for another player. For example, if you have a 10 of hearts in the hole and the Jack, Queen, King, and Ace, all of hearts, are on the table, then no one else can have a royal flush since it would require the 10 that you have.
Where to play online poker?
After you have learned the rules of how to play poker, as well as the hands needed to win at poker, then you can start looking for a place to play it. And for that, you have a ton of options.
One of the biggest and most reliable places to gamble on the internet, Ignition allows you to play Texas Hold ‘Em, Five Card Stud, and a few other variations of these games with a variety of different gambling rules. That means you can bet in small amounts, or huge amounts.
They also have pages that detail the rules of their poker games specifically. That means that if they do use any slight modifications (some poker games throw in a Joker as a wild card, for instance), they will tell you about it beforehand.
Probably the best place to play online poker that features a mobile app. They also have poker tournaments, so if you are really confident in your skills you can go to the big leagues here.
Just remember that the people playing in those tournaments will usually be making an income off of poker. So, don’t bet anything you can’t lose against the literal pros.
If you want a broader casino experience, then try Juicy Stakes. Not only do they offer the largest variety of poker games (and other casino games), but they also have a “rake back” policy. That means that while there is a buy-in for many games and tournaments, you can actually get that buy-in back by playing for long enough. That way, you always get a little money back.
Of course, there is a slight drawback in Juicy Stakes having so many games. It means that you can easily get into a poker game with slightly different rules than you are expecting. There is far more variety among their slot machines than their poker games, so this is unlikely. But still, make sure you are playing the kind of poker you mean to be playing when you use them.
How is Online Poker Different from Live Poker?
The biggest difference between online poker and live poker is the ability to read players.
Something we brought up while discussing how to play poker was the different strategies that emerge at the different stages of the game. In live poker, these strategies are employed a lot more often. People have to hide their reactions and intentions better in live poker. If you get cards dealt to you and make a positive-sounding noise, people will notice.
If you see the flop and sigh heavily, if your shoulders tense on the River, these are things that will alert a person to the fact that you are not perfectly confident in your hand. Even if you do have a good hand, a person can take mental note of how you react to it.
All of this goes away in online poker. When poker is done remotely, you suddenly have to focus a lot more on how a person bets.
Generally speaking, it is a good idea to know these rules inside and out before you even sit down at a table to play in-person poker. Some poker might be done in dead silence, where the players mostly or completely play with hand signals to the dealer.
That does not mean silence is required. In that case, players are using the hand signals rather than speaking to cut down on the amount of information they give others. Speaking with a stammer, a higher voice, or a shaky voice can indicate fear and uncertainty.
Online poker is great for practicing the understanding of the rules and rhythm of the game. In general, the faster you play, the better.
Can you play poker with two people?
You can absolutely play with just two people. In fact, many games come down to a one-on-one duel by the time it gets to the flush. It is recommended that there be an independent dealer, however.
What is the highest hand in poker?
The highest hand in poker is the Royal Flush, containing a straight of a 10, a Jack, a Queen, a King, and an Ace. They must also all be of the same suit.
What is a small blind in poker?
A “small blind” is a rule in poker which says that you can only take part in the game if you are willing to be half of the largest bet or more. A “big blind” rule states that you can only take part in the game if you are matching the largest bet. Not all tables use these rules.
Is it safe to play an online poker?
It is only truly safe to play online poker under two conditions: One, you only bet money you can lose. And two, the game is regulated by a government agency of some kind. If there is no regulation, then it can be much harder to claim your winnings from a game of online poker.
What is a wraparound straight?
A wraparound straight is when you have a straight that starts with a Jack or higher. That means your straight is a Jack, a Queen, a King, an Ace, and a 2. A 2 is less valuable than an Ace, but it is still the next number in the sequence. Going forward in the sequence wraps around to the lower numbers, making it a wraparound straight.
Poker can be thrilling fun and win you a lot of money. It can also be incredibly stressful and lose you just as much money. Be sure you know what you are willing to lose and how you plan to win before you put any real money forwards. And don’t go chasing losses trying to win money back.