Poker is one of the most exciting gambling games. If you have never played poker, of course, you do not know how to play poker cards. Thus, you should definitely try, because, unlike other card games, you need not only luck but also a particular skill.
Anyone can learn to play poker today. Dozens of articles have been written about the poker rules, and YouTube is full of instructional videos. However, the authors of the instructions do not consider the fact that it is difficult for a beginner to understand all the poker game rules and nuances if you explain everything in a boring and schematic way. In this post, we will try to give you the basic poker rules for beginners and features most clearly.
First, there are several poker varieties. The most common ones are Texas Hold’em, Omaha, Stud, Razz, Chinese Poker, etc. We will explain the rules of the most popular poker type – Texas Hold’em. Nevertheless, all game variants have several standard features: hands types, betting rounds, etc. Having learned the Hold’em rules, you will be able to figure out the other disciplines quickly in the future.
Basic Poker Rules (No-Limit Texas Hold’em)
Everyone understands that without knowing the basic poker rules, you can never learn how to play poker. First, there are different poker formats regarding bets availability. The most popular one is No-limit Hold’em. According to No-limit Texas Holdem poker rules, you can make unlimited bets. It means that you can bet all your chips at once. However, you should do it only if you have experience and understand the situation.
What do you need to play poker?
To play poker, you need at least two players, a standard 52-card deck (cash, or other items you play on). Classic poker tables are designed for six or nine people. However, any number of players can participate, starting from a one-on-one format up to a ten-player table. If there are more than ten players, it will be too uncomfortable to play.
A special poker table is used in casinos and poker rooms. A dealer (croupier) deals the cards and manages the game itself. It is a specially trained person who deals cards, accepts chips from players in the game, distributes winnings, and commonly ensures that the game complies with the rules. When amateurs play with their friends at home, each participant performs the dealer’s functions one by one.
Before playing, you need to know rules of poker and basic terms:
Hand – the rules of poker say these are hole/pocket face-down cards;
Buy-in – the amount of cash/chips that must be bought to play in a game;
Deal/hand – the game series from dealing the cards to the showdown. A game can consist of one or multiple hands;
Blinds – forced bets made by two players before dealing cards;
Stack – the total cash/chips that a player has in play now;
Bank – chips, claimed by players remaining in the current hand;
Hand/Combination – combinations of various cards (closed pocket cards and open community cards on the table).
Main game formats
There are several basic poker game formats in both online and offline poker rooms:
Cash game. Each chip has its value. For example, it can cost one cent or one dollar. The player sits at the table with a particular stack. The stakes in this format are stable (they do not change with time). A player can leave the game at any time with the current pot, or in case of loss, add more chips to own account.
Sit-n-Go is a poker table, where each participant gets the same number of chips for buy-in. The game ends when several winners are determined, and the rest players lose all their chips.
A multi-table tournament uses the same principle as in a Sit-n-Go. Each tournament participant gets the same starting amount of chips for a specific cash deposit. The stakes in the tournament increase gradually. The number of tables and players decreases until all winners are called. The total number of prizes and the number of winnings are agreed in advance in such tournaments.
Making up a poker hand
The essential poker element is making hands (combinations of different cards). The hands are made up of pocket cards (face-down cards which are seen by a player only) and open community cards. All these cards are combined and can be used while making a hand.
How to play poker hands? The main poker goal is to make a better hand compared to your opponents. But it is not always necessary for the overall victory. Another option is to outwit opponents by making them believe that you have better cards than they have. It is called a bluff. Due to this cheating element, poker has become such an exciting entertainment. Because of bluffing, poker is often called “the game of liars.”
Poker hands are like road signs. You will not be able to fully enjoy poker without knowing hands and how to make them up.
Each player must know which cards are used in a particular hand and their ranking. You should know that four of a kind is higher than a full house, and three of a kind is better than two pairs. You should also understand that hands can be made up only of the player’s pocket cards, only of open community cards, or of both variants.
Below you will find poker hands ranking from the lowest to the highest:
High card or simply nothing is the lowest hand. It is a variant when you have not made up any hand. If you and the opponents have no hands, the winner will be determined by the highest card from the player’s hand.
Pair – two cards of the same rank (for example, two aces (A-A) or two sevens (7-7);
Two pairs – two pairs of cards of the same rank (for instance, Q-Q + K-K);
Three of a kind/set – three cards of the same rank (for example, three eights 8-8-8).
Straight – five cards of sequential rank (for example, 4-5-6-7-8 or 10-J-Q-K-A). There is one atypical straight that starts with an ace and is called a bicycle/wheel straight – A-2-3-4-5;
Flush is a combination of five cards of the same suit (for example, 10 ♠ J ♠ 6 ♠ 2 ♠ A ♠, all cards of spades);
Full House is a hand that contains three cards of the same rank plus two cards of another rank (you can determine which full house hand is higher with the help of three cards that are included in the set). An example – 7-7-7-A-A or 10-10-4-4-4;
Four of a kind – four cards of the same rank (for example, 9♥9♠9♣9♦, 7♦7♣7♠7♥, J♥J♦J♣J♠, etc.);
Straight flush is a hand that contains five cards of sequential rank. According to poker straight rules, all cards must be of the same suit (suited straight – 7 8 9 ♥ 10 ♥ J);
Royal Flush is the highest poker hand rank. You can make it up every thousands of hands. It contains five high cards of the same suit, from 10 to Ace (for example, 10 ♥ J ♥ Q ♥ K ♥ A).
Sometimes two or more players can make up incomplete hands of several cards. Then a Kicker is used to determine the winner. It is the card that determines the winner in the case of the same hands. For example, the first player has KQ, and the second has KJ. On the table we have 6-K-8-10-8. It means that both players have two pairs of KK-88. However, the first has a queen, and the second has a jack. Therefore, the first player wins. Conversely, if instead of 6 or 10, Ace was on the table, it would be a kicker for both players, and they would split the pot.
Generally, the main goal of a poker player is to win as many chips/cash as possible using various strategies.
The order of moves and blinds
Ni-limit Texas Hold’em poker rules say that each player at the poker table has a certain amount of chips. As in other card games, players` moves in poker are made clockwise. To determine the sequence of moves, three special marker chips are used: Dealer Button, Small Blind, and Big Blind. In a real game, these are three plastic chips. Dealer is the initial position at the table, which is oriented to determine the sequence of moves. The so-called blinds, which are placed after the dealer, are signs for players who must place mandatory blind bets even before receiving cards. Thus, the minimum of two players always place bets at the initial stage of the deal, regardless of the quality of received cards. Usually, the Big Blind is a Small Blind multiplied by two (optionally).
So that everything is fair, three marker chips (dealer, small blind and big blind) will move round in each new hand. In this way, all players will make obligatory bets one by one, while others will be able to win at least something.
If there were no obligatory bets, players could continuously fold cards. Therefore, the game would become boring, because every time you had to deal new cards.
The main stages of a game of poker
There are four main stages in poker. Each of them ends with a range of bets from players:
- Pre-flop – players get two pocket cards and place first bets;
- Flop – the first three face-up cards are dealt on the table + betting;
- Turn – the fourth community card is dealt on the table;
- River – the fifth community card is dealt on the table. After the final bets, players open the cards (a showdown).
How to play poker – a specific example
Let’s look at a case where a group of friends gathered to play poker. There are six of them: Victor, John, Thomas, Andrew, Peter, and Lucas. They decided to make the game more challenging and play for real money. Each contributed 200 dollars to the general bank. The prize pool contains1200 chips. They agreed that there would be two prizes. The first winner will get 800 dollars, the second – 400 dollars. Each participant receives 1000 chips because a player must know how to play poker with chips. They are going to play with 10/20 blinds.
In the beginning, three markers are put near the cards of three players (dealer/SB/BB) clockwise. Players must do the following:
- Victor will be on the dealer button (he deals cards performing as a croupier);
- John is on the small blind – he places ten chips bet;
- Thomas is on the big blind. His obligatory bet is 20 chips.
- Other players place no bets yet.
Then everyone is dealt two hidden (pocket) cards.
The game start is always the same. Two players make obligatory bets, and all players get two cards.
This poker game stage is called pre-flop. Players look at their cards and choose one of the options:
- Pass/Fold – stop participating in the current hand and discard cards. Then the dealer puts them face-down in a separate deck. You will better fold if you have a weak hand.
- Call – to place a fair bet to the biggest bet at the table at a given moment (in our case, the biggest bet at the table is 20 chips).
- Raise – to place a bet that will be higher than the biggest bet at the moment. It is usually done in multiple times to the big blind. For example, in our case, you can raise to 20, 60, 100, or 600 chips.
- Check (bet nothing). This option is available only if you have placed the maximum bet in the current hand, and no player has placed a higher bet after you.
Moreover, you can go all-in (place all your chips in the current hand). In this case, you risk losing all and become an observer. The main principle of this stage, as on all subsequent stages, is the same – to stay in the game you need to call. If you need to know more about pre-flop poker rules, wiki will always help you.
Our example: The first player to the left of the big blind is the first to place a bet on pre-flop. This is Victor. If Victor, Andrew, Peter, and Lucas want to continue to participate in the game, they need to place 20 chips. John needs to place 10 chips. But if one of them raises the bet in the game process, then everyone will have to call this bet. Thomas has the last word on pre-flop. He is the only one who can skip a move and check (simply because he has already placed the maximum bet – the big blind). But if someone raised the bet, he will have to place more chips.
Important note! On all subsequent stages except pre-flop, the small blind places the first bet. If there is no small blind, players who sit next clockwise place their bets.
In our case, the players were not active, and everyone placed other 20 chips. All six players continue to play. 120 chips are accumulated in the pot after pre-flop.
When all bets have been called, the flop round starts. The dealer deals three open cards on the table. Therefore, players, who know how to play Texas Hold’em poker, can make a hand of their hidden cards, and those on the table. Players check their hands and the deal continues.
At this and all subsequent stages, the first person to enter the game is the player sitting to the dealer’s left the one next to the small blind chip.
Each player has the following options:
- Check (skip a move), if no one has placed a new bet on the flop before you;
- Bet (place a new bet) – place a certain number of chips, a multiple of the big blind size;
- Fold – fold cards not to lose chips;
- Call or raise – if your opponent made a bet before you;
- Go all-in – place all your chips in the current hand.
These actions can be applied to all succeeding hands.
In our example: A ♥, K ♣, and seven cards are dealt on the table.
John checked and Thomas placed 60 chips. Peter and Andrew considered they had nothing to play with and folded. After that, Lucas called Thomas’s bet (60 chips). Victor, who had a strong hand, decided to raise and added another 60 chips (the maximum bet in the round is 120 already). John, who already doubted his cards, folded.
So, Thomas, Lucas, and Victor keep on playing in hand. The first two need to call because they added 60 chips to the pot on the flop, and Victor added 120. Thomas decides to call Victor’s bet, but Lucas is more aggressive and raises another 120 chips regarding Victor’s raise (the player re-raises). Now, the maximum bet is 240 chips. Now Victor and Thomas need to add 120 chips each. But Thomas was actually bluffing and wanted to steal his opponents’ chips. Now, when he saw that Lucas and Victor might have excellent hands, he folds, losing 120 chips. Victor supports Lucas’s bet and adds 120 chips to the pot.
As a result, now there are 720 chips in the pot (120 chips left from the pre-flop + 600 chips which were added after the flop struggle).
Therefore, Victor and Lucas continue playing. Each of them has 740 chips on the stack.
Turn and river
When the flop ends, the croupier deals a fourth open card on the table. This round is called a turn. Then the betting starts again (according to poker betting rules).
When everyone has placed their bets on the turn, the croupier deals the last open card on the table. This stage is called the river.
There are five open cards on the table. Now each player can approximately imagine what hands his opponents may have.
Our example: on the turn, 9 ♠ was added to the A ♥, K ♠, and 7 ♥ cards. Victor and Lucas checked. 3♥ was dealt on the river. Lucas is the first to place a bet since he is the first after the dealer. He adds 480 chips (more than half of all his remaining chips), and Victor quickly calls.
Showdown – opening and comparing cards to determine a winner
After the last open (fifth) card is dealt on the table, another betting round starts. The players, who have cards after it, open their cards. The player with the highest hand wins.
The player who placed the last bet on the river must show his cards. If the other players see they have weaker hands, they may not show their cards or open just one card.
A showdown is possible at any of the previous game stages if players went all-in (according to poker all-in rules). Then they open cards, and the croupier deals the cards missing on the table.
Important note! When folding cards at any of the previous game stages, they cannot be opened. In this way, you might give additional info to your opponents.
Our example: Victor is the first to showdown since he was the last to place a bet. Victor has A ♣ K ♣. In total, he has two pairs: aces and kings (А♥А♣+ К♠К♣). It is a pretty good combination, by the way. Lucas has 8 ♥ 4 ♥. It means that he made up a flush of hearts (five cards of the same suit): А♥7♥3♥8♥4♥. Thus, Lucas gets the total bank of 1,700 chips. Now he has 1960 chips. After this hand, he almost doubled up his stack.
Interesting point: there are cases when the players have almost the same hands. Then for each of them, a combination of five cards is dealt.
We have considered only one deal. Friends will continue playing until two winners are determined. The game will end when the winner collects 6000 chips.
After each hand, the dealer collects all the cards, shuffles them, and deals two cards to each player again. At the same time, the dealer moves the marker chips one position to the left. Players play with the number of chips they managed to win in previous hands. Thomas (small blind) and Andrew (big blind) place obligatory bets. Now, John is the dealer.
You can play with the same stakes or agree in advance the blinds` growth. For example, there are time levels at poker rooms with the different blinds` amount: at the first stage – 10/20, the second – 20/40, the third – 40/60, and so on.
To sum up, there are only three basic poker rules on how to play poker for beginners:
- Each player receives two hole cards (hand), which you should keep in secret (except showdown).
- The winner in poker is the one who makes the opponents fold the cards or the one who shows the best hands after the opening (opening the cards is possible during all-in at any stage of the game or the showdown).
- The hand contains five cards (which are made up of seven cards: two hole cards and five community cards on the table). Only a few cards can be used in them (both from the table and your hole cards). In debated situations, the best five cards of each player are compared.
Victor has only 260 chips out of 1000 after the first deal. Now it will be much more difficult for him to claim a prize. His mistake was that having an honestly strong hand on the flop, he allowed his opponent reaching the river and making up a better hand. Thus, he must learn how to play poker better.
However, this is what makes No-limit Texas Hold`em poker attractive. You can never calculate everything at 100%. You can learn poker rules in half an hour. However, to become a pro, you will need to make up thousands of hands, spend hundreds of training hours to improve your craft. Moreover, it is impossible to succeed in poker without such a fundamental quality, as the absolute self-control. Even the most talented players cannot reach the top without self-control.
Both too aggressive and too weak tactics can have extreme consequences for further game. Although poker depends on luck very much, professionals are guided by a rational approach, both mathematical and psychological analysis. That’s another story. We will tell about it and many other poker things in other posts on our site.