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How to Play Poker

How To Play Poker - Tips, Strategy

So you've signed up at an online poker site and deposited a bankroll. Maybe you liked the room's welcome bonus deal, its range of game types, or promotions schedule. Maybe you're back in the game after a hiatus to snap up a reload bonus.

Your next step is to play profitable poker. Clearing signup bonuses across several sites - 'bonus whoring' - is a great way to make lump sums of cash even if you break even, but in the long-term having strong fundamentals is how to beat online poker.

Poker Rules

The first aspect of solid fundamental play is knowing the rules and mechanics of all poker game variants you play, inside out. Making basic mistakes like acting out of turn, misreading your hand or failing to notice the switch from Stud 8 to Razz in a HORSE rotation can be devastating to your win-rate.

The most popular poker variant live and online is No Limit Hold'em. In the video below a Rakeback.com coach runs through the preflop and postflop betting action of a complete NLHE hand on Full Tilt Poker.

Poker rules also vary within game types, e.g. by number of players at the table or whether you're in a cash game or a tournament event. For example, in heads up games the Small Blind is also the Button and acts first preflop. In tournaments, you can't sit out or leave the table without losing your chips.

 Learn the nuts and bolts of No Limit Poker, 3 Card Poker, 5 Card PokerMTTs and other assorted tips.

Poker Hands

Poker Hand Rankings Cheat SheetThe rankings of poker hands stay mostly the same across all poker types and should be committed to memory, from royal flushes down to high card hands.

Knowing the nuts - the strongest possible hand on a given board - and what beats what should be second nature to you.

Download our cheat sheet .pdf for to keep a guide to hand while you're learning the difference between a straight and a flush.

Poker Hand Rankings - Example

For example in the Holdem Manager hand shown the nuts would be an Ace High flush, made with the A♥ and any other heart.

The Small Blind player holds A♥ A♠ for a set of Aces. He knows that no player can hold the nuts.

His hand is already strong, and for a large bet could induce folds from better hands such as small flushes e.g. 6♥ 4♥ and straights e.g. 2♠ 2♥.

The Big Blind player holds J♥ 8♥ for a Jack high flush and is unlikely to fold. He knows he beats the majority of flushes, and lesser hands like straights are still likely to bet into him heads up.

 Familiarise yourself with the types of hands, their ranking order and basic probability and odds before playing poker.

How to Play Poker for Beginners

Beginning poker players should start with a fairly conservative 'tight is right' approach, while staying aggressive. This tight-aggressive style is referred to as TAG. More experienced players comfortable with bluffing, thin calls and thin value bets can play loose-aggressive, or LAG.

Both are more profitable than a loose-passive (LP), 'calling station' approach. Avoid playing hands out of boredom or because 4♥ 2♥ is your lucky hand, then chasing against the odds postflop.

Sticking to the preflop hand chart below in No Limit Hold'em 6 Max - the most popular poker game - would keep your range TAG. Assume action is folded to you.


Hands to Preflop Raise (PFR) With

Under the Gun (UTG)

 77+, AJo+, ATs+, KQs

Middle Position (MP)

66+, ATo+, KJs+, A9s+

Cutoff (CO)

22+, ATo+, KJo+, JTs+, A5s+

Button (BTN)

22+, A2o+, JTo+, 89s+, A2s+

Small Blind (SB)

22+, A2o+, K8o+, T9o+, 98s+, A2s+, K5s+, Q7s+

A TAG player you'd e.g. fold A♥ 9♠ first to act (under the gun) but open it on the button if no one raised ahead of you. Suited, you'd open it from middle position. You'd open pairs as low as deuces from the cutoff onwards. 

As you can see the hands that are playable for an open raise get more flexible the later you are to act, down to the likes of K♣ 8♦ and Q♠ 7♠ when stealing vs the Big Blind. Playing in late position is easier and much more profitable.

For more basic tips, starting hand selection and hand videos see our Texas Holdem page.

Learn Poker Online

There are two approaches to learning to play poker online, one being a 'blunt force' approach of just playing high volume.

Practice makes perfect, and this trial and error approach has its merits. All online poker rooms have micro-stakes tables where you can field-test strategies one dollar at a time. Clear a no-deposit bonus or enter freeroll tournaments with zero risk.

The other side of the coin is working on your game away from the tables.

Whether it's reading strategy articles, watching training videos, posting on forums, paying for coaching, running equity simulations, getting better at table selecting, studying how other pros play, or reviewing your play in software such PokerTracker, the more you work on your game the more you will realise how little your opposition does.

The two methods centre around the internet, which has both made it possible to play hundreds of hands per hour and learn at an exponentially faster pace and made information more accessible.

The short film above gives an insight into how a video gaming fan combined a mass-tabling approach and diligent work ethic to become an online poker phenomenon and a PokerStars sponsored pro.

Use your new-found skills and try playing online poker at Americas Cardroom.

Playing Poker For a Living

After learning the basics many players' poker careers start off with a small initial bankroll to get their feet wet at micro-stakes, perhaps with a no-deposit bonus for zero risk. Others pick sites with $10,000 depositor freerolls to build a roll quickly. The largest online site PokerStars allows beginners to make up to three separate deposits for their $600 signup bonus, with a clearing time of four months.

Some players start at $0.25/$0.50 stakes - others would consider that no longer micro-stakes in today's online poker climate. Whatever the level, as long as strict bankroll management rules are adhered to - e.g. moving down when you have less than 20 buy-ins for a level - you can't go broke.

Lower stakes while easier can be considered 'rake trap' limits, i.e. not worthwhile when your rake paid is such a high portion of your bb/100 win rate. To check your win rate software such as Holdem Manager or PokerTracker is invaluable. These can be used in conjunction with game selection aid TableScan Turbo for best results.

Grinders playing for a living and making regular cashouts (plus topping up their accounts for reload bonuses) often prefer the ease and privacy of e-wallets such as Skrill and Neteller. These allow for instant deposits and cashouts and the flexibility to move bankrolls between sites. Depending on your country, use of e-wallets combined with a VPN can help to avoid legal issues with online play.

See our case study on life as a poker pro, and how you can build up a bankroll in your first year. 

Poker Math

Poker is beatable because the mathematics of the game aren't set up to be against the player by design. Unlike in casino games where the house always wins, in poker you play against other human opponents. It is possible to make positive expectation decisions and consistent profit.

Aside from a small rake (made smaller by bonus promotions) charged by the online site to play, poker is a zero-sum game. The best players win in the long run. With discipline and bankroll management, it can be approached as a business and called a skill game.

Expected Value

At a beginner level poker, math starts with being able to roughly calculate pot odds, the 'price' the pot is laying you to call. Knowing your approximate percentage of winning, or equity claim to the pot, you can then decide if the price is right.

Perhaps you're on a draw and also factor in the extra money you're likely to win if you do hit your hand. Or decide to raise assigning yourself a worthwhile likelihood of taking down the pot without a showdown.

All poker math decisions centre around expected value calculations or EV, simple arithmetic that with practice can be done on the fly, or become intuitive.

Dig deeper into advanced concepts such as reverse implied odds, G Bucks and the mechanics of rake.

How to Play Other Card Games

Online poker encompasses around 20 card games, spread across 340+ sites and 280+ bonuses. If you now have a basic idea of how to play poker and are looking for game-specific tips, use the quick links below.


Poker Videos

Another example of the internet bringing poker knowledge to the masses is the proliferation of video training sites, which bring coaching to the masses for a small fee. Subscribers learn from watching online professionals grind in live play videos, hand replayer reviews, and powerpoint style presentations.

PokerBonus recommends the sites below.


Poker Terms

Poker Terms - Dictionary, SlangLast but not least you should be aware of poker jargon - particularly internet slang - to understand what players are talking about at the tables, in the chat box or on online message boards.

For example, you overhear a player saying 'it's +EV to 3bet ATC and jam any flop on the bubble'.

They mean it shows a positive expectation to re-raise with any two cards then move all-in on the flop because no one wants to be eliminated one spot short of the money.

For a full glossary of poker terms see our A to Z poker dictionary.

Poker Strategy

For in-depth poker strategy by game use the quick links below.