Poker is an old game with a rich history. It first appeared in its current form in the United States over 200 years ago. It’s been played on riverboats, frontiers and in big cities. Nowadays it’s played on television and on the internet by players all over the world. Poker continues to be a great casino, parlor and kitchen table game, but the complexities and variants which make the game so great also make it intimidating to newcomers.
Fortunately, it’s easy to understand the rules of the game. Once you know those, you can quickly learn to play all of the different types of poker. Here are some of the fundamentals.
Poker is a betting game based on ranks and combinations of the playing cards found in a standard 52-card deck. The game requires at least two players and is commonly played with as many as ten. To begin, players contribute a forced bet (called an ante or a blind) to the pot. The pot is simply the total of all wagered bets.
The dealer (often marked with a "dealer button") deals cards to the players, starting at his or her left. Once each player has all of their cards (how many cards varies with the type of poker being played), they'll bet based on the strength of their hand. Over the course of the hand, they will continue to receive cards, at which point they may continue to wager. The player to the left of the dealer generally begins each round.
At the hand’s conclusion, the last wagers are made and the hands are turned face-up. The highest ranking hand is awarded the pot.
Although the rules may sound simple enough, they leave many questions unanswered. Below you’ll find some questions that many beginners have when first exposed to the game.
That sounds like a lot of wagering – do I have to bet?
No! Players have five permissible actions and they don’t all require making wagers.
The first option is to fold. Folding is when you don’t like your chances of winning, and surrender your hand. When you surrender your hand, you also give up any chance to win the pot. Typically, you should not fold unless someone else has bet more than you’d like to pay.
The next option is to check. A check is like betting $0. You can stay in the hand without putting in any more money. You can only check if you’re the first player to act or all players ahead of you have also checked.
You may also bet. If no one has wagered ahead of you, and you’d like to put some money into the pot, you may do so.
When you match a bet, you’re making a call. You call when someone bets and you want to stay in the hand.
The last option is to raise. If someone bets before you and you’d like to increase the wager, you can raise by putting in more money. A raise must be at least twice as much as the bet.
Play with other beginners only at PartyPoker's 'welcome lounge' tables.
Poker hands are ranked in such a way that everyone can easily see who the winner is, once they know what beats what. Here are the rankings, with examples.
Royal flush – T♦J♦Q♦K♦A♦
An ace-high straight flush. An incredibly rare, guaranteed winner. A royal flush can be made in any suit.
Straight flush – 4♣5♣6♣7♣8♣
A sequence of five cards of the same suit in a row. A straight flush can be made in any suit.
Four of a kind – 2♥2♣2♦2♠9♥
A grouping of four cards of the same rank. The fifth card is irrelevant. If two players have four of a kind, the higher ranking four of a kind wins.
Full house – J♦J♠J♣8♣8♥
Three cards of one rank and two of another. If two players have a full house, the higher-ranking group of three wins. If two players with full houses have the same grouping of three, the higher-ranking pair wins.
Flush – A♥Q♥7♥6♥3♥
Any five cards of the same suit. If two players have a flush, the flush with higher-ranking cards wins.
Straight – 7♥8♥9♦T♠J♦
Five cards of any suit in a row. If two players have straights, the higher-ranking straight wins.
Three of a kind – 6♦6♠6♣5♣2♣
Three cards of the same rank. If two players have three of a kind, the higher three of a kind wins.
Two pair – K♣K♦3♥3♠Q♣
Two couplings of cards of the same rank. When two players have two pairs, the player with the highest-ranking pair wins. If they have the same higher-ranking pair, the second pair determines the winner. If both pairs are the same, the side card (or "kicker") determines the winner.
One pair – 4♠4♦Q♣9♥2♥
One coupling of cards of the same rank. If two players have a pair, the higher-ranking pair wins. If the pairs are the same, the highest kickers determine the winner.
High card – K♦Q♥9♣8♣3♦
Five uncorrelated, unsuited, unpaired cards. The highest-ranking cards determine the winner.
How much can I bet?
Not all poker games are created equal. Some are for kids and some are for millionaires. Therefore, the amount of money you can put at risk will vary accordingly. The betting structure of a particular poker game will determine how much you can bet.
Most poker variants use a fixed-limit betting structure. That means your bet size is restricted. For instance, many casinos offer games with a $2-$4 limit. That means you can only bet in two or four dollar increments. If someone bets $2, you can raise to $4, but no more.
Other betting structures include:
- spread limit
- pot limit
- no limit
Spread limit poker is a betting structure which allows a player to bet any amount within a given range. For instance, in a $3-$100 spread limit game, a player can bet between $3 and $100 at any time. Pot limit poker is a structure which allows a player to bet no more than the size of the pot. If two players have each wagered a total of $5, then a player can now bet up to the pot limit of $10. No limit poker is a structure in which a player can bet as much as he or she has in front of him or her at any given time.
What if someone bets and I’m out of money?
If, after a hand has begun, you place your last chip into the pot, you are “all in.” Once this happens, you cannot be forced out of the pot. The other players in contention may continue to wager, but you will be eligible to win only as much as was in the pot when your bet went in. Any further betting goes into a sidepot.
You can never go “into your pocket” to put more money in play after a hand has begun. If someone bets more than you have on the table, you are only obligated to put in what you have remaining. For what it’s worth you may never take money off the table (at any point) until you leave the table.
Once you know the ranking of hands and the general rules of poker, you’ll want to play! There are a few versions of the game that are easy to learn for new players. 5 card stud and 5 card draw are probably the quickest to learn.
The most basic of all poker games is 5 Card Stud. This largely obsolete game is played in the following manner:
- Each player is dealt two cards, one face-up and one face-down.
- The player with the lowest face-up card pays a forced bring-in bet, which the other plays may call, raise, or fold to.
- After the action is complete, each player gets another face-up card. Betting ensues.
- This continues until each player has five cards in total.
- After the final betting round, the cards are turned face-up and the winning hand takes the pot.
It is difficult to make very strong hands playing 5 Card Stud. You will almost never see a hand like A♦A♣A♥T♠T♣. Instead, you’ll see lots of hands like Q♣T♦9♣5♥3♦. Because there is not much mystery and you can’t make great hands very often, 5 Card Stud isn’t a very exciting game. Therefore, most people learn to play poker by playing 5 Card Draw.
5 Card Draw is different from stud because players receive five cards, face-down, all at once. After a round of betting each player can surrender any number of cards in return for the exact same number of cards. Betting then occurs once more and players show their hands. As usual, the best hand wins.
5 Card Draw is rarely played in casinos, but it is still popular at home games (and on TV), and represents an important stepping stone for new players.
Try uncommon Five Card Stud variant 'Telesina' at Yachting Poker.
Texas Hold ‘Em is the most popular poker game in the world. This is how it’s played:
- To begin, each player is dealt two cards face-down. These are called “hole” or “pocket” cards. A round of betting follows.
- Three community cards, called “the flop,” are then dealt face-up in the middle of the table. These are shared cards which each player can use to build a five card poker hand. A round of betting follows.
- Another community card, called “the turn,” is then dealt face-up. Betting follows.
- The final community card, called “the river,” is dealt face-up and the last round of betting follows.
- At the conclusion of the betting, players turn their hands face-up and the winner takes the pot.
Example Hand: No Limit Texas Holdem
Two players, Kevin and Steve are playing $1-$2 No Limit Holdem on PokerStars. Each player has $200 to begin.
Kevin is the small blind and posts $1.
Steve is the big blind and posts $2.
Kevin is dealt A♣A♦ and raises to $8.
Steve is dealt J♠T♣ and calls $8.
The flop comes Q♣K♥A♠.
Steve bets $10. Kevin raises to $30. Steve calls.
The turn comes 4♠.
Steve bets $60. Kevin raises to $162. Steve calls. Both players are all-in.
The river comes Q♦.
The players show their hands.
Steve's best hand: T♣J♠Q♣K♥A♠ (straight).
Kevin's best hand: A♣A♦A♠Q♣Q♦ (full house).
Full house beats a straight, so Kevin wins the $400 pot.
It is the combination of the shared community cards and the popular no-limit betting structure that makes Texas Hold 'Em such an exciting game. Just as the rules of the game make 5 Card Stud a little boring, the rules of the game make Texas Hold 'Em riveting enough for television. Poker rules define the games.
[See more Poker Tips to improve your game]
Poker is extremely popular, but when the game begins to get stale, players tend to invent new games with new rules. Here are a few of the other popular games:
- Seven Card Stud
- 5 Card Draw with Deuces Wild
- 3 Card Poker
Another version is 3 Card Poker. Although rarely played in home games, 3 Card Poker is a common casino poker game. Unlike traditional poker games, when playing 3 Card Poker, players don't play against each other. Instead they play against the casino dealer, like in blackjack.
There are other rule changes as well. For instance, when playing 3 Card Poker, a player makes an upfront bet (as well as an optional side bet) that will represent their entire betting for the hand. He cannot be raised and he cannot bet any more.
Each player (including the dealer) is dealt three cards. The three cards are then turned over and the best poker hand wins. But what's the best hand? 3 Card Poker also has different hand rankings than traditional poker! In this variation, Three of a Kind beats flushes and straights. What's more is that straights also beat flushes! The new poker hands ranking looks like this:
- Straight flush
- Three of a kind
- One pair
- High card
If you make the optional bonus bets, you will receive extra money for a win when you make particular hands, such as a straight.
Some poker rules will always remain the same. For instance, you'll always be able to fold. The best hand always wins. The winner always gets the pot.
Other rules, however, are subject to change. A casino may restrict where you can put your chips or what you can say. Before you sit down to play, check out the house rules. After all, whether you play high stakes no-limit cash games, or micro stakes poker tournaments, you'll benefit from knowing the rules before you sit down.
Play every variant of poker available at Full Tilt Poker.