Poker is undoubtedly the most competitive and yet most popular card game out there. It’s a game played against other people (though there are versions where you play against a dealer) and their loss is usually your gain or vice versa, which makes it a zero sum game and one where the house doesn’t actually have an edge. Learn the basics of playing poker right here.
Nowadays poker exists in quite a few variations. There are different rules, different ways to rank hands and plenty of strategies to employ, based on which variety you happen to play.
The game itself appears to have originated in America in the early 19th century. Most evidence points in that direction anyways, though inspiration for poker may have been drawn from similar card games from Europe.
Since its early days the game has gone through quite an evolution, resulting in all the different versions you may encounter today. Among the most popular ones is certain Texas Hold’em Poker, which played around the world.
Five-draw Poker is a version most of us already learn as teenagers, though, playing for candy and cookies. Most people are therefore not completely new to the game, but learning the intricacies and strategies to win is a whole different game entirely.
There are obviously differences in poker depending on the version you are playing, though essential gameplay is fairly similar across the board. Since Texas Hold’em is the most common version of the game played just about anywhere, we’re basing our introduction around that game.
Poker is always played around a table (called ‘full ring’ in Texas Hold’em) with up to 9 or 10 players, though fewer are possible.
There is always someone dealing the cards. In many poker versions a button with the word ‘dealer’ written on it is indicating which player acts as the dealer. The dealer position will move clockwise around the table after each hand.
The dealer then deals the cards according to the rules of the version that is being played. In Texas Hold’em that means every player receives two cards face down, called ‘hole cards’.
Then the left-most player to the dealer posts a ‘small blind’, which means they make a small bet, which is called blind, because no other cards have been dealt yet. This is followed by the next player to the left posting a ‘big blind’, which usually means they double the ‘small blind’ bet.
Before further cards are dealt (pre-flop), the next player to the one who posted the big blind has to choose whether to call his bet (matching the big blind), raise it (increase the stake) or whether to fold (if his hand is particularly bad). Every player has to follow this, because in Texas Hold’em and other version of the game, players need to place a bet before they get to see the flop.
In Texas Hold’em and similar version of poker there exist community cards. Those are placed in the middle with their faces up for all players to see. They are shared among all players, which means that essentially every player around the table ‘holds’ these cards. But it will usually be the two cards each player holds individually that will determine the hand in the end.
As it is, the flop happens when the dealer lays down three community cards in the middle. Once the flop has taken place, each player then has to decide what to do next:
The hand is not over yet, unless all but one players have decided to fold, which is an unlikely occurrence. Instead the dealer now deals the fourth card, called ‘the turn’. Once again all remaining players get to decide on what action to choose. The options are the same as above.
The final and fifth card that is dealt is called ‘the river’. And once again all remaining players decide which action to take. If more than one player is still in the game at the end of this round, a showdown will take place.
If all other players fold before the last one has completed their action, the last one standing will end up as the winner of the hand. No showdown takes place.
But if two or more players are still in the game, the showdown will determine the winner. That means everyone has to show their two cards and the winner is determined according to the ranking of their hand.
For most versions of poker the same or at least very similar hand ranking is used. That makes it easier for players to determine how good or bad their hand might rank and thus determine their odds of winning.
Here we cover only the most traditional hand rankings. There are plenty of others, but those should only be considered when you play some of the more obscure versions of poker such as Badugi.
Straight flush – Here you have to have five consecutive cards of the same suit (heart, diamond, club, spade). The highest sequence wins the pot, in case two players have a straight flush. The best hand here is the royal straight flush, going from ten to ace.
Four of a kind – You have to have four cards of the same value. Again the higher value hand wins, if two players have four of a kind. The highest here would be four aces.
Full house – Three cards of the same value are combined with a pair. The highest three matching cards win, if two players have a full house – 99966 beats 88877. In a game of community based poker such as Texas Hold’em, where three matching cards may be held by the community, the two matching cards determine the winner. So, 88866 would beat 88855.
Flush – Five cards of the same suit. There’s no need for them to be in any particular order. The highest ranked card determines the winner, if two people have a flush. Ace as the highest ranking card would thus beat the king of another player.
Straight – Cards of any suit may be part of this hand, but the cards have to be in sequence (4, 5, 6, 7, 8 or 9, 10, J, Q, K). The highest ranking card determines the winner.
Three of a kind (or Set) – Three matching cards (of the same rank). The highest ranking three cards will determine the winner, if two players have three of a kind.
Two Pairs – Players hold two pairs of cards with the same rank. The highest value pair will win a hand, if two players have two pairs. But if those two pairs are also identical, it will be the rank of the fifth card that determines the winner.
Pair – Two matching cards with three random additional cards. Once again the highest ranking pair wins, unless both players hold the same rank, in which case the highest ranking third card will determine the winner.
High card – If none of the other combinations were achieved (because essentially a player bluffed their way to the showdown), they play their highest ranking card. And yes, if you have nothing but an ace in your hand at showdown, and nobody else has anything better, you can win with one ace.
Whilst there are many different poker games, you can essentially break all of them into three main variations: Draw poker, Stud poker and Community Card poker. We’ll tell you about the differences.
In draw poker players are dealt a complete hand with all faces down. Players keep their cards to themselves and are able to replace a certain number of cards depending on the game that is played in order to improve their hand.
Five Card Draw – Most popular and best-known version. Players receive five cards face down and begin to place bets. After the first round remaining players get to replace any number of cards they choose and bet once again. This follows a second round of discarding and drawing cards as well additional bets. The showdown is the last step. The highest ranking hand wins and here traditional ranking is employed.
Badugi – Played with four cards and very different hand rankings, where all cards are supposed to have a different ranking and suit. Matching suits or doubles don’t count.
Baduci – Played with five cards, but Badugi and 7 low hand rankings. The pot is split, because the hands are being according to the rankings of the two poker versions.
California Hi/Lo – Played like Baduci, but a joker remains in the deck as a wild card, which means it replaces any rank or suit.
In stud poker players will receive cards with their faces showing as well as hidden. It’s usually a combination of both, depending on the version played.
Seven Card Stud – Traditional hand rankings are used. Players receive two face down cards, then place bets and then a card is dealt face up, which is followed by another round of betting. This is repeated until players hold seven cards and the game ends in a showdown.
Six/Five Card Stud – Same as seven card stud, but the last one or two cards, respectively, are omitted in this version.
Hi/Lo Stud – Similar to seven card stud, but the pot is split between the player with the highest and the lowest hand. Cards speak on showdown and no qualifier for the low hand is required.
Here all players share cards (laying in the middle of the table with their faces up), with those cards being used by everyone to create hands in addition to further cards they hold hidden in their hands.
Texas Hold’em – As already explained, players receive two cards face down, followed by a round of betting, three cards being dealt face up for everyone to share, followed by a round of betting, another card dealt face up, another round of betting and a final card dealt face up. The showdown follows after a last round of betting as long as there are at least two players still in the game.
Omaha Hold’em – This can be played either with traditional rankings or eight lowball rankings. If the latter is the case, players make one five card high hand and one five card low hand. The pot is finally split between the highest and the lowest hand. It’s important to note that players have to use the three community cards as well as two of their own cards to make those hands.
Above versions are among the most popular, but you will also encounter Red Dog as a poker version, Three Card Poker or Caribbean Stud. In all these versions you’re actually playing against a dealer instead of other players. That’s why you often find these poker versions among the casino games section of online casinos.
You could write entire books about the subject and as it happens, there are books about poker strategies. Whilst we are hoping to add a separate article on the subject eventually, we’ll keep it to the most basic strategies here, which should help you decide on what to do, when you’re newly learning and playing poker.
Before you get into strategies, it’s important to know how to manage your bankroll when playing poker. As usual, don’t go in with a budget that you are not prepared to lose. The rule of thumb is not to put more than 5% of your actual bankroll on the table.
So, if you have a €500 in your pocket, don’t stake any more than €25, even when you decide to go all in. Do not be tempted to go all in with your entire bankroll, because you’re more likely to lose it than to double your winnings. If you lose your entire bankroll, the evening is over for you. If you only lose the 5%, you can still continue and maybe win the next hand.
In real life cash games you always buy yourself into a game. When choosing which table to sit down at with a given bankroll, it is recommended that you choose a buy-in that allows you 20 to 40 buy ins before your cash is all used up (just in case you lose hand after hand).
Your position respective to the dealer actually matters in your strategy as well. The closer you are to the dealer (counting clockwise from the dealer), the weaker your position is, especially in community card poker. You don’t get to observe what actions other players may choose, but have to make a call for yourself, pre-flop even without knowing any of the cards and no idea who might fold, call or raise further down the table.
Thus, if you are in an early position (meaning you have to take an action before most other players), you will want to play more cautiously and even fold weak hands. Middle positions can play through more hands and late positions could even go with a riskier game, depending on how weak or strong your hand is, of course.
Thankfully, since the dealer rotates around the table, so will your position. You won’t always have the disadvantage of an early position.
This is the easiest strategy to learn when you are new to the table. You may end up folding quite a few weak hands, but if you have a good hand, you can then play more aggressively, if you dare.
Fold bad hands – If you’re dealt weak hands such as low ranking cards or a high ranking plus a low ranking card, you’re better of folding before the flop, thereby not risking any money. With pairs or high ranking cards you can stay in the game.
Risk a raise – If you have a good hand, you can risk to raise the stakes. No need to play coy.
Mind your position – If you are in an early position at the table, play more carefully. You can risk more in a middle or late position, after everyone else has already made their play.
Don’t limp – Limping means you’re only calling the bet, but don’t dare to raise. If an experienced player notices you limping, you’re shark food, because they’ll start to raise against you.
How you size your bets is another part of strategy you may want to consider. Without getting into an awful lot of details, you’ll want to keep a few things in mind:
This is another complicated subject and we are only going to get into the very basics. Those you will hear about just about anywhere and it helps to have an idea what is talked about. Essentially you’ll be considering three variables: expected value (EV), pot odds and implied odds.
Very simply put, this is the average amount a player expects to win depending on the way they play. You’re calculating the expected value by adding together the probability of every possible outcome and then multiply that by the payoff. You better have a head for maths to calculate this one.
We won’t get into overly complicated examples here, because it turns out that it is very difficult to calculate the expected value and actually get it right when you have a newbie at the table, who has no clue about the odds or someone who decides to strategically play against the odds.
The odds of the pot are determined by the size of the pot in comparison to the size of the bet that is required to call. If you have a pot of €30 and you calling bet is €10, then your odds are 3:1 or ¼ (=25%). To decide whether or not you’ll call, you’ll be checking the odds of drawing a winning card against the size of the pot.
There is no real way to calculate implied odds. You’re essentially trying to figure out whether or not you can get more money out of an opponent if you make a draw. This depends entirely on how strong your hand is and whether you believe it is stronger than your opponent’s hand.
Poker tournaments can be absolutely massive and millions have been won by professional poker players. Yes, there are professional poker players and world series in which they play.
At your local casino or in an online casino, a tournament requires an entry fee for which you will receive a set number of chips. You play as long as you have chips and that means you only get to stay in the game as long as you win, at least some of the time.
The tournament ends with the last player standing, meaning the one who’s won all the chips from all other players.
The principle is the same for land-based and online casinos, though at online casinos the game will be conducted by the software.
At many online casinos you can play video poker, casino poker and live dealer poker. If a poker client is available, you can even play against other players or participate in tournaments.
As it is, there’s a big difference between live dealer poker and playing poker via a client.
Live dealer poker is, as you may have suspected, based on casino poker. Where you play against the computer when playing casino poker, you’ll be playing against an actual live dealer with live dealer poker. And you’ll be the only one doing so.
Usually you’ll play a single card deck that is dealt by the croupier. The payouts are based on a set pay-table and you get to perform all the usual actions of betting, folding, calling, raising, etc. There will be a showdown against the dealer’s hand in the end and whoever has the higher ranking hand will win.
It can make for a compelling experience, especially since some casinos permit interactions with the dealers and you can have a friendly chat with them.
Playing poker mobile is possible with just about any version of the game: video poker, casino poker, live dealer poker or using a poker client.
The first three options are available at most online casinos that offer them. You may not always get live dealer poker, though, because it really depends on whether the live casino is actually offering it or not. But finding video poker and casino poker games for mobile play is not a problem at all.
Poker clients for mobile use are much rarer. Some of the biggest and best casinos actually offer separate poker client apps for players to download. That way you go ahead and login as per usual and join a table or tournament as you please. In our online casino reviews we’ll mention whether that is an option or not.
Casino software developers such as Microgaming or Playtech actually have their own poker clients. Some of them are massive and used by quite a few large online casinos that offer a range of different products. Other online casinos have decided to offer their own little poker client, where fewer players can be found but the atmosphere is more intimate.
When one of our preferred online casinos offers poker clients (and any other form of poker), we’ll always be sure to mention it, including which client you’d be getting here. Some of them are incredibly popular and always a good choice for you, no matter which casino you are at.
However, another aspect to consider when choosing the best online casino or poker client is the availability of bonuses, including welcome bonuses for poker players, and promotions.
You’ll find those at Unibet, for instance, Betsson, 888 and betway among others. So, read our reviews and then check the casinos yourself to find out what suits you best.
Questions or suggestions? Let us know!