How to Play
Poker can be intimidating when you are starting out as a new player. The dozens of game variations combined with an assortment of betting structures would seem like they require a university course to learn.
The basics of poker are easy to explain and all games come from these basic ideas. For example, with the exception of Badugi, all poker games focus on the best five-card combination when all betting is completed. After reading these basic poker rules you will be ready to hit the tables with confidence.
So let’s get started! These are the fundamental hand rankings for most games that are based on a five-card high hand.
Starting with the highest ranked hand.
|Royal Flush||A Straight flush with the high card Ace.|
|Straight Flush||5 cards in sequence all of the same suit.|
|Four of a kind||This is quad Aces. Note the 5th card is not relevant to this hand.|
|Full House||3 of a kind, plus a pair. This is Aces full of 5’s.|
|Flush||5 cards of the same suit.
They are not in sequence.
|Straight||5 cards in sequence.|
|Three of a Kind||3 cards of the same rank.|
|Two Pair||This is two pair – Ace high.|
|One Pair||A pair of kings.|
|High Card||Where no other hand exists the player with the highest card wins.|
Wait! Before you hit the tables, it’s important to know what betting structure the game you are joining is. Most beginners start with Limit Holdem, as the opportunity to lose your whole stack in one hand is ‘limited’ 🙂 Those exciting games you see on TV are usually No Limit, which is by far the most popular poker game online.
Limit games have set amounts that you can bet during each round. For example, a $2/$4 Limit Hold ’em game would allow you to bet in $2 increments pre-flop and on the flop and in $4 increments on the turn and river. Sometimes you will encounter spread limit games (common in Stud) that allow you to bet in a certain range. For example, you may get involved in a $1-$5 Stud game. On any street you can bet $1 to $5. If you choose to raise you may raise up to $5, as long as you raise at least the amount that was previously bet. There is usually no cap on the amount of money a player can buy in for and the minimum buy-in is normally ten times the small blind ($20 in a $2/4 game).
No Limit games have a fixed blind amount but, the players are able to bet any amount from the minimum bet (typically the size of the big blind) up to their entire stack at any time. Most no limit games have a minimum and a maximum buy-in, the minimum typically being 20 big blinds and the maximum usually being 100 big blinds. For example, in a game with $1/$2 blinds, the buy-in range would be from $20 to $100. If a player drops below the maximum buy-in, they may add on to their stack to bring it back up to the max buy-in. Raises must be equal to or greater than the previous raise, unless a player is raising all-in.
Pot Limit is very similar to No Limit, in that there is typically a minimum and maximum buy in, and players betting is not limited to a specific structure. Bets can range from the minimum bet (the size of the big blind) up to the size of the pot. Pot size is equal to the amount of the bets in the middle, all bets out on the table, plus the amount a player must call before raising. For example: if the pot in the middle of the table is $20 the first player acting the round bets $10, the next player to act is able to bet a maximum of $40 – $10 for his portion of the call and raise by $30.
There are many different formats in poker, these can seem confusing at first but are really quite straightforward. Let’s take a look at the types of poker you will commonly come across when you play at an internet poker site.
Ring / Cash Games
‘Ring Games’ are simply poker games played for cash. This is the most common way to play poker. Each player at the table ‘buys in’ (exchanges their money for cash) and then players compete for each other’s chips each hand. Players can leave the table at any time and are free to rebuy when necessary. In a poker room the house takes a ‘rake’ or a percentage of each pot. This rake is how the house profits from cash games and is usually 10% up to $3.
Poker games are nearly always ‘table stakes’. This means that at any given time players may not remove money from the table if they are to remain in the game. Players may add on, but not remove, chips.
Typically, if you leave a game, you may not sit back down at the same table with fewer chips than you left with until a certain amount of time has passed.
Some poker rooms allow for a player to stand up and then return to the table with a lower amount of chips than they left with but, this is generally considered a breach of poker etiquette and will earn players the scorn of others.
Single Table Tournaments
Single Table Tournaments (STTs) are another way to play poker. In a STT, players buy in for a set amount, which goes to the prize pool. They also pay a small ‘entry fee’, which the house keeps. The number of players is limited to just one table. Players receive a set amount of chips for their buy in, and play until one player has all the chips. Blinds increase gradually over time. The payouts for STTs can vary. They can be winner take all or pay two or more players a percentage of the prize pool.
Multi Table Tournaments
Multi Table Tournaments (MTTs) are extremely popular. Players pay a set amount, receive a certain amount of chips, and play until one player has all the chips. There is not usually a limit on the number of players in a MTT and they can have enormous fields consisting of thousands of players. Blinds gradually increase over a given time interval as the tournament progresses. Payouts depend on the particular tournament and can pay one or more players. A standard payout for an MTT is about 10% of the field.
Sit and Go’s
Both MTTs and STTs can be played as a ‘Sit and Go’ tournament. ‘Sit and go’ (SNG) tournaments are unscheduled and begin whenever enough players have joined.
Mixed games have also recently become very popular in poker rooms. Dealer’s Choice is a mixed game where the dealer chooses the poker variation being played. In a mixed game how many hands are played of the game selected depends on the particular room. It can be just one hand, ten hands or perhaps it changes every half-hour. Other mixed games specify which games are played and in what order. Commonly played games are abbreviated as follows:
A = Omaha
H = Hold ’em
O = Omaha Hi / Lo (8 or better)
R = Razz
S = 7 Card Stud
E = 7 Card Stud Hi / Lo (8 or better)
The games being played and the order they are played in is shown in the acronym for the game. If you sit down to play HORSE, this means you are going to be playing Hold ’em, Omaha Hi-Lo, Razz, 7 Card Stud, and 7 Card Stud 8 or Better rotating in that order. Once again, the number of hands played of each game will vary depending on the room. When you switch between a game that uses antes and a game that uses blinds the button remains usually remains fixed so that no player missed their blinds.
Good luck at the tables!