How To Play Poker - Your Essential A - Z Guide!

Poker is arguably now the most popular card game in the world. We can play it as a friendly game at home or in a casino with millions of dollars riding on the outcome.

Let’s break down the rules of this exciting card game.

Before we get started, it’s worth keeping in mind that not all poker is the same. There are many different brands of poker, known as variants.

The most popular poker variant is currently a game called No-Limit Hold’em. But there are hundreds of others.

We’ll focus on the basic rules of poker that apply to most games regardless of the variant.

Afterwards, we’ll consider how a basic No-Limit Hold’em hand might look.

The Poker Hand Rankings

Poker hands always consist of 5 cards (in most poker variants at least). Say the main strength of the hand lies in two of our cards (such as a pair). Our final hand will always involve five cards. The remainder of the five cards are kickers. Highest kickers win in the event of a tie.

We’ll start with the weakest holdings and work our way up.

  • High Card - We haven’t made a pair or better, so our hand strength is determined by the highest card (Aces are high). If our opponent has the same high card as us, we consult the second card (and so on).
  • One Pair - We have two cards of identical rank. Higher pairs are stronger. The three remaining cards are kickers.
  • Two Pair - We have two sets of two cards of identical rank. The strength of the higher pair is most important. The second pair is only consulted if two players have the same high pair. This hand uses four cards directly, which leaves room for one kicker to complete the 5-card hand.
  • Three-of-a-Kind - We have three cards of identical rank. Often referred to as ‘Trips’. Higher ranked trips beat lower-ranked trips. This setup leaves room for two kickers.
  • Straight - We have five cards in consecutive order, e.g., 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. The suits don’t matter. The higher the rank of the card at the top of the straight, the stronger the straight. This hand has no kickers since it already uses all five cards.
  • Flush - We have five cards all in the same suit. The highest-ranked card determines the strength of the flush. If two players have the same high card, we consult the second-highest flush card (and so on).
  • Full House - Our hand has three cards of one rank and two of another. (Three-of-a-Kind plus one pair). The strength of the hand is determined by the rank of the three-of-a-kind. The pair is only consulted if two players have the same ranked three of a kind.
  • Four-of-a-Kind - We have four cards of identical rank. Often referred to as ‘Quads’. Higher ranked quads beat lower-ranked quads. This setup leaves room for one kicker.
  • Straight Flush - We have five cards in consecutive rank order all in the same suit. E.g., 5,6,7,8,9 all hearts. The card at the top of the straight determines the strength of the straight flush. (Aces are high.)
  • Royal Flush - We hold TJQKA all in the same suit. This hand is the strongest in poker and, can never be beaten (at worst it will tie). The royal flush is a type of straight flush, the best possible straight flush.

Are you still confused? For a full breakdown of hand strengths along with examples, check out the complete poker hand rankings guide.

Betting in Poker

As we probably realise, poker is not just a game about making hands. Players make bets based on the strength of their cards. Chips (small plastic discs) represent money in poker, and we use them to make the bets.

Whenever a player makes a bet, he places the appropriate amount of chips into the center of the table (known as the pot). These chips will be awarded to whoever is the final winner of the hand.

The betting action covers several betting rounds known as streets. More cards are dealt on each street before any bets are made.

After the final betting round is complete players reach showdown. At this moment, they reveal the value of their cards (which have been secret until now). The strongest hand wins all the chips in the pot. In the case of a tie, the chips are split evenly amongst the winners.

Check out 888poker’s complete poker betting guide.

Actions

So, what does a betting round or street look like?

Before the betting takes place, the new card/s will be dealt for that street. Action then proceeds around the table in a clockwise direction.

Players can pick between the following betting decisions -

  • Check - A player decides not to make any bet and the action continues clockwise to the next player. Players can only use this option if no bets have been made so far on the current betting round.
  • Bet - A player makes the first bet on a betting round. Other players must at least match this bet (by calling) when it is their turn to act. Otherwise, they will have to exit the hand by folding.
  • Call - A player matches an existing bet by placing the appropriate amount of chips into the pot.
  • Fold - A player decides he doesn’t want to call the existing bet and prefers to exit the hand. He gives his cards back to the dealer and forfeits any right to win the current pot.
  • Raise - A player decides to increase the size of the current bet. All remaining players must at least call this bet if they wish to continue with the hand.

The betting round ends when all players have either settled on a bet amount or folded.

Winning the Pot

It should now be clear that there are two possible ways of winning the pot in poker.

  1. We reach showdown and have the best hand.
  2. We bet or raise, and all other players fold.

The best poker players use a combination of both methods to maximize their winnings.

This aspect also allows for a core feature of poker play: bluffing. We can win the pot by getting all our opponents to fold. So, we don’t necessarily need to have a legitimate hand to win the pot.

We can attempt to represent we have a real hand and try to push our opponents out of the action.

A Basic No-Limit Hold’em Hand

No-Limit Hold’em is currently the world’s most popular poker game. It is a type of community card game. All players can use a selection of cards that are dealt face up in the middle of the table.

  1. The small blind and big blind are placed into the pot. Blinds are payments made before any cards are dealt to generate action.
  2. Each player is dealt two hole cards which must be kept secret. These will be used in conjunction with the community cards to make a five-card hand.
  3. A round of betting takes place (known as the preflop betting round).
  4. 3 community cards are dealt face-up in the centre of the table, known as the flop. A round of betting takes place.
  5. A fourth community card is dealt, known as the turn. A round of betting takes place.
  6. A final community card is dealt, known as the river. A final round of betting takes place followed by a showdown.

Of course, this is the instant version. Why not check out the full guide on how to play Texas Hold’em here?

Getting Started

A great way to learn the rules quickly is to jump into an online game. Sites like 888poker offer play money games which means that it is possible to learn the rules in a safe environment without the risk of losing cash.

Once we pick up a few tools and tricks, we’ll then be ready to jump into a real money game and start taking home some profits.

Show Cards

Show Cards

Now you can reveal your cards at the end of a round even if you’ve folded. Simply click to select the cards you want to show at any point during the hand. Enjoy this feature in our poker tables, including Omaha, however not in SNAP.

* ‘Show Cards’ is not available on our web apps or instant play clients.

Rabbit Hunt

Use the 'Rabbit Hunt' feature to find out what cards would have appeared if you'd decided to play out your hand instead of folding.
'Rabbit Hunt' is available in our poker tables, including Omaha, though not in SNAP.

* This feature does not appear on our web apps or instant play clients.

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