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How to Play Poker - The Ultimate Beginners Guide
Why to Learn How to Play Texas Holdem Poker:
If you’re going to learn one just one card game you should make it No-Limit Texas Hold’em poker. It’s one of the easiest poker games to play but also one of the hardest to master.
It’s easily the most popular poker variant in the world and it’s played by absolute beginners as well as professionals who have made their living from the game for decades.
The game’s unique blend of strategy, psychology, random chance and number crunching is virtually unmatched by any other popular game. No-Limit Hold’em is played by celebrities, blue-collar workers and billionaires alike.
If you're interested in learning how to play it yourself, you’ve come to the right place. We'll set you up with the ultimate start-up guide to the game.
What is No-Limit Hold’em?
No-Limit Hold’em, sometimes known as “Texas Hold’em,” is a poker game where players receive only two cards. That’s it.
Each player uses their two cards (or one or none of those cards, in some situations) in combination with a shared community group of cards to make their best-five card poker hand.
There are four rounds of betting and any player can put all their chips in the middle at any time. That’s the allure of No-Limit poker. You’re always just one hand away from doubling (or tripling!) your stack but you’re also just one hand away from busting completely.
There are plenty of other great poker games but in terms of simplicity and sheer popularity No-Limit Hold’em reigns supreme.
Before we get started the basic rules there’s one thing you should do first and that’s to learn and understand basic poker hand rankings.
Probably 90% of all beginner mistakes occur when someone thinks they have the winning hand. You can consult a basic hand ranking guide right here on PokerListings but it’s actually pretty simple:
- Royal Flush (All the same suit, sequence A-K-Q-J-T)
- Straight Flush (Any sequence all the same suit, for instance 9-8-7-6-5)
- Four of a Kind (Four cards that are the same value, for instance A-A-A-A)
- Full House (Three of a kind AND a pair)
- Flush (All the same suit)
- Straight (A basic sequence such as 6-5-4-3-2)
- Three of a kind (Three cards that are the same value such as 5-5-5)
- Two-pair (Two pairs, such as 9-9 AND 5-5)
- Pair (Any pair whether it’s A-A or 2-2)
- High Card (Whatever your highest card is)
See? Not that hard.
Do everything you can to memorize the hand rankings. Quiz yourself, repeat them 100 times or write them out. Whatever it takes.
Want a secret tip? There are three hand ranking mistakes that are very frequent among amateur players.
Here are the most common misconceptions:
-- A straight beats flush (NOPE, just remember that all one suit>sequence)
-- Two-pair beats three-of-a-kind (NO, in poker you’d rather have three aces over two aces and two kings)
-- Overall card strength doesn’t matter but high card does (An ace-high flush is always better than a king-high flush)
The Basic Poker Rules:
No-Limit Hold’em utilizes a standard 52-card deck, even when played online. It has elements of both skill and luck.
It can be played by anywhere from 2-10 players at a single table. If you have enough tables and space you can actually play with thousands of players using the tournament format.
Here’s how a basic game works:
The dealer deals everyone two cards starting with the player on his left and ending on himself/herself.
The player on the dealer’s left is the first player to act and they have a choice of:
- Betting (this is No-Limit Hold’em so they can bet ANY amount they want)
- Checking (doing nothing basically).
If anyone decides to bet than the rest of the players have the option of:
- Calling (Putting the amount of the raise into the pot)
- Folding (Giving up the hand and all the chips they’ve already committed to the pot)
- Raising (Putting even more chips into the pot)
This continues until everyone has called or all the chips are in the middle.
From there the dealer puts three cards face-up on the board. These are community cards that anyone can use. This is called the flop.
Once again everyone still in the hand gets a chance to bet and consequently raise or fold. The dealer puts a fourth card on the table that anyone can use. This is called the turn.
Again everyone gets the chance to bet/check/raise/fold. The dealer puts a fifth card on the board that anyone can use. This is called the river.
For the final time everyone gets a chance to bet/check/raise/fold.
But What About the Big Blind and Small Blind?
You may have heard these terms before and they are indeed a part of No-Limit Hold’em. It’s not as complicated as you might think, however.
The small blind and big blind are both relatively small bets that the two players on the direct left of the dealer are forced to put in the pot before every hand starts. You’re forced to put them in without seeing your cards meaning you are “blind.”
You can think of them as an ante if that makes it easier for you. No-Limit Hold’em features blinds to increase the action in otherwise boring hands. Otherwise players could fold every hand with no consequences, which would be a problem.
How Does Bluffing Work in Poker?
Bluffing is an integral part of poker but as a beginner you don’t want to mess around too much with it unless you feel particularly confident.
How come? Well you’re still learning relative hand strength, which means you might not even know if you’re actually making a bluff or not. That’s not great.
There are a lot of other strategies you can work on before getting into bluffing.
All that said if you really want to start dipping your feet into the art of bluffing then we suggest the semi-bluff. That means you don’t just fire huge stacks with 2-7 offsuit and instead play hands that have the potential have hitting the board like 9-8 suited or a small pair.
Some Basic Poker Strategy
It’s one thing to understand the basic rules of poker but to actually succeed at the game is another.
You don’t want to waste a bunch of time losing so we’ll give you a few tips that will hopefully give you an edge over the other players who are just learning the game.
We’ll cover three different levels of strategy below — beginner, intermediate and advanced — but all the tips are basic enough for starting players to understand.
Here’s the best tip you’re going to get so listen closely: Play tight!
You should only be playing 18-20% of the hands at a standard nine-handed table. You generally want to be playing good hands when you are just starting out.
But what are good hands? You can start with 9-9, T-T, J-J, Q-Q, K-K, A-A and A-J, A-Q and A-K. You can loosen up that range if you’re playing against less than eight other opponents.
Try to avoid calling a lot
The call is one of the poker newbie’s favorite plays. It’s easy to understand why: New players aren’t sure what they actually have and whether it’s any good.
Rookie poker players would rather call than bet because they don’t want to risk even more on what might not be as strong a hand as they originally thought.
Here’s the thing about poker, however: Betting is much stronger than calling.
How come? You can win a pot without showing your cards by betting. You can’t do the same thing by calling. It’s that simple.
Furthermore experienced poker will take beginner poker players for a ride. Once an experienced poker player finds a good hand they’ll simply bet a moderate amount on every street as the rookie pays them off on every street.
For all these reasons it’s worth putting in a bet or re-raise in even if you don’t feel completely comfortable doing it.
Don’t get embarrassed if you lose a hand!
Poker has a way of making even the most experienced players look absolutely silly. It’s just the nature of the game.
You’re going to get caught with the worst hand. You’re going to lose big pots. You’re going to misplay your hand.
Sometimes when you’re learning that can lead to serious “Feels bad, man” moments. Don’t sweat it. Just keeping playing and working on your game. It will take some time to get the hang of it.
Sets and straights are especially valuable.
Without knowing the context of a played hand you can’t arbitrarily say what hand is going to win but there are hands than tend to win more than others.
Say you have pocket fives. The flop comes A-8-5. This is pretty much an ideal flop because your hand strength is very concealed. People are going to have a very hard time putting you on that exact hand and they may have even flopped a big pair of aces.
You can make the same argument about straights and full houses.
On the other hand there are hands that are difficult to conceal. If you’ve got trip fives (that’s one five in your hand and two on the board) then a lot of people are going to expect three-of-a-kind.
Same thing goes for flushes, which are very easy for even beginners to identify (although you might catch someone with a lower flush, which is great).
Position is very important in poker !
What’s position, you ask? That’s the order in which players are forced to bet/check. After the flop the order always starts with the player on the left of the dealer.
Generally it’s always best to go last because you get to see what everyone else in front of you is going to do. Here are the four biggest reasons to play in position:
Four Biggest Reasons to Play in Position:
- When it's your turn to act, you have more information than your opponents.
- Position gives you "bluff equity," meaning simple, cheap and effective bluffing opportunities.
- Acting last lets you make more accurate value bets.
- Having last action gives you control over the final pot size.
That means you might want to make a few more bets when the dealer’s button is in front of you since everyone else will have to go before you after the flop.
Don’t get too attached to good hands.
Pocket kings and pocket queens are very strong hands. The fact remains, however, that an ace on the flop can spell doom for you if you’re holding them.
An ace on the flop doesn’t necessarily mean the end for kings or queens but you should at the very least be cautious. Furthermore if the board has tons of flush cards or straight cards you should be wary no matter what your pocket hand is.
Be very careful when playing ace-queen.
You know how we said that sets and straights are fantastic because their value is concealed? Ace-queen is kind of the opposite in that it looks good but it tends to be a huge loser in an inexperienced players hands.
It is singlehandedly the biggest trouble hand in poker (with pocket jacks as a close second).
Why is ace-queen so bad? It just tends to happen that in really big pots ace-queen is a big loser.
Ace-queen gets dominated by ace-king when an ace lands on the flop and it can also fall prey to two-pair type hands quite easily.
Pocket jacks are also a troubling hand but they have much more value if you manage to get a flop with no overcards (aces, kings or queens).
Play the player.
Once you have the fundamentals down you should start to pay close attention to your opponents.
You might be surprised to learn that a large amount of poker reads don’t come from subtle physical “tells” (such as scratching your nose, or playing nervously with your chips) but instead from patterns.
If a player is betting all the time then the chances are they are playing some pretty crappy cards. Similarly if a player folds all the time then you can make the assumption they are only playing fairly strong hands.
This is very simplified but’s the basis behind reading other players, which is a pivotal part of poker.
Learn some basic poker odds
Poker involves math. You don’t have to be a numbers genius to improve your game however.
Just understanding the basic odds behind hitting certain hands can be very beneficial for people just starting out.
Here’s a really simple one for you: 221-1. That’s the odds of getting pocket aces. That means statistically you’ll only get aces on average every 221 hands. Puts things in perspective doesn’t it?
Here’s a guide to some of the most common odds you’ll run into in online poker or live poker:
- Being dealt a pair — 17-1 (5.9%)
- Being dealt aces — 221-1 (0.45%)
- Being dealt ace-king suited — 331-1 (0.3%)
- Flopping a set with a pocket pair — 8.5-1 (11.76%)
- Flopping two-pair (without a pocket pair) — 48-1 (2.02%)
- Making a flush by the river (flopped four of one suit) — 1.9-1 (35%)
- Making an open-ended straight by the river — 2.2-1 (32%)
- A full house by the river (flopped three-of-a-kind) — 2-1 (33%)
A Great Way to Get Up to Speed Fast
So you understand hand rankings and the basic game-play behind poker. What’s the next step? Playing some hands.
There’s no quicker way to get up to speed than playing a bunch of hands in a low stress environment. That is where online poker comes in. Heck, online poker sites even post your blinds for you!
You could wait until you have all your friends around for a home game but that might take some time and there’s a good chance play will move incredibly slow.
Instead a really great option is just picking up a free poker app. Most major poker sites have play money apps and their software is superb. Alternatively you just play Facebook poker or something similar.
The idea is to just play a bunch of hands and get comfortable with the flow of the game. You may get confused by a few things at first but the apps never make mistakes so you know the pot is going to the right player.
Once you’re comfortable you’ll probably want to retire the play-money app because people play very differently when they aren’t playing for money.
What are the best sites or apps that you can play poker on?
The best way to start playing is to get informed about the best online poker rooms that you can sign-up for. Here at Pokerlistings we proud ourselves with having the best custom bonuses for online poker players so take advantage and sign-up through our links.
If you are looking for a very good free poker app alternative to play on your tablet or phone our recommendation is definitely Appeak Poker. Try out for free on your mobile device or play directly on Facebook.