Complete Beginner's Guide to Learning Poker Fast
First things first, if you want to learn how to play poker you should start by learning Texas Hold'em. It’s one of the easiest poker rules to learn to play but it's also fun, challenging and rewarding. Texas Hold'em is also (by far) the most popular poker game in the world so you won't have a hard time finding people to play with.
Learning the Basic Hand Rankings
Before we get started with the basics of how to play poker you should get familiar with the basic poker hand rankings. Maybe 90% of all beginner mistakes happen when someone thinks they have the winning poker hand and they don't.
You can consult the hand ranking guide through the link above 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.
Poker Positions at the Table
The second thing you should familiarize your self with before we jump into how to play a basic poker round is the poker positions at the table. Because poker can traditionally be be played by anywhere from 2-10 players at a single table, it also means that seating's come with disadvantages and advantages. The poker positions at a table will change according to where the button and blinds are (they rotate clockwise after each round). But here is the gist:
- Seat 1: Big Blind (BB)
- Seat 2: Small Blind (SB)
- Seat 3: The Button (BTN)
- Seat 4: The Cutoff (CO)
- Seat 5: The Hijack (HJ)
- Seat 6: The Lojack (LJ)
- Seat 7: Early Position (EP)
- Seat 8: UTG+1
- Seat 9: UTG
How to Play Poker Step by Step
In the first stage of the game, also called the Pre-Flop. The player left of the dealer will put in the small blind and the player left of the small blind will put in big blind. When both players have put their forced bets in front of them the cards are dealt. All players gets two cards face down, one at a time starting from small blind. When every player has got both their cards the player left of the big blind starts the first betting round where players can either fold, call or raise the stakes.
The next stage of the game is called the Flop and here three community cards are dealt on the table with faces up. Any player can use these cards in a combination with their hand to make their best five card poker hand. Once the community cards have been dealt it’s time for another betting round. From here and until the the whole hand is completed, the player in the small blind will start the action. If the player in small blind has folded, it is the first person left of the small blind who still have cards that starts the action.
In the third stage, called the Turn, an additional community card is added to the table making it a total of 4 cards with faces up. Once that 4th card has been dealt it’s time for the 3rd betting round.
The fourth and final stage, called the River is the round that will reveal the 5th and final community card. This is the last betting round so players have to make a decision if they want to continue to “the showdown” with their poker hand or not.
Once the last betting round is over it is time for the Showdown. This is where the cards go on the table and the player with the best 5 poker hand is declared the winner of the game.
Additional Information About Poker Rounds
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 to:
- Bet (this is No-Limit Hold’em so they can bet ANY amount they want)
- Check (doing nothing basically).
If anyone decides to bet then the rest of the players have the option to:
- Call (Match the amount of the raise into the pot)
- Fold (Give up the hand and all the chips they’ve already put in the pot)
- Raise (Put even more chips into the pot)
This continues until everyone has called or all the chips are in the middle.
Once the first betting round in complete the dealer deals 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. Once that betting round is complete he 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.
If more than one player is still left in the hand after the final betting hand the cards are exposed and the player with the highest ranked hand wins the pot. Learn more about How to Determine the Winning Poker Hand in our Which Hand Wins Calculator.
If you want to learn more about playing Texas Holdem specifically, check out our guide on how to play Texas Hold’em. Another good idea for getting started is by making yourself familiar with some of the most common poker terms.
Basic Poker Video Tutorial
What are the Blinds in Poker?
You may have heard the term "Blinds" before and they are indeed a part of No-Limit Hold’em. But they're not as complicated as you might think.
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 Bluffing in Poker Works
Bluffing is an integral part of poker (although less than you might think) but as a beginner you don’t want to mess around too much with it unless you feel particularly confident. 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. (We'll walk you through some of them below).
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 bets with 2-7 offsuit but instead play hands that have the potential to hit the board and make a hand even if you're called.
Top 5 Beginner Mistakes in Poker
How to Play a Poker Tournament
There are two distinct forms of No-Limit Holdem poker:
- Cash Games
A cash game is a poker game that has a minimum and maximum buy-in for the table and set blinds that never change. Eg. $1/$2 blinds with a $20 minimum and $200 maximum buy-in. All players must play with only the money in front of them at the table but they can get up and leave at anytime. If a player loses all his money he or she can go get more and retake a seat at the table.
A poker tournament, on the other hand, has a set buy-in amount and all of the money players pay to play is collected into a prize pool (minus a small percentage fee for the organizers. Multiple players are used to accommodate all the players and everyone begins with the same starting stack of chips.
The blinds start small but then increase in increments over time. That forces players to make moves or they'll run out of chips. As players lose all their chips the tables are combined until just one table remains.
The player at that table who collects all the chips from other players is the winner of the tournament. The top 10-15% of the finishing players are paid an ascending share of the prize pool (as pre-determined by the tournament organizer) with the winner collecting about 25-30% of the total.
If you want to learn more on How to Play a Poker Tournament we recommend you check our Poker Tournament pages here:
How to Play Better Poker With Basic 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 also just learning how to play poker. 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.
Top Beginner Tips for Learning Poker
Here’s the best poker tip you’re going to get so listen closely: Don't play very many hands! 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.
Also: 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 players 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.
Also check out our complete How Not to Suck at Poker guide for beginners.
Intermediate Poker Tips
Without knowing the context of a hand you can’t arbitrarily say what hand is going to win but there are hands that 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. Read more about position in our guide on How to Play in Position.
Some more intermediate poker pointers:
- 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).
Advanced Poker Tips
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 poker “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%)
How to Play Poker Online
So now you understand the basics of how to play 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 signing up for a poker account online or downloading a free poker app. Most major poker sites have great play money apps and their software is superb.
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 online poker for real money.
The best way to start playing is to get informed about the top card rooms you can play in. Here at Pokerlistings we pride ourselves on having the highest poker sign-up bonuses for online poker players so take advantage and sign-up through our links!
Our top recommendation for playing poker on your desktop or mobile device is 888 Poker. If online poker is still new to you, feel free to check out our complete guide on how to get started playing poker online.
How to Play Poker at a Land Based Casino
If you're more interested in playing poker in a live setting (meaning with real people and an actual dealer), there are numerous casinos and card rooms around the country (and the world) waiting for you. You of course have to be of the legal age where you live to play but walking into a real, live poker room can be one of the most thrilling and stimulating experiences ever!
If you've never done it before it can be a bit intimidating so we've put together an easy guide with a few tips for your first time playing poker at a casino. Read it here:
How to Play Private Poker Games
If you prefer to invite your friends for a home game, follow the link to find a bunch of online poker sites that allow you to create private clubs and home games for just you and your friends / your invitees. We also have a series of articles on how to host the perfect home game, from start to finish - starting with the following: