If you’re new to the game, you’ve got to get your head around the rules and learn how to play poker for beginners before you head to the table.
Whatever the films might have suggested, it’s not all about beautiful dealers and swilling cocktails – although that can help.
First things first: the game of poker includes several different card games. All of these games revolve around gambling on the value of your and your opponents’ cards, based on their rank and combination.
This means that when people talk about playing, they could be speaking about one of several types of games including Straight, Draw, Stud and Community Card. Of the four, Community Card is the most popular type.
Each of these game types has slightly different rules, and within each game are slightly different variants with different numbers of cards. Texas Hold’em and Omaha are the best-known variants of Community Card and the most important to know about it. Sounds confusing? Stay with us.
This variant of the game gets special mention because it’s probably the most popular form played today, and the one beginners learning how to play poker are most likely to encounter at their first time around a table.
In this variant, each player is dealt two cards and a total of five community cards will be placed in the middle to make up each player’s hand of five cards.
Limit and No-Limit
Most players start off playing No-Limit Texas Hold’em. In No-Limit, there is (unsuprisingly) no limit to how far you can raise your bet above the big blind. This means that you can go all-in if you want to, and make big bets as a bluff to intimidate your opponents. It also makes it easier to lose your bank roll quickly.
When you play Limit, the maximum amount you can bet is equivalent to the amount in the pot, so the bigger the pot, the higher you can raise. This means that big raises are not always possible at the beginning of the game when the pot is small, so bluffing is hard.
How to start a game
- First off, you need to pick a dealer. Each player will deal for one hand, moving to the player on the left each time.
- Second, you need to put out the small and big blind bets, the forced bets. The player to left of the dealer puts out the small blind and the player to their left puts out the big blind.
- Now you’re ready to deal. The dealer should deal clockwise, until every player has two cards, your hole cards.
- Then it’s the preflop betting round, where each player can look at their two hole cards and decide to fold (throwing away their hand), call (matching the big blind) or raise (doubling the big blind). Each player acts in turn, starting with the player to the left of the big blind.
- Next, the flop is dealt. The top card of the deck, the burn card, is dealt face-down and three face-up. Then another round of betting begins like before.
- After this is the turn. The dealers deals another two cards: one face-down, one face-up, and then a third round of betting begins but the miminum bet is doubled.
- If the game is still in play, the river comes next. This is dealt the same as the turn.
- Finally, there’s the showdown. The remaining players must show their hand for a winner to be determined.
Whatever type you’re playing, the game is all about getting the best cards you can in your hand. Regardless of how many cards you’re playing with, a hand will always have five cards.
Cards and hands have the same value and ranking across all variants, so whether you’re playing Texas Hold’em or Omaha, a 5 is always higher than a 3 and a Royal Flush will always top a Full House. The cards, from highest to lowest, will always rank in this order: A, K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2.
Note that an A can act as a low card in the place of “1” if it is part of a consecutive hand like A-2-3-4-5.
Building a good hand is about getting a set of cards that have the same suit or number or fall in consecutive sequence. The value of a hand is based on the probability of randomly selecting it from a shuffled pack. So, seeing as the chances of picking A, K, Q, J, 10 at random are very low, a Royal Flush is the most valuable hand.
You can see all ten hands and how they’re made up in rank order here:
There’s more to learning how to play poker than simply knowing the rules and the language. To become a force to reckoned with, there are a few beginners techniques you should get familiar with when you’re learning how to play.
Keeping a poker face
This doesn’t necessarily meaning meeting your opponent’s gaze with a stony and ruthless glare but rather masking your emotions, positive or negative, or even learning how to lay a false trail – but that’s when things get complicated.
Keeping a poker face is important because it reduces the amount of information your opponents can glean about the strength of your hand, making it harder for them to predict your moves.
Something like where you sit at the table can be very important and is often underestimated by beginners. Seats nearest to the dealer, on his left, are known as early positions and the seats further to the right, late positions.
Sitting in an early position means acting sooner in the game, before your opponents have acted and you have an idea of their hand. Playing in a high position is very favourable as you can one of the last to act in each round, giving you the benefit of seeing the whole hand played out first.
Other types of poker
There are a lot of types and variants in the game aside from Texas Hold’em, but if you’re going to learn how to play poker as a beginner, these three are probably the most useful:
Omaha is another community card game and probably the second most popular variant after Texas Hold’em.
The main difference in Omaha is that players are dealt four hole cards instead of just two and you must use two of them to make your hand plus three of the five community cards.
Stud is a different type of game to community card.
Each player will be dealt seven cards over the course of five rounds or “streets”. The first two and the last card are dealt face down and players make up their hand using five of their seven total cards. Unlike Texas Hold’em and Omaha, there are no shared community cards.
Razz is a variant of Stud but the main difference is that in this game, the lowest hand wins.
As with the usual Stud game, players make a hand using five of their own seven cards, but the best possible hand is 5-4-3-2-A.
Once you’ve got the rules down and know how to play poker, you’re ready to hit the table, but gone are the days when that meant green felt, casino lights and a cocktail in hand. With the birth of legal online gambling across Australia, you can now play freely online from your desktop or mobile and a lot of beginners prefer starting out that way.
Differences to table play
The game is essentially the same whether you’re playing at the table or online, with the same game types and variations, but the style and terminology can be a little different.
Playing at home usually means playing alone, which can be both an advantage and disadvantage. While it does allow you to dispense with keeping up a poker face, staring at a computer screen also means you can’t read any of your opponents’ reactions either. When all you have is a username and the speed of an opponent’s reactions to go by, you lose a lot of the psychology of the game and it can be difficult to call out a bluff.
One of the biggest differences in playing online is the use of features to speed up your play and limit your spending. Time bank, for example, limits the amount of time each player has to make a decision on their hand. Auto-check allows you to programme your computer to act automatically within set parameters, calling, raising or folding while you go for a break.
Most online poker rooms come with a chat room feature, allowing you to speak to other players in the same game. Beyond exchanging a joke and reminding a player that it’s their turn, a lot of players are part of a social online playing community, something which might be difficult to establish for players without a big local casino or poker room.
Playing offline may be less cutting edge, but it is more straight forward. Playing online can introduce technical problems like internet connection and speed, software functionality and device compatibility. Using technology to play online also has its limits: you can learn how the game works but you’ll never learn how to read it like a pro.