How to Play Poker

How to Play Poker

The Rules of Texas Hold'em Poker

A Brief History of Poker

While no one is absolutely sure about the developmental roots of Poker, it is generally accepted that Poker was first developed in the early to mid 1800’s around New Orleans. The game started to spread on the gambling riverboats of the Mississippi before gaining popularity through the rest of the USA and the World. Over the decades different varieties of the game have waxed and waned in popularity including Draw and Stud variants. The current most popular version of the game, Texas Hold’em, which utilizes “community cards”, is believed to have been introduced by a gambler by the name T. Blondie Forbes. Texas Hold’em maintained relative anonymity until the 1970’s when The World Series of Poker was first televised. Over the years, the Hold’em variant continued to grow in popularity until 2003. This year marked a tipping point in popularity for this version of poker when an unknown player, Chris Moneymaker, won $2.5 million dollars at the Main Event of The World Series of Poker. Since then, no other variant has come close to the popularity of Texas Hold’em, the most popular poker game in the world.

What is Poker?

So you want to learn how to play poker. At its simplest, Poker is a battle of wits between multiple “storytellers”. These “storytellers”, or players, armed only with cards, money, and a limited selection of words, try to convince their opponents that their cards are the best. At the same time, they attempt to read between the lines of the opponent’s story attempting to ascertain whose hand is actually superior. The winner of each hand wins the pot. Poker is a very simple game to learn; however, mastering the intricacies of play can take a lifetime.

The Basics

Most poker games are played with a standard deck of 52 cards. During each round of poker, each player is dealt cards with which they make the best poker hand they can. Between being dealt cards and revealing the hands, there is at least one round of betting. Relying on just the hand, poker strategy and some luck, each player tries to win the pot.

There are only 2 ways to win at poker:

  1. At the showdown, have the highest ranked poker hand, or
  2. Be the last player in the hand from either from scaring or bluffing your opponents into a fold

The showdown occurs when there is no clear winner after all the betting is complete. When this happens, the players that are still involved in the round compare their hands. The player with the best poker hand wins.

Game Types

Poker is the generic term for a card game that involves one or more rounds of betting. There are literally dozens of different variations of Poker games. Most poker variants fall into one of 3 classes: Draw, Stud and Community Card. The main difference between these poker games is how the cards are dealt. Draw games have players dealt private hands with an option to swap some cards for new ones from the main deck. In Stud games each player has their own hand, but some of the cards are dealt face up so everyone can see them. In a Community Card poker game, each player has a few face down cards to use in conjunction with face up “Community Cards”. The face up cards are shared by all players to make the best 5 card poker hand.

Betting Varieties

Similar to how poker games are classified in 3 main styles of game, there are 3 main betting variants that are played at most poker venues: Fixed Limit, No Limit and Pot Limit. While the basic rules of the poker game being played does not change with the betting variant, regardless if you are playing a cash game or in a tournament, the strategy one employs does.

Fixed Limit

Also known as Limit, there are restrictions on the bet size that can be made and will usually cap the number of raises allowed in each betting round. Normally in Limit games, there are 2 tiers of betting, the first tier, which is the lower of the 2 tiers, occurs during the first half of the betting rounds. The second tier, usually double the first tier, is for all subsequent betting rounds. In a game of Seven Card Stud, which has 5 rounds of betting, with the Fixed Limits being $20 for the first tier and $40 for the second tier, the game would be written as $20/$40 Limit Hold’em.

Pot Limit

While Pot Limit does restrict the amount a player can bet during any one action, there are no limits on how many times a betting round can be raised allowing for some exciting action and big pots. These games are normally written in some variation of $10/$20 PL X, with the two numbers representing the Small and Big Blinds respectively and the X being the poker variation that is being played (in a game of Omaha poker with the Small Blind at $1 and the Big Blind at $2, it would be written $1/$2 PL Omaha or $1/$2 PLO). The Big Blind is also normally the minimum bet size.

No Limit

No Limit games are exactly as described, no limit on either the bet amount or number of raises in any betting round. Most places you will play poker, whether live or online, do restrict any bets to the amount a player currently has in play on the table. Similar to Pot Limit, games are written as $1/$2 NL X where the $1 is the Small Blind, $2 is the Big Blind and the X is the game. If you were sitting at a Texas Hold’em table with the Small and Big Blinds at $5 and $10 respectively, the game would be written at $5/$10 NL Hold’em or $5/$10 NLHE. The Big Blind is usually the minimum bet size.

Spread Limit

A game where the betting structure is set as a range. Similar to Limit betting, the range during the first half of the betting rounds is usually lower than the second half. A Spread Limit game that offers a betting range of $1 to $10 to start and $1 to $20 in the second half would be written as $1 to $10, $20 on the end. The minimum raise in a game of Spread Limit is equal to the last bet – in a $1-$5 game, Player A bets $1, and Player B raises $3. If Player C chooses to raise, he can only raise $3, $4 or $5.

Half-Pot Limit

Identical to Pot Limit with the maximum bet capped at half the current pot as determined following the same formula as Pot Limit.

Cap Limit

Even more restrictive than Fixed Limits, Cap Limit restricts the maximum amount a player can put into a pot during a hand.. This variation can be played in combination with any of the above betting varieties. During betting when players reach the maximum allowed bet limit, the dealer ends the betting and deals out any remaining cards to complete the hand. If a table is playing Cap Limit, the cap is usually written as such in the game name such as $2/$4 ($100 cap)  NLHE, which would be a No Limit Hold’em game with a $2 Small Blind, $4 Big Blind and the most a player could be forced to put in is capped at $100.

How to Play - An Overview

When learning how to play poker, in addition to the general rules for poker above, there are some common terms that every poker player should know as they start learning the specifics of each variety of poker game. All of this information will make it easier to start developing your own basic poker strategy as you continue to learn how to play poker. For more information on what makes a strong poker strategy, if you want to know more than the basic poker rules, or how to start playing poker online, you should check out the GGPoker poker School.

Important Poker Terms

When learning how to play poker, in addition to the general rules for poker above, there are some common terms that every poker player should know as they start learning the specifics of each variety of poker game. All of this information will make it easier to start developing your own basic poker strategy as you continue to learn how to play poker. For more information on what makes a strong poker strategy, if you want to know more than the basic poker rules, or how to start playing poker online, you should check out the GGPoker poker School.

Basic Poker Strategy

Basic Poker Strategy

Poker has become popular because it combines strategy, psychology, and luck as you battle for dominance. As you learn how to play poker, and before you start playing, it is important to learn some basic poker strategies which will help increase your chances of winning. The first thing you should do is memorize the poker hand rankings. Many beginning players make mistakes when they think they have a winning hand but have either misread their cards or mixed up the hand rankings. Memorizing the hand rankings should be amongst the first things you do when learning how to play poker. Hand rankings can change depending on which variation of poker or the house rules you are playing so always check before you start. You can always review the basic hand rankings at our handy Poker Hand Rankings Guide if you need a reminder.

You should also learn some basic poker terms to help understand what is happening during each hand. Knowing the proper terminology for the allowed actions during play – Bet, Call, Raise or Fold – can prevent mistakes that can cause you to lose your stack or keep you from maximizing your victories. In addition to the basic terms in the section above, you can check out the GGPoker Poker Terms Page for more information.  It is also very important to familiarize yourself with the variation of poker you are playing. While Texas Hold’em, Omaha, and Short Deck follow the same basic format, albeit, with slight changes in the hand rankings, it is always a good idea, particularly in home games, to find out if there are any non-standard rules so you are not surprised by something strange.

Poker Tips for Beginners

Poker is predominantly a game of skill. While there is some luck involved, there is a reason the same players continue to dominate the game year after year. When you first start playing, learning the basic rules and figuring out what to do, never mind any strategy, can appear to be a daunting, if not impossible task. Whether you play in tournaments or cash games, here are some pro tips for everyone who is learning how to play poker:

Don't Play Every Hand

One common mistake made by most beginners is playing every hand. New players tend to ignore, or just do not understand, the probability of success of their hands or what their opponent may have. Sitting at a table with 5 opponents, on average, you will win 1 hand in 6. That means if you were to play every hand, you would lose 5 hands and only win 1. Establishing which hands to play and which to fold is one key to early success at poker.

Cards on the Table

Never lose focus on what cards you have been dealt as they are crucial to your success in any hand. Just as important is what the opponent has or could have. Poker is a game of incomplete information and losing focus on the information available – the Community Cards and how they could help your opponent – can cause you to overestimate your hand strength and lose a valuable pot. 

Don't Bluff Too Much

Another common misconception is you need to bluff to win. While bluffing does have its place, it is always a better strategy to play your hand well. As a beginning player you are unlikely to be aware of what tells you or your opponents have and without knowing, your bluffs are likely to be easily detected. Successful bluffing comes from practice and experience.

Think about Position

Table position and how it relates to poker strategy is particularly important in any poker game. While in Stud and Draw games where your position can change with the betting, in Texas Hold’em, Omaha or Short Deck it is especially important as your position does not change during the hand. As stated previously, poker is a game of incomplete information and being in a later betting spot allows you to see how other players bet and react to bet giving you more time and information on how to best play your hand.

Play for the Long Term

As a player who is still learning how to play poker, you are going to lose. Not all the time, but do not be surprised if you are losing most of the time. Don’t be discouraged by this, every player, at points during their career, even the all time greats, go through extended losing streaks. Sometimes the cards just don’t come in your favor. While it is frustrating when nothing seems to be going your way, you can still learn. 

Poker Tips for Intermediates

You feel like you understand the basics of the game and are ready to take it to the next level. To assist you in adjusting and advancing your strategy here are some intermediate tips:

Don't Play Every Hand

Once you have the basics of a strategy down to an art form, it is time to start taking your game to the next level. One thing that will assist greatly in fine-tuning your strategy is knowing the odds. Understanding the chances of a specific card or cards coming up on the turn or on the river can assist you in making the correct call, fold or raise.

Cards on the Table

While you should avoid bluffing as a beginner, learning how to bluff and how to detect a bluff is essential to becoming a great poker player. Bluffing is the art of convincing your opponent that you have a better hand than you actually do. The difficulty in being good at bluffing is how you are limited in ‘telling the story’. 

Don't Bluff Too Much

Raising puts pressure on your opponents. It can also get them to give up information they may not want you to know. As your poker prowess increases, raising more often can help you understand your opponents tendencies which will lead to a better understanding of not only when to raise for maximum effect, but also how much to raise.

Think about Position

As you become more experienced at poker, you should try expanding the range of cards you play. Start playing low pairs or a weak Ace when the pot is big enough to justify the risk. On occasion you could try playing even more unconventional hands which will, when you do make a winning hand, confuse your opponents.

Play for the Long Term

One key to advancing your poker strategy to the next level is to identify your opponents betting patterns and strategies. Through these patterns and your growth within the game, you can start to recognize which players are weakest. Learning to read their betting patterns, body movements and positions and poker faces will help you identify their tells and make your decisions even easier.

Poker Tips for Advanced Players

You’ve now mastered the basics and have a very strong understanding of the game. You’ve adjusted your strategy a number of times and are now ready to up your game yet again. Here are some tips to prepare you for what comes next:

Don't Play Every Hand

A deeper understanding of poker odds involves mathematical theory. While being able to pull formulas and equations from thin air may not be something you are comfortable with, mathematical theory is a key to improving your game. As a beginner or intermediate player you may have relied on a cheat sheet or calculator to help with the odds, it is time to start memorizing some of these charts. Having immediate access to this knowledge will help you with more complex decisions when you don’t have time to refer to your earlier notes and charts.

Cards on the Table

Once you are comfortable reading the atmosphere at the table, your opponents betting style, their movements and poker face…when you know who you are playing against, it could be time for some advanced bluffs. Many times a bluffing player will start the bluff during the pre-flop action and lose their nerve before the end. This is a costly mistake. When you choose to bluff, you should always do your best to see it to completion. If you are playing Texas Hold’em, make the decision you have Aces and play the entire hand as if you had those Aces.

Don't Bluff Too Much

The best teams don’t have just a good offense, they have a good defense too. In poker your defense is your poker face. Taking your game to the next level includes having control over yourself and your actions. No different than when you watch your opponents for tells, they are watching you. Take note of what your opponent does, what they are watching on you. Identify what they are noticing and eliminate them from your game.

Think about Position

The raise is one of the most effective tactics in poker when it comes to intimidating your opponents. Raising or re-raising can put the pressure back on your opponent. When anyone is under pressure they tend to make mistakes, particularly when there is a lot of money at stake.

Play for the Long Term

One of the best things about poker is there is always more to learn. You can continue to advance and refine your skills and game to the highest levels. Whether by reading on the subject or watching the pros in action on or any other place, there is always a way to learn more about this mind game.

How to Start Playing Online Poker

One of the easiest ways to start your journey into the world of online poker is with GGPoker. GGPoker offers a range of real money poker games and tournaments in a wide variety of formats and stakes to suit your skill level and preference. To start playing, all you need to do is download the app, sign-up and create your poker account for free, then select the online poker game you want to play.

Other Articles for Beginners

Whether you are still trying to learn, or if you have familiarized yourself with the game and established a basic strategy, there is always more you can know. Here are some articles you may find useful as you continue your journey through the world of live and online poker: poker terms, our strategy tips for every level of player, and an explanation of the poker hand probability. While you’re there, check out GGPoker’s Poker School!

Final Thoughts

The excitement of playing poker and winning that big pot or being crowned tournament champion can be exhilarating, it is easy to lose sight of the important things. So as a closing thought here are some “do nots”

  1. Don’t play above your limits
  2. Don’t play when you are not comfortable
  3. Don’t gamble money you do not have
  4. Don’t gamble drunk or tired
  5. Don’t treat your opponents poorly (be a gracious winner and loser)
  6. Don’t forget about the importance of friends and family, after all, they helped make you everything you are.

And most importantly, ALWAYS have fun and Play Responsibly