How To Play Poker

As Mike Sexton says at the beginning of every episode of the World Poker Tour: “It takes a minute to learn, but a lifetime to master.” Ask any experienced poker player, and they'll tell you that's true. Learning the rules of poker, hand rankings, and basic strategy isn't complicated, but the only way to master the game is to play. We'll give you some of the foundations to begin your poker journey, but then the rest is up to you. Find your style and build a poker persona.

Poker Basic Rules

While there are many poker variations, you're likely interested to learn the most popular form of online poker and the poker game made famous by the biggest poker tournament in the world – the W.S.O.P. This type of game is called Texas Holdem. The goal of this game is to create a 5-card hand that beats your opponents. Using standard card hand ranking, this goes from the lowest hand: high-card to the highest hand ranking: royal flush. To get to grips with the hand ranking in poker, it's crucial first to study the order of hands, which are valued as below:

Texas Holdem Hand Rankings:

  • High Card
  • One Pair
  • Two Pair
  • Three of a Kind (AKA Trips)
  • Straight
  • Flush
  • Full House
  • Four of a Kind (AKA Quads)
  • Straight Flush
  • Royal Flush

** Mastering the art of Poker in Vegas: A comprehensive tutorial for beginners, with a visual guide.

To start, make sure you know these hand rankings by heart. There have been many rookie poker players heartbroken because of something as simple as misreading the ranking of a straight and flush. Once you have those poker hand rankings down pat, we can move on to some other game elements you must understand.

Dealing the Cards

After the blinds have been placed, each player is dealt two cards – their hole cards, which they will use to complete a hand. After an initial betting round, three community cards are dealt on the table (the Flop.) Players use these three cards to make their best five-card hand. But, if a five-card hand still needs to be completed, there are still two more chances to fill a hand. For example, if a player has a J and a Q, and the Flop is 9,10, and 7, they have a four-card straight (which is not complete.) To make a five-card straight, they need to hit either a K or an 8 on the following two cards. After the Flop, the dealer reveals the Turn card. Then after a round of betting, the last card (River card) is dealt. With the Flop, Turn, and River all dealt on the table. Players can now determine whether they have a 5-card hand.

Poker Blinds

It's likely that before playing poker, you'll have seen a game or two on T.V. You'll notice that even before players see their dealt hands, there is already money or poker chips in the pot. These are called blinds and antes. To create action in a poker pot, there has to be money to play for. Who pays an obligatory blind is decided by taking turns. A “Blind” is moved around the table, and the players on the Blinds immediately left to pay the Small and Big Blind. The size of the big blind is determined by the minimum bet in the cash game or poker tournament. For example, in a cash game where the minimum bet is $2, the Big Blind will be $2, and the Small Blind will be $1. In a poker tournament, if the minimum bet is 1,000 poker chips, the Big Blind will be 1,000. As we'll see, the blinds are crucial to getting betting action kicked off and strategizing the size of bets and raises. But we'll get into that a little later.

Poker Antes

A poker ante is also an obligatory poker chip that's put into the pot so that there is money to play for and get the action going. But the poker ante is put into the pot by every player. Poker antes are only sometimes part of a poker game. In cash game poker, the ante is usually a feature only if all players agree. In tournament poker, the ante is generally added in the game's later stages. An ante will be less than the minimum bet.

No Limit Hold'Em Vs. Limit Hold'Em Poker

There is quite a big difference between No Limit and Limit poker. While the hand rankings and rules are the same, the strategy when playing No Limit or Limit Texas Holdem poker is a world apart.

The Cadillac of Poker: No Limit Texas Holdem

Called the Cadillac of poker, No Limit Hold 'em is undoubtedly the game that requires the most skill. But it is also a game where you're liable to lose all of your cash and poker chips on the turn of a card. In No Limit Holdem, there is a maximum bet amount, meaning a player can bet their entire stack at any time. The excitement of this form of poker is that you can exert pressure on your opponents and employ a very aggressive style. The No Limit Poker craze goes back much further than the poker boom of the early 2000s when Chris Moneymaker's big W.S.O.P. win made half the population a poker enthusiast. In 1979 the legendary poker player Doyle Brunson published his “bible of poker” – the Super System. The book that many pro poker players wished had never been written, Brunson's book laid bare some of the poker tactics and strategies that are now common in any poker player's No Limit Texas Hold 'em arsenal. The most common weapon in No Limit Hold'em is the “All In.” As there is no maximum bet in this form of poker, players who are willing to put their opponents to the test often push All-In. It's a great way to bluff, as most players are not willing to risk their entire stack, and it's also an effective way to win lots of chips – as many players will call huge bigs thinking their bluffs. Doyle Brunson's book is mainly responsible for making No Limit Poker the most popular form of poker on the planet. However, for the poker player more interested in the long-run and slowly building a stack, No Limit Poker can be as heartbreaking as it is full of thrills.

Mastering No Limit Texas Holdem: A Comprehensive Tutorial for Beginners with Visual Guide

Limit Texas Holdem Poker

Many pros, such as Puggy Pearson, have pointed out that to win in the long term, however skilled a poker player you may be, Limit Holdem Poker is a much wiser choice. You can do everything right when playing No Limit Texas Hold 'em and still get a bad beat, putting your bankroll at risk. While in Limit Holdem, the bets are limited. There are usually a maximum of 4 raises per betting round unless there are only two players in the pot (heads-up), and the maximum bet is limited. For example, in a $5/10 game of Limit Texas Holdem, the most you can bet or raise your opponent will be $10. Because there is no All-In bet in the Limit Poker variation, your stack will never be at stake (unless you only have a stack equal to one bet.) Overall, for cash game poker, the Limit Holdem Poker game is a great way to try and build a bankroll. By playing a straight game of poker and solid hands like A.K., A.A., AK, K.K., Q.Q., J.J., Q.J., and other pairs, overall, you have much more chance at winning in the long run.

Poker Betting Action

Understanding the mechanics of the betting action in poker is crucial. The essential list of actions you can make in a poker game are:


This is when you match a poker opponent's bet to progress with the betting round.


After an opponent has made a bet, a player has the option the raise. If, for instance, Player A has bet $10 in a game of No Limit Holdem Game, Player B can raise any amount to the limit of their whole stack. Raising, and how much a player raises, is the critical ingredient in poker strategy.


Players choose not to play a hand and fold their cards into the “muck, ” meaning they cannot proceed with the betting rounds.


During a betting round, if poker players opt not to bet but want to see the following cards for free, they “check” the action.

Poker Stakes And Limits

Cash Game Poker Stakes

When entering an online poker cash game lobby, you'll see a list of poker tables available to play. The standard format is to see the tables listed by their stake, such as 50c/$1, $1/$2, $10/$20, and so on. These stakes indicate the minimum bet and Big Blind amount being played at the table. So, if you were to sit down at a $1/2 poker game, the minimum bet and B.B. for that game is $2. Depending on the online poker site you choose to play at, the poker table stakes can vary widely – depending on the traffic, population of players, and tables made available by the operator. Playing at some of the biggest online poker rooms like Pokerstars, you'll see a wide range of poker games going on 24/7, from very low-stake poker games like 5c/10c games up to the high-stake poker games played by pros, such as $50/100 and $100/200 stake games.

Mastering Poker: A comprehensive tutorial for beginners with a visual guide.

Poker Tournament Stakes

One of the reasons poker tournaments are so popular is because once a player has put down their buy-in, it's a level playing field. But the buy-in for poker tournaments varies. At many online poker sites, constant M.T.T. or Multi-Table poker tournaments are going on for less than a dollar, most commonly in the region of $10-50. Even at those stakes, there can be nice prize pools to win. Land-based poker tournaments tend to have larger registration fees and buy-ins because the players are not as recreational. To give some idea of the variety of poker buy-ins for tournament poker, here are the buy-in amounts for some well-known poker tournaments:

  • WSOP Main Event – $10,000
  • Pokerstars Sunday Millions – $250
  • BetMGM $10K Gtd Daily MTT – $109 (Rebuy available)

When you have paid your tournament's buy-in, the game's stakes go up within a specific timeframe. In bigger, high-stakes M.T.T. Poker tournaments, the Blinds usually go up every hour or so. But in the smaller stake poker tournaments (mainly online), the Blinds can go up every few minutes, which speeds up the action.

Sit and Go Poker games

A format of poker that's become very popular since online poker took off in the early 2000s is Sit And Go poker. A single table poker tournament, usually played at stakes of between $5-$50, in the traditional version, players play down to the final 3 (in a 9-seat game) or 2 (in a 6-seat game). The prize pool is distributed between the final players (with the 1st-place winner usually getting 60% of the prize pool). The SnG Poker format is a great way to learn the ropes and familiarize yourself with the game's mechanics, as they can be played for small stakes, allowing players to build their bankroll and limit the risk.

Other Poker Variations

In the past few years, there have been other variations of poker that have become increasingly popular. Made available to play at relatively low stakes by PokerStars and Full Tilt poker rooms online, games like Omaha Poker and mixed games such as H.O.R.S.E. have given players who prefer a bit more variety and complexity than the basic Texas Holdem Poker format a great way to hone their skills.

Omaha Poker

Similar to Holdem Poker, the main difference with Omaha poker is that players get dealt four hole cards. These cards can be used in any combination to make a 5-card poker hand abiding by Holdem's standard poker hand rankings. The poker strategy has to be adapted to this game, as the value of a starting hand drastically changes compared to that of a Texas Holdem starting hand. For example, a perfect starting hand in Omaha would be something like A.K.K.Q., or even J10QQ, as the possibilities of filling a hand increase. Find more information in our omaha poker guide.

Omaha Hi/Lo Poker

The lowball form of poker has a cult following, and for a good reason. In the hi/low poker game, players are looking to make a hand as per the poker hand rankings above, but also a lowball poker hand – where the ranking is essentially reversed. A top lowball poker hand would be A235. Players must avoid making straight and have the lowest possible combination. The best starting hand in Omaha Hi/Lo would be something like AA23. Most often, Omaha poker is played as Pot-Limit, meaning players can bet up to the limit of the money or poker chips in the pot. For example, if there is $100 in the pot, the max bet a player can make is $100. Read our guide on omaha poker tips and our tips and tricks for omaha hi/lo poker.

Mastering Poker: Comprehensive tutorial for beginners, featuring visual guide.

Seven Card Stud Poker

One of the most popular forms of poker until Texas Holdem took the poker world by storm, 7-Card Stud is similar to Texas Holdem, except there are no community cards. Players are dealt two hole cards, but the following cards are dealt face-up until a player makes their 5-card hand. Playing seven-card stud poker, you need to be very observant and read the other poker player's open-faced cards to try and determine if your hand can beat theirs.

Short Deck Holdem Poker

Short Deck Poker is a new format of poker popularized by high stakes players, who enjoy the increased betting action. In Short Deck poker, the rules are the same as Texas Holdem, but all of the 2s-5s in the deck are removed, so players play with a 36-card deck. Of course, the value of hands changes drastically, and you're more likely to see huge hands compete for a pot. Depending on where you play Short Deck poker, some poker sites or casino poker rooms change the rules to give three-of-a-kind a higher value than a straight. So, if you dare to jump into this action-packed form of poker, ensure you're fully versed in the rules.

How To Win At Poker?

As poker online and offline has increased in popularity since the early 2000s, the skill level has changed drastically. Whereas poker pros could usually make a living playing online poker against amateurs, the term amateur doesn't mean what it used to mean: amateur poker players today are likely to have as much skill as the pros had back in the day. If you watch a film like Rounders these days, the strategy and poker wisdom dished out by Matt Damon doesn't sound quite as impressive since what used to be the tricks of the trade are now common knowledge. Here are some pieces of sound advice, though, for anybody starting on that exciting and rocky path of poker:

Poker Bankroll Management

So often overlooked, the key to being a steady and long-term winning poker player is to ensure you only play with 10-15 % of your bankroll at any time. However great a poker player is, any player – even the poker savants such as Stu Unger – will go broke if they sit down with 100% of their bankroll in a cash game or lump their entire bankroll on one poker tournament.


We live in impatient times. But when sitting at the poker table, be prepared to wait a long time before getting involved. Some players want action on every single hand and will likely be at the table for a while. Think of poker as more like fishing. You're waiting for that one hand to turn the table and make you chip leader.

Avoid Coin Flip Situations

In poker tournaments, you will inevitably have to bet your chips and face a coin-flip situation. A coin flip is when a player is all-in and has a hand with a 50% chance of winning. For example, a classic coin-flop matchup is A.K. Vs. Q.Q. When all-in before the Flop, these two hands have an equal chance of winning the hand. While it becomes inevitable in M.T.T. tournament poker, you should avoid these situations in cash games if you want to avoid putting your whole stack at risk in a single hand of Texas Holdem Poker.

Real Money Slots F.A.Q.S

Can I win by playing poker online?

Playing poker online or offline, winning is determined by several factors. If you have learned the rules of poker and understand the game after getting some experience playing either for free or for real money, you have a good chance of winning playing poker. However, it is challenging to win overall at poker over time, as players online have become highly skilled over the past few years. Choosing a suitable poker game, at the right time, against the right poker players can make all the difference to winning and losing in the long run. Don't just jump into the first poker game you find.

What's the difference between a poker Cash game and a poker tournament?

In a poker cash game, the money on the table has the same currency value as indicated on the chip. A $2 poker chip on a real money cash table is worth $2 in real money. When you sit down at a poker cash game table with $1000, the value of your buy-in is the same. In a poker tournament, all players buy in for the same amount and play for a prize-pool amount, as players are knocked out of the M.T.T. For example, if you buy in with $100 for a Multi-Table Tournament, you might sit at the table with 5,000 Poker Chips, but the 5,000 has no real-money value.

How do I sign up to play real money poker?

It is easy to sign up at casino sites with poker rooms like BetMGM Casino or famed poker-focused sites like Pokerstars. After signing up, you can take advantage of their Poker Welcome Bonus, which can be converted into real cash when you have wagered or raked the required amount.

How do I know which kind of game to play?

It's a good idea to explore a poker site before putting down real money. Try out the different forms of poker either for free play or very low stakes, like Cash Games at 5c/10c, or low buy-in poker tournaments like 50c or $1 games, plus low stake Sit and Go poker games where you can buy for as little as 50c. Play the different Texas Holdem games, find what you're more comfortable playing, and stick with that format until you want to move on. Many players progress from tournament poker to cash game poker or switch between the two varieties.

Is Texas Holdem poker the only type of poker online?

At many poker sites online, you will find that Texas Hold 'em poker is the predominant poker variation on offer. It may be that they do not offer other variants like Omaha Poker or 7-Card Stud poker, but they also might be that they need more traffic to those games for you to get a game. Suppose you're more interested in poker variants, like Omaha. In that case, it is recommended that you register to play at one of the big poker sites like Pokerstars, where a wide variety of games are available. There are nearly always tables available at the Omaha, Stud, and Lowball varieties of poker games.

What is a poker rake?

Because a poker site or casino has no house edge in poker and players play against each other, casinos and online poker sites make money by taking a percentage of each pot (usually if it's over a certain amount, like $10), or they take a fee for each tournament registration. For example, if a poker site takes a 2% Rake from a Cash game, if you win a $100 pot, the poker site will take a $2 rake.

Do poker sites run promotions?

Poker sites online tend to run multiple incentives to get players playing, such as the popular cashback offer for poker players. Poker players have often been awarded a percentage of their rake back as cashback when they have played a certain number of hands or wagered an amount.

Are there online poker V.I.P. programs?

Yes, sites like Pokerstars run excellent poker V.I.P. schemes, where players progress from Bronze-Platinum, earning points that they can then cash in for rewards like poker tournament tickets, cash prizes, or things like hoodies and poker merch.

Can I play the W.S.O.P. of poker online?

The famous W.S.O.P. Poker tournament is land-based and played annually in Vegas. The Main Event has a $10,000 entry fee. However, online poker sites usually run Satellite Tournaments. Players can beat other players to parlay their way into a ticket to a Live Poker Event like the W.S.O.P. in Las Vegas.

Is it easy to deposit at an online poker site?

For U.S. poker players, making a deposit to play at an online poker room will largely depend on the state you live in or are playing from. Check the poker sites licensed in the United States. If you reside within a licensed state, depositing at an online poker site is the same as depositing at any online casino. You will be asked to verify your details. Once verified, most poker sites have the usual payment methods and banking options available, such as PayPal, Neteller, Visa/Mastercard, American Express, Skrill, and a variety of e-wallets.