How to play online poker
How to play online poker
Since first being formalized around 200 years ago, poker has established itself as one of the most popular and most iconic casino games.
Although it is incredibly popular, there is still a large amount of mystique surrounding the game. It is often considered a highly complex, strategy-heavy game that only the most seasoned casino-goers can get to grips with.
This couldn’t be further from the truth, however, and in reality poker is an incredibly approachable game for players of all skill and experience levels.
There are a number of great online poker sites, and if you are looking to learn how to play poker online, or even how to make money from the game, keep reading the following beginner’s guide for a brief rundown of the basics of this classic card game!
How do you win a game of online poker?
Although it is often presented as a highly complex game of tactics and strategy, winning at poker is relatively simple. All you need to do is have the highest hand that has been dealt by the live dealer when all cards are down and turned face up. Until this point, all hands remain hidden by the players, which is where the tactics, bluffing and strategies come in!
In a game of Texas hold’em, this phase of the game is known as the ‘showdown’. This involves all players placing their cards face up, allowing the dealer to declare who has the best hand. Another scenario that might play out to end the game is where one player makes a wager, and no further calls are made by other players – i.e. they choose not to challenge the bet. This is a signal that no one else believes that they have a strong enough hand to win and so they have stopped making bets.
All the money from the bets is put into a communal ‘pot’, which the winner of the round will take.
Poker hand rankings
Before you move on to learning advanced strategies and tactics for online poker, one of the most useful things you can do is familiarize yourself with the different ‘hand’ types you will come across. The ‘hand’ essentially refers to the cards you get dealt and how they compare with what other players have. Not all hands are created equal, however, and there is a hierarchy in terms of their strength.
Below is a ranking of the hands in a standard Texas hold’em game. There are 10 in total, and it is absolutely essential that you familiarize yourself with them before playing.
- Royal flush: The most powerful, and therefore most desirable, hand. A royal flush cannot be beaten and consists of the most powerful cards belonging to the same suit. This hand contains the Ace, King, Queen, Jack, and 10 card, all of which must be from the same suit.
- Straight flush: A straight flush consists of five cards in a sequence from the same suit – for example, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9. In the event of a tie between players, the hand with the highest rank at the top of the sequence wins.
- Four of a kind: This consists of four cards of the same rank with an additional ‘kicker’ card. In the event of a tie between players, the hand with the best ‘kicker’ card wins.
- Full house: This consists of three cards of the same rank – such as three kings – and two cards of a matching rank – such as two 10 cards. If there is a tie, the player with the highest three matching cards wins.
- Flush: A flush consists of five cards of the same suit. If there is a tie, the player with the highest-ranked card wins.
- Straight: If you are dealt five cards in a sequence not belonging to the same suit, this is called a ‘straight’. If there is a tie, the hand with the highest-ranking card will win.
- Three of a kind: A three of a kind consists of three cards of the same rank, along with two other cards. If a tie breaks out, the hand with the highest other two cards wins.
- Two pair: This essentially consists of two pairs of cards from a matching rank and two other cards from another rank – for example, a hand with two 8 cards and two 6 cards.
- Pair: Two cards of a matching rank along with three additional cards.
- High card: This is essentially any hand that does not meet any of the hands above. In the event of a tie between players, the hand with the highest single card will win.
Dealing cards, making bets, and the action during rounds
Once the cards have been dealt to all the players and everyone at the table is familiar with their hands, the game can get properly underway. In a clockwise sequence around the table, each player will be given the opportunity to take a number of actions during the betting round.
When it is your turn, you will be given the following options:
- Bet: Players make a bet if no other player has made a bet during the current round. Once the initial bet has been made, the other players at the table will ‘call’ that bet by matching the amount. This allows them to stay in the round.
- Call: You can make a ‘call’ if other players have bet during the current round. This essentially sees you matching the highest bet made – i.e. you are ‘calling’ them.
- Raise: A player can make a raise if the other players have placed a bet during the round. This requires you to make a bet that exceeds the highest bet made in that round so far. Once this is done, all subsequent players will be required to make a further raise to stay in the hand.
- Check: If you ‘check’, you are essentially declaring that you don’t want to make a bet. You can ‘check’ if there has been no bet made during the current round. By making a ‘check’, the action passes clockwise to the next person in line to declare their betting intentions. If a situation breaks out where all players make a check, all players remain in the hand and the round is completed.
- Fold: If you want to forfeit your cards as you believe that you can’t win, you will call ‘fold’. This essentially exits you from that betting round.
In terms of how the rounds play out, there will be some slight variations depending on the game type. Texas hold’em is by far the most popular variation, and essentially has an identical betting structure to Omaha.
In Texas hold’em, there is ‘pre-flop’ and ‘post-flop’ betting. Pre-flop bets are made before any community or face-up cards are dealt. Betting on the flop happens once the first three community cards have been issued. You can bet on the ‘turn’ once the fourth community card has been issued. Betting after the final community card is called betting on the ‘river’.
Are there limits on how much I can bet?
What limits there are on how much you can bet will generally depend on the specific variation you are playing. If you are playing free online poker, this will usually be made clear to you before you enter a game.
Games with a ‘no-limit’ betting structure mean that players can bet or raise by any amount they choose. This could include putting their entire bankroll on the line in any betting round – though this tactic is quite rare!
Other games might have a ‘pot limit’. This means that players can bet or raise by any amount they choose up to the size of the pot itself. Obviously, the size of the pot will change between rounds, so as the game progresses, this betting limit will also change.
Fixed-limit online poker games, on the other hand, have a fixed betting structure. This means that players can bet or raise by any amount up to that limit and can never exceed it. This is usually set well in advance and will be made clear to any players looking to join the match.
How do I know when to bet?
Knowing when to bet is arguably the most important factor when you are playing poker online. In fact, it is the very essence of poker itself!
Like many other casino games, online poker is essentially a game of statistics and mathematics. It is about trying to figure out how strong the hand you have been dealt is when compared to the other players at the table. Unfortunately, however, you do not have all the information needed to make a decision on this basis, which is where guessing, bluffing and strategy comes in!
Unless you are intending to make a complete bluff bet – i.e. make a bet that indicates that you are more secure in your hand than you actually are – you should always hold off on betting or, at the very least, make more modest bets in order to remain in the game.
This is where an ability to read the table comes in. Be sure to take note of the community cards, as well as how the other players are betting. This is all valuable information that will help you get a sense of what kinds of hands the other players might have.
What different types of poker are there?
Although we tend to refer to ‘poker’ in a generic sense, in reality there are numerous different types of poker. Each of these variations will differ considerably in terms of how the game is played and what sort of playing experience it will bring.
Here is a brief rundown of some of the most popular versions of online poker casino games:
- Texas hold’em: Texas hold’em poker is by far the most popular variation and is played across the world by both professional and casual players. Players get dealt two pocket or hole cards, with five community cards revealed at the start of the game. There will be four rounds of betting, with bets placed after the hole cards are dealt, and then after the community cards are sequentially revealed. These steps are referred to as the flop, the turn, and the river. Players win by making the best hand with their hole cards and the community cards.
- Omaha: This is a variation of Texas hold’em and will usually be played by between two and 10 players at once. There are four rounds of betting, with each player getting dealt four hole cards. The five community cards are on display from the get-go and players must make their best five-card hand from two of their hole cards and three of the community cards. There are ‘high’ and ‘low’ variations of Omaha.
- Seven-card stud: This was previously the king of poker variations before Texas hold’em became the dominant variation. Individual players receive a seven-card hand, with some of the cards being face up and in public view. As the rounds progress and more cards are dealt, players will try to make their best five-card hand out of their face-up and face-down cards.
- 2-7 triple draw: Players are dealt an individual five-card hand that remains hidden for the duration of the game. Players are given three draw attempts to try to make their best low hand. Straights and flushes will count against a low hand, and Aces will always be considered high rather than low.
- Five-card draw: Players try to make the highest five-card poker hand. Players are all dealt a five-card hand that remains hidden at all times. This makes it considerably more strategic than other variations.
What are some tips for beginner poker players?
Although it is not necessarily the most complex game, figuring out how to play online poker can often be an intimidating affair for new players. With that said, here are a few quick tips that will help to boost your confidence on the playing table:
- Read the table: Always pay attention to what is going on around the table during the game. Take note of the dispositions of players and how they are reacting to different events. Always be fully aware of what cards are on the table and, most importantly, your own hand!
- Play against weaker players: A solid tip when you are trying to build up your skills is to try to play against people who are a skill level below you. Score some easy wins to boost your confidence and familiarize yourself with the rules. Stepping into a shark tank on your first go is an easy way to blow your bankroll!
- Know the rules: Although this is an obvious tip, you would be surprised at how often new players jump into games at the best online casino sites without knowing the rules of the variation they are playing. Never dive into a game if you are unfamiliar with a variation.
- Watch your online poker bankroll: The cardinal rule for online poker is that you can only ever play as long as your bankroll will support it. Always keep an eye on how much you have left to play with and always set daily limits on how much you are willing to play. Even if you are only playing poker for fun, this is still an important tip to keep in mind.