Poker Rules & Basic Strategies Explained: Learn How to Play Poker
While the term poker is often used in the modern-day to refer to the most popular poker game, Texas Hold’em, it can actually refer to a wide range of games that have some similarities but also quite a few differences.
If you are the kind of poker fan who enjoys the World Series of Poker, you have probably seen that the players there play a lot more than just Texas Hold’em, with about a dozen other poker games also in the mix.
Yet, there are quite a few things that are shared between all poker variations and some poker rules that apply in practically every form of the game.
If you are new to the game and want to learn how to play poker, this poker guide will explain all the basics that you need to know.
However, don’t expect this guide to be all you need to know, as I will only cover the sheer poker basics in it and not delve too deep into the strategies you will need to win in every type of poker out there.
Poker Rules for Different Variations
Before you learn how to play poker, you need to understand that there are many different ways to play poker and that none of them are wrong.
The game has evolved over the years, with players in different places in the world and different periods of time playing different types of poker.
To be considered a true poker master these days, you must be good in at least a few individual poker variations, although some specialists are also considered to be among the best.
If you are new to poker and don’t yet know what games are out there, here is a quick list of some of the more popular poker rules and variations you should be aware of:
- Texas Hold’em: Played in limit, pot-limit, and no-limit formats, Texas Hold’em is the most popular poker variation. The game is played with two hole cards and five community cards shared by all the players at the table. Texas Hold’em is popular as both a tournament and cash game version of poker, and the WSOP Main Event is decided over a Texas Hold’em table.
- Omaha: Usually played with pot-limit betting, Omaha is another increasingly popular version of poker you will want to learn. Similar to Texas Hold’em, Omaha uses four hole cards instead of just two and makes it possible to play more poker hands and make more big draws, often driving massive action. Omaha is sometimes played in Hi/Lo version, with the lowest possible hand winning half of the pot.
- Seven Card Stud: A version of poker that’s getting somewhat forgotten nowadays, Seven Card Stud used to be the main game in town. The poker rules of Seven Card Stud are a bit different, with each player dealt seven unique cards to play with. Seven Card Stud can be played in Hi/Lo version but also as a pure lowball game called Razz.
- Five Card Draw: These days, Five Card Draw is more often played at the kitchen tables than in poker rooms, but there was a time when Five Card Draw was one of the most popular versions of poker. Each player is dealt five cards face down, and each is allowed to discard and replace his cards once. With very little information to work with, Five Card Draw is a bit of a guessing game at times.
- 2-7 Draw: 2-7 Draw or Deuce to Seven Draw poker is similar to Five Card Draw, except that it is a lowball game in which the lowest hand takes down the pot. 2-7 Draw can be played as Single and Triple draw, with the former usually played as NL and the latter played as Limit.
- Badugi: If you have mastered all the poker rules and know how the hands are ranked, forget all about it when playing Badugi, as this game is all about making four cards of different suits. Badugi is also played in some other variations, such as Baducey and Badacey.
- Short Deck Hold’em: One of the newest poker formats out there, Short Deck Hold’em is a fun variation of Texas Hold’em played without the 16 lowest cards in the deck. This makes for some amazing poker action and slightly changed basic poker rules.
Poker Rules Basics – The Poker Hand Rankings
Before you can learn how to play poker, you need to know which hand beats which and how hands compare against one another in most poker variations.
Thankfully, the poker hand rankings are the same in the vast majority of poker games, so once you have the basic idea, you will only need to learn some small differences for new poker formats.
In most poker games, including the popular Texas Hold’em, the poker hand rankings are as follows, from the strongest to the weakest poker hand:
- Royal Flush: As Ks Qs Js Ts
- Straight Flush: Tc 9c 8c 7c 6c
- Four of a Kind: 6c 6d 6h 6s As
- Full House: 7c 7d 7h 8c 8s
- Flush: Ad 9d 7d 5d 2d
- Straight: Th 9s 8d 7h 6d
- Three of a Kind: 9s 9c 9d Ah Kd
- Two Pair: 7h 7d 5h 5d 9s
- One Pair: Ah Ad Ks Th 8c
- High Card: Ac Kd 9s 7s 5c
That’s really it! Once you memorize these hand rankings and figure out how they work, you will be able to know who has the best hand in most poker variations out there. However, this is only where things start, and there is a lot more to learn about poker rules.
Poker Basics – Betting in Poker
Once you have mastered the hand rankings in poker, you will need to learn how betting works and in which order bets are made in the game.
There are three basic forms of betting patterns in poker, and these are:
- Limit Betting: Bets are limited to a certain amount on each betting street, and this amount cannot be exceeded.
- Pot-Limit Betting: Bets are limited to the size of the pot on each betting street. As the pot grows, the bets can get bigger and bigger.
- No-Limit Betting: There is no limit to how much you can bet at any time. Table stakes are the only limit in this case.
Most poker games can be played with any of these betting formats, although there is usually one preferred way of betting for each game.
For example, Omaha games are usually played as pot-limit, while Stud games are usually played as limit, as these betting styles best fit the type of game in question.
Another thing to note is that, despite what you may have seen in the movies, betting is always limited to the number of poker chips on the table.
You cannot bet any money that you don’t have at the start of the hand, and that’s one of the most basic poker rules.
Finally, in almost all poker variations, the betting order is set, and the action follows a clockwise pattern, with the button acting as the beacon to determine who goes first. This is not the case in Stud games.
Rules of Poker – Equity, Odds, and Outs
Now that you know how to play poker and how to bet your money, you need to understand what it is that makes poker a game of skill instead of pure gambling.
Poker is a game of statistics, and no matter which form of poker you play, there will always be numbers and percentages in play.
If you don’t know these numbers, you cannot be a good poker player.
Your mathematical chance of winning the hand at a showdown is called “equity,” and it is a concept you must learn to think about in every poker hand.
The equity is determined based on your odds of winning the hand. When hands are shown, it is easy to calculate the odds based on the remaining cards of the deck and the number of cards yet to be dealt.
However, poker is a game of incomplete information, and you must often do some guesswork in order to figure out what your opponents could be holding.
In some hands, you will know you are not the best at a certain point and that you need to catch another card to win. These cards, which help improve your hand, are called “outs.”
Counting outs and knowing how many you have in each hand is another useful skill that you can integrate into your game to give yourself the best winning chance.
Cash Games vs. Tournaments – What’s the Difference?
When learning how to play poker, you should probably choose between cash game or tournament poker and stick to the format until you master it before progressing to the other one.
While poker cash games and tournaments may seem similar when watching from the sidelines or on TV, they are two distinctly different types of poker.
Cash game poker is all about winning as many chips as you can in every winning hand and losing as few as possible in losing ones.
After all, every chip is worth exactly its face value.
On the other hand, poker tournaments are about survival and getting as far as possible without losing all your chips. This alone requires many strategies that are not employed in cash games.
As a novice player, cash games will probably make more sense for you as the value of every pot is very clearly indicated in dollar value.
I highly recommend learning poker by playing low-stakes cash games and playing every hand with the sole intention of winning it and gaining more chips, which means more money.
Once you understand poker at a high level, you will be able to understand the intricacies of tournament poker and why things are often not the way they seem at the tournament poker tables.
Basic Poker Strategy – Using Position
Regardless of which game you are playing and under what poker rules, the pure basics dictate that position is very important.
When I say “position,” I don’t mean the seat you are seated in or the way you are facing, but rather your relative position compared to your opponents and the button.
In games like Texas Hold’em and Omaha, the player holding the dealer button always acts last after the flop.
This fact gives the player a massive advantage over their opponents, as they’re always able to act last, learning from their opponents’ actions while not giving away their own.
A trademark of a good winning poker player is that they try to act “in position” as often as possible and tend to play very few hands when in bad starting positions.
Learning everything you can about the power of position in the poker game you choose to try and master will be a crucial step on your path to poker greatness.
Poker Rules – Betting & Bet Sizing
With limit poker being a dying format of the game and no-limit and pot-limit being dominant, learning about bet sizing is critical.
In games with unlimited betting, you have many options when it comes to the size of your bets.
The way you choose to size them can completely change the way the hand goes down.
Bet sizing is important both when you are bluffing and when you are betting with your strong hands, and you will need to learn how to customize your bets in order to get the preferred results while still concealing the value of your hand.
After all, if you always bet big when you are bluffing and bet small when you have a monster, other players will pick up on this and pick you apart.
Basic Poker Strategy – Bluffing
Bluffing is a key part of poker, and if you want to be a good poker player, you will have to bluff. Anyone who tells you differently is mistaken.
Admittedly, there are some poker games in which you should bluff more and others in which you should bluff less, but you will need to learn how to fire shells when you don’t have the best of it.
To start off with, I recommend bluffing with your big drawing hands, such as flush draws and straight draws, as this will enable you to often get a winning hand by showdown if you get called.
Adding more hands into your bluffing “range” with time will make you more unpredictable and harder to play, which in turn will help you be a better player overall.
Poker Strategy Fundamentals – Balancing
Before you can talk about knowing how to play poker, you must understand the concept of balancing as well.
Balancing won’t be important in your low-stakes games with your friends, but as you get into tougher games, it will become critical.
What balancing refers to is the fine art of playing your bluffs and your value hands in similar ways in many spots, making it next to impossible for your opponents to know what you are doing.
Of course, it will never be possible to be completely balanced, but balancing out your ranges as much as possible will help you beat even the best poker players in the world.
Poker Rules & Beyond – The Road Ahead
As you can probably tell after going over this short poker guide, there is a lot you still need to learn about the game of poker.
The concepts I introduced here are only the tip of the iceberg, and there is more to learn about poker than you could possibly imagine early on in your career.
The one piece of advice I can give you is to take things slow and have as much fun with the game of poker as you can.
Start with poker rules and go from there, as is the best way to learn the game without getting fed up with it.
By the time you have played thousands of hands and gone over dozens of guides like this one, I can promise you that you will be beating your home games on a regular basis and moving into more serious games with real competitors.