How to Play Poker – A Beginner’s Guide to Poker Rules

As the saying goes, poker takes a minute to learn but a lifetime to master – but you’ve got to start somewhere. This guide will show you the basics of how to play poker. However, this doesn’t mean you’ll be skilled enough to play with the pros quite yet.

This beginner’s guide covers the rules of poker and poker hands – the most important foundations of the game. But knowing basic poker rules isn’t the same as knowing how to play well. Our beginner’s guide walks you through the rules of poker, how to play, poker hand values, and a few tips for beginners. Are you ready to be dealt your first hand?

poker hand

How Do You Explain Poker to Beginners?

When it comes to explaining poker to beginners, our answer is simple: learn the rules thoroughly. Poker rules form the framework within which you need to develop your own strategy and become a winning player.

For complete beginners to poker, the fundamental aim is to win pots (money or chips) by taking part in rounds of betting. However, you still need to play within the rules of poker.

You can win a pot in poker by:

  • Having the best-ranked poker hand.
  • Making everyone else fold (give up their hand) so you’re the last player standing. If you do this, it doesn’t even matter what your cards are.

Poker is as much a game of reading and intimidating people as it is cards – it’s not just about learning the rules. Learning how to play poker means using all of the tools at your disposal to win pots.

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Poker Hand Rankings and Betting Structures

Before learning the rules of how to play poker at a casino or online, you need to understand hand rankings and betting structures. Even the highest-level professional players in tournaments like the World Series of Poker need to know the basics inside out.

Poker Hand Rankings

A poker hand consists of five cards. A hand can be made up of either:

  • The five cards in your hand – like in Stud and Draw variants.
  • Any combination of the cards in your hand, plus cards in the middle of the table – like in Hold’em and Omaha poker variants.

If you’re using cards from the table to make up your hand, these are called ‘community cards’. It doesn’t matter if you’re holding all the cards or using community cards, poker hand rankings remain the same.

In the table below, you can find poker hand rankings from best to worst.

Poker Hand Description Example Hand
Royal Flush A straight from 10 to Ace of all the same suit 10♦ J♦ Q♦ K♦ A♦
Straight Flush A straight with cards all of the same suit 5♥ 6♥ 7♥ 8♥ 9♥
Four of a Kind Four cards of the same value A♦ A♥ A♠ A♣ X
Full House A pair and a set K♦ K♥ 4♦ 4♠ 4♣
Flush Any five cards of the same suit 5♣ 9♣ 10♣ K♣ J♣
Straight Five cards in sequential order, without matching suits 2♣ 3♦ 4♥ 5♥ 6♠
Set (or Three of a Kind)
Three cards of the same value A♦ A♥ A♠ X X
Two Pair
A pair and another different pair A♠ A♥ 6♣ 6♠ X
Pair (or Two of a Kind)
Two cards of the same value J♣ J♠ X X X
High Card A hand with no other value than the value of its single highest card K♣ J♠ 2♣ 8♥ 6♠

Poker Betting Structures

As well as hand rankings, an online poker game or poker in a land-based casino will use one of three betting structures:

  • Limit – bet/raise amounts are limited to the size of the ante. The ‘ante’ is a mandatory set bet to increase the pot throughout a game. It’s not always enforced – it’s not the same thing as the ‘blind’.
  • Pot Limit – bet/raise amounts are limited to the size of the pot.
  • No Limit – bet/raise amounts are only limited by the amount of money/chips you have. You can bet as much as you like until you go bust.

We recommend taking some time to understand poker hand rankings and how bets are structured. Once you’ve done this, you can move on to the process of playing hands to learn how to win pots.

Poker Variants

Variants are the final thing you need to know before we get into the specifics of how to play poker online or in a casino. While Texas Hold’em is by far the most popular variant, it’s not the only poker game in town.

Each of the following poker variants follows the basic rules of poker, but has its own nuances.

Poker Variant Poker Game Description
Texas Hold’em You start with two cards in your own hand, hidden from everyone else. You then have the ability to combine both, one, or neither with up to five community cards on the table to create a winning hand.
Omaha You start with four cards. You have to use two of your cards as well as three of the five community cards to make the best poker hand.
Stud You’re dealt five or seven cards (depending on the Stud sub-variant) over multiple rounds. Some cards are visible to everyone, others are hidden.
Draw You’re dealt five cards. You have the option to play or fold these cards. Playing allows you to exchange as many or as few cards as you like before a showdown.
Mixed-Game All variants, including Hold’em, Omaha, Draw, and Stud, are played in rotation.

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What is the Main Goal of Poker?

The main goal of poker is to win the pot. Some people look at the rules of poker and assume the main goal is to make the best hand. You are trying to do that, but it’s not the main goal – the hand is only important in the showdown.

As winning pots is the aim, you can do this by either:

  1. Having the best-ranked hand at a showdown. The first way of winning requires understanding poker hand rankings. You need to be confident about this if you go to a showdown.
  2. Betting until everyone else folds. The second way of winning requires an understanding of poker strategy, bluffing, and how to make people react in a way you want them to.

If you take anything on board from our beginner’s guide to poker, it should be that your only goal is to win pots in one of these two ways.

How to Play Online Poker for Beginners

While poker comes in a variety of forms, each variant has the same simple premise at its core – make the highest-ranked hand you can by using five cards.

As we mentioned, you don’t necessarily need the best hand to win pots. But for beginners, this concept takes us out of the general rules, and into the more complex realms of poker strategy and bluffing.

To keep us on track, let’s go through the process in the most popular variant of poker, No Limit Texas Hold’em.

BetOnline poker games.

1. The Poker Set-Up

Start off by visiting one of our recommended online poker sites. After making an account, find a Texas Hold’em game and sit down at the virtual table.

  • Play starts with the two players to the left of the button.
  • These two players put in money or chips to start the pot, known as the big and small blind.
  • Once the blinds have been posted, all players get two cards dealt face-down, so each player can look at their own cards privately.

2. Betting Rounds in Texas Hold’Em

After the set-up, play moves clockwise from the player sitting to the immediate left of the big blind.

This player now has the option to:

  • Call the minimum bet – in other words, to match it.
  • Raise the current bet – in other words, to increase the stakes needed to stay in.
  • Ask for a check – in other words, place no bet and pass. You cannot do this if any player before you has called or raised a bet.
  • Fold – leave the game without playing your turn.

After this, the player to their left acts next. They have exactly the same options. However, players can only continue to ‘check’ if the first player in the round asked for a check.

3. After the First Round of Betting

The poker gameplay in step two continues in a circle until everyone has acted and the minimum bet has been met.

After this, if there are at least two players left in the hand, three cards are dealt in the middle of the table. These are known as ‘community cards’ because everyone can use them. Another round of betting now takes place as per step two.

After this:

  • If at least two players are left in the hand, a fourth card, known as the turn, is dealt. Another round of betting takes place at this point.
  • If at least two players are still left in the hand, a fifth card, known as the river, is dealt. A final round of betting takes place.
  • If at least two players are left after the river betting round is complete, a showdown takes place.

4. Winning a Poker Hand

Someone can win a pot at any point in the hand by being the only player on the table left with cards. A showdown only takes place if there are two or more players left and all community cards are dealt. The player with the best five-card hand will win a showdown.

You make a five-card poker hand in Texas Hold’em in one of three ways:

  • You combine your two cards with three community cards.
  • You combine one of your cards with four community cards.
  • You play the board, in other words you use all five community cards. Bear in mind that any other player on the table can play the board too.

In other poker variants, there are subtle differences in how betting rounds play out and the ways you make five-card hands. However, the essence of all poker games is being dealt cards, and then betting over a series of rounds. The pot winner is the last player standing, or the player who wins a showdown.

Poker Tips for Beginners

When you take poker down to its basics, you’re playing your cards against other people’s cards. Within this, you have the option to bet, raise, and call when you’ve got faith in your cards and want to play for the pot. Alternatively, you can fold when you believe you can’t win, or can’t afford to keep playing.

Poker game at casino.

We know that the aim is to make the best five-card hand – but that’s only if you go all the way to a showdown. If you can make other people fold in earlier rounds, it doesn’t matter if you’ve got a highly ranked hand or not.

Learn About Poker Bluffing

If you believe an opponent’s cards aren’t very strong, you can put pressure on them by betting and raising. This is a situation where you’re using the rules of poker against someone. In other words, you know your opponent understands the rules to stay in the game.

By applying this pressure in betting and raising, they might realize their hand isn’t as strong as yours, because of your aggressive actions in raising bets. It makes you appear confident in your hand.

This technique, called bluffing, means you can give off the vibe of having a very strong hand. This is a situation where poker rules meet strategy. You’re using someone’s knowledge of the rules against them to get an advantage. You can have nothing at all and still win by bluffing – but remember, you cannot use bluffing in a showdown, only the best hand will win.

Play the Easiest Poker Variants

Texas Hold’em is the most popular variant for beginners because it’s easy to learn. As well as being easy to learn, Texas Hold’em gives you the chance to be creative, particularly when there aren’t any restrictions on the amount you can bet or raise (called a No Limit game). Other easy poker game rules include Draw and Stud.

Develop Skills to Play Poker Like a Pro

Thinking about your cards and what an opponent could be holding is how you play online poker at the highest level. Essentially, poker players go through four stages of development – from thinking about the basics to making moves based on their opponents.

The four stages of learning how to play poker like a pro are to start by:

  1. Learning the rules, variants, and hand rankings.
  2. Playing cards that make ranked hands to help you win showdowns.
  3. Looking beyond your own cards and thinking about what cards other people might have.
  4. Making moves based on what you think an opponent has. You’ll also be able to make moves based on what their previous behavior suggests they’ll do when faced with certain bets.

For example, if you’ve seen someone fold often when they’re under pressure, you can pretty much ignore the cards you’ve got and bet relentlessly. Conversely, if you had a strong hand in this situation, you wouldn’t bet a lot because you know the person is likely to fold under your pressure.

To become a strong poker player, you’ll end up in situations where you adjust based on your cards, the cards you think an opponent has, and their tendencies.

Manipulate Other Players in the Game

There is a huge amount of skill involved in poker. You can win jackpots not by having the best hand, but by making other people fold.

Having the best poker hand is dependent on luck. Why? Because cards are dealt randomly. You might be dealt cards that make a strong hand, or you might not. You might make a strong hand but someone makes a stronger hand. These things are out of your control.

However, when it comes to making other players fold, that’s on you. You can’t control the cards they’ve been dealt, but you can control your assessment of the situation and the pressure you apply.

Learning how to play your cards, as well as an opponent, is what separates beginners from pros. A pro poker player focuses as much on the moves you make as their own.

They’re trying to work out what cards you have so they can think of the best way to respond. Poker is a skill game with some luck mixed in. That’s what makes it exciting and, in turn, potentially profitable if you learn how to play poker at a land-based casino or offshore poker site.

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How to Play Poker FAQs

How do you play basic poker for beginners?

How do you win a poker hand?

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Daniel Smyth
Casino and Poker Expert

Daniel comes to with a wealth of experience in the gambling sector. Over the last 15+ years, he’s written content for WPT Magazine, CardsChat, and Daniel has also worked directly with many of the industry’s leading operators, including PokerStars, Betway, and Yggdrasil. If it’s about gambling, Daniel has covered it.