How to Play Online Poker

In a Nutshell

How to Play Online Poker

The aim of poker is simple: to get the best possible hand. If the cards aren’t kind to you, you can either fold and bow out gracefully or try to bluff your way to a win.

When learning how to play online poker, it’s vitally important to understand the different hand rankings. Of course, you’ll also need to master the specific rules of the poker variant you want to play.

The most popular variant of poker is Texas Hold’em, and if you’d like to learn how to play, this is perhaps the best place to get started. Here’s a step-by-step guide to how the average round of Texas Hold’em plays out.

  1. The mandatory ‘small blind’ and ‘big blind’ bets are placed by the first two players to the left of the dealer, respectively. The big blind is usually double the amount of the small blind.
  2. Each player is dealt two cards, face down. These are called ‘hole’ cards.
  3. The player to the left of the big blind kicks off the first betting round. Players can either ‘call’ (match what was last wagered), ‘raise’ (bet a higher amount than the previous player) or ‘fold’ (surrender their hand and quit the round).
  4. Once all the players have either called or folded, three cards are placed face-up in the middle of the table, this is called the ‘flop’. Players must now bet based on the best hand they can create using a combination of these three community cards and their hole cards.
  5. After the next round of betting is completed, another community card is dealt, known as the ‘turn’. A new betting round then commences.
  6. The fifth and final community card, known as the ‘river’, is then dealt – followed by another round of betting.
  7. The ‘showdown’ takes place and all players who haven’t folded reveal their cards. The player who can make the best hand wins the cash pot. This can be made up of their two cards, plus three community cards, or one of their cards plus four community cards. You can also use all five community cards and none of your hole cards, but this can only end in a loss or a tie.
  8. If two or more players have the same five-card hand, the game is tied and the pot is split. If two or more players have hands of the same value featuring fewer than five cards – such as three of a kind – any hole cards which don’t form part of the hand can help determine the outcome. For example, if two players have three aces, but one player’s hole card is a king and the other’s is a jack, the player with the king wins. The king in this scenario is known as the ‘kicker’.

Common Themes

Common Poker Concepts

When you’re learning how to play online poker, you’ll notice that certain concepts are common to most variations. Master these, and it’ll be much easier to learn different poker styles.

Poker Rankings

The values of different poker hands are the same in pretty much every variation of the game, although they’re sometimes used in different ways. For example, in lowball variants of poker, the rankings are inverted – meaning the aim is to get the lowest value hand.

The Dealer

All poker games have a designated dealer, and the position of the dealer in the round determines who puts up the blinds. While the role of dealer moves around the table with each round, players usually won’t physically deal. In an online RNG or video poker game, dealing is done automatically. In a casino or online live dealer game, it’ll usually be a staff member dealing out the cards.

Bluffing

Even if you don’t have the best hand, bluffing effectively can still help you win the pot. One strategy players use is to place large bets, which suggests to their competitors that they have a great hand. Other players may then lose confidence and fold, rather than risk challenging the bluffer in the showdown.

Compulsory Bets

Compulsory bets known as small blinds and big blinds feature in many poker variants. The blind positions move around the table with each new game, so every player will bet each blind once per orbit. The blinds ensure there’s a starting pot for each game, and help propel the action.

Variations

Popular Poker Game Types

When it comes to poker variations, some remain hugely popular, even in an era dominated by Texas Hold’em. Here are some to look out for.

Texas Hold’em 

Texas Hold’em is the classic poker format, played by millions across the world. In this game type, players have to make the best possible hand by combining the two cards they are dealt each with the five community cards.

Omaha

Omaha is a lot like Texas Hold’em, except that four hole cards are drawn for each player. Players must create their best hand using two of their hole cards and three of the community cards. This is in contrast to Texas Hold’em, which allows greater flexibility in creating the best hand.

Seven Card Stud

Seven Card Stud was the most popular type of poker before Texas Hold’em became the global go-to. There are, however, no community cards with Seven Card Stud. Instead, players are dealt seven cards across the betting rounds: three face down and four face up. From these cards, players create the strongest five-card hand.

Five Card Draw

This is a relatively simple version of poker that’s popular with online players and is the basis for most video poker games. Each player is dealt five cards face down, there’s a round of betting, and then players can choose to exchange some of their cards. There is one more round of betting, then players show their cards and the best hand wins.

Formats

Cash Games vs Tournaments

Not only are there a lot of different variations of poker, but there are also different playing formats. Most notably, cash games vs tournaments.

In a cash game, tables usually have a minimum buy-in amount, with blinds staying the same for each game. You can find high stakes tables tailored to high rollers or lower buy-in tables that accommodate all budgets.

One of the big advantages of cash games is their flexibility. You can dip in, play a few games and then leave, rather than being locked into a long-form session. The fact that blinds stay the same is also a big plus point if you’re watching your budget. On the other hand, with cash games, you may come up against more skilled and/or deep-pocketed opponents, or whales. These players may take full advantage of being able to bring big stacks to the table and buy more chips whenever they want.

Tournaments can be played at one or multiple tables, with all players entering for a set amount and given chips of equal value. Tournaments run until one winner has all the chips – the amount players win will depend on where they stand in the rankings.

Tournaments have increasing blinds, which is a drawback for some players. They can also require a significant time commitment without the potential for consistent, smaller wins. On the flipside, tournaments can award the best players with huge prize pots, and the fixed buy-in levels the playing field somewhat and helps with budgeting.

Hands

Understanding Hand Rankings

All new players should make sure they know the poker hand rankings. Here they are from lowest to highest:

High Card

The highest card in your hand often used as a tie-breaker or kicker

Pair
A pair of cards of the same rank.
Two Pair

Two different pairs of cards of matching ranks.

Three of a Kind

Three cards of the same rank.

Straight

Five cards of sequential rank, but not of the same suit. Aces can be high or low.

Flush

Five cards of the same suit in any order. If two or more players have a flush, the hand featuring the highest single card wins.

Full House

Three of a kind plus a pair.

Four of a Kind

Four cards of the same rank with a kicker

Straight Flush

Five sequential cards of the same suit starting with 9 or lower.

Royal Flush

The best poker hand and also the rarest – the five highest cards of the same suit in sequence – 10, J, Q, K, A.

Betting Options

We touched on betting options earlier when talking about how to play Texas Hold’em, but let’s take a moment to go over the moves you can make in more detail.

  • Call – This is when you match another players’ bet.
  • Raise – If you have confidence in your hand, or just want to look like you do, you can bet more than – or raise – the highest wager so far.
  • Fold – If you don’t like the look of your cards, you can fold, meaning you quit the round and surrender your hand. Any money you’ve wagered will be lost.
  • Check – Before someone raises in a given round, players can decline to make a bet, but still stay in the game, by opting to ‘check’ – you can’t check once the wager has been raised.
  • All in – Players can go all-in by wagering all their chips. This is done if a player doesn’t have enough chips to call a bet, or if they really fancy their hand. Any bets above the all-in amount go into a side pot. If the player who goes all-in ends up winning, they only win the main pot, and the funds from the side pot go to the second-placed player.

Tips

Knowing When to Bet

Perhaps one of the most difficult parts of playing poker is knowing when to bet. Most players come up with their own strategy over time, but it’s worth keeping in mind the odds associated with poker hands. For example, the laws of probability state you can expect to be dealt a two pair once in every 21 hands or so, but getting a royal flush is an extremely rare event. Of course, you don’t always need to have the best hand to win, especially if you’re an excellent bluffer – but you need to be cautious about when you bet.

Rounds

Poker Betting Rounds Explained

All varieties of poker will have at least one round of betting. The likes of Texas Hold’em and Omaha have multiple rounds, giving you the chance to raise or fold, and even guess the strength of your opponents’ hands. You can make bets according to the level of confidence in your hand, or bluff your way through if that’s your strategy. You may also be able to tell if another player has a great hand if they’re keen to keep raising. Of course, other players may bluff, too, which is part of the fun!

Limits

Poker Betting Limits

Let’s take a quick look at some of the betting limits used in poker games.

Pot Limit

In a pot-limit game, players can only bet or raise up to the total size of the current pot. The pot limit increases throughout the game.

No Limit

In no-limit poker games, players can bet any amount from the minimum raise to all of their chips. Bluffing can play a bigger role in no-limit games, as players may try to intimidate each other with big bets.

Fixed Limit

In fixed-limit poker, the amount you can bet or raise is set beforehand. This is ideal for beginners or those who like to play cautiously. Fixed-limit tables usually have a small bet and big bet amount, which are used in different ways. For example, if you’re playing fixed-limit Texas Hold’em, you’d make the small bet for the first two rounds and the big bet in the last two.

Play Online Poker

Reasy to Play Poker for Real?

Now that you’re up to date with the details on how to play poker, the next step is to find the poker site that is best for you. Check out our list of top poker sites and sign up to your favourite to put your newfound knowledge to the test.

FAQs

Can I play poker live online?

You certainly can. Poker games are not only available to play online, but you can also play them live. This means playing against real-life players from around the world in some of the most immersive titles around. The best live-dealer poker games come from the likes of Evolution Gaming which offers players titles such as Casino Hold’em, Three Card Poker and Caribbean Stud Poker.