Poker is popular and competitive. It’s unique in many regards. Massive tournaments have increased its reach and popularity even among people who don’t usually gamble. If you want to get started playing Poker, here is what you need to know.

Where does Poker come from?

Poker may well have been born in the saloons of the old Wild West in the United States. The game showed up in the 19th century in North America in its current form, but it was clearly inspired by earlier European card games.

One of them was called ‘Poque’, which hailed from France and showed up in the 17th century. The German version ‘Pochen’ and the French game both seem to have been based on the Spanish card game ‘primero’. Whilst players were only dealt three cards in that game, bluffing was an integral part of it.

Whilst Poker was played throughout the saloons of the Wild West, on riverboats and by the soldiers in the Civil War, it was only in 1871 that the game ‘returned’ to Europe. It was Queen Victoria, who wanted to know the rules of the game after hearing the U.S. minister talk about it.

But it took several more decades for the game to become widely accepted and more populated, due in part to the many American soldiers who played it in World War I.

The game has always been a competitive one, but only in the 1970s did it begin its steady rise as the featured game of the World Series of Poker. Nowadays, it’s a competition where players can win huge sums and games are televised internationally.

Getting started playing Poker

We’ll be using Texas Hold’em as the basis for how Poker is played because it is one of the most common and popular Poker versions.

The first steps

Up to 10 players sit around a Poker table at a time and one player is always the dealer. The dealer position will change clockwise around the table with each new round.

Each player receives two cards with the face down (these cards are called ‘hole cards’). The left-most player next to the dealer will place a small bet (‘small blind’). The next player down will then place a bigger bet (‘big blind’ = double the small blind).

All other players around the table will now have to decide whether they want to follow the big blind, increase the stake or fold their two cards. It is important to note that no further cards have been dealt at this point.

The flop

When the dealer deals out the first three community calls, which are placed in the middle of the table, it is called ‘the flop’. These cards are shared by everyone at the table, meaning each player now ‘holds’ five cards, three are the same for everyone and the two they were dealt with in the beginning.

The players can then choose the following actions:

  • Check – No bet is placed.
  • Bet: a player either chooses to a) Call = matching the bet of the previous player, or b) Raise = raises the bet of the previous player
  • Fold – The player decides to abandon the game, not judging their cards sufficiently good to win (and doesn’t want to bluff either)

The turn and the river

Now, two more community cards are placed on the table. First the ‘turn’, after which each player once more has to decide what to do. And then the ‘river’, which is the last card dealt and once more all players will need to take an action.     

The showdown

This is the time for all remaining players to show their own cards. Depending on the value of their cards, the winner is then determined. Should only one play remain in the game because all others have folded (due to poor cards), that player will automatically be the winner and no showdown will take place.

How are hands ranked (valued)

Hand rankings are fairly similar across most Poker versions. Here we’ll give you the most common ones you will encounter:

High Card – If cards don’t result in a good combination, the highest card each player has (A, K, Q, etc) will determine the winner. This can happen, if a player bluffed their way through the game, not holding any valuable cards at all.

Pair – The highest-ranking winning pair winds, though if two players have a pair of the same ranking (JJ perhaps), a third high-ranking card determines the winner (Q or K or whichever).

Two Pairs – The winner has two pairs of cards. The higher-ranking pair will determine the winner if more than one player has two pairs. 

Three of a kind (set) – A hand with three cards of the same rank. Once again, the highest-ranking set wins.

Straight – A sequence of cards (4, 5, 6, 7, 8 or 7, 8, 9, 10, J) to win. They can be any suit (hearts, clubs, diamonds, spades). The highest-ranking sequence wins.

Flush – Cards all have to be of the same suit, but not in sequence. The highest-ranking card determines the winner.

Full house – A set of three cards is combined with a pair. Usually, the higher-ranking set determines the winner (KKK22 beats QQQJJ). If the three high-ranking cards are community cards, the higher-ranking pair will determine the winner (888JJ will lose to 888KK).

Four of a kind – Four cards of the same ranking, one of each suit.

Straight flush – A sequence of cards of the same suit. The higher sequence wins. The best hand to achieve is the Royal Straight Flush from 10 to A.

Some Poker variations you might want to know about

Whilst there are many different types of Poker games, it all boils down to three basic variations: Draw Poker, Stud Poker, Community Card Poker.

Community Card Poker

Played with up to five cards that are ‘held’ by the community. The community cards are always shown with their faces. Whilst each player essentially holds seven cards (including their two hidden cards), only five cards determine the winning hand.

Common and popular versions are Texas Hold’em and Omaha Hold’em (where you collect high-ranking and low-ranking cards).

Draw Poker

Here players receive a number of cards, which they keep hidden from other players. Usually, any number of cards can be replaced (at least two in any case). Only when it’s time for the showdown, will all remaining players reveal their cards.

Five Card Draw is the most common version. Other versions are California Hi/Lo, Badugi and Baduci.

Stud Poker

Some cards are dealt face-up, some face down, depending on the version played. Each player holds their own set of cards, however, though some are hidden, and some are known by everyone.

Bets are placed after each card is dealt and the showdown takes place when the last round of cards has been dealt and the last bets placed.

Some versions are Seven Card Stud, Six and Five Card Stud, Hi/Lo Stud.

Are there Poker strategies?

Until you are comfortable with the rules of Poker and have played for a while, you shouldn’t get into overly involved strategies. However, there are a few things that can help you play longer and better. You are unlikely to emerge the winner against an experienced player. But you’ll be able to hold your own.

Managing your bankroll

In a Poker game, it is particularly important to know how much to bet. The stakes tend to be higher than in many other games and bets will only ever increase.

Often, the recommendation is to bet no more than 5% of your budget. If you play for smaller stakes and have a budget of INR 5,000, your bet should not exceed INR 250.

This will simply allow you to play longer and put you in a position where you can afford to forfeit a bad hand. Keep in mind that going all-in (betting everything at once) on a seemingly good hand could end your Poker session quickly if someone else’s hand beats yours.

Sizing your bet in the smartest way

This is part of managing your bankroll but intended to help you decide how much to bet and when to change your bet.

  • Don’t bet too small. It either outs your hand as weak or you as the novice. Other players will intentionally raise the stakes against you.
  • Don’t increase your bet unnecessarily. If you need to increase your bet to match the previous player, it’s fine. But don’t increase again as it could be considered a tell and other players may fold, thinking you have a good hand.
  • Don’t bet more than the current pot is valued at.

Consider your position at the table

The closer you are to the dealer (in a clockwise direction), the weaker your position. Not all cards have been dealt yet and you have no way of knowing what the other players around the table will do. It’s a riskier position and you should bet more carefully or even fold if your initial hand is very weak.

Players in middle or late positions can risk more as they have a better overview of what is happening around the table. The good thing is that the dealer position changes clockwise after each round, which means you are not always in a weak position.

What else can you do?

Some other basic strategies are summarised easily:

  • Fold a weak hand – Your cards determine your hand. If your first two cards are weak and you are in an early position, you should fold. It is smarter than hoping for something better to come along later.
  • Don’t limp – Limping means only calling the previous bet without ever raising the stakes yourself. It could indicate a weak hand or out you as a newbie.
  • Risk a raise – at least every once in a while. If you have a decent enough hand, you can take a risk here and there, but don’t go all in just yet.

Playing Poker at online casinos

At online casinos, you will likely find four versions of Poker to play. Since you may very well take your first steps into the world of Poker online, we’ll give you a brief overview of the four options to get you started.

Video Poker

Among the most popular games of online casino players is Video Poker. One of the main reasons is that these games are not only very easy and downright basic but because they have a very small house edge (often less than 2%).

Video Poker is usually a version of Five Draw Poker, where the player gets dealt 5 cards and can discard however many he likes. Here you will usually only get one more set of cards dealt (depending on how many you discarded) and whatever the result, your wins are paid out or you lose.

It’s a very simple game against the computer and no other players aside from you.

Casino Poker

This is a step up from Video Poker. Whilst you’re still playing against the computer, the games not only look much more sophisticated, they are more sophisticated. You get to play different Poker versions such as Texas Hold’em, Red Dog or Caribbean Stud.

These are arguably a little more fun to play and good to learn the different versions of Poker.

Live Dealer Poker

You are no longer playing Casino Poker against the computer, instead, a live dealer will be dealing your cards to you. Many online casinos with a live casino will at least offer Texas Hold’em or Casino Hold’em tables, though a wider variety of tables can also include Caribbean Stud, Three Card Poker or Red Dog.

You are still not playing against the house and you won’t be able to try these games for free. At live tables, you will have to wager real money, if you decide to ‘sit down’.

Poker networks

This is as close to the real deal as online Poker can get. Here you join a vast network of casinos and players, where thousands of Poker players will be able to join tables that suit their limits and skills, wager real money and play only against other players. Of course, all the different versions of Poker will be available here as well.

Your user interface is virtual and shows you the cards that have been dealt. You will be able to chat with other players and you can participate in tournaments that require buy-ins depending on how big the pot is.

Playing mobile

All of the above ways of playing Poker online are usually also available via mobile. Some online casinos that are part of a Poker network will have dedicated apps that make it easier for you to play via their Poker client.

Mostly, online casinos will have a selection of their Poker games available via their mobile page, which you then play in your browser. Some older Video Poker versions are not HTML5 compatible, so it’s possible that you won’t get to enjoy the full range of Video Poker games a casino offers via desktop.

Casino Poker and Live Dealer Poker will also be available via mobile, which means you can enjoy any Poker version you like on the go. The only thing you need to be aware of is that not all online casinos offer a Poker client or Video Poker and smaller live casinos will also not have Live Dealer Poker games. Whatever the case may be, in our reviews we will look out for that as well and make mention of it. But it’s always good to research available games before signing up at a casino.