Poker is probably the most popular card game in the world. Ask anyone to name a card game, and the vast majority of people will give Poker as their first answer. There are an estimated 60 million Poker players in the US and around 100 million worldwide, making it one of the most popular games of all time.
Poker has been around for a while, since 1829. In that time, several different forms of the game have been developed. Although there are many different types of Poker, the rules of the game remain pretty much the same. Beat the other players at the table by having the best hand.
Learning how to play Poker can be a bit daunting for a beginner as it’s difficult to understand which hands are best and some of the terminology used. We all start somewhere, and you’ll find with a bit of practice the game itself is not that complicated. One of the best parts of playing Poker is that unlike a lot of casino games, there’s a lot of skill involved as well as some luck.
Here at Xfire, we’re big fans of playing Poker, particularly online. We also enjoy welcoming new players to the game and helping them to learn the rules and how to play. If you’re completely new to Poker and would like to learn more about the game, this guide is for you. Here we’ll explain the basic rules, which hands are the best and the terminology of Poker.
We’ll also use this guide to introduce you to some of the different types of Poker out there. If you want to have the best possible chance when you first get started with the game, this guide is the perfect introduction. Before you know it, you’ll be playing Poker like a pro and hopefully collecting some big wins!
On this page you’ll find
The Basic Rules of Poker
The most common type of Poker you’ll come across online is Texas Hold ‘Em. Some casinos will offer different game types too, but we’ll cover those later on. For the meantime, we’re going to explain the basic rules that you’ll find across lots of different types of Poker, both online and in real life.
The objective in Poker is simple, beat the other players at the table by either making them fold or by having the better hand. Note that you don’t necessarily have to have the best hand at the table to win, but we’ll go into more detail on that later on. Whether you win or not will be based on the community cards, the cards of the other players and the bets that you make.
Your hand is initially made up of two cards, which each player will be dealt at the start of the game. You’ll then use these two cards, plus the community cards to make the best possible five card hand. The other players won’t be able to see your hand, and you won’t be able to see theirs. The only way you can guess which cards they have is by the community cards and the bets they make.
The Community Cards
The community cards are the cards which are dealt into the middle of the table. In most games of Poker, there will be five cards, which you can then combine with your cards to make the best five card hand. Generally, a new card is dealt at the end of the betting round. This allows the players to decide on their next course of action after each new card.
The Other Players
The number of players around the table varies, but most Poker tables will seat a maximum of nine or ten players. If you’re playing a tournament, you’ll need to beat all the other players at the table, but in regular Poker, you can leave anytime you like. The other players will all be using the same community cards, so watch out for their reactions and bets to see if you can tell what kind of hand they have. The play travels clockwise around the table, starting with the player on the dealer’s left-hand side.
Players can choose from multiple different actions. These include placing a bet to match the amount bet by other players, increasing the bet and forcing other players to do the same and passing with no action. Depending on the actions of the other players, you may be forced to take a certain action. You can also choose to give up or fold your cards. This puts you out of the round until the next hand is dealt.
When you first start playing Poker, you might be a little confused by the terms and phrases used. Don’t worry, we were too when we first started! Thankfully, it doesn’t take too long to learn each term and know what they mean during the game. Here’s a short explanation of commonly found Poker terms and their meaning.
- Action – any action taken by a player to advance the game.
- All in – the action of placing all your chips into the middle of the table, “I’m going all in” is to signify that you’re betting it all on this hand.
- Ante – A mandatory payment that must be made by all players at the table who wish to participate in the round. Antes are often used in tournaments, and the phrase “to up the ante” is a common phrase to describe the stakes of a competition being raised.
- Bankroll – The amount of cash you have available to bet. When playing online Poker, this is usually the amount of money you have in your account. When playing in real life, your bankroll is often the chips you have with you.
- Blind – In Poker, there are two mandatory bets at the start of each round, the blind and the big blind. These move around the table, and blinds typically increase as the game progresses.
- Bluff – When you bet or raise despite having a weak hand. This can be done to trick other payers at the table into thinking that you have a much better hand than you really do. Bluffing can be used to make other players fold and win, even with a weak hand.
- Bounty – Some Poker tournaments feature special prizes for knocking out particular players. These cash prizes are available to anyone who knocks out a professional player.
- Buy-in – The amount it costs to sit at the table or to join the tournament. This can vary depending on which site you’re playing at.
- Call – To call is to match the existing bet for the current round.
- Check – Check is an action that means you’re not placing a bet, you’re just passing your turn and waiting for the actions of the other players.
- Community cards – The cards that are placed in the middle of the table, face-up. Not all types of Poker use community cards.
- Flop – The name given to the second betting round or when the three community cards are placed on the table after the first betting round.
- Fold – To fold is to give up for that round, you’ll discard your hand and wait for the next hand to be dealt. Folding is a useful strategy if you receive a bad hand or if you think one of the other players has a better hand. Any money you bet that round will be forfeit.
- Hole cards – The cards that are dealt face down to each player. These are kept secret until the end of the round.
- Kicker – These are cards that aren’t used in forming a hand but can still lead to a win. If two players have the same hand, the one with the highest kicker will win the round.
- Low hand – Some variations of Poker require you to make the lowest possible hand.
- Pot – The total amount of money being wagered that round. The winning player collects the entire pot.
- Raise – Raising is an action where the player will raise the current bet.
- River – The final betting round of Poker.
- Sandbagging – The opposite of bluffing, making it appear like you have a weak hand when, in actual fact, your hand is very strong. This can be done to not spook players into folding early.
- Small blind – In Poker there’s a big blind and a small blind which are both mandatory bets which are passed around the table. Each round a new player will be the small blind and have to start with the mandatory bet. This is usually half of the big blind.
- Split pot – Sometimes the pot is won by multiple players. For example, if there’s a tie.
- Tournament – A Poker tournament is a special competition where you’ll be trying to eliminate players and win as many chips as possible.
- Upcard – In Stud Poker, you’ll be dealt a face up card that everyone at the table can see, this is known as the upcard.
Player Actions Explained
We’ve briefly covered the different actions that you can take in a game of Poker, but now we’ll be going into more detail. If you want to play Poker, you’ll need to know what each action means and which is the best course of action for certain situations.
Fold – A player can choose to fold their cards if they don’t feel they have a good enough hand to win. This can be done at the start of the round before you’ve made a bet or at any other point in the round. If you have already made bets that round, you’ll be giving up your bets as well as your card. You’ll then have to sit and wait until the next cards are dealt.
Bet – This is fairly self-explanatory, you’re simply placing a bet down on the table. Some bets are mandatory, and these are known as the small blind and big blind. At the start of each round, the small and big blind roles are passed to a new player.
Call – To call is to match the current bet at the table. As an example, let’s say a player just bet $20. If you were to call that bet, you’d also need to put $20 in total down. If you’ve already bet $10, you’d only need to put $10 down. You’re just matching the amount that each active player has increased the pot by.
Raise – A raise is to increase the current betting amount. If each player has bet $20 and you want to bet $30, you’ll be raising. Each player at the table is then forced to match the bet in order to continue.
Check – To check is like ending your turn without choosing to increase your bet further. You can only check if the bet at the table hasn’t been increased that round. This is a good way to bide your time and see what actions the other players are taking. Once you’ve seen whether they raise or call, you can then decide whether to call or fold.
Poker Betting Rules
In Poker, mandatory bets are applied to each hand. This stops people from just folding until they get a good card and encourages proper play. These mandatory bets are known as the blinds, and there’s a big blind and a small blind.
Small blind starts out directly to the left of the dealer, and big blind is to the left of small blind. This means the player who is big blind will have to be small blind the next round. The amount of the blinds will depend on the table you’re playing at, but you’ll be able to see this information before you join the game. Small blind is usually half the amount of the big blind.
As we explained earlier, any player who wants to take part in the hand will have to match the bet at the table. So unless you fold, you’ll have to at least match the big blind to keep playing. If a player raises the bet, you’ll have to either match it, fold or raise yourself.
Rounds of Poker
Games of Poker can be split into rounds. Depending on which game type you’re playing, the number of rounds can vary. For Texas Hold ‘Em, however, there are four rounds. We’ll be explaining each round and the actions available to the players during the rounds.
The First Round – The Preflop
In the first round of the game, the big blind and small blind must make their bets. Each player is then dealt two cards each. These are dealt face down and must be hidden out of site of the other players. You wouldn’t want the other players to know what cards you have. At this point, you can choose to fold, call the bet or raise the bet. Player actions go clockwise around the table.
The Second Round – The Flop
Once the first betting round is over, and all the players have called or folded, the second round can begin. The dealer lays out three community cards in the middle of the table. These cards are dealt face up for all of the players to see, and it’s these community cards that you’ll use to make your hand with. Players can choose to check, call, raise or fold. Depending on the reactions of some players, you might try to predict what kind of cards they have.
The Third Round – The Turn
Here the dealer will add one more card to the community cards. Again, it will be face up and again, another round of betting then ensues. You can still fold at any point if you feel you don’t have the edge over your competition.
The Fourth Round – The River
This is the final betting round, and at this point, the final community card will be dealt. There should now be five community cards in total, and hopefully, you’ll be able to make a decent hand out of them and your hole cards. There’s a last chance to raise or call before the showdown.
At this point, any players that still haven’t folded must reveal their hole cards and show their hand. Whoever can make the highest hand will then win the pot. If all but one player fold in the fourth round, the remaining player will win and take the pot. They don’t have to reveal their cards in most cases.
Poker Betting Limits
Most Poker games will have limits on how much a player can bet. This helps to prevent players from betting too much in-game and also allows players to choose games that suit their playstyle better. Depending on your betting style and how you like to play Poker, one game type might have much more favourable betting rules than another.
The following are all examples of the different types of betting limits you can come across when playing Poker online:
Fixed Limit – In fixed limit games, there’s a limit which is set at the start of the game and doesn’t change. If you want to raise a bet, it has to be within the limit.
Pot limit – In these games, there’s a limit on how much you can bet which will change depending on the size of the pot. There’s a minimum betting amount, and the maximum amount is however much the pot is. This means that the limit changes as the rounds go by and will be bigger with more players in.
No limit – In this case, there is no limit. Players can bet as much as they want (provided they have the cash). Any player who wants to remain in the hand will be forced to call your bet. No limit games are better for players who have big bankrolls and who have strong enough nerves to deal with big money bluffers who often try to psyche other players out with massive raises.
Table stakes or All in – With this rule, players can only bet the amount of money they had at the start of the hand. This means that if you want to increase your bets, you’ll need to make sure you have enough cash by bringing in more chips between hands. This puts a limit on how much players can be forced to raise by.
In Poker, the players aim to create the best possible hand using their hole cards and the community cards. You can combine the cards in different ways, using both or just one of your hole cards to create a hand. If you want to play Poker, you’ll need to know the different hands and how valuable each one is. Most types of Poker will have a similar hand ranking, but there might be some differences here and there. This is the ranking of the best to lowest ranked hands in Texas Hold ‘Em:
Royal Flush – This is the best hand in the game and is unbeatable. A Royal Flush must contain the royal cards all in the same suit. That means Ace, King, Queen, Jack and 10 all with either diamonds, hearts, clubs or spades. An example would be if you had an Ace of spades and King of spades as your hole cards with a Queen, Jack and ten of spades in the community cards.
Straight Flush – A straight flush is five cards in a counting sequence, all in the same suit. An example would be a hand made from five of hearts, six of hearts, seven of hearts, eight of hearts and nine of hearts.
Four of a Kind – Four of a kind is fairly self-explanatory. It’s just four of the same card type. For example, four Aces, four tens or four threes.
Full House – A full house is a three of a kind and a pair. This means you’ll have three of one card and a pair of another. For example, you could have two Kings and three fives.
Flush – A flush is any hand where the cards are all of the same suit. The cards don’t have to be in any particular order, provided they’re all matching cards of the same suit, it counts. An example would be five cards all of spades.
Straight – A straight is a hand that contains a series of cards in numerical order. These can be cards from all different suits, provided they are in order. For example, you could have two, three, four, five and six of any of the suits. Aces can be used as either a one or after a King.
Three of a Kind – Three of a kind is three of the same card. For example, three Queens or three fours.
Two Pair – Two pair is a hand that contains two different pairs. For example, if a player has a hand with a pair of eights and a pair of tens, they have a two pair.
Pair – A pair is simply two of the same card. For example, two threes or two fours.
High Card – A high card is a hand with no other combination, the high card is the highest card in the hand. For example an Ace. If two players have the same hand, a high card is used to separate them. So if two players have a straight, the player with the highest card wins.
Different Types of Poker
Of course, there are lots of different rules of Poker out there. Some of what we’ve explained might be slightly different depending on which version you’re playing. Generally, there are four main categories of Poker. These are as follows:
Community Card Poker – Community card Poker is one of the most popular types of Poker and includes Texas Hold ‘Em and other classic games. In these games, players will be dealt cards, and the community cards will be dealt in the middle of the table. Players have to make the best hand out of the community cards and the cards in their hand.
Stud Poker – Stud Poker doesn’t use community cards and instead each player is dealt five cards. Some of these cards will be face up while others are face down. The cards are dealt across several betting rounds and players will all be guessing what kind of hands their opponents have.
Draw Poker – In draw Poker games, players are dealt five cards which are all kept face down and hidden from other players at the table. Again, there are no community cards, and players must simply make the best hand they can from their five cards. Unlike other games, you can request new cards from the dealer, allowing you to build a better five card hand.
Video Poker – Video Poker is a kind of a cross between draw Poker and slot machines. Rather than playing with other players at a table, you’ll be playing at a machine and trying to create the best hand by adding and removing cards.
Each of these main categories has loads of different individual games each with their own rules. It can be a little confusing at first if you’ve never played, but just take a look at some of the most popular game types below. You should also make sure you read the rules of any game of Poker before you play, just in case there’s something new that you weren’t expecting.
Texas Hold ‘Em – The most common format of Poker and mostly what you’ll be playing online, unless you’re specifically looking for a different game type. We always recommend players start here simply because most guides and new player information on Poker is based around Texas Hold ‘Em. The game is fairly straightforward to learn and is a type of community card Poker. There are four betting rounds, and each player tries to make the best possible five card hand using the five community cards and two hole cards. Players can’t see each other’s hands, so bluffing is common here.
Omaha Hold ‘Em – This gametype shares a lot of similarities with Texas Hold ‘Em. If you fancy a change from Texas Hold ‘Em, Omaha Hold ‘Em is a good place to start. Again, this is a community card game type, only here players are dealt four cards. Players must create the best possible five card hand using two of their hole cards and three of the community cards. Hand rankings are the same as in other games.
Omaha Hi-Lo – Omaha Hi-Lo is similar to Omaha Hold ‘Em in that players are each dealt four hole cards. Again, players will use the community cards to create their hand, only this time they’ll make two hands. Each hand should be made of five cards, with one being high and the other being low. The high card needs to have cards of eight or higher and the low hand needs to be eight or lower. The pot is split between the low hand winner and the high hand winner, this can be both the same player. If there’s no qualifying low hand, the high hand winner takes it all.
Five Card Stud – Five card stud is the earliest form of stud Poker and one of the simplest game types to play. It has its origins in the American Civil War where it was played by soldiers to pass the time. Today, the rules remain largely the same. Play starts with each player being dealt two cards. The first of these is face down while the second is face up. The player with the lowest upcard must pay the blind and start off play. Players are then dealt the rest of their five cards all face up in between betting rounds.
7 Card Stud – This is a stud game type, where there are no community cards. Here, each player is dealt seven cards over the course of five betting rounds. Some of these cards are dealt face up, while others are kept hidden from the other players. Each player will need to make the best possible five card hand to win. At the start of each game, players are dealt three cards each, with two hidden and one face up, the player with the lowest face card starts off play.
7 Card Stud Hi-Lo – This Poker variation follows the same rules as 7 Card Stud, only here players will need to make two hands. As with other Hi-Lo variants of Poker, each player will be aiming to make one high hand and one low hand. The high hands will need to contain cards of eight or higher, and the low hands will need to have eights or lower. In 7 Card Hi-Lo, Aces are considered low, and a player can win the entire pot with a flush or a straight.
Razz Poker – Razz Poker is a type of Stud Poker. In this game type, rather than trying to make the highest possible hand, players will be trying to make the lowest hand possible. This is one of the oldest forms of Poker and has a lot of history. Aces in Razz Poker are always considered low, and any flush or straight won’t count against the player for low. The best hand in the game is 5, 4, 3, 2, Ace otherwise known as the wheel or bicycle.
Chinese Poker – Players in Chinese Poker will each receive a hand of thirteen cards. All of the cards must then be arranged into three separate hands. Two hands, the middle and the back, contain five cards each. The third hand is known as the front and contains three cards. The back should have the highest-ranking hand, and the front should be the lowest ranking. Cards are hidden from the other players until the bets are made, and players agree to play their hand.
2-7 Triple Draw Lowball – This is another type of Poker where the objective is the hit the lowest hand possible. It’s a draw game, so players can choose to draw more cards if they’re willing to discard the same number of cards from their hand. Players keep their hand a secret from each other until the end, so there’s no way to know what kind of hand anyone has.
Caribbean Stud – Rather than playing against other players, Caribbean Stud sees players playing against the house. The game is based on the rules of five card Stud. The player starts by placing a wager and then the dealer and the player are both dealt five cards. One of the dealer’s cards is face up. The player can then choose to either fold or raise, and the dealer will turn over their cards. The dealer only qualifies if they have an Ace and a King, any pair or a high ranked Poker hand. At this point, the dealer’s hand is compared to the hand of the player and whoever has the best hand wins. If the dealer doesn’t qualify, the player’s original bet wins and any further bet they made is returned.
Casino Hold ‘Em – Casino Hold ‘Em is another way for players to play Poker against the house. As with Caribbean Stud, you won’t be trying to beat other players, just the dealer. Players start off with the ante bet and can also make a side bet if they want. The player and the dealer are both dealt two cards face down. Three community cards are then dealt into the middle of the table. The player can then choose whether to fold and lose the ante, or to double the ante. The dealer then deals the two remaining community cards, and both the player and the dealer will try and make the best five card hand. The dealer has to have a pair of fours or higher to qualify. If the dealer doesn’t qualify, the player wins their ante bet and any call made is returned.
Pai Gow – Pai Gow was created in the 1980s but still remains popular today. This is another game type of Poker where the player is playing directly against the dealer rather than other players at the table. The goal of the player in this game is two create two hands, one from five cards and the other from two cards. These two hands should ideally beat the two hands of the dealer. If you win just one of the hands, your bet is returned to you, lose both, and you’ll lose your bet.
Poker tournaments are one of the most exciting ways to play Poker, whether it’s online or off. One of the reasons why Poker has surged in popularity in the last ten years or so is because of the big televised Poker tournaments that are held around the world each year.
The World Series of Poker remains the biggest and most famous Poker tournament in the world, but there are plenty of different tournaments out there that you don’t need to be a pro to win. Most online casinos and Poker rooms will offer regular tournaments with different buy-ins and rules to give players of all abilities a chance to win.
Taking part in a tournament is exhilarating and can be extremely rewarding if you manage to take home the top prize. Before you jump in though, you need to understand the different types of Poker tournaments that are available.
The following are all types of Poker tournaments that you’ll commonly come across online.
Sit and Go Rules – These tournaments are fast-paces but provide a good learning experience for new players. If you’ve never played online Poker tournaments before, these are a great place to start as there’s little pressure. Simply join up, wait for it to fill up, then the tournament will begin.
Freeroll Rules – Most tournaments will have some kind of buy-in price to enter. These tournaments are completely free. You sign up, join in and the site will give you your chips. Prizes are smaller, but again, these are a good way to build up some experience.
Freezeout – This is the most common style of Poker tournament. Here, you’ll buy-in and receive your chips. These chips have to last you the entire tournament as once they’re gone, you’re out.
Multi-buy – Multi-buy tournaments are for more experienced players generally. These give you a chance to register with multiple stacks of chips at the start. That way, even if you run out of your first stack, you can continue playing. Be aware that registering with more stacks costs more.