There are lots of different versions of poker out there. However, if you are going to choose one, then it better be No-Limit Texas Hold’em. This is the most common poker variant that online casinos offer these days and this is unlikely to change soon.
This is the game that you see in popular poker tournaments. It is also featured prominently in lots of popular films such as Casino Royale, Maverick, and tons of others. This means that even if you are not an avid poker player, you would still benefit from reading this guide as all of those films and tournaments will suddenly make sense.
Basic Poker Terminology
Poker is not a very complicated game once you get the hang of it. Before a game starts, the player who is to the left of the dealer puts the “blind”. This is something similar to an ante bet in which the player puts a certain amount of money on the table to make the game more interesting. If there wasn’t a blind, for example, folding hands would come without any consequences and money lost.
After the Blind has been placed, each player on the table gets two cards. These are called hole cards and are dealt face down.
As soon as this has been completed, players get the chance to make combinations between their hole cards and the five community cards which are dealt on the table. Mind you, these five community cards aren’t put on the table right from the start.
First, the dealer puts down three community cards. This is called the flop. After the flop, a whole lot of betting goes on, but more on that later.
The fourth community card put on the table is called the turn. The last card is called the river.
Other basic poker terminology that you should be aware of includes terms such as:
- Bet – when you bet, others need to match your bet to proceed playing,
- Check – you stay in the game, but you don’t do much else,
- Call – when you match what is in the pot,
- Fold – you are out of the hand,
- Raise – you put more money in the pot.
There are obviously other poker terms that you are going to need help with. The names of the winning hands usually make quite a lot of problems for beginners. Not to worry, though, as those are the next ones we will cover.
The goal of No-Limit Texas Hold’em poker is to make the strongest five-card combination possible. To do this, players use their two hole cards and three of the community cards which work best with them.
There are ten winning combinations in Texas Hold’em. In case you are playing any of the other versions, you should know that winning hands are more or less the same. Otherwise, those games wouldn’t be called poker.
The lowest hand in poker is one that doesn’t have a pair or any other winning combination. This is called the High Card. Basically, your highest card of the five. In 99.9% of the cases this will be a losing hand, unless you can bluff your way to victory.
Next comes the Pair. As the name implies, this is any pair you can make (A-A, 4-4, J-J etc).
Stronger than just one pair is Two-Pair. This means that you have two pairs in your five-card hand (7-7 and K-K).
Three of a Kind is stronger than two-pair. It means that the player has three same value cards (8-8-8).
Straight is a sequence of 5 cards in a different suit and it trumps three of a kind (2-3-4-5-6).
Flush is any combination of five cards which are in the same suit.
This is bettered by a Full House (Q-Q-Q and A-A). A full house is basically three of a kind and a pair.
Four of a Kind is what you see most often in films and it means that there are four cards of the same value (3-3-3-3).
Straight Flush is stronger than four of a kind and is a sequence of cards, but in the same suit (4-5-6-7-8 all hearts).
Lastly, the strongest hand in poker is the Royal Flush. This is a straight flush, but with the five strongest cards from 10 to A (10-J-Q-K-A).
So how is Poker actually played?
Now that you know the basic poker terminology and winning hands, it’s time to play a real poker hand. It would go something like this.
First, the player on the left of the dealer puts the blind. After this, the dealer gives two cards to each player. These are face down. Each player evaluates his options after looking at the cards and after this is done, the player on the left of the dealer can do one of two things: bet or check.
Let’s say the player bets and everyone else follows suit and calls his bet. This means that all players are still in the game. If one or more of the players wanted to fold, they could have done it as early as this stage. Similarly, if any of the players wanted to raise, they could have done that as well.
After this first part of the hand is finished, the dealer puts the three community cards (the flop) on the table. These are dealt face up.
In most games, dealers “burn” one card from the deck before presenting the community cards, but this is not important, so we are not going to dwell on it.
Now that players can see the flop, they have the same options as before: bet, check, fold, or raise. As soon as everyone has decided what to do, the dealer deals the next community card, the turn. Once again, everyone goes through the same motions: bet, check, fold, or raise.
The last card that the dealer puts face up on the table is the river. The same as with the previous stages of the hand, the players that remained active this late in the hand decide to: bet, check, fold, or raise.
Poker Odds and Probabilities
Before we go on to describe the winning strategies in poker, it is worth knowing how difficult some poker hands can actually be. Most poker beginners would benefit from this as they would know how often they can expect some hands to come. These are just some random hole card combinations and the odds and probabilities they come with:
- Any pair (17-1) 5.9%,
- Pair of aces (221-1) 0.45%,
- Ace and king in the same suit (331-1) 0.3%.
As you can see, the chances of getting any pair are pretty good. Basically, you are bound to get a pair once in every 17 hands. However, getting a pair of aces is next to impossible. You would play with a hand such as this only once in 221 hands.
Even more unlikely to occur is to get an ace and king in the same suit. This would come once in 331 hands, which means that if you play 100 hands per day, you would get a suited K-A combo once every three days.
Poker Winning Strategies
Those odds and probabilities might have discouraged you from sitting in on a poker table. However, you should remember that they are the same for all players.
This means that everyone on a poker table starts with the same chances of having a winning hand. Both a new player and a poker pro will statistically get the same quality of cards in the long run.
However, poker is anything but a game of chance. In fact, there are lots of winning strategies that poker pros utilize and a beginner will learn that those odds mean nothing pretty early in a poker game.
That’s why it is very important that poker players, especially beginners, try to implement some tried and tested poker strategies.
A really good tip in this regard is to only take part in about 15-20% of the hands if there are nine players on the table. This is because that’s the percentage of good hands that you can expect to get on any given poker night.
To simplify this even further, if you want to minimize your poker losses, sit out four out of five hands. This might sound like a lot, but if you do this, you would last much longer on the table than if you call every bet a pro makes.
And that brings us to our next point. The biggest mistake that beginners make is constantly calling hands. They don’t know whether to fold or raise, so the safest bet in their mind is to just call.
However, this is also the surest way to lose all of your poker money, especially if playing against seasoned poker players. They would soon see that you are there for the taking and would have a field day with you.
A good piece of advice to counter this bad practice is to bet instead of call. This is because if you constantly call, sooner or later you will have to show your cards. If you are in a duel with a poker veteran and you call all of his bets, chances are that he is priming you for the slaughterhouse.
If you bet, on the other hand, you can win a hand without even showing your cards. The best poker players utilize this strategy and if they do it, then so can you.
The last piece of advice you should heed is to back seemingly weak hands. Let’s say you have a pair of 4s. This is definitely not something to write home about, but it is probably worth waiting for the flop, unless someone bets an incredible amount. In that case, steer clear and fold. However, if you can get to the flop without spending many of your chips, you should be good.
So now the flop is dealt and, let’s say, the cards on the table are 5-4-J. For the other players on the table who might have pairs of aces or kings this is a disastrous flop. However, it’s perfect for you. Your hand is ‘concealed’ and those who were hoping to win the hand don’t know who they are up against.
After the turn and the river have been produced this is the full set of community cards: 5-4-J-3-J. If some of the other players had a strong pair to start with, they would certainly call any bet you make. However, with the full house you now have you are basically taking those guys for a ride.
Poker is a real casino classic. It requires a combination of luck and knowledge and this means that the only way for players to get better is to keep playing it.
It is to be expected that beginner players will lose some money at first. However, if they play with the right strategy they can shorten this learning curve significantly.
The best way to be good at poker is to bide your time and not to call every bet that other players make. In fact, it is estimated that you should sit out a good portion of hands in a poker night.
This also means that you shouldn’t get over-enthusiastic about a hand and should try to look at things with a cool head as often as possible.