The Basic Rules of Poker
Are you an aspiring poker player looking to get started with poker game rules? Are you struggling with your straight flushes and your top pairs? Do you need to know the difference between Hold’em, Omaha and Badugi?
There are now more poker variants available online than ever. And if you want to get ahead of the pack before entering that poker room, you’ll need to grasp some simple poker rules.
Poker Hand Rankings
Before you learn poker game rules, it’s important to understand basic poker hand ranking.
In a game of poker, the player with the highest hand wins. Although in some variants such as Razz, the player with the worst hand wins the pot.
Let’s take Texas Hold’em and Omaha as examples. At showdown, every player remaining compares their hands. Hands are ranked according to this list, from highest to lowest:
10-J-Q-K-A of the same suit
Example: 10h Jh Qh Kh Ah
Five cards of the same suit in consecutive order
Example: 3h 4h 5h 6h 7h
Four of a Kind
Four cards of the same value plus any card
Example: 5h 5s 5d 5c Ah
A pair and a three-of-a-kind
Example: Ah Ad 6c 6d 6s
Five non-consecutive cards of the same suit
Example: 2h 4h 10h Qh Kh
Five consecutive cards of different suits
Example: 4d 5c 6d 7h 8c
Example: 4d 4h Jc Js Kd
One pair of the same value plus three other cards
Example: Kh Kd 2s 3d 8h
Five unconnected cards of different suits
Example: Ah 4d Jh 6s Kh
Tips on Making Great Poker Hands
It’s important for a new poker player to understand starting hands when they learn poker rules. Playing the wrong starting hands can lead to some pain later on.
Let’s take the most popular poker variant: Texas Hold’em. In Hold’em, you receive two cards face down at the start of the hand. There is a betting round before three community cards are dealt out. This is called “the flop.”
Even beginners should understand the chances of making a good 5-card poker hand with your two “hole cards” and the flop.
For instance, you have a 2.1% chance of being dealt a big hand like A-A, A-K suited, or K-K. And you only get dealt a pocket pair around 6% of the time.
There’s a good excuse for throwing away your low flush cards. You’ll only have around a 0.8% chance of hitting your flush on the flop.
And don’t get attached too much to pocket jacks. There’s more than a 50% chance that a higher card will appear on the flop, putting you in danger of being outgunned by another player’s hand.
CHECK OUT: Online Poker Strategy & Tips
Playing the Poker Variants
You will find over half a dozen variants at most legal online poker sites, whether they be in Pennsylvania, New Jersey or elsewhere. Learning the basic poker rules is easy, but mastering each discipline can take years.
Texas Hold’em Poker Rules
Texas Hold’em is easily the most popular form of poker in the world. You will find the greatest selection of online cash games and tournaments in Texas Hold’em. And while the basic Texas Hold’em poker rules are easy to follow, fortunes can wildly change on the turn of a card and a winning hand can suddenly crumble.
At the start of a Hold’em game, the two players to the left of the dealer (Seat 1) post a blind. The player in Seat 2 posts a small blind, while Seat 3 posts a big blind. The big blind is worth double the small blind. These are an enforced wager that start the action off.
Once blinds have been posted, every player receives two cards face down. A round of betting follows, starting with the player in Seat 4 (Under the Gun). A minimum bet must be worth the same as the big blind. A raise must be worth at least double the big blind or the value of the previous bet.
Once all bets have been called, three community cards are dealt onto the table. This is known as the flop and is shared by all players left in the hand.
Another betting round follows, starting with the player in the small blind. They can bet or check (take no action).
Once the round has been completed, a fourth community card – the “turn” – is added to the community cards. Another round of betting action takes place.
A fifth and final community card is added to the table. A final round of betting then takes place.
Once all bets have been matched, any remaining players go to showdown and compare hands. Players must make the best 5-card poker hand with their two cards and the five community cards.
Cash Games and Tournament Rules
In online poker, you will come across two main types of poker: cash games and tournaments. Most players specialize in one variant but it’s good to have an overall grounding.
In cash games, the blinds remain static throughout. You’ll see a list of blind levels in the poker lobby. For example, a $2/4 No Limit Texas Hold'em table would have fixed blinds of $2 and $4.
In a cash game, you can leave any time you like and even rebuy if you run out of money. That changes the strategy somewhat as you don’t have to worry about going bust. Therefore, cash games sometimes favor players with deep pockets.
At legal online poker sites, you’ll find cash tables in all variants of Texas Hold’em, as well as Omaha and even rarer games like Badugi.
It’s also more common to find different betting formats like Pot Limit and Limit in cash games. Here are some of the more common types of cash games you’ll find in 2020:
- No Limit Texas Hold'em
- Limit Hold’em
- Pot Limit Hold’em
- Fixed Limit Hold’em
- Pot Limit Omaha
- Pot Limit Omaha Hi-Lo
In a tournament, you pay a buy-in and receive a set number of chips to play with. The prizepool can vary depending on the number of players in the game. However, most online poker sites offer guaranteed prizepools, regardless of how many players enter.
Freezeouts: In a freezeout, you receive a number of chips. Once you’ve lost all your chips, you are out.
Rebuys: Some tournaments allow rebuys if you run out of chips. Plus, you can request an add-on after a set time period. This is a top-up of chips that are added to your stack.
Bounty: In a bounty, part of your buy-in goes toward the prizepool. The rest goes toward a bounty that is awarded to any player who knocks you out of the tournament.
PKO (Progressive Knockout): PKOs are becoming more popular online. A PKO is a bounty tournament where you immediately collect half your opponent’s bounty when you knock them out. The other half is added to your own bounty. Therefore, you can win cash by knocking out players, even if you don’t progress very far.
Sit ‘n Gos: A Sit ‘n Go is an online tournament that starts as soon as every available seat is filled. The prizepool is usually shared among the top 10-20% of finishers.
Sit ‘n Gos can come in single-table tournament (STT) format, or as multi-table tournaments (MTTs) where more than 100 players might play.
3-Card Poker Rules
Most poker game rules apply to 5-card variants. However, you can also find 3-card games at online poker sites.
Three Card Poker is a casino variant played against the house. It’s similar to the English card game Brag.
In the game, you place a bet that your 3-card poker hand is better than the dealer’s. The dealer must have a queen-high hand or better in order to qualify.
Hand rankings in 3-card poker games are as follows. Note that in three-card poker rules, a straight beats a flush:
- Straight Flush
- Three of a Kind
- High Card
5-Card Draw Poker Rules
5-card Draw was popular in saloons and riverboat casinos for more than a hundred years before Texas Hold’em captured the public imagination.
In 5-card Draw, every player receives five cards in their hand. An ante is paid by each player before they get their cards.
A round of betting follows, then every player has the choice of exchanging 0-5 cards. The aim is to turn their hand into a better 5-card poker hand.
After a change of cards, there is another round of bets. Any players left in go to showdown and compare their hands. Winning hand rankings follow those in Texas Hold’em:
- Royal Flush
- Straight Flush
- Four of a Kind
- Full House
- Three of a Kind
- Two Pair
- One Pair
- High Card
Omaha Poker Rules
Omaha is a Hold’em variant where each player is dealt four hole cards instead of just two. There are still five community cards, and each player must make the best 5-card hand.
However, Omaha poke rules state that you must use two of your hole cards, plus three of the community cards.
For example, imagine you are dealt: Kh Jh 6d 3d
The board reads: Ks As Kd 4h 5h
Your best possible hand is three of a kind, using K-J from your hand and K-K-A from the board: Kh Jh Ks Kd As
Omaha is typically played online as Pot Limit, especially in cash games. That means the maximum raise you can make is the size of the pot after you have called.
Rules for Playing 7-Card Stud
7-card Stud is an established poker variant that can be played as a cash game or tournament. 7-card Stud is often played in Las Vegas during the World Series of Poker.
In 7 card Stud, every player receives two cards face down and one face up. Between alternating rounds of betting, every player is dealt three more face-up cards and a final card face-down. The aim is to make the best possible 5-card poker hand, according to standard rankings.
The betting starts with a ‘bring in’ – that is, an ante paid by the player showing the lowest up card. On every round of betting, the first bet is made by the player with the lowest up card.
Here’s an example hand:
Player 1: [x] [x] 2h
Player 2: [x] [x] Jd
Player 1 would bring in the betting, and the hand continues.
After several rounds of betting, the hands look like this:
Player 1: [x] [x] 2h Kd Ad 6c [x]
Player 2: [x] [x] Jd Jc Qd Qh [x]
After a final round of betting, the two hands are revealed:
Player 1: [2s] [3s] 2h Kd Ad 6c [10h]
Player 2: [4s] [Ac] Jd Jc As Qh [5c]
Player 2 would win the pot with two pair (aces and jacks).
Some variants of poker are only played in a casino against the dealer. Like Three Card Poker, Mississippi Stud is a game where you take on the house, not other players. It’s easy to learn and only takes a minute to play a hand.
To start, you make an ante wager and receive two hole cards face down. Three community cards are also dealt face down. These are shared by everyone at the table.
You now have two options: fold your hand or place a bet worth 1-3 times your ante. After this bet, the first community card is turned over. You now have an option to fold or continue betting.
Next, the second community card is turned over and another round of betting action takes place. The third and final community card is then turned over, after which players are paid out according to the paytable:
- Royal Flush: 600/1
- Straight Flush: 100/1
- Four of a Kind: 40/1
- Full House: 10/1
- Flush: 6/1
- Straight: 4/1
- Three of a Kind: 3/1
- Two Pair: 2/1
- Pair of Jacks or higher: 1/1
- Pair of sixes to tens: Push
Other Poker Rules & Variations
With some basic poker game rules, you’re ready to hit the tables. In the US, you will find a variety of exciting poker games available to suit all stakes.
But what about weird and wonderful poker variants that are a little different to Texas Hold’em?
Badugi: Some online poker rooms spread Badugi cash games. Badugi is a draw game where the aim is to make the lowest possible hand. The best hand in Badugi is A-2-3-4 of different suits. This is known as a 4-high Badugi.
Razz: Razz is a variant of 7-card Stud where the aim is to make the lowest, or worst, possible poker hand. Like 7-card Stud, you are dealt two hole cards and one up card. You continue betting and receiving cards until you have seven in total.
In Razz, the player’s hand that is the lowest wins. Therefore, the best hand is A-2-3-4-5, known as the “wheel.” Like Stud, Razz is usually played with Limit betting, where the size of the maximum bet increases on later streets.
Omaha Hi-Lo: Omaha is generally played as High or Hi-Lo. In Omaha High, the highest 5-card poker hand wins.
In Omaha Hi-Lo, however, the pot can be split between the highest hand and the lowest qualifying hand. A low hand must consist of five cards worth 8 or lower.
For example, imagine two players have gone to showdown.
Player 1: 4h 2d 6h Jc
Player 2: 7h 10c 10d Qc
Board: 10s 9h 7d Ad 3c
In this hand, Player 1 would win half the pot by holding Ad 2d 3c 4h 7d (2d-4h from their hand plus three community cards). Player 2 would take half the pot for winning the high hand, 10c 10d 10s Ad 9h.
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Jon Young is a writer and magazine editor with over 12 years' experience in the gaming sector. He has written on everything from poker and slots to casino, sports betting and mobile gambling. When not trying to take down the Mega Moolah jackpot he can be found playing poker tournaments in casinos.