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The objective of poker
To win at poker, either create the highest-ranking hand or convince all other players to fold. The winner takes the ‘pot’, meaning the bets wagered by players during each round.
Poker rules for beginners: A step-by-step guide
The dealer shuffles the deck well between every hand. Each player is dealt hole cards – which is two cards in Texas Hold’em, and four/five cards in Omaha.
This is the initial betting stage where players first have the option to call, raise, re-raise, or fold, based on the potential value of their starting hands.
The three community cards (board) are revealed in the centre of the table. Players can begin building their hands, and again choose to check, raise or fold.
The fourth community card is turned face-up. The value of each player’s hand starts to become much clearer. Players again check, raise or fold.
The fifth and final card is placed face-up, and players are now aware of the full value of their hand. It’s the last chance for players to check, raise or fold.
The final stage. All remaining players reveal their hands face-up for everyone to see.
- The best hand wins
The player with the most valuable hand wins the pot. Knowing your hand rankings is essential.
Types of plays and bets in poker
In poker, bets are placed before the game in the form of forced bets, typically big and small blinds, and throughout the game by calling or raising during each betting stage.
Note that a player does not necessarily need a good hand to bet. Raising the bet to try and convince players you have a strong hand is a common bluffing strategy (and a risky one).
All betting rounds have to be properly completed before the action can begin or resume, ensuring all players have agreed exactly what is at stake.
Here are a few poker plays and bets to help you become familiar with the poker table:
To place no additional bet. The action simply passes round the table to the next player on the left. You can’t check if a bet occurs before your turn in that round. However, if every active player decides to check during a betting round, that round is deemed complete.
To discard your cards face-down, and take no further part in that hand.
If no wager has been made, you can choose to bet yourself. Once your bet has been placed, the remaining players must decide whether to call your bet, raise it, or fold their cards. Please note: the minimum table bet should always equal the big blind bet.
Once a bet has been placed, remaining players have the option to ‘call’, which simply means matching the current table bet to continue playing a hand.
To increase the size of the initial bet, you can ‘raise’ the bet by proposing a bigger one.
A ‘blind’ is a mandatory bet placed before every hand of Hold’em and Omaha poker, by the two players sitting to the immediate left of the button (dealer). There are two kinds of blinds – big and small – and these increase over the course of the game to encourage the action, and prevent players from simply folding each turn.
- Small blind
The small blind is the player seated between the button and the big blind. The small blind bet is always 50% of the big blind bet.
- Big blind
The big blind sits to the left of the small blind, two places to the left of the button, and is double the amount of the small blind bet.
Another type of forced bet, but required by all players. Typically found in tournaments and poker variations to promote and encourage gameplay.
Playing Your Hands
So when should you play a hand? When should you fold? As every expert poker player knows, calculating your ‘poker equity’ is key – i.e. the probability percentages which show the likelihood of your hand winning a showdown, and your current share of the pot.
Our handy guide to pre-flop match-ups and hand improvements helps you better understand your pre-flop and post-flop pot equity (%), and enhance your decision-making at the table.
This shows the probability of success, and your current pot equity, for different starting hands before the flop:
Overpair vs underpair
An overpair is a pocket pair with a value higher than any other pair that could be created using community cards. For the underpair to win in this example match-up, the player would be relying on the low probability of hitting a set, full house or quads.
Pocket aces vs non-pair
Pocket aces are the best possible starting hand in Hold’em poker. Our chart shows players with pocket aces start with an 86.3% pot equity versus a player holding a non-pair.
The probability of success once the flop is dealt, and the odds of receiving a desired hand.
Flopping a set – 8.3/1 (10.8%)
The probability of flopping a set (a three-of-a-kind made with a pocket pair) is just 10.8%, meaning the chances are low but not uncommon. The chances of making a set or better by the river (fifth community card) increases almost twofold to 19% with a pocket pair.
Flopping a full house – 136/1 (0.74%)
The probability of flopping a full house with a pocket pair is extremely low – just 1 in 136.
How to play hole cards
Using these probability percentages, we’ve created a simple but comprehensive chart, showing what actions players should take pre-flop with a range of different hole cards.
For example, you’re dealt an ace and a jack of different suits (represented as ‘AJ’, as opposed to ‘AJs’ which refers to ace-jack suited). You can simply consult the chart and see whether it’s advisable to raise, check or fold, depending on your position on the table.
This easy-to-use chart is your perfect companion at the poker table. Download our ‘How to Play Hole Cards’ guide for free, and make it part of your winning strategy in online poker.
Here are some simple betting strategies to consider when playing poker:
Whether you’re pleased with the strength of your hand or not, there are several reasons why you may want to consider raising the bet:
- To boost the size of the pot
- To force a rival player to fold
- To reduce the number of players in the round
- To force an opponent to pay for a hand they are ‘drawing’ to
- To essentially ‘take control’ of a hand
If a player checks early in a betting round, then after an opponent bets, the same player instead chooses to raise, this is a common poker strategy known as ‘check-raising’.
Players often check-raise when they have a strong hand, and want players to contribute more money to the pot that they are confident they can win. For example, if you flop a set with a low-value pocket pair, players who raised pre-flop are likely to have a pair of high-ranking cards like aces or kings – and may feel compelled to bet if you initially check.
Using the same logic, check-raising can also be used as a means of bluffing, by playing aggressively on low flops when players have indicated they have high-ranking cards pre-flop.
Alternatively, if you suspect a check-raise on the flop will cause a player to fold, then the smarter option could be to ‘slow play’ by check-calling instead, and hope your opponent plays more aggressively by betting on the turn or river later in the hand.
This style of betting involves identifying a pattern in another player’s behaviour and then exploiting it to win. It can also refer to using counter strategies to identify mistakes made by opponents and using betting to take advantage of the situation.
For example, if a player is folding a significant number of times during a game, an opponent could exploit this by playing more aggressively and bluffing relentlessly.
Don’t think your hand will be a winning hand at the showdown? Are the stakes getting too high? Simply choose to fold. But be advised: a good starting hand – for example an ace-high or a pair – shouldn’t be discarded unless you read an opponent’s much stronger hand.
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