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How to Play Poker Online and Offline

Are you a newbie who dreams of becoming an unbeatable shark? Well, you should learn how to play poker first, and Cardmates is here to familiarize you with different game types and help move from scratch to a professional level.

The realm of poker may appear vast, as the diversity of its modifications is truly impressive. Some disciplines bear striking similarities, while others seem entirely distinct from traditional action. Nonetheless, each version undoubtedly merits attention. 

For a successful start, it's essential to grasp poker basics and then deepen your knowledge by exploring varying strategies, tactics and at-the-table behaviours. This page covers fundamentals of the widely recognized poker variation, Texas Hold'em. It encompasses all the most important aspects that novices need to know. 

If Hold'em is not your cup of tea, or you simply want to explore another game type, use our quick access panel above. We've gathered the most popular poker versions – you will be navigated to the target article with just one click. 

Should you come across new words in the text, do not hesitate to consult our "Poker Terminology" dictionary. 

How to Play Poker for Dummies

By way of organizing gameplay, poker formats can be divided into two types:

cash tables – real money games played at specific stakes (you exchange 💵 for chips before joining the action); one can leave the table at any time.

tournaments – you pay a fixed entry fee referred to as ''buy-in'', competing for prize-winning places.

Texas Hold'em is widely recognized as the most renowned form of poker, where each individual is initially given two cards (commonly known as ''pocket'' or ''hole'' cards) face down so that no one really knows their strength except the holder.


As the game progresses, five shared cards are placed on the table in the following way: the first three cards are dealt at once, while the fourth and fifth ones show up one by one. 

The deck used here consists of 52 regular elements. This allows accommodating a flexible number of players at the table: from 2 participants (heads-up match) to 9 or 10 people (full ring). The seating arrangement, whether online or offline, encompasses three position groups.

  • early position or ЕР
  • middle position or МР
  • late position or LP
Did you know?
Did you know?

Classic poker does not involve any shared cards (otherwise called ''community cards'') on the table. Players form combinations solely using the cards they have been dealt.

What is the basic rule of poker? Regardless of whether you're addressing poker for recreational purposes or as a serious pursuit, ground game rules remain consistent. Your main goal is to win the hand, which entails taking the pot. You can achieve this in two ways:

  • Force all your opponents to muck their cards before the card reveal stage (it’s called ''showdown''). You can either have a nut hand (this is the highest-ranking combination in a given situation) or make it seem as if you have one, applying bluffing techniques.
  • Beat your opponents during the showdown by making the strongest hand.

Are you a tournament fanatic? Then your final goal is to emerge victorious in an event, grabbing the top prize.

Main structures of betting

Hold'em and alternative poker variants employ diverse betting systems. There are three categories:

  • No limit – this format enables participants to bet up to the size of their stack, making it the most demanded choice.
  • Pot limit – pot size dictates the maximum bet amount, creating an environment where bets can escalate as the pot boosts.
  • Fixed limit – bet sizes for each betting round are predetermined and cannot be exceeded. Typically, there are also restrictions on the number of raises per street. This helps protect poker players’ bankrolls as they do not risk losing their entire stack all at once.

Traditional Hand Ranking System

One of the primary aspects to consider is poker combinations. Their ranking (order) from weakest to strongest is as follows:

HandExplanationExampleProbability
Royale Flush
a sequence of 5 cards ranging from 10 to Ace, all in the identical suit
Т♠-J♠-Q♠-К♠-А♠
Т♥-J♥-Q♥-К♥-А♥
Т♦-J♦-Q♦-К♦-А♦
Т♣-J♣-Q♣-К♣-А♣
0.003% (requires a real stroke of luck)
Straight Flush
suited straight (5 suited cards in sequence)
5♦-6♦-7♦-8♦-9♦
0.028%
Four of a kind
(aka Quads)
4 cards of the same rank + 1 random card
A♥-A♠-A♣-A♦-6♦
0.168%
Full HouseThree of a kind + Pair
K♦-K♣-K♠-9♦-9♦
2.596%
Flush5 suited cards of any value
4♣-8♣-J♣-Q♣-A♣
3.025%
Straight5 cards in sequence (offsuit)2♦-3♣-4♦-5♠-6♥
 9♥-10♦-J♠-Q♥-K♣
4.619%
Three of a kind
(Set / Trips)
3 cards of the same rank + 2 random cardsJ♦-J♠-J♥-8♦-10♠
4.830%
Two Pair2 cards sharing one rank united with 2 cards having a different rank + 1 random card5♦-5♣-8♣-8♥-K♦
23.5%
Pair2 cards of the same suit + 3 random cards
10♦-10♠-Q♣-5♦-9♠
43.8%
High Card
5 cards not related by value, suit, or sequence
A♦-8♠-J♥-2♠-10♣
17.4%

From time to time, there are situations where players collect equal-strength combinations. In such cases, Kicker helps determine a winner. It's worth mentioning that the Kicker itself is not considered part of the hand.

Example
Example

Liam was dealt A-Q, while John received A-10. The board came down 7-J-A-2-J. Both players ended up with two pair (AA vs JJ), but Liam's queen kicker played to earn him victory. In the case of an identical kicker, they would have split the pot.

Basic Rules of Poker: Available Actions 

On each street, players have certain options for their actions. Here they are:

  • Bet – putting chips in the pot.
  • Raise – increasing the existing bet by adding more chips into the pot compared to the previous participant.
  • Reraise, 3-bet – raising after somebody else has already raised during the ongoing betting round.
  • Call – fitting your rival’s bet or raise by putting an equal number of chips on the line.
  • Check – passing the turn to your opponent. This action implies that you continue playing but do not add any chips to the pot. Checking is available in the following situations:
    • on preflop – when playing from BB (big blind), provided that nobody raised before you;
    • on post-flop – if you are the first to act, or someone already checked before you.
  • Check-raise – this is a more advanced tactic where you first skip your turn (that is, play check) and then raise your rival’s bet.
  • All In (shove, jam, push) – putting all of your chips (entire stack) on the line.
  • Fold – mucking hole cards, that is, refusing to further participate in the hand.

Forced Bets: Big Blind and Small Blind

In addition to voluntary contributions, simple poker rules also include such a concept as “forced” bets, otherwise known as blinds. The action kicks off as the two players adjacent to the left of the button (dealer) make their blind bets. Small Blind pays first, followed by Big Blind (online, they are often abbreviated as SB and BB, respectively).

Big Blind usually posts twice the value of Small Blind. Let’s assume, you are playing poker with $1/$2 stakes. SB bets $1, and BB should double this sum, that is, pay $2.

How to play poker

When participating in cash games, people normally opt for a buy-in amount equal to 100 BB. For instance, if your budget allows you to spend $50, then you should look for a table with $0.25/$0.50 stakes. This format does not involve blind growth, meaning that SB and BB amounts remain fixed throughout the game. Tournaments, on the other hand, operate differently: blind levels increase at regular intervals set by a poker room, creating a more dynamic gameplay experience.

Why do we need to post blinds?
Why do we need to post blinds?

These mandatory bets speed up gameplay and promote a competitive atmosphere, hindering players from passivity, as many of them overfold in the hope to get optimal pocket cards and refuse to fight for the pot with marginal/unpaired/offsuit/gapped starters. Moreover, SB and BB form the initial pot, ensuring winnings in every hand.

Betting Round Sequence Explained

The entire gameplay of Texas Hold'em comes down to a few key stages. There are four betting stages (rounds) in a hand: preflop → flop → turn → river. Then, combinations are compared to determine a winner.

Let's examine each round of betting more closely.

Preflop

How to play poker for beginners

Once the blinds are posted, every participant at the table receives two private cards, followed by a betting process. What actions are available for players?

  1. Fold and exit the hand without losing a single chip.
  2. Equal BB’s bet, that is, put $2 into the pot. As mentioned earlier, this action is known as "call" (or "limp" in more advanced poker).
  3. Raise the current bet. The minimum raise is one big blind. Thus, the player equals the initial bet of $2 + adds another $2, bringing the total bet to $4.

How to play poker

The individual positioned to the left of BB takes the first action preflop. This is an early position called UTG (Under the Gun); the last players to act are SB and BB. Small blind has the following moves to consider:

  1. Fold, losing $1.
  2. Call – match the existing bet (either BB’s bet by adding 1 dollar, or one of the opponents’ bets).
  3. Raise.

Big blind has slightly more diverse options at this stage:

  1. Check (since they have already invested $2). In this case, betting ends and the flop is dealt (more on that later).
  2. Call, if someone raised before them.
  3. Fold (though why give up when you can play check instead).

When a raise is made, all other players can choose to call, fold, or reraise. The minimum raise is one big blind, which is $2 in this case.

The betting phase finishes once every player has made their decision. One takes the pot if nobody called their bet/raise. As a rule, players do not reveal their hand strength, but this is possible in home games. We personally do not recommend doing so, as your bluffing may not work next time.

Flop

If multiple people remain in the game, 3 community cards are revealed face-up on the table (they are visible to all participants) – this stage is called the flop. Subsequently, another betting phase kicks off, offering players the same options as the previous one plus the choice to check and skip their turn, passing it to the next participant in clockwise order.

Important note!
Important note!

Small blind comes into play first on all streets except preflop.

Turn and river

Once all players have acted, the fourth card – referred to as the turn – falls on the board. Betting goes on following the familiar scheme. At last, the fifth and final board (community) card, called the river, shows up.

How to play poker for dummies

Showdown

At this point, the finalists’ combinations are compared to determine the strongest one. A showdown, by the way, can occur in any round if all participants move all-in. In this case, the missing shared cards are dealt all at once; determining "champion" is identical. No further betting takes place, of course.

Poker rules of showdown

Who is responsible for dealing cards?
Who is responsible for dealing cards?

In brick-and-mortar casinos, this responsibility falls upon a skilled professional (croupier). In other cases, it is customary for the player performing from the button position to deal cards, although this is not an absolute rule. Online rooms make use of RNG (derived from Random Number Generator) technology to ensure random and unbiased card assigning.

Other Poker Game Rules at a Glance

While Texas Hold'em remains the top choice for most players, modern poker offers a vast array of other variations that should not be ignored. They differ in their rules and may appear intricate at first glance, but they are no less exciting.

Omaha

Yet another highly popular variation of poker. Gameplay follows the same principles as in Hold'em, but people are dealt 4 cards rather than the standard two. To make the strongest hand, however, you only can use two of them plus three of the five shared cards on the board.

Following Omaha Hi Lo rules (a more complex option), participants aim to make both the highest and the lowest hand. This means they need to try collecting two separate combinations.

Stud

During the initial stage, everyone is given only two cards: one hidden from view and one exposed. Players act based on what they see, either choosing to stay in the game or folding.

Four more cards are dealt then: three visible and one face down. This is then followed by a round of betting, leading to the final stage of comparing combinations (showdown).

There are Stud variations with 5, 6, 7, and even 8 cards involved.

Razz

This is a lowball-type game where the lowest-ranked hand wins. Another distinction is that players get 7 cards but they can only use five to make a combination. Note that the hand cannot include any repeated ranks.

Cards are disclosed one by one, not in a single reveal. If the first cards are equal, then one should compare the second ones, and so on. The player with the lower-ranking card wins.

Sökö

This variation of poker is widely enjoyed in Finland and bears a striking resemblance to 5-Card Stud, except for hand ranking. It introduces two additional hands: a 4-card straight and a 4-card flush. Their rank is above a pair but below two pair.

The four-card straight includes 4 consecutive cards plus one random element. Straights are compared first and if they are equal, a winner is determined based on the rank of the fifth card in play. A similar scheme applies to the four-card flush.

Traditional straight and flush combos are also part of the ranking list (in their respective order of seniority).

Video poker

This format is also highly popular nowadays and revolves around playing with a 5-card hand. It is an exotic offering in online casinos. While video poker may seem similar to slot machines, it requires certain skills though. For example, one should optimally play dealt cards (according to the hierarchy of poker combinations).

These are just a few game variations, but in reality, one can count dozens of them. It's really hard to say which one is the best or most captivating. Ultimately, the choice comes down to your personal preferences and what resonates with you the most.


A Few Last Thoughts to Share

How to play cards poker? Well, learning poker can be challenging for novices, but don't be discouraged – it's all about practice and dedication. We’ve tried to explain the game in a straightforward manner, providing both theory and practical examples. And if you aspire to become a poker pro and perform at a professional level, be sure to explore our "Poker Strategies" section.

That’s it, kitties 😇 See you in other articles on Cardmates. Wishing everyone a smooth start and a successful journey ahead!

P.S. Don't forget to bookmark this page so that the basic poker rules are always at your fingertips 😉

FAQ

❓ How easy is it to learn poker?

Understanding the game rules is simple and straightforward, so you will quickly learn how things work. But, if you want to become a truly seasoned player, studying poker will take lots of time. As you improve your play, you'll simply have to start devoting even more time to the game. This is necessary to maintain your skills as well as increase your edge over others.

👀 How to play poker for beginners?

You first need to familiarize yourself with the hierarchy of possible combinations (as this allows you to understand the power of certain cards) and gameplay details.

Next, we recommend trying your hand at cash tables or tournaments in training mode where games run for virtual credits. Freerolls can also come in handy as playing them you do not risk your own funds. Note that some free-to-enter tourneys are private and you should have special freeroll passwords to join. Having enough practice, you can move on to playing low-stakes real money games with $0.01/$0.02 blinds or cheap tournaments up to $3.

🎯 Can you teach yourself to play poker?

Generally, yes. All you need is a well-structured informational resource where you can get all the necessary knowledge, at any stage of becoming a seasoned poker player.

Here at Cardmates, you’ll find helpful and educational content: rules of popular poker variations, each combination specifics, strategies for playing with different stacks (both cash and tournaments), auxiliary software reviews, and much more. There are also a lot of detailed articles dedicated to highly anticipated poker operators like GGPoker, PokerStars, 888poker and others. We offer guidance on how to download & install client programs on PCs and mobile devices, explain the intricacies of verification and provide details on bonus wagering.

💸 How to win poker?

To earn funds in the long run, you need to learn to control yourself in all situations. Don’t make rash moves under the influence of negative emotions caused by a series of failures. The same applies to participation in costly cash games and tourneys that do not match your skills and financial capabilities. 

It’s advisable for novices to start playing with the lowest stakes. Moving up to higher limits should be considered only if you have been beating your current level for at least a week. If you experience negative results, it is recommended to drop down to a lower limit. Study charts of starting hands and learn to use auxiliary software. 


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