Poker Rules and Strategy Basics
The Rules - Hand ranking
Before you even get started playing poker, you need to get acquainted with the rules. Let's start with the ranking of hands - they are the same across all variants of poker. Card ranking is A-K-Q-J-T(for Ten)-9 -8-7-6-5-4-3-2.
- The weakest hand is high card - when no pair, straight or flush has been made, the player with the highest card wins. In case both players hold the same high card, the second highest card decides, and so on
- Next, a pair. A higher pair beats a lower pair, and if two players hold the same pair, the next highest card decides. This is the so-called "kicker" rule.
- Two pair: when two players hold a hand with two pairs, the player with the higher pair wins. I f both players hold the same higher pair, then the lower pair decides. I a case of two identical pairs, the kicker rule applies.
- Three of a kind is next in the ranking. Again, the ranking of the cards counts.Kicker rule applies
- Straight - which can be A-2-3-4-5 or any other 5 cards in a row, up to T-J-Q-K-A, but no Q-K-A-1-2. A higher straight beats a lower straight.
- Flush - Any 5 cards of the same suit. When two players both hold a flush, the player with the highest flush card in his hand wins.
- Full House - three of a kind and a pair, such as K-K-K-9-9. When both players hold a full house, the winner is the player with the higher three of a kind. If both players have the same three of a kind, then the higher pair decides.
- Four of a kind (or quads). If the Four of a kind is made up completely from community cards, the kicker rule applies.
- Straight Flush - 5 cards in a row and of the same suit, such as 5d-6d-7d-8d-9d. A higher SF beats a lower SF.
- Royal flush - T-J-Q-K-A of the same suit.
The rules of No Limit Texas Hold'em - game play
We are going to talk about No Limit Hold'em here, because it is the most poular game. Other variants such as Omaha or Stud games have different rules.
Before the game starts, the dealer decides the position of the Button (by dealing one card to each player - the player with the highest card is the button). The player to the Button's immediate left has to post a big blind, and the next on the left has to post the small blind. The amount of the blinds is defined by the type of stakes announced by the casino.
Now every player gets dealt one card, starting with the player on the left of the button (the Small Blind, or SB). After that, another card is dealt to each player in the same sequence. Now every player has two cards - they are called the "hole cards". Now the betting commences - this is called the pre-flop betting round. First player to act is the player left of the Big Blind (BB). He can just call (meaning he posts one Big Blind, which is often also referred as limping), he can raise a minimum of 2 BB, or he can fold his hand. Then the next player acts. He can call as well, or raise, or fold. The action then moves to the next player etc. If one player raises and there is a later re-raise, then the action goes around again, back to the original raiser who can re-raise again etc. until no player raises any more.
Then the dealer starts dealing the community cards. Those cards can be used by any player who is in the hand to combine them with his two hole cards, in order to form the best possible 5-card hand (see hand ranking above). Players can use one or both of their hole cards to combine with the community cards (also referred to as the board).
At first, the dealer deals the flop - three cards that are place on the table face-up. Then the flop betting commences. First to act is the player on the left of the button, the button himself closes the action (unless he raises, in which case the action goes on). The minimum bet is always one Big Blind, and in order to raise, a player has to double the last bet before his action.
Once the flop betting is finished, the dealer deals the turn card, after which there is another round of betting.
Then, the dealer deals the final river card. Then, another betting round ensues, after which there is a showdown. The player with the highest hand winds the pot. If two or more players have the same hand, the pot is split evenly between them.
At any point during the entire hand (the term hand is used for the players holdings AND for the entire round of cards and betting), if a player bets or raises and all other players fold their hands, that player wins the pot without showdown - he does not have to show his hand.
How to learn the rules and game play
The rules may seem complicated at first, but when you start playing online, you will learn them quite quickly and easily. All online poker rooms will allow you to play for play money when you get started. When you do, the poker software tells you when it is your turn and what your options are. After a while, you will have a feel for the game play. At this point, you should take a look at the basics of poker strategy. We strongly advise you NOT to get started with real money poker before you know the rules and have at least basic knowledge of hot wo apply a good poker strategy. And even then, we suggest you start at the lowest possible stakes, or maybe even with fixed limit poker.
The basics of poker strategy
The first thing you need to learn us the importance of hand selection, position and aggression. These three are often referred to as the "Triple Threat".
Hand selection means that only a rather small percentage of hands (hole cards) you are being dealt are meant to be played. Which ones you can play depends on your position relative to the dealer button and the action before you. As a general rule for beginners, memorize the poker player's mantra: "Tight is right". It means that usually you should be seeing only app. 20% of all flops.
Position is all-important. During a game, positions are defined relative to the button. Left of the button is SB, followed by BB, followed by "Under the Gun (UTG", then UTG+1, then the Middle Positions (MP1, MP2 etc.), the player before the Button is called the Cut-off (CO), then the Button.
The Button position is the strongest one in most situations because in all betting rounds from the flop onwards, the Button sees all the action at the table before he has to act. That means he has more information upon which he can decide his action, compared with the other players.
Again, the better your position, the wider is the range of hands that you can play from that position. Having multiple players act after you is a major factor in your decision whether to fold your hand, to call or to re-raise.
The third part of the Triple Threat is aggression. Based on the fact that most hole cards do NOT connect with the flop most of the time, playing aggressively in the right situations usually pays off in the long run. The worst players (and your favorite opponents) are weak "calling stations". By this we mean players who call with weak hands, in the hop to improve on later "streets".
Next, read our article about starting hands, which contains a "Starting Hand Cheat Sheet".