The Rules of Poker
Poker is not so much a specific game as it is a game type. Like other types of card games, like blackjack and baccarat, the game of poker comes in many different versions, which all have their own rules. But there are some basics to the game that you should know, as they apply to all versions of peer-to-peer poker.
The first thing you need to know is how you win. This is, in theory, done by having the best hand. But the number of cards you get to create the best hand possible will differ from poker game to poker game. How you choose to play your hand will also be very important, as poker is a game of skill where you and the other players get to make choices that greatly impact the outcome of the game. That’s why it’s not always the player with the best hand that wins the pot, as it can just as well be the one that played their hand the best way.
This means that how and when you bet and how and when you bluff are just as important as having the best hand when you play peer-to-peer poker. If you play your hand right, you can walk away as the winner of the game round, even if you don’t have the best hand on the table. Getting the player with the best hand to fold before the game is over is the main trick to being successful when playing poker against other players.
Poker Hands Ranked
In a game of poker, all cards in a deck of 52 are used. There is no joker, and not only will the value of the card be important, but also the suit. The four suits (clubs, hearts, spades, and diamonds) all have the same value, and none of them outranks the other. The Ace is the most valuable card, while the deuce (the 2 card) is the least valuable. Now, let’s have a look at the list of poker hands ranked from highest to lowest:
- Royal Flush: The five most valuable cards in the same suit. This is always A, K, Q, J, and 10.
- Straight Flush: Any five cards of the same suit in a sequence. For example, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9.
- Four of a Kind: Any four cards of the same value, one of each suit. For example, 10, 10, 10, and 10.
- Full House: Any three cards of the same value + any two cards of the same value. For example, 5, 5, 5, 7, and 7.
- Flush: Any five cards of the same suit. For example, 2, 3, 6, 9, and K.
- Straight: Any five cards in a sequence, no matter the suit. For example, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9.
- Three of a Kind: Any three cards of the same value, no matter the suit. For example, 10, 10, and 10.
- Two Pair: Any two cards of the same value + any two cards of the same value. For example, 5, 5, 7, and 7.
- Pair: Any two cards of the same value. For example, 5 and 5.
- High Card: Any card that is your highest valued card. For example, A.
If multiple players have the same hand type, the one with the highest valued card wins. For example, if two players have a straight, the straight with the highest card in the sequence wins.
Staring the Poker Game – Blinds and Antes
When playing peer-to-peer poker, one player is always assigned the role of the dealer. This is also called the button. The actual duties of a dealer – dealing the cards – are, however, not performed by a player when playing at a casino. This is done by an actual croupier or digitally, so being the button is more of a theoretical assignment. The role of the dealer goes either clockwise or counterclockwise around the table, depending on the rules of the table.
The two players next to the button are also assigned duties. The first player to the left of the dealer starts the game round by placing the small blind. The next player, to the left of the small blind, then places the big blind. Subsequent players around the table will then have to place a bet matching the big blind in order to participate in the game round. Once all players have placed their bets to participate in the game round, the cards are dealt.
In poker versions where there are no blinds, all players have to place what’s called an ante in order to receive cards. The ante is usually the minimum bet on the table.
Betting in Poker – Check, Call, Raise, or Fold
Once the cards are dealt, the betting in a game of poker begins. And this is also where strategy comes into play. First, let’s look at the choices you have:
- Check: If a player checks their hand, they choose to stay in the game but do not wish to place the first bet. Basically, it’s a move to wait and see what the other players choose to do before making a bet.
- Call: If a player chooses to call, they match the previous bets. They do not raise, and they do not fold. They basically choose to stay in the game by betting what the previous players bet.
- Raise: If a player chooses to raise, they bet more than the previous player. For the other players to stay in the game round, they must call the raise (matching the bet). If they do not, they have to fold, and they are out of the game. If no other player calls the raise, the one who raised wins the game round and the pot.
- Fold: If a player chooses to fold, they choose not to continue the game round, and they give up their hand. The game will continue with the rest of the players around the table that are still participating by placing bets.
The betting ends when all players around the table have either called (so that all players have placed the same bet) or folded. This is when the player with the best hand at the table, among the ones that are still in the game round, wins.
The Most Popular Poker Variations
That’s why you should always aim to play the poker version you’re the best at, because, let’s not forget, poker is a game of skill, and it’s unlikely that you’re equally skilled in all game versions. Find one or two poker versions you prefer, become an expert in them, and develop your skills and strategies.
Here, we’ve listed some of the poker versions you might find online:
- Texas Hold’em
- Omaha Hold’em
- 7-Card Stud
- 2-7 Triple Draw
- 5-Card Draw
- 5-Card Omaha
- Chinese Poker
- Short Deck
The most popular poker games among the ones listed above are Texas Hold’em, Omaha Hold’em, and Five Card Draw. To help you find your favourite among them, we’ll give you a bit of an explanation of how these games differ.
Texas Hold’em is the most played poker game in the world, and hence, it’s also very popular at online casinos. All casinos offering a poker network or a poker client have this game readily available.
When playing Texas Hold’em poker, every player gets two cards, and then there are five community cards. The community cards are dealt in three rounds. First comes the flop with three cards. Second comes the turn with the fourth card, and finally, the river as the fifth community card. To win, you need to be the player still in the game that makes up the best five-card poker hand from the total of seven cards available.
There are four betting rounds within the game, and that means the pot of the game round can reach a substantial amount. The number of betting rounds also means that you can use a wide variety of strategies when betting.
In Omaha Hold’em poker, the rules are based on Texas Hold’em, but with some differences. The most obvious difference is that each player gets dealt four cards. There are five community cards, like in Texas Hold’em; then each player needs to make up the best five-card hand. The trick is that you can only use two of your own cards, even though you’re dealt four. Your poker hand has to consist of two of your hole cards and three of the community cards.
Betting in Omaha Hold’em works just like in Texas Hold’em. There are four betting rounds, starting with the blinds, and this means it is a good idea to use a proper betting strategy. Just note that although you’ll find Omaha poker at most online casinos offering real poker, not all versions of Omaha are the same. So always make sure that you check that the Omaha poker game played is the one you’re skilled at.
Five Card Draw
Five Card Draw poker is one of the classic poker games and is offered at most poker network casinos. Of the poker games that don’t have community cards, it’s the most popular one. In this game, all players get dealt five cards, and the goal, as always in poker, is to get the best hand possible. Once the cards are dealt, you get to discard up to three of them (in some cases four), and you’ll then get new cards, so you again have five cards in your hand.
There are only two betting rounds in Five Card Draw poker. The first round of betting starts as the first five cards have been dealt, and the second round happens as all players who chose to have discarded some cards and gotten new ones. Although there are only two rounds of betting, the prize pot in the game can still be substantial, depending on the table limit for betting, of course.
Poker is a game of skill, and the strategy you use will impact how successful you are. Many different poker strategies can be used to improve your success, from playing a perfect game to outsmarting your opponents. Many professional players will claim that psychological strategies are the ones that really make a difference.
Due to the betting rules of real poker, all players will be guessing why the other players choose to bet as they do. For example, if you’re a poker novice, you might assume that raising the bet by a significant amount is a good move when you’re dealt a good hand, but this might not be the best way to go. By raising a significant amount, you might scare away the other players, making them fold instead of calling. You might win the game with your hand, but what you win will not be a lot, as the pot might contain the blinds and not much more.
On the other hand, you could raise just a little bit or even just call if you have a good hand so that other players stay in the game and raise the value of the pot. That way you can win more with your good hand.
On the contrary, a professional player with a bad hand might want to raise the bet significantly in order to get players with a better hand to fold. In that way, they can “steal the blinds” and thus win a bit, even with a poor poker hand.
The psychological game of poker is what makes this a game of skill and not of luck. Knowing when to bluff, and keeping the other players guessing what hand you really have, is among the best strategies you can have when playing poker.
If you’d like to know more about poker strategies, you should also check out our in-depth guide on the topic of different ways to succeed in poker.
Online Poker Networks
When you’re playing poker through an online poker network, you play against other players from across the globe. There are many different poker networks, and you can join one through multiple different online casinos. They use what is commonly called a poker client, which is basically the poker network they’re connecting through. This means that when playing poker online, players around your table that you’re playing against might all be playing from different online casino websites.
Through online poker networks, you play what is called peer-to-peer poker. This is the true version of poker, where you only play against other players and not against the house. The casino operator where you play, and the poker network, take a fee for hosting the game, but what you can win is limited to what the other players around your table have bet on the game round. Basically, what’s in the pot for every round of a poker game is what your potential winnings will be.
Some of the popular poker clients used by most online casinos are the ones from Microgaming and Playtech. Hundreds of casinos use their poker networks, so here you get to play against players from around the world. They also offer a good selection of tournaments and game types. However, the biggest poker clients are the ones from the big poker sites, like PokerStars, 888 Poker, and Bet365. They have their own poker clients, and you can only find their games on their websites.
Choose the Right Online Poker Client
As mentioned, one poker client, or poker network, can be used by multiple online casinos. That’s why the specific casino you choose to play at isn’t the important part; the important part is which poker network this casino is a part of. Choosing the right poker client will determine which poker versions you have available to play, which tournaments you can join in on, and which sit-and-go tables they have. How poker tournaments and sit-and-go games work, we’ll get back to shortly…
In addition to the games, tournaments, and other specifics, another important factor is how many players are online and playing in each network. Some are also more popular among professional players than others, so it’s important to choose the right tables and the right network for your own poker skills.
The benefit of playing using a poker client that’s available from multiple casinos is that you can play the poker games you prefer at different online casinos. That way, you can take advantage of poker promotions and bonuses from multiple casinos while still playing the same games. This tactic is also popular among professional players, as it gives you more opportunities to increase your bankroll.
Online Poker Tournaments
One of the most popular ways to play poker online is by participating in a tournament. This is, of course, especially popular among professional players, as the prize pot can be through the roof. In a typical online poker tournament, you enter the tournament to get a spot at a table. The costs to join will differ from tournament to tournament, but the money you use to buy in is also the bankroll you’ll have to play with during the tournament.
Once you’ve entered the tournament, you’ll be placed at a table to play against the other players on that table. To proceed through the tournament, you’ll normally have to be top two at the table. If you are, you move over to the next table, along with the best ones from other starting tables. The tournament then continues like this until there is a finalist table.
However, there are two ways the winners of a table can be determined. Either all other players have lost all their bankroll and are out of the game, or the time limit for the table has been reached. If a time limit decides the winners, then the top players are decided by who on the table has the biggest bankroll once the time is up.
Sometimes there can be multiple prizes where all the top players get a reward, while other tournaments let the winner take it all. It’s also quite common for the top players from an online poker tournament to win a spot in a land-based poker championship or international tournament if one is coming up in the near future.
Sit & Go Poker
Sit & Go tournaments online are something you’ll find very frequently at online casinos offering peer-to-peer poker. These are tournaments where you won’t have to plan far ahead and book your spot, as you simply join in when you want. There will be a preset number of players to participate in the tournament, and once that number of players has joined, the tournament starts. In other words, these are ongoing tournaments that can occur throughout the day at some casinos.
The way a Sit & Go poker tournament works is just like in any other poker tournament. You qualify for the next table by being either the number one or two at the previous table.
Rakeback and Poker Bonuses
Among the benefits you’ll get when playing poker online is that you can claim poker bonuses. These are promotions that you’ll come across at your preferred casino quite frequently. If you sign up at a new online casino offering poker, it’s also quite common to get the option of a poker bonus as your welcome bonus instead of a bonus to play slots or other casino games.
A poker bonus is most often given in the form of a free chip, valued at any given amount. It can also be a form of match-up bonus so that your own deposit will determine how much you get as a free poker chip. A free seat in a poker tournament is also something you’re likely to get from time to time.
Another popular poker bonus at online casinos is what’s called rakeback. The rake is what you pay to participate in a poker game or a poker tournament. Basically, it’s like a form of cashback, where you get parts of your stake back. The casino might give this as some sort of promotion, or it can be an ongoing offer you can claim daily, weekly, or monthly. If you’re a high roller or a professional poker player, you can also get special rakeback bonus deals with the casino.
Play Casino Poker Online
Not all online casinos offer real poker, what we call peer-to-peer poker. These games where you play against other players are only found at casinos that offer a poker client for these games. However, there are other types of poker you can play at online casinos, and these are poker games where you play against other players. These poker games are typically referred to as casino poker.
Casino poker is a simple version of poker. These card games have rules that are based on the rules found in peer-to-peer poker, but in general, they are not skill-based games. Like most other types of casino games, they are games of chance. You can play them either at a live casino with a real dealer or as an RNG (random number generator) game.
For new poker players, these games can be a good way to get familiar with some basic poker rules. Let’s have a quick look at how these games are played.
Live Casino Poker
If you enter the live casino of any casino online, you’re likely to find lots of different poker games. The most popular ones are Casino Hold’em, 3-Card Poker, and Caribbean Stud Poker. Although these are all poker-based, the rules will be very different from what you find in peer-to-peer poker. You’re playing against the house and not against other players. Beating the other players around the table is, therefore, not the goal, as your game is only against the dealer.
Typically, you won’t have many moves to make when playing casino poker in a live casino setting. You place your ante (bet to participate), and then the cards are dealt. But, not all hands will be played, as in some games, the dealer will have to qualify first.
Each live casino poker game usually has the rules easily explained on the screen or within an information icon so that you can familiarise yourself with the game's rules. However, remember that these are games of luck, so most of your normal poker strategies won’t be applicable. Still, they are entertaining if you enjoy gambling on card games within a live casino.
A game type you’ll find at almost every online casino is video poker. These are poker-based games that you play on a machine. These games are typically very simple, and they have very little element of skill, as they are games of chance. Some casinos can offer hundreds of these games, and they all work a little differently.
Since there are RNG games that are fully digital, you might also come across bonus games within video poker games, making them a mix of a poker game and a typical video slot. Strategies for these games don’t really exist, as you’ll have to trust your luck in order to win against the games RTP and RNG.