How To Play

Learn how to play poker in minutes with our guide to the basics

Rules of Poker

The famous game of poker is an exciting and challenging combination of short-term luck and long-term skill, combining bluffing, statistics and knowledge of others in a game that is notoriously easy to learn and difficult to perfect.

It takes 'a minute to learn but a lifetime to master'Mike Sexton is referring to the world's most popular variant, no-limit Texas Hold'em, but all common card games (and most poker games in general) have the same basic rules and hand order. If you learn them, you're well on your way to learning and mastering the game of poker.

Aim of the Game and Hand Rankings (High)

It's often said that games like bridge are card games that can be played for money, but poker is a betting game played with cards.

The aim of the game is to win pots, either by having strong cards when you lay your cards down, or by forcing your opponents to fold by bluffing. Without stakes, whether in the form of matches or chips, poker would be no more than an exercise in watching the game pick winners.

Whether playing draw, stud or common card games such as hold'em, players take turns betting their hands during one or more rounds of bidding, showing - or pretending to show - their strength. The stronger the hand, the more likely it is to win at the showdown (the end of the hand when the hole cards are revealed).

Poker hands consist of five cards, either a face-down card only (stud, draw), or a combination of face-down cards and community cards available to all players at the table (hold'em, Omaha).

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Royal Flush

This is the top straight flush with its own famous name, ten to ace suited (any suit).

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Straight Flush

Five sequential cards of the same suit, e.g., Heart_6 Heart_7 Heart_8 Heart_9 Heart_10. In straights, aces play  both high and low, so Club_1 Club_2 Club_3 Club_4 Club_5 is the lowest straight flush.

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Four of a Kind

All four cards of the same rank (also known as 'quads'). Heart_1 Diamond_1 Spade_1 Club_1 the first four places are tied. In the (rare) event that two players have the same four cards, the fifth card (the "kicker") determines the winner.

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Full House

Three cards of the same rank, plus a pair, e.g., Spade_11 Diamond_11 Heart_11 Spade_8 Diamond_8. When ranking full houses, the three of a kind is compared first. So Spade_11 Diamond_11 Heart_11 Spade_8 Diamond_8 beats Club_9 Diamond_9 Spade_9 Diamond_1 Heart_1.

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Flush

Any five cards of the same suit, e.g., Heart_13 Heart_11 Heart_9 Heart_4 Heart_3. If more than one player has a suit, the suits are compared from the highest card down to determine the winner.

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Straight

Five sequential cards in any suit, e.g., Diamond_4 Club_5 Heart_6 Heart_7 Spade_8. In straights, aces play both high and low, so the lowest possible straight is Diamond_1 Club_2 Heart_3 Diamond_4 Club_5, and the highest Diamond_10 Club_11 Spade_12 Spade_13 Heart_1 (any suits).

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Three of a Kind

Three cards of the same rank, plus two kickers, e.g., Diamond_13 Heart_13 Spade_13 Diamond_10 Heart_7. This hand is also known as 'trips'.

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Two Pair

The strongest pair is compared first to determine the winner, then the second and, in the event of a tie, the fifth card (the "kicker"). In other wordsHeart_1 Diamond_1 Heart_7 Club_7 Diamond_11 beats Club_1 Spade_1 Heart_5 Club_5 Diamond_13, and Spade_12 Heart_12 Diamond_9 Spade_9 Club_10 beats Club_12 Diamond_12 Heart_9 Club_9 Heart_6.

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One Pair

Two cards of the same value. If two players have the same hand with a pair, the winner is determined by comparing the kickers (the value of the other three unmatched cards).

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High Card

The highest card(s) in a five-card hand, unless a pair or better has been made. The highest card is considered an ace. Hands are compared starting with the highest card, so thatSpade_13 Club_11 Spade_8 Spade_6 Heart_3 beats Club_13 Diamond_11 Club_8 Spade_4 Diamond_2.

Actions in Poker

There are really only five moves in poker: bet, check, call, raise, and fold.

  • Bet: A bet consists of voluntarily putting chips into the pot as the first player in a given betting round. Once a bet has been placed, all other players must at least match the amount of the bet to remain in the game.
  • Check: When there is no bid in front of a player, checking moves the action clockwise to the next active player. If all players in the betting round check, the round ends and the next card is dealt/the next round begins.
  • Call: If a bet has been placed during the current betting round, the aim is to set the highest current bet to stay in the game.
  • Raise: If one or more bets have already been placed in a betting round, players can increase their bets with a higher bet. This reopens the betting and other players, including the original player, must match the new higher bet to stay in the game.
  • Fold: Players can pass when it's their turn, discard their cards and take no further part in the game until the start of the next hand.

Betting Limits: No Limit, Fixed Limit and Pot Limit

The "limit" is the amount you can bet at any time. In no-limit games, you can bet any amount at any time (up to the total chips available). There is no maximum bet, but the minimum bet is equal to the big blind. The minimum raise is twice the big blind or, if there has already been a raise, twice that amount.

Fixed limit have defined betting levels. For example, in a $2/$4 game, the blinds are $1/2 and the betting level is set at $2 for the first two rounds of betting (preflop and on the flop). For the other two betting rounds (on the turn and river), the limit is doubled to $4.

In Pot limit The minimum bet is the size of the big blind, and the maximum bet is the size of the pot. To "increase the pot", count the total number of chips in the pot (including your bet) and add it to the bet amount.

For example, preflop in a $1/2 pot-limit game, the first player to act can bet a maximum of $7 (the small blind is $1, the big blind is $2, and the call amount is $2 - so a "pot raise" is a $5 raise added to the call amount).

Another example: there is $30 in the pot on the turn. Player 1 bets $15. Player 2's maximum raise will be the pot amount ($45) plus the call amount ($15), i.e. $60. The maximum bet will then be $75 (the amount of the pot plus the initial amount of the raise).

It may seem a little complicated at first, but when you play online, you don't need to count the pot; at each stage, the cursor indicates the minimum and maximum bet.