How to Play Poker
Learning how to play poker is easier than you think. The rules of the game are predictable and easy to learn, making poker a wonderful game for beginners. In this guide, I’m going to teach you how to play poker by showing you the fundamentals needed to enjoy a lifetime of solid wins and good times.
Things to keep in mind: big wins don’t come fast or easy. They come with tons of practice and theoretical knowledge. While poker is gambling, there is also an undeniable element of skill involved.
This skill is why pro poker players can be pros: they win because they’re good, not just because they’re lucky. So, whether you’re a beginner looking to learn for fun, or a beginner looking to learn to turn a profit, the fact remains that you need to start here, with the basics.
Welcome and keep reading!
Chapter One: The Basic Principles of How to Play Poker
Let's dive in to the basics. In this first chapter, you'll learn poker hands and their rankings, poker rules, types of poker games, and the similarities and differences of online vs. live play.
Nothing is more demoralizing (or embarrassing) than having a winning hand and not even knowing it. Avoid the humiliation and commit this basic list of hand rankings to memory. From highest to lowest, your hand rankings are as follows:
Royal Flush, Straight Flush, 4 of a Kind, Full House, Flush, Straight, 3 of a Kind, 2 Pair, 1 Pair, High Card.
In the most popular variant of poker Texas Hold'em playing the right poker starting hands is the key to making the best poker hands.
Poker Hands FAQ
What beats what in poker?
Here are your poker hands, in order of ranking: Royal Flush, Straight Flush, Four of a Kind, Full House, Flush, Straight, Three of a Kind, Two Pair, One Pair, High Card.
What is a flush in poker?
5 cards of the same suit, but in any sequential order. In the event of two flushes, the player with the highest ranking card used to comprise the flush wins. A royal flush is 5 cards of the same suit in sequence with the Ace high. This is the highest ranking of poker hands.
What is a straight in poker?
5 cards in sequence of made up of at least two different suits. In the event multiple players land a straight, the player with the highest card in his or her straight wins. A straight flush is 5 cards of the same suit in sequence.
What is a full house in poker?
A 5 card hand that has three-of-a-kind, and also a pair. In the event multiple players have full houses, the player with the highest 3 of a kind wins. Again, if identical 3 card hands turn up for both players (due to using community cards), then the highest pair determines the winner.
What beats a flush in poker?
All of these hands beat a flush in poker: Royal Flush, Straight Flush, 4 of a Kind, Full House.
What beats a straight in poker?
All of these hands beat a straight in poker: Royal Flush, Straight Flush, 4 of a Kind, Full House, Flush.
What beats a full house in poker?
All of these hands beat a full house in poker: Royal Flush, Straight Flush, 4 of a Kind.
Rules of Poker
The fundamental poker rules stay pretty consistent across all poker variations. All you have to do is absorb and master a few basic principles and then you can slide into any game with confidence.
Read on to get a handle on the basics quickly and easily.
Poker positions refer to your physical place at the table in regards to the dealer. While your spatial location at the table has nothing to do with how good of a player you are, it can affect how well you can play. Being in better position means you will have greater opportunities to win.
Being on the button, or in position, means you are the dealer — or directly to the right of the dealer — and the last to act on each betting round. From here, you have a good idea of what your opponents are holding by how they acted. Use this info to your advantage.
Table size refers to how many people you are playing against. You can play heads up (one on one), at six player tables (shorthanded tables), or at ten player tables (full tables).
Generally speaking, the newer you are to the game, the more inclined you should be to play at a full table rather than a short table.
Why? Playing at a full table means you get more 'free hands' after paying the small and big blind. At a full table, you get eight free hands after paying the blinds, whereas at a short table you may only get three or four free hands.
Playing at a short table is preferred by experienced players because they get to play more hands, play in position more often, and exercise their skill edge more often.
Heads-up poker is the fastest way to learn the game at a high level because you are forced to play every hand (there are no free hands) but it also means you’re more likely to pay for your mistakes. Start at full tables and work your way down to short tables if you want the most enjoyable learning process.
The more players at a table, the better the hands need to be to win at showdown. A full table caters to a tighter style of play (best for beginners) while a short table caters to a looser style of play (best for advanced players).
Blinds are forced bets made by the players to the left of the dealer button. The number of blinds is usually two: the big blind and little/small blind. These forced bets ensure money is in play every round.
An ante refers to a small amount of money posted by every player. Some poker games (e.g. high level no limit hold’em tournaments) have antes and blinds, but antes most are a more common feature of stud poker. Blinds and antes are also commonly referred to as ‘dead money’. The more dead money there is before a poker hand starts, the looser you should play, because your reward for winning the hand is greater.
You have five action options in poker. You can check, bet, fold, call or raise/re-raise. Keep reading to find out what each of these actions entails.
Check: In the event no one has bet/raised any money before you, the poker betting rules allow you to 'check', meaning you don't put any money in the pot, but you get to stay in the game to see (and perhaps benefit from) the action. Checking is the equivalent of betting zero chips.
Bet: Put some money in the pot to drive action and show your interest. Betting forces your opponents to bet, or alternatively, fold. When all your opponents fold, you win the hand and what’s in the pot.
Fold: Fold and you don't front any money, but you also don't see any more action. You’re out of the game for this hand and give up your chance to win the pot.
Call: When you call, you're matching the bet amount and staying active in the hand.
Raise/Re-raise: When you raise you match the previous bet, and then add extra. You'll want to do this to indicate a strong hand or solid bluff. You will re-raise if someone has raised before you and you want to see their wager and then add even more chips to the pot.
The streets of action in poker refer to the rounds of betting. The number of streets depends on the poker variation. In Texas Hold’em, for instance, there are five streets.
How to Play Preflop
This short video will help you quickly understand how to play a solid preflop strategy that will put you profitable positions after the flop
How to Play The Flop
This video will teach you how to play the flop in no-limit hold'em both as the preflop raiser and as the preflop caller
How to Play The Turn
This video will teach you how to play the turn in no limit texas hold'em. It offers strategies for when you are in position or out of position
How to Play The River
This video will teach you how to play the river in NL texas holdem. It discusses how to get max value with the best hand and when the bluff without the best hand
Rake refers to the amount of money (commission) the house or card room takes. Think of it as a hosting fee. There are typically two types of rake: rake per hand and rake per session fee.
Rake per hand is taken as a % of the pot up to a maximum amount. Typically it will be 5-10% with a cap of $3-5. At some private establishments, however, there is sometimes no cap on the rake which makes playing poker very expensive.
Session fee, on the other hand, is a set fee over a set period of time. Typically this fee will be taken every 30 minutes, which is usually how often the dealers change. And the fee will be based on the limits played, with higher limits typically having a higher session fee.
While most of the rules in poker are pretty straight forward, there are some more nuanced features of the game that you will need to know about to stand a better chance of making profitable calls.
A straddle is a blind bet, typically made by the player under the gun (immediately after the big blind).
It is usually 2x the big blind, but sometimes it will be bigger.
For example, a typical straddle in $5/$10 is $20; a typical straddle in $2/$5 is $10, but typical straddle in $1/$2 is $5, and in $1/$3 may be $10 instead of $6.
Straddles are a way of loosening up the game and building up bigger pots. A typical open at $2/$5/$10 will be $30 or $40, whereas if the blinds were simply $2/$5, that open may be $15/$20.
And since pots grow exponentially, a bigger pot preflop means a bigger pot after the flop —and trust me these straddle pots can get really big!
Another thing is the restraddle. When a game gets going late into the night, and players are looking to satisfy their gambling urges, it's not unheard of to see 2, 3, or even 4 straddles in a pot. So now instead of playing $5/$10 the players may be playing $5/$10/$20/$40, or $5/$10/$20/$40/$80, or $5/$10/$20/$40/$80/$160.
Run it Twice+
A great hand doesn’t always win when it comes to going all-in in big bet poker. This is why PokerStars created Run It Twice (RIT): a feature that allows you to try to change the outcome of the game by dealing all remaining cards twice and splitting the pot between two boards.
When no more betting can occur in a hand, and all players still involved have enabled Run It Twice, the remaining community cards will be dealt twice, creating two separate boards. The pot is split evenly between both boards, awarding the two halves of the pot according to the final results of each board. So, if your opponent’s pocket aces hold up on the first board, you’ve still got a chance to crack them and win your money back on the second.
Note that this feature does not work in tournament play, but it’s still pretty damn cool.
Running it more than once is also offered by some (but not all) card rooms. Generally, in bigger pots, players will be more inclined to run it multiple times to lower the luck factor. Whereas in smaller pots where losing them won’t be as detrimental players typically tend to run it once.
Rules of Poker FAQ
What is a straddle in poker?
A straddle is a blind bet, typically made by the player under the gun (immediately after the big blind).
It is typically 2x the big blind, but sometimes it will be bigger. The main purpose of a straddle is to promote cash flow into the pot and prime the game for action.
What does check mean in poker?
A check means that you don’t want to bet any money, but you want to stay in the game to see what happens.
What does fold mean in poker?
A fold means you want to opt out of playing the hand, but not the game.
What does call mean in poker?
A call means you want to match someone’s bet by putting an equal amount of money in the pot.
Types of Poker Games
Hold’em is not the only poker variation out there, though today, it is the most popular. Learning different poker variations is not only fun, it can help you improve your fundamental knowledge of the game as well as your advanced strategy.
Don’t shy away from trying out a few different types of poker games. Variation and experience will only serve to boost your confidence at the tables, and that’s a real money maker – not just your cards, your confidence.
Standard Poker Games
Here are some of the most common standard poker variations.
By far the most widely played and wildly popular of the different types of poker games. Create your best 5 card hand using a combination of two hole cards (for your eyes only) and five community cards (for everyone to use).
7 Card Stud
7 Card Stud is played with between two to eight players. Each player gets seven cards, three of which are closed and four open. Your goal is to make the best 5-card hand using the cards you've been dealt. ALL players must ante a token amount to be dealt into the hand. 7 Card stud is typically played with fixed limit betting.
7 Card Stud Hi-Lo
Also known as Stud 8 or Better, this hi-lo variation of 7 Card Stud rewards the highest and lowest hand equally with a split pot (highest possible 5 card hand, and lowest possible 5 card hand beginning at 8 or lower). If no players have a qualifying low (8 high or lower) then the entire pot is awarded to the best high hand.
Basic Omaha (Omaha High) is a community card game that determines the winner by who has the best 5 card hand. Each player gets four hole cards rather than two. Players must make the best 5 card hand using two of their hole cards and three of the five community cards.
Again, look to basic Omaha for the general premise and then shake things up by making it a split pot came that rewards both the highest and lowest ranking hands. Like Stud Hi-Lo a qualifying low hand must be 8 high or lower. If there is no qualifying ‘low hand’ the entire pot is awarded to the high hand.
5 Card Stud
Each player is dealt one hole card and one up-card, then, after a round of betting, three more up-cards to any players who are still in the had. A round of betting follows the deal of each card.
In the end, every player who is still in the action has 5 cards; four of which are face up and one face down. Players have to use ALL their 5 cards to try to make the best hand at showdown.
5 Card Draw
The game is usually played with two to six players. The winner is determined by whoever has the best 5 card hand. Every player must ante and then they are dealt cards face-down until everyone has 5 in total.
After this, a betting round commences and active players may choose to discard up to three cards and be dealt replacements in hopes of getting a better hand. Another round of betting ensues, and then whoever is left in the game (if anyone) moves to showdown.
Razz Poker is like 7 Card Stud, except the lowest hand is the best hand. Your aces are your very lowest card, making the ultimate hand A-2-3-4-5 (also known as 'the wheel'). Your next best ranking hand (i.e. lowest hand) would be A-2-3-4-6, then A-2-3-5-6, etc.
As with 7 Card Stud Hi-Lo, flushes and straights do not influence the strength of a hand, but unlike 7 Card Stud Hi-Lo, the ‘8 or better’ rule does not apply. Lowest 5 card combo wins!
A combo of all your favourite types of poker games! H.O.R.S.E (standing for Hold'em, Omaha Hi-Lo, Razz, 7 Card Stud and 7 Card Stud 'Eight' or Better, respectively). Each time the dealer button makes a full orbit of the table, the poker variation changes.
Crazy Pineapple Poker
This poker variation is almost exactly the same as Texas Hold'em, except that in Crazy Pineapple players are dealt three hole cards instead of two. There are still 5 streets of action, and the best 5 card hand still wins, so players are required to give up one of their cards after the flop.
Deuce to Seven
Deuce to Seven is a poker game where the lowest ranking poker hand wins the pot at showdown. It is a game of lowball draw poker wherein you are dealt five cards, and are given the option to discard none to all of them on the draw and be dealt that same number of replacement cards.
Deuce to Seven can be played with fixed or no-limit betting. 2-7 Single Draw involves one round of drawing, and 2-7 Triple Draw has 3 rounds of drawing before the showdown is reached.
Short Deck poker is a no limit hold’em game played using a 36 card deck (all the 2s, 3s, 4s and 5s are removed). This means the lowest card is 6 (for this reason it is also called 6+ Hold’em Poker), making some pretty significant changes to hand rankings; namely, a flush beats a full house and three of a kind beats a straight.
Think about it: if you had suited hole cards in regular hold’em with two more on the board, there are nine cards in the deck that will give you a flush. In short deck hold’em, the number is reduced to five, making the flush harder to hit than a full-house.
Likewise, since there are four cards missing of every suit, straight draws happen a lot more often since there are fewer gaps between the remaining cards. Hence, it’s easier to make a straight than to score a set or trips.
That being said, it’s actually easier to hit a set than in regular Hold’em as once you have a pocket pair there are two out of the remaining 34 cards to give you a set instead of two out of 50 cards.
Casino Poker Games
Casino poker games are slightly different from your home games or back-room games since they are played in larger establishments and designed to meet the more fast-paced, excitement driven needs of casino goers. Playing poker at a casino is not the same as playing casino poker games.
Keep reading to learn a little more about a few popular types of casino poker games.
3 Card Poker
Aside from using standard poker hand rankings, 3 Card Poker isn’t really poker. It’s more of a casino game. To win, you compete against the dealer to see who has the best 3-card poker hand. Beat the dealer and you win your bet(s). Lose to the dealer and you lose your bet(s).
There is no poker strategy involved in this game. Simply choose between a couple of bets pre deal, see what 3 cards you get, and keep your fingers crossed.
Pai Gow Poker
Pai Gow Poker is a variation of the Chinese domino game played with cards instead of the traditional pai gow tiles. Pai Gow Poker uses a standard deck of 52 cards plus one joker. The game is meant to be played with a maximum of six players and the dealer.
The game is more like Pai Gow than poker, and the object of the game is to beat the banker. The banker can be your dealer, another player, or a player-dealer team.
To win, a player needs to make two poker hands with the seven cards that are dealt: a five-card “high” hand (a.k.a. the back hand or big hand), or a two-card “low” hand (a.k.a the front hand or small hand). A player’s high hand must beat a player’s low hand.
Example: If a player’s low hand is a pair of fours, his or her high hand must be better than a pair of fours.
Once a player has set his/her hands, the dealer will reveal them concomitantly with the banker’s hands. The player will either win both hands as well as the bet s/he made, lose both hands to the dealer or win one and lose one to the dealer, in which case it is a tie.
In Pai Gow Poker, the dealer wins when it’s a tie.
Ultimate Texas Hold’em
Ultimate Texas Hold’em is a casino game, not a regular poker game. In Ultimate Texas Hold'em, the player competes against the dealer, not other players. As a result, Ultimate Texas Hold’em is great for socializing, as it feels like a team game.
Ultimate Texas Hold’em starts with a blind bet and an ante made by the player. The player can opt to choose a Trips side, which will allow them to get a payout even if their hand loses.
Unlike other Texas Hold’em games, in Ultimate Texas Hold’em, the ante stays in play after a player makes a raise and even in the event the dealer does not open.
Players can get in a hand every minute easily (and sometimes more) which makes for fast-paced action. What’s more, the house edge is very small, making it a great casino game to pass the time and be entertained.
Poker Betting Structures
Betting structures are rules that determine how much a player can bet or raise in a poker game. The main betting structures you need to learn about as a beginner are no limit, pot limit and limit.
The label 'no-limit poker' is a little misleading. While the betting structure does not put a restriction on the amount a player can bet, that player is confined by what’s left in his or her remaining stack. You can't bet what you don't have, right?
Players can also be limited by game specific rules about stakes, betting and raising.
In no-limit poker the pot size grows geometrically/exponentially rather than arithmetically. This means that pots can get very big very quickly, which is why it's so important to decide off the bat how much action you're willing to give with a particular hand.
Pot-limit is a betting structure that allows a player to bet or raise any amount between a specific minimum bet and the current size of the pot. Pot limit games are great for beginners because the potential loss per hand is capped/limited.
Players can only bet the size of the pot rather than being forced all-in (unless the pot is already bigger than their stack), and so they can call down more liberally with both their draws and made hands.
While pot limit may not seem as existing because you can't bet all-in (unless the pot size is less than the remaining stack size), it's a nice middle ground between limit and no limit. Players can experience varied betting sizes while ensuring they'll never face a bet that's too big to handle.
Pot limit teaches players how to build a pot and why it's important to start betting on the early streets to be able to make bigger bets on later streets: a concept that perfectly carries over to no-limit.
Finally, pot limit makes it easier to call raises and reraises preflop, because there is a cap on how large someone can make the raise and the odds are always at worst 2:1 in the caller's favor.
As the name suggests, in limit poker, the betting limit is set. Players can only bet a specific amount at a time, depending on the progress of the hand.
For example, a $2/$5 limit hold'em table only allows players to bet $2 pre-flop, $2 on the flop, $5 on the turn and $5 on the river. While players can raise and reraise on the same street, this is also limited. Usually, there is a limit of bets per round; often four.
Poker Game Modes
Cash games (a.k.a ring games or live action games) are poker games played with real chips that represent actual money at its dollar value. These games don’t often have a predetermined end time and players can join and leave as they please.
Deep (100+ BB)
Deep stack poker is high-excitement, but also high-risk, and is therefore not the best choice for most beginners. One of the biggest differences in deep-stack play is that players who don’t fold will usually have to play the turn and the river. There is also room for high pressure overbets in deepstack poker.
By the time you have called/bet/raised on the flop, you’re often committed to seeing the hand out thanks to the hefty BB (big blind) stack size and potential for a big payoff (implied odds). You will also be required to make informed, strategic and big river decisions.
Unless you’re a newbie who’s also a poker savant, you’re likely going to want to skip the deep stacks until you get a feel for the felt.
Standard poker is what most online poker sites and casinos offer for their small and mid limit games. The maximum buy-in for these tables will usually be 100 big blinds which makes it a great format to study.
In 100 big blind poker there is usually room to make bets on all streets and to get all-in without having to use overbets. This makes it a great format to learn how to pick your best hands to take to showdown, and to choose which hands are good for only 1 or 2 bets but not 3 or 4.
If you can learn how to play 100BB poker, it’s not hard to learn to play with deeper stacks. And since there will often be shortstack players at the table, you’ll learn how to play well as a shortstack too.
Playing with a shorter stack protects players from getting hurt or punished too badly if they make a mistake. This makes shortstack play ideal for many beginners.
A large part of shortstack strategy relies on being able to identify the very best poker starting hands — we’re talking big pairs, and big suited cards that stand of chance of making at least top pair at the flop. Anything less can come at too dear a cost when you don't have the big stack to cash in when you make a hand like a straight or a flush.
The general rule is: with short stacks, made hands on the flop (like pairs) are king. With deep stacks, drawing hands (like flush draws, straight draws, and full house draws) are king. The deeper the stacks are, the stronger your hands will typically need to be to win at showdown.
When thinking about shortstack strategy you’ll also want to consider your position at the table. Are you in late position with the luxury of checking to see how the betting round pans out? If so, you can afford to stay in the game for another round.
Are you a blind who is going to have to post a bet (or a portion of the bet) regardless? If so – and especially if you are the big blind – you may as well stay in the game as long as it isn’t costing you.
Are you in late position where you can gauge the quality of your opponents’ hands? If you see a lot of checking or folding, you may be able to squeak by on a slightly less stellar starting hand (though nothing short of pairs higher than 77 – AA or AT, AJ, AQ, AK, KQ).
All these factors will impact whether or not you are going to want to put any of your own cash on the line.
In capped games there is a limit on the amount the player can bet during any hand. For example, the buy-in may be 70BB, but you play in a 30BB cap game. Once the cap has been reached, you’re all-in.
Capped cash games are essentially the same as playing with a shortstack, so the decisions are a lot more straightforward and your risk is slightly mitigated. Cap games are great practice for tournament poker.
In multi-table tournaments (MTTs), there is play across multiple tables at once. Think the WSOP, EPT, WPT, Pokerstars Sunday Million or the PartyPoker Millions. Players are up against a huge field with a lot of money at stake. In multi-table tournaments you can turn a small investment into a huge (sometimes life changing) payday.
The following types of tournaments are online tournament formats. In live poker tournaments the blind levels will be much longer, and the length of time it takes to play down to a winner can be multiple days.
Standard refers to regular blind levels: either 10, 12 or 15 minutes.The starting stack is usually 100-150BB and the payout is usually 10-15% of the field.
Most standard tournaments take 4-6 hours to complete, except in the case of Sunday Majors where the fields are so big that this can stretch to 8-12 hours.
Deepstack tournaments tend to start with 200BB stacks or more, and they often have extended blind levels of 30 minutes. These tournaments can often take 8-12 hours to complete
Turbos usually have 5-8 minute blind levels, and take 2-3 hours to complete.
A turbo tournament is a type of tournament with a quicker than usual blind structure. Blinds increase fast (around every five minutes), and this keeps the action high, and lulls in play low.
Since everything happens quickly in turbos, you have less time to make decisions or recover from mistakes. So, while they are good for players who are short on patience, they aren't so great for players short on skill and practical experience in the game.
Super Turbo (Hyper Turbo)
Take a regular turbo tournament and put it on steroids. This is a super turbo poker tournament. Blind levels increase every three minutes or less, forcing players into action whether they’re ready or not.
Hyper turbos also often start with antes every hand as well, making the pots even bigger and encouraging a looser style of play to capitalize on all the extra dead money.
Like turbos, super turbos are great if you want a solid game in a short time, but they aren’t recommended for the faint of heart or experience.
Bounty tournaments are tournaments in which players are rewarded for eliminating other players. The bounty may be on a particular player or any player and the reward is almost always cold hard cash.
Bounties can range anywhere from 10%-50% of the buy-in. This is referred to as the bounty prize pool. When the bounty prize pool is bigger (40-50%) the value of busting players (bounty hunting) increases, which encourages a looser style of play to be able to cash in on this side of the prize pool.
Progressive knockout tournaments (PKOs) see the bounty of players increase as they knock out other players (half of the busted players bounty goes to the cashier of the buster, while the other half gets added to the buster’s bounty) which makes for very specific strategic adjustments (and huge bounties!).
Brought to you by America’s Card Room, The Cage is a 6-max table, multi-table time-based cash game with a $1,000+50 buy-in (satellites are available). The tournament ends as soon as the clock hits 5 hours of play, regardless of how many players are left standing.
A buy-in gets you 1,000 in chips which have a real dollar value. At the end of the tournament, your chips are converted to real cash. So, if you have 1000 in chips left, you get $1000 in cash.
The intensity of this event is increased as the blinds increase every level:
- Level 1 with $5 / $10 blinds and $1 antes
- Level 2 with $8 / $16 blinds and $1 antes
- Level 3 with $10 / $20 blinds and $2 antes
- Level 4 with $15 / $30 blinds and $3 antes
- Level 5 with $25 / $50 blinds and $5 antes
If you’re looking for a fun way to play hard and have fun, definitely check out America’s Card Room
America’s Cardroom also offers “The Cage Live” version of this tournament. It is a 2 day tournament with a $5000+250 buy-in and 3 hour blind levels. This is a great tournament to qualify for online as it’s hosted in beautiful Costa Rica. What better place to play poker than in paradise?
A satellite poker tournament is a tournament a player enters to qualify for another, bigger tournament. For example, to qualify for the WSOP, players can play in various online or live qualifying events.
Sit and Go
Fast and fun as hell, sit n go tournaments (SNGs) are a solid option for beginners or pros, offering players the opportunity to get in a quick game anytime. Read on to find out more.
A standard sit n’ go tournament includes six to 10 players and lasts for 20 to 60 minutes. Players pay a . fixed buy-in and get the same amount of poker chips. Whoever loses their chips is out of the tournament and your finishing position determines how much money you make from the game.
Six player SNGs will typically pay the top 2 places, with 1st place getting 70% of the prize pool and 2nd place getting 30% of the prize pool.
Ten player SNGs will typically pay the top 3 places, with 1st place getting 50% of the prize pool, 2nd place getting 30% of the prize pool and 3rd place getting 20% of the prize pool.
Multi-Table Sit and Go
The same principle applies to multi-table sit n’ gos as standard sit n’ gos, only you are playing against more tables and are therefore up against more competition. It also means the prizes are much bigger because with more entrants the prize pool becomes much bigger. Payout structures vary from site to site.
Spin and Go/Jackpot
Spin & Go’s/Jackpot are a modern sit n’ go phenomena, offering fast-paced, high-excitement poker thrills. The spin or jackpot element of chance refers to the randomly drawn prize pool, which could award up to a million dollars.
To play, a player selects a buy-in, decides how many tables he or she wants to play at once, and then jumps in. After that the tables will open, the prize pool will be generated and the game will begin.
Normally, the format is a winner take all tournament. However, when a jackpot or high multiplier prize pool is hit, all three players will be guaranteed a piece of the pot with the winner taking the lion’s share
Chapter Two: Playing Poker Step-by-Step
Before you jump in the game, prepare yourself for the action so you can have the most fun, and let’s face it — make a few bucks. Read on for a practical, step-by-step rundown of how to play the game online or live.
Online vs. Live Poker
Online poker is by far one of the most popular ways to play the game, and these days, it’s how millions of players get down to the felt. Whether you plan to play for fun or play professionally, there are many perks and drawbacks to playing poker online.
Pros of playing poker online:
- You can play at home. No need to put on pants. Just sit back and play.
- There are a variety of stakes and game type. You aren’t limited by what friends want to play or what the house is offering.
- 24/7 action! The games are always running, so you can play what you want, when you want.
- No human errors in dealing, chip counts, etc. The software is infallible.
- Generally lower rake than live/casino. This means you can keep more of your money in your pocket.
- Great bonus and reward programs. Online casinos generally offer pretty solid reward programs, rewarding players with VIP programs, bonuses and rakeback.
Cons of playing poker online:
- Not available in many locations. Alas, playing online poker for real money is still illegal — or in a state of legal limbo — in certain countries/states.
- It can be difficult to deposit online. Some sites can make depositing your money to play arduous and time consuming, with hours or days between when you deposit and when you can play. To overcome this difficulty many poker sites are now accepting Bitcoin and other Cryptocurrencies as deposit options.
- Online poker is anti-social. We need human interaction to thrive. It’s why it’s included in-depth in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Unfortunately, online poker doesn’t provide this.
When most of us envision ourselves playing poker, we’re picturing ourselves in a live setting. We’re picturing eye-to-eye bluffing, a few sweaty close calls and an element of in-the-flesh human interaction.
Read on for the pros and cons of playing live poker.
Pros of live poker:
- No need to make a deposit to play. Just buy-in and you’re good to go.
- Live poker is interactive and social. You get to play with real people, and see real tells and play. This is invaluable to your mental and social health, as well as your development as a player.
Cons of live poker:
- Games don’t always run. You are on the schedule of your cardroom, casino or friends who are hosting the game.
- Limited variety of games. You have to pick up whatever someone/someplace else is throwing down.
- Tipping dealers. Tipping the dealer is a regular practice in cardrooms and casinos, and while it’s not (strictly speaking) necessary, it is good form. Tipping keeps the vibe at the table positive and gives you a good reputation with dealers and other players.
- Usually the standard is to tip one small denomination chip for the game when you win a pot over approximately 20 big blinds.
- So, in 1/2 or 2/5 you'd tip $1; in 5/10 or 10/20 you'd tip $5 and in 25/50 or 50/100 you'd tip $25.
- When people stack someone or win a 100+ big blind pot they tend to tip a big chip for the game. So, $5 in the first example, $25 in the second, $100 in the third.
- However, when someone wins a pot preflop they usually don't tip, or if they win a small pot when they steal the blinds, or take down a single raised pot with a c-bet.
- Comparative lack of loyalty/rewards. While many casinos do have loyalty programs, they are often not as robust as the ones you’ll find online.
How to Play Online Poker
If your poker experience is confined to games with grandma using pretzel sticks as currency, then the world of online poker is likely to be a little daunting, but also incredibly exciting. Get ready! Here’s everything you need to know about how to play online poker.
Choosing an online poker site
- There are a ton of online poker sites out there, and not all will give you the same experience. Here are a few key points to look for when selecting a site:
- Volume of players: ~1000 at low hours & at least 10,0000 at peak hours is a good guideline.)
- Limits offered: A variety of limits is good, but as a beginner, you should ensure they have a solid line-up of lower limit games, like $1/2 or $2/5.)
- Level of competition: Some sites are renowned for tougher or softer competition. 888.com, for instance, is notoriously soft. America’s Card Room tends to have more of a blend. Both are good options for beginners who need to gain confidence and get experience.
- Quality of VIP program: As a beginner, you won’t want bonuses or conditions that are extremely difficult for lower stake players to clear. Be sure to read the terms and conditions of the programs to get a full picture.
- Variety of tournaments and mixed games. You know what they say, variety is the spice of life! Play at a site that allows you to move between a range of games so you can keep the game interesting.
If you want to avoid the hassle of shopping around, I recommend America’s Cardroom. It has it all, and unlike most other online poker sites they accept American players!
Join Project Get Me Stackin’ with America’s Cardroom to score 30 days of free training materials, so you can earn while you learn!
Making a Real Money Deposit
There are many deposit options for poker sites and it can be overwhelming knowing where to start. Fear not: here are the best real money deposit options that will help you get to your money quickly.
First option, try your credit card, but we aware some won’t work and you likely won’t know until you try. Next up, deposit with an e-wallet optimizer like Skrill and Neteller. You can learn more about these. Also, cryptocurrency with Bitcoin is accepted by most sites.
I strongly encourage you to get familiar with BTC and open a wallet. It's easier than you think and is the way of the future, by the looks of it. I’ve done a comprehensive video on deposit and withdrawal options, which you can watch here.
The Poker Lobby
The poker lobby is the equivalent of a casino lobby: it’s where players mill around before their game starts. It’s also the place where you can find out what games are available, sign up, and chat with other players (on some poker sites), access your account info, player rewards and VIP status tracker bar.
Every poker lobby is a little different, but they will all have these key features.
Here’s where you can talk shop or just shoot the shit before a game.
Your list of available games are usually displayed in tabs and subtabs. Just click on the type of game and then specific game you want, and then click ‘Register’ or ‘Join Table.’
Picking a game type
Come as you please, leave as you play: cash games are played for real money value and allow you to find a game whenever you want.
Cash games are good for beginners, but be sure to stick to a stake you can afford. The more at stake, the more you will require knowledge, skill and experience to back it up.
Multi-table tournaments are the most exciting form of poker. They also have the potential to be the most profitable form of poker for someone who is comfortable with the large amount of variance involved.
Beginner translation: until you have a more solid understanding of the fundamentals of poker, most MTTs are probably not your bag. If you’re itching to get in these games, get the practical experience and theoretical knowledge.
Want to learn the fundamentals of MTT Poker? Grab my MTT video guide
Sit and Go's (SNGs)
While technically still tournaments, SNGs are actually great for beginners, since they offer the flexible time commitment of cash games and the more exciting field of play MTTs.
The difference between SNGs and MTTs is that in SNGs you will make the money much more often than you would in MTTs, and also the duration of the game is much shorter.
Again, be sure to play within your budget and your skillset.
Cashing out your winnings is relatively easy, but just be aware it is not always quick. A cash out to your bank account will usually be processed within 72 and you’ll receive your money in three to five business days.
This is why many online poker players choose to have an e-wallet. E-wallets are the for both deposits and withdrawals. They are also safe and easy to use.
Deposits are always instantly available, and withdrawals are at your disposal within hours or a couple days — the exact length depends on the poker site you're playing on. Some sites, like PokerStars and PartyPoker, have instant withdrawals, which definitely sweetens the pot.
With e-wallets, there are multiple withdrawal options for your money. Via bank, credit card or you can even use your e-wallet card and get your money through an ATM. The transition from e-wallet to cash in hand is seamless and easy.
My e-wallet recommendations? Skrill and NETELLER.
Online Poker Tips for Beginners
Once you’ve got a feel for the lay of the (virtual) land, it’s time to get off the rails. Get into the game with more confidence and better results: keep reading for my top online poker tips for beginners.
Play Fewer Tables
Divided focus is divided results. Multitasking is only something you can do successfully when you’ve mastered playing one table. The game may feel slow. You may even feel bored at times, but the best way to hone any skill is to take your time and give one task your full attention.
Start at Lowest Stakes
I’ve already said to play at your limit, but for some beginners, that won’t necessarily mean your playing at the lowest stakes. You could be a newbie with money to spare, and your limit could be mid to high stake.
No matter how much money you have to spare, if you’re a beginner, you should always start playing at the lowest (or a low) stake. Getting comfortable with losing money (even if it is money you can afford to lose) is part of poker, but losing most of the time is not a good way to begin your relationship with the game.
Lower stakes means less skilled competition. This is an ideal environment to practice your new found skills without being faced with many difficult decisions right out of the gate.
Manage Your Bankroll
There are many different strategies when it comes to bankroll management for an aspiring poker player. What they all have in common is that they centre around creating a foundation to weather bad variance and an awareness of when it’s time to drop limits.
Read more on bankroll management.
Take Frequent Breaks
Breaks are absolutely essential for successful play, especially if you’re riding a high or low, in which case you should break for a couple days. Or longer. You don’t want to chase the high, or try to mitigate your losses. Regroup. Relax. Refocus. Then, get back in the game.
Choose Beginner Friendly Sites
888 poker is known for being the softest poker site online. It has been for a while and isn't changing anytime soon. This makes it an ideal place for beginners to try their luck, put their skill to the test and gain the confidence they need to take their game to the next level.
For US Players who can't play on 888, we recommend America's Cardroom
Don't forget to take advantage of our free 30-day training program when you create your account with either of these sites.
Fill out the form at gripsed.com/stackin to get enrolled in our free 30-day cash game training poker program.
Online Poker FAQ
Here are the most frequently asked questions about playing online poker to help you become more comfortable and confident in the game.
Do I need to deposit money when I open an account?
Nope. You don’t have to deposit any real money. You can play at the play money tables.
Can I open multiple accounts on a single site?
No, though you can have multiple accounts across multiple sites. The main reason you cannot have more than one account on a single site is because playing under multiple accounts damages the integrity of the game.
Am I allowed to watch a game before sitting down to play?
Yes. Open a table in the lobby and observe. This is a great way to learn more about how to play online poker.
Is playing more than one table at a time permitted?
Yes. Multi-tabling is allowed. It’s a solid way to play more hands, avoid lulls in the game, and hasten rake requirements for online bonuses — but again, it’s not recommended for beginners.
Can online play money be exchanged for real money?
No. Play money tables exist for fun and practice. Play money chips have no real value.
Do I have to use a sign-up bonus when I make a first time deposit?
No. Sign up bonuses are not required, but they are an amazing way to score free money from the site. Be sure to get the best bonus for your style of play. Read the terms of the bonus.
Which poker site is the best?
There is no easy answer to that, because the best poker site for you will depend on your preferences and how you play. This said, there are a few sites that are generally top-notch, for any style of player and any game objective.
What’s an avatar?
An avatar is the image used to represent you at the table. Some sites have their own avatars (example: site logo or graphic of a made-up poker player). Other sites will allow you to upload an image of your choosing.
Is my money safe in an online poker account?
Yes. I’d venture to say just about as safe as with any bank, and definitely safer than they are in your actual wallet on any given day. Rest assured your funds are safe and secure.
Are online poker games rigged?
The games aren’t rigged and the sites are rigorously monitored to ensure game integrity.
Are online poker sites ever closed?
No. This said, there may be site maintenance once in awhile that will put the site out of commission for an hour or two.
How much money do I need in my account to play online poker?
This all depends on the games you are looking to enter. For a beginner, $20 is a good first deposit and should last you a week of mindful, strategic, slow play.
What do I do if the games I want to join are full?
Join the wait-list! You will be prompted to take a seat once a player leaves the game. A bonus of being on the wait -ist is that it provides you with an excellent opportunity to observe the play (and players) before you get in the game yourself. Knowledge is power!
Am I required to play every hand once I’m at a table?
No. You can “sit out” at any time. This means that you will still have your seat at the table, you will just not be dealt into the hand. However, in a cash game, if you miss being dealt in as the big blind when you sit out, you will still be required to post the blind when you join back in.
In a tournament, you will still be dealt cards and will still post a big and small blind even if you are sitting out.
What is a tournament “entry fee”?
The entry fee is essentially the rake of the tournament world, since online tournaments do not collect rake per hand.
What is a freeroll tournament?
A freeroll is a tournament that is free to enter and allows you to win real money. This makes freerolls ideal for newbies. Some freeroll tournaments offer additional cash and prize like our Free Money Friday home game.
What is a freezeout tournament?
A freezeout tournament means you are only permitted one entry per player, no rebuys. Once you’re out, you’re out.
What is a rebuy tournament?
A rebuy tournament is a tournament that allows you to buy back into the tournament after you’ve been knocked out.
How long do tournaments last?
That depends. They can be an hour if they’re turbo, or they can be a few hours or, in some live events, days.
How many players actually make money in a tournament?
Less than half. Usually 10%-20% of the player field will make the money.
What’s chopping in a poker tournament?
Chopping is an option given at the final table of a tournament. The ‘chop’ option permits the remaining players to split the remaining prize money.
What is ICM?
ICM (independent chip module) is a mathematical model used to calculate a player’s overall equity in a tournament. ICM uses stack sizes to determine how often a player will finish in each position (1st place, 2nd place, and so on).
How long does it take for my tournament winnings to appear in my account?
They appear right away.
How to Play Online Poker in the US
First things first, you have to figure out if you can play online poker in the US. It’s a grey area, as America’s Cardroom explains in their updated list of states where US players can play and while it's not 100% legal, tens of thousands of US players are enjoying playing on this site everyday.
There are also other sites which cater to US players and most depositing and withdrawing is done through bitcoin, another great reason to set up your cryptocurrency e-wallet.
This is great if you want a more in-depth explanation of where you can and can’t play in the US.
What states is online poker legal?
Online poker is 100% legal in Pennsylvania, Nevada, Delaware and New Jersey.
Is online poker rigged?
Nope. Online poker is controlled by impartial, rigorously monitored software. If someone says it’s rigged, someone is more than likely simply not a very good player and/or has a poor understanding of this fundamental truth: poker
requires skill, yes, but is also largely governed by chance.
What is zoom poker?
Created by PokerStars, Zoom Poker is an innovative, fast and fun way to play poker. Instead of playing one table with up to 10 players, you can play a pool of up to 200 tables and 2000 players at the same time. When you fold your hand you will instantly be taken to a new table, so no wait time.
This means an increase in your total hands per hour of up to 400%. Good for clearing online bonuses!
What is zone poker?
Zone Poker is another poker innovation that allows you to play more hands, and see more action. Instead of waiting for the action to finish when you fold, zone poker instantly transports you to a new table where you’re dealt hole cards for the next hand.
How to Play Poker in a Casino (Live)
Live casinos can be daunting. Unlike playing poker online, you can’t hide behind your screen when you make an embarrassing call or breach of etiquette. Good news though: if you keep reading, you won’t have to hide.
I’ve got you covered with a comprehensive guide to how to play poker in a live casino.
Buying Chips at a Casino
When you first get to the poker room, the first thing you should do is head to the “cage”, which is the same thing as the cashier. There, you simply hand them your money and tell them what denominations of chips that you want, be it stacks of $1, $5, or $25.
No matter what you want, just always make sure to get at least 20 white $1 chips so that you can post the blinds in small stakes games or always have something on hand to tip the waitresses or dealers.
Live Poker Waiting List
When you arrive at the poker room, you normally can’t just choose to sit down and play without at least speaking to the floor person. The floorperson is there to make sure that the games stay orderly and full.&
Tell the floor person what game you want to play and they will either direct you to that table or put your name or initials on a waiting list for that game.
The waiting list is simply a list of people who have expressed interest in that game and plan on playing it when their turn comes up after someone else leaves the game.
Your name will display on a monitor with a bunch of other people. The wait is never as long as it appears. Many of the people on the list either won’t show up or will sit at another game and pass on it when their turn comes up.
To save time on the waitlist most casinos offer the option to call in and put your name on the list. Your spot will be held for 90-120 minutes. That way you can put your name on the list and be closer to the top when you arrive at the casino. This is one major area where planning ahead pays off!
Live Poker Tips for Beginners
Confidence is key to winning, so before you ease into your seat, read up on these live poker tips for beginners.
Some live games can get very crazy which is why I wrote this article on how to play loose live poker games.
Wait your turn
The easiest way to get on other players’ nerves is to act out of turn. Not only will you be forced to take back your bet or raise, but you’ll have accidentally given information to the rest of the table, which is frustrating for the other players who you have acted in front of. You will usually be warned against this act the first couple of times you do it, but then might incur a penalty by the dealer.
Don’t talk too much
Players who are new to the game tend to talk too much about their hands or their views on the game. Talk about anything at the table except poker, as every time you do this, more experienced players are picking up information about you that they can use against you in the future.
A good example would be saying to someone that you never reraise with anything less than pocket queens. Should you make this mental error, the next time some raises and you raise them back, they can safely lay down their middle pocket pairs.
Watch the players
Other players are constantly giving off tells or other little bits of information about their hands and their play in general, even when they aren’t in a hand. Keep your eye on them.
Many players will even do things as obvious as hold their cards out in preparation of mucking them before it is their turn to act, which will allow you some additional opportunities to steal with subpar cards.
For some comprehensive explanations of tells and the psychology behind them, consult the classic book by Mike Caro, Caro’s Book of Poker Tells.
Stay observant while not in a hand
When you aren’t in hand, you should be paying attention to what the other players are doing. This isn’t just to pick up facial tells on other players, which any experienced player would tell you have minimal value (as we’re used to ‘putting on a face’).
Much more valuable is watching how the players bet their hands or check when certain board cards come out. Combine that knowledge with other players discussing the hand after showdown, and you might just come away from the experience with some valuable information.
Resist the urge to go to your phone every time that you fold. After all, those hot 22 year olds on Tinder were never going to swipe right on you in the first place. But building a big stack? That might catch their eye!
Never show your bluffs
People who show their bluffs rarely know what they are doing — not just in that particular hand, but in the overall game itself. As a rule, a bluff is either a hand that never connected with the flop or a draw that failed to get there.
When you show these cards after the hand, you have basically told the entire table everything you think you know about poker.
An experienced player will quickly be able to ascertain how you value your cards preflop and how you perceive various cards that come on the board, as well as how you size your bets on all streets of play.
In fact, you are probably better off never showing your goods cards as well.
Just keep in mind that the more hands that you play that never get to show down, the more likely you are to get called in the future, so tend to bluff less if you aren’t showing down, or bluff more if you are showing down good hands.
Let the flow of the game dictate your response, rather than trying to recreate the flow yourself by selectively showing good hands or bluffs.
For comprehensive, winning strategies for live tournament play, check out my Poker Guide.
Poker Etiquette in a Casino
Live poker etiquette is almost as important as knowing the rules of the game. It’s what separates the obvious marks (players other players prey on because they seem weak) from the winners, and the outcasts who no one wants to play with from the well-liked players.
Don’t talk about the hand if you’re not in it
Not only is it considered rude, but talking about a hand when you aren’t in it can incur penalties. Even saying something as innocuous as “looks like a flush there” can land you in deep shit. The best advice is to just keep your mouth shut if you have folded and let the other players concentrate on the play.
Don’t call time on your opponents (someone else usually will)
In my opinion, other than telling a player what to do when it is their turn, telling a player to hurry up is the most offensive thing you can do. Unless a player is continually doing this every single hand in a poker tournament when there is the tangible threat for the blinds raising slowly, you should never do this.
Not only do the target players find this offensive, so will other players in the game, as it is just bad etiquette. Also, you can be certain that if you do this, someone at the table will be itching to call time on you as soon as you are faced with a difficult decision.
Do not berate other players for silly plays
It’s been said many times, but never can be said enough: players making bad plays are how you make money. If they always made good decisions when peeling cards with weak hands, how do you expect to ever make money when you make the nuts or flop a full house?
What has been said much less frequently (and I how I personally prefer to view the game) is that players putting money in with bad hands are more entitled to their share of good luck than you are. After all, you can’t expect to win the lottery if you never take the worst of it by buying a ticket in the first place.
Tip the dealers
It is customary to tip the dealers $1 after every winning hand. While you don’t necessarily have to tip after raising and just winning the blinds in a $1/$2 game, make sure you that you throw in a little extra after winning a big pot, particularly if you got dealt a lucky river card.
While there is no rule saying that you have to tip, no one likes a cheapskate at the table and you also risk incurring the dealer’s wrath if you ever find yourself in a situation where there requires a ruling.
Don’t hit and run
While you may repeatedly do this online to no effect, doing this in a live setting will certainly make future dealings with other players hostile. No one likes anyone who comes in a makes a big score only to cashout right away without giving anyone a chance to win your money back.
However, there are times when you book a big win and want to leave with it. Should this happen, tell the other players that you are going to play another two or three orbits before you leave, but wait at least an hour or two if you hit it big right upon arrival.
Remember that you always have the option of playing conservatively if you worry that you are at risk of losing it back.
Be friendly and positive
This is good advice for not just the poker table, but life in general. However, this bit of advice has the added benefit of putting more money in your pocket.
By keeping the atmosphere friendly, you ensure that bad players will want to stay in your company and that situations where a ruling could go either way, you stand a better chance of winning the coin flip.
Live Poker FAQ
Live poker comes with its own set of demands, and understandably, its own set of questions. Read on for Live Poker FAQ — and answers.
How to have a poker face
The way to have a good poker face in live poker is simple, but you need to remember that not only do you have to worry about your facial expressions, you need to be mindful of your body language in general. As Doyle Brunson said “show me your eyes, and you might as well show me your cards.”
When you are involved in a hand, it is easy to keep a straight face, but take notice of your posture and the position of your hands. Make sure that you always sit straight up in your seat and that you grab and place your chips the same way with the same hand each time.
To do this, pick a spot on the middle of the table and focus your attention on it. Lastly, if your face or nose itches, it is a sign of discomfort to scratch it, so try to wait until the hand is over to do so.
What is angle shoot in poker?
An angle shoot in poker is a dirty deed that is not usually against the rules, but is definitely frowned upon. The purpose is to gain an unfair advantage at the table.
It involves intentionally acting out of turn, making (or more often than not, calling) a string bet, or reaching for your chips only to take your hand away to stop someone from betting are all examples of angle shooting. Avoid this at all costs.
Chapter 3: How to Get Better at Poker for Beginners
So, you have a solid (or at least passable) understanding of how to play poker. Now, you need to refine your game so you can play to win — or at least have more fun. This chapter will go into the more nuanced elements of the game, thereby enhancing your knowledge and your odds of winning.
The Fundamental Theorem of Poker was created by David Sklansky and states, in his words:
"Every time you play a hand differently from the way you would have played it if you could see all your opponents' cards, they gain; and every time you play your hand the same way you would have played it if you could see all their cards, they lose. Conversely, every time opponents play their hands differently from the way they would have if they could see all your cards, you gain; and every time they play their hands the same way they would have played if they could see all your cards, you lose."
The Fundamental Theorem of Poker essentially boils down to talking about the great battle for the information advantage in a game of imperfect information. Information is the main advantage in poker; not lucky cards or a huge stack – information.
Sklansky’s famous theorem is exemplified in almost every single interaction that takes place in the game. Consider the Fundamental Theorem of Poker in relation to something as simple as table position:
Acting last on each street puts you at an information advantage, which gives you a massive edge when we’re playing a game of imperfect information. The more you know the more likely you are to make the best decision.
The action flows through the player in position on each street, who has the final say on whether or not we see the next card for free, for the price offered, or if the price needs to go up. Being in position gives you much greater control of the betting and, subsequently, control over the size of the pot.
When you control the action, you control the information.
Position & Starting Hand Selection
Position combined with good starting hand selection is the key to a winning strategy.
Late position, for example, is the information position. From this vantage, we can see how our opponents are playing their hands and glean some intel about what kind of hand they are holding as well as what type of player they are. There is more than one type of position. The video above introduces both absolute and relative position. This article goes much deeper into the importance of relative position.
This is why you can afford to be a little more liberal in your starting hand selection when you're in late position. If you are in early position, however, you don't have any of this information and it's generally a better idea to stick to the best cards. They include:
AA, KK, QQ, AK(s)
And, if you’re a little more skilled, you can likely make a solid starting hand from these cards, too:
AK, AQ(s), AJ(s), KQ(s), JJ, TT
Also consider the action when judging the relative strength of your starting hand. Even if you are in late position, you will want to think twice about playing lower tier hands like suited connectors, low pairs, unconnected face cards if the action has been raised ahead of you (ex. JT - suited or not). This article I wrote is a great way to improve your skills around starting hand selection.
The more people there are in a hand, the more likely it is someone has a better hand than you. This doesn't mean you can't play these hands, simply that you need to be wary. If you are at all second guessing the merits of your hand, fold.
Another consideration when considering playing your starting hand in any position: the type of opponent(s).
Being in late position with a lower tier hand (example: AJ) against a loose, aggressive player is one thing; being in late position with a lower tier hand against a tight, aggressive player is quite another. You will probably want to sit this hand out if you find yourself in the latter situation.
However, you could very ostensibly cash-in with the same hand if you saw your hand out in the case of the former instance. Being able to accurately assess player type can only be through experience and careful observation. The more time you spend at the tables, the easier it will be.
In order to win at poker, no matter what style you are playing, you need to be aggressive. Being aggressive has many benefits. It allows you to win the pot uncontested, it allows you to take control of the hand, and also allows you to win bigger pots when you fill your draws. When it comes to postflop play continuation betting is your best friend in finding profit via aggression.
Of course, your aggression needs to be fueled by calm, centered knowledge. Don’t Hulk-out on your opponents if you haven’t got the odds in your favour. But if you have — even if the odds simply dictate you can only beat a bluff — don’t be afraid to push for your ground. Your opponents will be playing aggressively too, and that's where a powerful move like the check-raise can make you a lot of money!
Bankroll management is the only way you can expect to make it in this game, as all other considerations are secondary. Bankroll management refers to the proper management of your funds so that you can afford to play in your game of choice.
At the heart of smart bankroll management is ensuring you have adequate buy-ins. For cash games, you want 40 buy-ins for whatever stake you are playing.
For sit n' gos, you want 60 buy-ins for whatever stake you’re playing and for multi-table tournaments (MTTs), you want 100 buy-ins for whatever stake.
Bear in mind these are aggressive bankroll management numbers, and while they are not set in stone, they’ll keep your stack pretty safe.
Another important tenant of bankroll management? Know when to quit. Don’t chase your losses and let that desire to get back to even drive your game. Your game should always be founded on making the most educated, profitable calls you can. Sometimes, that call will mean you step back.
Tilt control is at the heart of the mental game. The basics of it involves seeing the game as a marathon and not a sprint, as it is unlikely that the effects of any losing hand or session are likely to have a significant impact on your yearly winnings.
Possessing good tilt control and/or knowing when to step away from the game is critical if you ever want to play profitably.
To learn now to become tilt-proof, I strongly suggest checking out my tilt-proof series.
At the heart of every poker hand, there is math for which you need to account. Poker odds tell you the probability you have of winning the hand. However, before you know the odds, you have to know what your ‘outs’ are.
Outs are cards that complete your hand. For instance, an open-ended straight draw has eight outs. The odds of hitting one of these cards on the next card is 4.75 to 1.
This means that as long as you are facing a small bet that is about ⅕ of the pot or otherwise expect to make a significant amount of money if you hit your hand (known), you can safely call that bet. Implied odds are a major reason why you can call big bets with drawing hands. On the other hand there are reverse implied odds which the knowledge of can help keep you out of trouble.
Game selection is the most important skill that a player can possess. Even if you are a good player, you can not win if you are sitting with five or eight players who are better than you.
Good game selection means that you are finding tables where you know who the marks are and are also seating yourself appropriately to get the right kind of action from them.
Rake awareness means that you are conscious of how the rake impacts the game. Even though you may find yourself in a situation where you have selected the right game with the right soft opponents, the rake could be so high that the game might be barely beatable or unbeatable altogether.
The typical rake structure is about 5% with a $3 cap. This can be lessened by a good rakeback or rewards scheme. In the worst case scenario, I have heard of casino crises that have 10% rake with no cap. Those you should avoid completely. This is why private games are often a sub-optimal place to play poker.
The rewards program of a site or casino is a very important part in choosing where you should play. Rewards come in the form of rakeback or comp points, which can be traded for food comps, gifts, or in the best case, cash.
Points tradeable for cash are typically only available online.
Opponent tendencies are the actions that you can reliably expect from your opponents most of the time. Simple examples include:
- expecting your opponent to c-bet for larger amounts against more players with stronger hands
- checking back weak hands against multiple players
- 3-betting with the strongest of hands
Studying Hand Histories
One of the best things you can do to improve your online game is to study your sessions by reviewing your hand histories in Hold’em Manager 2 (HEM 2) or Poker Tracker 4 (PT4). This allows you the ability to see where you could have made mistakes.
It also allows you to see how your better performing opponents are making different decisions or sizing bets from you.
Poker training can come in two different forms. The first form is by watching training videos on poker training sites or on Twitch. The second form is taking on a coach for hire or joining a coaching for profit program.
For new or small stakes players, you are better off sticking to free twitch training or free training from a reputable site, like Gripsed.com. Once you become a winning player that is struggling to move up, consider trying a coaching for profit scheme, but be sure you want to do this, as your typical CFP scheme will cost you half your winnings for the year. These programs also have play/volume requirements which may not be what you’re looking for if you play poker to make your own schedule and experience freedom.
For much more experienced players who need individual training and know exactly which areas they need to improve in, a personal coach will cost you a minimum of $100 per hour.
The ability to take notes on your opponents is the best tool you have available to you as an online player, and many otherwise very skilled players needlessly pass on this great opportunity.
Not only can you take notes on other players, but most sites will allow you to color code them as well, with the typical color codings being red for hyper aggressive or green for fish.
Beginner Poker F.A.Q.
If you’re new to poker, chances are you’ve asked (or are asking) at least one of these beginner poker FAQ's. Read on for answers!
How many cards in poker?
In poker, there are a few main types of poker that are still played: stud games, draw games, and flop games. Five card stud has exactly that, five cards, while seven card stud has, not surprisingly, seven cards. Draw games all contain exactly five cards, but flop games have two noted variants: Texas Hold’em and Omaha. Texas hold’em has two cards dealt to every player and five total board cards, while Omaha plays much like Hold’em except you are dealt four cards instead of two.
All forms of poker are played with a 52 card deck. Only home games will mix in jokers and wild cards.
What is a kicker in poker?
A kicker in poker is the sidecard that does not connect with any board card that often determines the winner.
For example, if you have ace king and the board comes A97, you are said to have top pair/top kicker. This will beat another player who holds an ace and deuce because the king sidecard, or kicker, will beat the deuce kicker.
The only other times when this matters is if you make three of a kind when there is a pair on the board or when you make two pair when there is a pair on the board.
However, in these situations, sometimes there will be a card on the board that is higher than the kicker of either player, in which case the kicker will not come into play and the players will split the pot.
What is under the gun in poker?
The under the gun player is the person who is dealt to the immediate left of the blinds and is first to act before the flop after all of the cards have been dealt.
What is the hijack in poker?
The hijack in poker is a nickname given to the player who is dealt two seats to the right of the dealer button.
What is the cutoff in poker?
The cutoff in poker is the seat that is dealt one to the right of the button and acts right after the hijack.
What is a nit in poker?
A “nit” is a derogatory term that is given to someone who is considered to be playing too tight (yet still probably aggressive) to be very profitable. This term gets thrown around too much, and should generally be considered a compliment, as your typical loose aggressive player will often be the loser at the game.
What is a fish in poker?
A fish, or “mark”, in poker is a player who plays badly and is the target of players who are selectively looking to profit from the game.
What is a c-bet in poker?
A c-bet, which is short for a “continuation bet”, is a bet that is made by a player who made a preflop raise and then chooses to continue betting by betting the flop. A turn c-bet is another bet that follows the flop c-bet, while a river c-bet is a third bet that follows a turn c-bet.
Deciding to make a continuation bet is not contingent on having made a good hand on the flop. Statistically speaking, most of the time (50-70% of the time) your opponent won't have made good on the flop either.
In addition to providing you with a solid opportunity to see your hand out, continuation betting is also a great way to use your fear equity to control the action. It doesn't actually matter if you make your hand on the flop; you've gone beyond simply calling the blinds — you've raised, and come flop, you're not letting down.
Confidence in your hand (whether it's real or not) is enough to allow you to gain and establish control — and having control with the weakest of hands is better than having none with the nuts.
Chapter 4: Advanced Poker Strategy
Ready to take it to the next level with advanced poker strategy? Cool — just don’t rush it. Make sure you have a handle on the fundamentals first. Then, read on.
Poker balance, or “balancing” is what happens when you make an effort to level out the times when you are betting for value or bluffing or checking based on similarly structured boards to maintain a level of deception.
A simple example would be making an effort to mix in some checks when you raise ace king and the flop comes K72 to balance out the times when you check with a good second pair, like tens, jacks, or queens.
Learn more about balance and bluffing.
Reading opponent ranges
Reading your opponents' ranges is the key to figuring out what they hold in any given situation. What this means is that you can narrow down their hand ranges during certain actions, such as limping, raising, calling a raise, or defending against a raise when in the big blind.
Being able to read board textures will help you narrow down your opponent's possible holdings on the flop. The ability to read an opponent’s range comes mostly from experience, but using a heads up display when playing online that shows their percentile ranges in specific situations can also be very helpful.
Blockers are what happens when the cards you hold in your hand or the ones that hit the board will change the odds of what your opponent may or may not have. This can occur when you have a hand like two jacks and the board comes J62 rainbow (all different suits).
In this instance, you should probably tend to check, as you have two jacks in your hand and there is only one left in the deck, meaning that if you bet, you probably won’t get any action unless someone was unlucky enough to be holding 66 or 22.
On the other hand, sometimes you can have a hand that has what is known as “negative/reverse blockers”, meaning that the cards you hold make it more likely that someone else connected with the board.
An ideal example of this:
You raise with JTs and the flop comes AKQ, making you the nut straight.
Even though this hand is stronger than the one in the previous example, you should now bet, as your cards don’t connect with any of the flop cards, making it more likely that someone has an inferior hand that they can call you with.
GTO stands for “game theory optimal”. It is based on the assumption that you can use what is called Game Theory in order to solve poker like you would a math problem.
The concept starts with the assumption that you can accurately pinpoint a player’s range and then determine the perfect solution to whether or not you should bet or check certain flops, based on perfect play.
This probably sounds confusing, so let’s go back to the concept of balancing your range with JJ on a J62 flop. GTO assumes perfect play, and therefore you should never always bet or always check.
With GTO, a computer solved solution would rate that you should, say, bet the flop 16% and check the other 84% of the time, depending on how often both players rate to hit that flop.
Software and Tools
It doesn’t matter if you never play online poker: like online poker bonuses, poker software and tools can help you make the most out of every hand. How? They help you to better understand the odds and where you stand, both as a player and in each hand.
Here are some of the most popular poker software and tools to help further your education, and as a result, your chances of making profitable plays.
PT4 is short for Poker Tracker 4 and HEM refers to Hold’em Manager 2. These are programs that use databases to read your hand histories, which are text files of each hand played saved on your hard drive. By using these programs, you can track both your own and your opponents’ winnings, as well as play tendencies. They can show you which hands are winners and by how much, as well as which hands are costing you money. They even have the ability to show you what is called a “heads up display” or “HUD”, which is a configurable overlay that projects onto your table in real time. The HUD can break down your opponents’ tendencies into statistics that help you make real time decisions based on their play up to the current hand. These programs can be purchased for a one time fee, yet have add-ons that come with a subscription basis.
Pio is a very powerful GTO solver. It works for both preflop and flop scenarios. For preflop, you plug in your opponents range and it will give you precise percentages to fold, call, or 3-bet.
Pio can also solve postflop scenarios by plugging in both yours and a single opponent’s range, allowing you the ability to see what frequencies you should bet or check on a single flop of your choosing.
Given the resources needed to solve each scenario that can have millions of individual outcomes, this program is very resource intensive and will not operate without lots of computing power and upgraded RAM. Pio is available for a one time fee of $249 (Basic) to $475 (Pro).
Poker Snowie is an artificial intelligence poker playing program that was designed based on GTO principles and is available for mass consumption. Unlike Pio, Snowie doesn’t solve scenarios in real time on your computer.
The AI in Poker Snowie is based on the program having played trillions of hands against itself and then determining the appropriate GTO frequencies of each play on every single board texture. Also, unlike Pio, it has situations more or less solved for multiway pots as well.
I say “more or less”, because the variables involved in multiway pots are far too complex to be solved. Not only can you play against Snowie, it can also review your hands and point out ones where it feels you have made errors according to GTO theory.
Poker Snowie is available for a monthly fee.
PokerStove & Flopzilla
PokerStove is a very simple and useful free tool that is available online. It allows you to plug in an opponent’s range and then put in your starting hole cards, where it will calculate your equity vs. that range. For instance, suppose your opponent is raising the top 33% of hands and you call on the button with JTs. Poker Stove can calculate that your hand has 52% equity against your opponents range when seeing all five board cards. Flopzilla is a more advanced version of this program which will also allow you to see how well hand ranges connect with different boards
Rakeback is a rebate of a certain percentage of rake that you pay. It is not available for every site, but should play a role in determining where you choose to play.
Solid rakeback is the cornerstone for building an online bankroll. It helps you withstand the dry spells of cards, alleviates the pressures of grinding, and gives you a solid reward for putting in volume. Simply put, it's a percentage you earn for every hand or tournament played.
Proper bet sizing is one of the most important skills you can develop. You will find that there are appropriate bet sizes for all different situations, and they all correspond to giving yourself and your opponents the appropriate risk to reward ratio.
For example, if you are making a c-bet to take down the pot with nothing, you should probably never bet more than ⅔ to ¾ of the pot. Understanding progressive bet sizing is the key to winning the maximum while risking the minimum.
On the other hand, if you flop middle set on a draw heavy board against four or more opponents, you should consider making a full pot sized bet or larger to protect your hand against the draws. Reference the links for an in-depth discussion on choosing the perfect bet size.
The mental game of poker refers to the psychological game you play within yourself. In sum, it involves making sure that you are mentally healthy when playing the game.
To master the mental game, you have to take control of the emotional aspects of the game and attempt to do away with them or otherwise limit the hold they take on you and your decision making processes.
A good 3-betting strategy should limit the number of potential callers, get more money in the pot with your stronger hands, isolate a single weak opponent with a strong or semi-strong hand, or to properly balance your strong or playable range against tough competition.
Learn about how and when to 3-bet preflop to get more action in the game, and out of every hand.
Equity vs. Ranges
Your equity vs. ranges is the percentage of time that your starting cards figure to beat the entire range of your opponent’s cards. This can be measured either preflop or after the flop if you know what the board texture is. Trying practicing this with a free program like Poker Stove or Poker Strategy’s Equilab.
Table selection is the same thing as game selection. It is at the heart of being a good, winning player. While you may be good in a vacuum, consistently facing off against other good players does not make for profitable play. While you can't reasonably expect to find yourself at a table full of bad players, make sure that there is enough weak or poor play to make a solid profit before choosing to sit at a table.
When to Move Up Stakes
You should move up in stakes when both your skill level and bankroll allows it. You have a pretty good idea that you are good enough to move up when you are not only beating the bad players at your level, but more importantly, you are regularly outplaying or trapping the top players as well at your stake.
However, more importantly, you need to figure out if you can afford it. Depending on who you ask, if you are playing no limit or pot limit games, you should have between 30 and 100 times the buy-in at the stake you are moving into.
Even still, you should be extra careful about table selection when you get started, as you don’t want to find yourself at a table that is full of much better players than you are used to.
Advanced Poker F.A.Q.
Now you have the basics of poker under your belt, let’s move into answering some more advanced poker F.A.Qs.
What is GTO in Poker?
GTO in poker stands for “game theory optimal”. It is a method of play that you view the game as being solvable like a math problem and assumes that all information about hand ranges of both players is known to both parties.
What is a 3-bet in poker?
A 3-bet in poker is just another name for a re-raise against an initial raiser or initial raiser plus one or more callers.
What is a range in poker?
A range in poker is the entirety of hands that a player could have in a single spot. For example, when someone re-raises you, you can’t just assume that he has pocket aces. You would say that his range consists of aces, kings, queens, jacks, or ace king, perhaps some bluffs, and then proceed accordingly.
What is a blocker in poker?
A blocker in poker is a card in your hand or on the board that reduces the number of possible holdings that your opponents may possess. For example if you raise with AA and you opponent will only reraise you with exactly AA or KK, he is 6 times more likely to hold KK since there are only two aces (one combo) left in the deck while there are still 4 kings (six combos).
Chapter 5: Responsible Poker Play
Poker ceases to be fun when you only have a good time if you win. Losing is part of the game too, but if you learn to responsible poker play, you’ll never lose more than you can afford.
Play for Fun
You should always keep in mind that poker is just a game that is played for money. The moment that it ceases to be fun is a good time to take a break from it, or if it is always making you angry or upset, perhaps giving it up for good should be under consideration.
Set a Loss Limit
You should always set a comfortable loss limit when playing. Even professionals do this via bankroll management. Don’t plan to play with more money than you can afford to lose, or if you plan on possibly hitting the ATM at some point, make sure you know exactly how much you plan to take out ahead of time, and make sure you are comfortable with that amount.
Only play with money you can afford to lose
You should never find yourself in a position that you are gambling with the rent money or the electrical bill. Your poker money should be considered a part of your entertainment budget and should be treated accordingly.
Signs of Addiction
Make no mistake: the fact that you can come away from the game with less money than you started means that poker IS gambling. Some signs to watch for that signal that this might be becoming a problem for you are:
- you are lying about it
- you are borrowing from friends, family, co-workers and strangers to gamble
- you are chasing your losses
- you are missing family, social and work commitments to play
- you are obsessing about it when you aren’t doing it
- your mental health is suffering: trouble sleeping, anxious, depressed
- your physical health is suffering; you’re tired, are more prone to colds/flus, have headaches, are tense, experiencing weight loss or gain, and are having trouble digesting food
- you are playing to distract yourself from life’s difficulties
Learn more about gambling addiction here. If you suspect you or someone you know may suffer, never be afraid to ask for help.
Learn Your Limit
When we say 'learn your limit', the first thing that probably comes to mind is your budget. While this is certainly true and you should never play beyond your financial means, learning how to play poker also necessitates that you know your limit in regards to your skills, as they exist now.
It may seem tempting to jump into a full-on tournament when you feel you've got the basic poker theory nailed, but the truth is, you probably haven’t. Rash decisions breed harsh realities. Theory is one thing, experience is another. You’ll need them both to truly learn how to play poker.
Poker is exciting —I get it but I still recommend you hold tight and immerse yourself into the game slowly.
Start with a suitable, fixed budget and avoid full-on tournaments until you’re totally comfortable playing ring games or single table sit n’ gos. These game structures don't run as long, so beginners are less likely to become tired, impatient, frustrated and reckless.
Learn Your Style
All poker players have their own swagger at the tables and upon entering the world of poker, you've got to find what works for you. Go ahead, be as individual as you like, but for the love of little plastic chips, don't be an overly passive player.
Part of learning how to play poker involves getting the game and, you know - actually playing. Passive players don't tend to see a lot of money for their time at the tables. Hell, they don't even tend to have a lot of fun.
Passive players usually just sit there and let the game wash over them and let's face it, even if you are playing purely for pleasure, apathy is not at the root of poker. Or good poker, at least.
Ah yes, the crux at the beating heart of any poker game. Skill and stack aside, your ability to stay cool, calm and collected can do wonders to help you win. It will also do wonders to help you learn how to play poker, which has its challenging moments.
While there is an undeniable skill element in poker, there is also an equally undeniable (and sometimes infuriating) fortuitous force in the game. You’ll have to keep your head about you if you’re not going to lose it trying to out-think blind chance.
While you may be ready and raring to go, sit out a hand if you don't have solid cards (and/or a solid understanding of the game). Likewise, if you blank on hand rankings during your first real game, don't sweat it.
Learning anything including how to play poker takes time. Learning how to play poker takes even longer. Take a few deep breaths, re-read these guidelines, review your poker fundamentals and then get back in the game.
Good Luck & Happy Stackin!
-Evan 'Gripsed' Jarvis