Although Poker can appear quite a complicated card game at first glance, once you understand the basics, it can be an exciting and fun game in which to participate.
The main difference between playing poker in a physical casino and online is that, generally, you are only playing against the dealer when playing online. An exception exists in the form of online poker rooms, where you also play against other players.
However, let’s focus on the online games where you play against the dealer only. There are no other players to play against and no pot of money to win. Your winnings are purely based on your own bets.
These games are fast moving, and the player only has a limited time to decide whether to play or fold once the cards are dealt. Don’t take too long to consider though, or your hand will be automatically folded.
There are different variants of poker available online, but in this guide we’ll stick with the most popular: Casino Hold’em.
For beginners, the most important things to know are how the cards are dealt, when to bet, the rankings of the various hands, and when to play or fold.
Dealing the Cards
At the start of a new game, a player initially places an ‘Ante’ bet. This is the player’s initial chosen stake and is placed before the cards are dealt.
The player is then dealt two face-up cards, the dealer is dealt two face-down cards, and three face-up cards are dealt in the middle (known as the ‘flop’), which can be used by both the player and the dealer.
Play or Fold
The player then has five visible cards, two in their hand and three in the middle. At this stage there are still two more cards to be drawn, but the player now needs to decide whether they will ‘play’ or ‘fold’. The decision will be based on their potential hands, given their visible cards and the two further cards still to be revealed.
If the player opts to play, they will pay twice their original Ante stake to take part further in that round. For example, if a player places an Ante bet of €5, and then decides to play, they will pay an additional €10, giving a total risk on that hand of €15.
If the player thinks that they don’t have a good chance of winning and decides to fold before the final two cards are revealed, then their Ante stake of €5 will be lost and the round will end.
Which Hands Are Best?
The order of winning hands is shown below:
- Royal Flush – Ace, King, Queen, Jack and 10 of the same suit
- Straight Flush – Five cards in sequence, all of the same suit
- Four of a Kind – Four cards of the same rank
- Full House – Three cards of the same rank and a pair
- Flush – Five cards of the same suit
- Straight – Five cards in sequence, containing at least two different suits
- Three of a Kind – Three cards of the same rank
- Two Pairs – Two pairs of different ranks
- Pair – Two cards of the same rank
- High Card – The highest card in a hand which does not meet any of the above criteria
Within each category, the higher value wins if both hands fall in the same group.
For example, with Four of a Kind, four kings will beat four sevens. In a Straight, 6,7,8,9,10 will beat 4,5,6,7,8.
In the case of two Flushes, the winning hand is ranked by the highest card held in that suit. If that is the same, then by the second card etc.
Similarly, with a High Card, they are ranked by the highest card. If that is the same, then by the second card etc.
Deciding to Play
At the time of deciding whether to play or not, the player can only see five of the seven cards they can use to make their best poker hand.
Whilst it is possible that there could be an excellent poker hand within the first five cards (in which case the player should play), in most cases the best possible hand will only be known after the final two cards are revealed.
In these cases, the player will need to work out which potential hands they can achieve based on the cards they are currently holding.
If a player has decided to play, the final two face-up cards, which are known as the ‘turn’ and ‘river’ cards, are dealt in the middle. At this stage, the player can work out the best five-card poker hand they can make by combining their two dealt cards and the five visible cards in the middle.
The dealer then reveals their two originally dealt cards.
If the player has the best hand, they win their Ante bet. The amount of the payout will depend on the player’s winning hand, with anything from a straight or below resulting in the player receiving twice their Ante bet. The highest payout is if the player wins with a Royal Flush, in such cases they would win 100x their Ante stake.
There is another possibility, in that both the player and the dealer could have hands of an identical value. Such instances are known as a ‘Push’, and the stakes for that round are returned.
There may also be a minimum qualifying hand for a dealer to play, a pair of 4’s for example. In such cases, although the dealer may have a better hand, if both hands are under the minimum qualifying hand, the player will still win.
Once a player has mastered the rules of poker and experienced playing against the dealer, they may consider playing in a poker room against other players.
Whilst the order of winning hands may be the same, there are many other factors that come into play.
The rules will vary depending on which type of poker you are playing, but the game will invariably involve betting blind, raising stakes, more betting rounds, bluffing, and so on.
It’s not just about having the best hand, as the stakes can increase significantly; you will also need to decide how much you are prepared to put into the pot based on how strong you think your hand is.
Players may raise hoping to make their opponents fold, but are they bluffing? This is where the expression ‘Poker Face’ comes from, meaning that someone has a neutral expression, so other players cannot read whether they hold a good hand or not from their mannerisms.
There is also tournament poker, where players pay an entry fee and the winner takes the pot. The World Series of Poker is by far the best known and most prestigious tournament in world poker.