Poker For Beginners

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Poker is an exciting, challenging game that pits both your wits and your intuition against that of opponents sitting right next to you around a table. It can be profitable for the winners and costly …

Poker is an exciting, challenging game that pits both your wits and your intuition against that of opponents sitting right next to you around a table. It can be profitable for the winners and costly for the losers and the difference between the two is decided by a combination of luck, skill and nerve. To learn how to play the most popular games just read on.

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  • 1. Introduction Poker is an exciting, challenging game that pits both your wits and your intuition against that of opponents sitting right next to you around a table. It can be profitable for the winners and costly for the losers and the difference between the two is decided by a combination of luck, skill and nerve. To learn how to play the most popular games just read on. Rankings If you have a passing interest in poker or seen it on TV shows likes Late Night Poker or read about high stakes tournaments like the World Series of Poker you may have heard names like Texas Hold’em, Omaha and 7 card stud. These are all variations on the basic game of poker and although each type has its own rules, quirks and strategies, they each follow the same ranking of card combinations. In order these are: Royal Flush: Five cards of the same suit running straight from a 10. Straight Flush: Five cards of the same suit running consecutively. In the showdown the highest top card wins. Four of a Kind: Four cards of the same value. Full House: Three cards of the same value with two cards of another value. In the showdown where both players have a full house the one with the highest three card value is the winner and if these are the same then the highest pair wins. Flush:
  • 2. Five cards of the same suit; sometimes called a Blue. Highest card wins. Straight: Similar to a Straight Flush but cards are of different suits. In the showdown the highest card wins. Three of a Kind: Three cards of the same value. Highest rank wins. In a tie the highest side card wins. Two Pair: Two cards of the same value in addition to two other cards of the same value. One Pair: Two cards of the same value. In a showdown the highest ranking pair wins. Where both pairs are the same the highest side card wins. No pair: Where players have no combinations of any kind. Here the highest ranking card wins and if two players have the same value card the next highest side card wins. You may find it useful at this point to practise dealing a few hands to yourself so that you become comfortable with using the ranking system. Try dealing five hands (five cards in each hand) and then identifying which are the best hands. Once you are comfortable with this you will be ready to move on and begin to learn about different versions of poker. Poker games There are numerous variations of poker and we will look at four of the most popular versions: Texas Hold’em, Omaha, 7 card stud and Hi/Lo.
  • 3. Texas Hold’em Probably one of the most popular variations of poker around and often used in televised games, it has an interesting feature in that some cards are visible on the table (community cards) and all players can use these as part of their hand. The dealer is chosen from one of the players (called the button) and s/he is usually chosen by drawing a card with the dealer being the person with highest card. The position then rotates clockwise after every hand. Each player is initially given two cards by the dealer (the Hole). The two players to the left of the dealer are called the small blind and big blind, respectively. These two players each have to bet a predetermined amount at the start of the hand (the big blind usually pays double the small blind). Each player after this can choose to either withdraw from the game (fold), make no bet but stay in the game (check) or make an additional bet (raise). Every player wishing to stay in the game must match the bet (call) or raise. A maximum of three re-raises are allowed per betting round and the action goes clockwise around the table until all players have called or folded. Once the first round of betting has been completed the dealer puts out three community cards in the centre of the table (the flop). Players can use any or all of the community cards to improve their hand in combination with their hole cards. Then follows an additional round of betting. Once this is finished the dealer deals a fourth community card (the Turn) followed by another round of betting. There is one final community card dealt (the River) followed by one round of betting. Once all betting has been completed the Showdown phase begins and players find out who has won the hand. Texas Hold’em has three types of betting - Limit, Pot Limit or No Limit. Limit just means that each round of betting has a fixed bet, e.g. £5/£10, where the small blind is £2.50, big blind is £5 and the first three rounds of betting are in increments of £5, with the last two rounds of betting in increments of £10. Pot Limit allows players to bet anything from the minimum bet agreed to the size of the pot. The maximum will then increase as more bets are made. In No Limit players are only restricted by the number of chips they hold.
  • 4. “Limit poker is a science, but no-limit is an art. In limit, you are shooting at a target. In no-limit, the target comes alive and shoots back at you.” - Jack Strauss Tournament Hold’em increases the size of the blinds at regular intervals and will also increase limits as the tournament continues. Omaha Similar to Texas Hold’em this poker version is increasing in popularity, probably due to players being more likely to stay in the game and bet while playing Omaha. More bets means more action and more excitement. There are two main differences between Omaha and Texas Hold’em. In Omaha players are dealt four cards in the hole (compared to two in Texas Hold’em) and there are also more rules for assessing winning hands. In contrast to Texas Hold’em players must use exactly two cards from their hand and three from the community cards. This applies even if a player can make a better hand by using one card or three cards from the hole along with the community cards. Similar to Texas Hold’em, Pot Limit Omaha allows players to bet from the minimum up to the size of the pot that is currently on the table. A £5/£10 Pot Limit game means that the small blind is £5, the big blind is £10 and Player 3 can then either call (£10) or raise £25 (small blind + big blind + call). The call amount is added to the raise amount meaning that Player 3 can bet up to £35. The size of the pot is now £50 and Player 4 must pay £35 to stay in the game or they can raise up to a maximum of £120 - size of the pot (£50) + call (£35) + raise (£35). Once the first round of betting is complete the dealer deals the three card flop. A round of betting follows (minimum = big blind; maximum = the size of the pot). When the betting has finished the dealer puts out a fourth (Turn) card, which is again followed by a round of betting and finally a fifth card is dealt (River) with a final round of betting thereafter. 7 card stud One of the great, classic poker games, 7 card stud requires players to have good powers of concentration and card skill. Although similar to other games like Texas Hold’em and Omaha, 7 card stud has some additional elements. At the start of the game all players must put in the ante. This is the price of admission and all chips or money go into the pot. Each player then gets dealt two cards face down in the hole, followed by one card face up (Door or Window card). Betting round one (Third street) Whereas with the other games the betting action starts with the next player after the big blind, in 7 card stud the player with the lowest-value card starts it off (The Bring). Cards are ranked in the usual way with the additional valuing of suits according to the alphabet - clubs are best, followed by diamonds, hearts and spades. This person required to bring has make a bet that is either the size of the ante (c.10 percent of a predetermined big bet) or the small bet (50 percent of the big bet). After this each player can fold, call or raise. Betting then begins and continues until all players have called. Betting round two (Fourth street) At this point the dealer goes clockwise around the table, dealing one card face up, starting with the first player to his/her left. From this round and every round afterward the first player to act is the one with the highest value cards facing up. Cards are evaluated in the usual way with a pair being the best combination and suits ranking alphabetically (clubs, diamonds, hearts and spades). When the round shows two cards face up the suit ranking is determined by the first card. So, if Player 1 has Jack of Clubs and 3 of Spades and Player 2 has Jack of Diamonds and 5 of Diamonds, then Player 1 will win, because his/her Jack of Clubs outranks the Jack of Diamonds. The player with the highest value cards acts first, choosing to check or raise. The other players then have the option to check, call, bet/raise or fold.
  • 5. Betting round three (Fifth street) At the end of betting on round three (Fourth street) the dealer gives each player still in the game another card face up. Betting then begins again starting with the player with the best cards showing on the table - three of a kind would be the best hand, followed by a pair and then ranking cards. Betting round four and five (Sixth and Seventh street) These are exactly the same as the previous round. After round five the dealer gives one final card face down to each remaining player with the player with the highest ranking face up cards again starting the betting action. Each player is now trying to make the best five-card hand out of their seven cards. Players can only use five cards - the other two are not counted. Hi/Lo Another interesting poker variation is Hi/Lo where the objective is to make both a high ranking and low ranking hand in a split game. Hi/Lo can be applied to both Omaha and 7 card stud. For Omaha there are two winners - the player with the highest ranking and lowest ranking (qualifying) hands, who split the pot evenly. The Hi hand is the one according to the usual ranking. To qualify for a Lo hand a player must have five distinct cards - two from his or her hand and three from the community cards with no pairs and no card higher than an eight. Straights and flushes do not matter and the best 5-card Lo hand is 5-4-3-2-A (known as 5 low). The worst Lo hand would start with an 8 because this is the highest card that will still qualify as a Lo hand: Hands are ranked according to the highest card so in the example below Player 1 has a better hand than Player 2: Player 1 Player 2
  • 6. Where two hands have the same highest card the next highest card is used to determine the winner. In the following example Player 1 has a better hand than Player 2:
  • 7. Player 1 Player 2 As players must use three of the five community cards if these contain too many cards valued 8 or higher it may prevent any Lo hand from being created. Omaha Hi/Lo is quite interesting because each player is using both their hole cards and the community cards to create two hands, one to be highest and one to be lowest. Stud Hi/Lo is the same as 7 card stud except in the showdown the pot is divided between the highest and lowest hands (if there is a qualifying Lo hand). The only difference in betting is that there is no optional increase in the betting limit in round two. The first two betting rounds are at the lower limit and the last three are at the higher limit. Players can also use aces as both a high and low card as part of their Hi and Lo hands. Strategy Most experienced poker players will have a strategy of some kind to help them beat their opponents, increase their winnings reduce their losses. While countless books have been written about this aspect of poker there are a couple of strategies that you can employ, as a beginner to get your started while you are learning the ropes. One popular technique is pure strategy or game theory optimal strategy (GTO). This sounds complicated but in essence it means deciding in advance how to play the cards that are shown. For example, if Player 1 is dealt a high value pair (J,J) they might always raise, whereas if they have a connected suit (e.g. 7,8c) they might decide to always call. This strategy aims to optimise hands by taking the opponent factor out of the game and hopes to minimise losses as well as maximise wins. “Nobody is always a winner, and anybody who says he is, is either a liar or doesn’t play poker.” (Amarillo Slim) One well known proponent of GTO strategy was Chris ‘Jesus’ Ferguson, who won the 2000 World Poker Series using it. He felt that one of the strengths of the stratgy was that it helps players to avoid making impulsive decisions, which can be a common failing, particularly for players starting out. Another method that many experienced poker players use is the exploitative strategy. This is the opposite of a GTO strategy and instead aims to take advantage of opponents’ weaknesses. According to David Sklansky, a professional poker player and winner of three World Series of Poker bracelets, players try to change the way their opponent plays while maintaining their own game. It is the inspiration for bluffing, slow playing and other forms of deception or frustration. “I’m absolutely gonna win it, because I’m ruthless. I sit at the poker table and my job is to destroy people.” - James Woods Using an exploitative strategy generally entails calling (rather than folding) all or most of the time (80-100 percent). It is quite aggressive and depends on opponents being intimidated into withdrawing from the game. It is quite risky, especially if opponents realise what is happening. Etiquette
  • 8. While poker has an aura and mystique that speaks of smoky back rooms, high rollers and illegal gambling dens, there are rules of the game that go beyond how to play the cards. Beginners will fit in unobtrusively if they observe the etiquette that is an integral part of the game. Some elements of this include: Play your turn When you have a good hand you may be tempted to raise the bet early or hurry other players along. However, you should absolutely avoid doing this. It is discourteous and also communicates to other players that you have a good hand, which may make them fold and cause you to lose their chips! Similarly, if you have a poor hand and want to fold, wait your turn. Even though you plan on getting out of the game if you do this out of turn you will communicate information to other players that they should not be given. Don’t expose your cards If you fold you should keep your cards hidden when you are passing them to the dealer. By showing your cards you are giving information to the players still in the game which can change the outcome. When you fold, you are no longer part of the game so once you’re out, you’re out! You’re not in the movies This means not throwing chips into the pot when you are making a bet and avoiding announcements like, “I’ll see your ten and raise you ten”. Either call or raise and if you are raising state how much - keep the dramatics off the table. There is plenty of tension and adrenaline that goes on without players behaving like bad actors. Zip the chatter Talking to other players during a game is distracting and will not be appreciated by other players. This also includes being a bad or loser or a bad winner. Bombing out of a hand that you expected to win is frustrating but avoid taking it out on other players or the dealer. This also applies to online games where it can be tempting to send a sarcastic comment to other players behind the anonymity of an avatar. The same goes if you win. Nobody likes to have their mistakes or losses pointed out to them so don’t be that guy. “The strong point in poker is never to lose your temper, either with those you are playing with or, more particularly, with the cards. There is no sympathy in poker. Always keep cool. If you lose your head you will lose all your chips.” - William J. Florence Now you know the rules it’s time to play! Resources For beginners’ tutorials and free access to tournaments try: