How to Play Poker Online — A Comprehensive Guide
If you’re new to the poker world, you probably have many questions about how to play. What are the rules? How can I start playing online? What are the basic strategies? In this guide, we’ll address all these points and more, giving you everything you need to know to get going on online poker sites.
🔍 Introduction to Online Poker
Online poker came into being in the late 1990s, but it wasn’t until 2003 that things really took off. That year, Chris Moneymaker won the World Series of Poker Main Event without paying the $10,000 buy-in. Instead, he qualified through a satellite tournament at PokerStars, the popular online poker room. After Moneymaker’s victory, people realized they could turn a few dollars into millions by playing online. So naturally, the game exploded. An increasing number of sites appeared; and as the game continued to grow, these sites also expanded, offering different poker games and creating innovative new formats.
Choosing an Online Poker Room
It couldn’t be easier to get in on the action and play poker online today. The first thing to do is pick a trustworthy site and register an account. Consider the following criteria when choosing your online poker room:
- Licence. Make sure the site is properly regulated and playing online poker is legal. That way, your funds and sensitive data will be safe.
- Games. Texas Hold ’em is the most popular, but you may have another preference. Check to see if they offer your favourite game at appropriate stakes.
- Tournaments. Most poker rooms offer special tournaments that add money to the prize pool. Find the right events to get the best value.
- Payments. Join a poker room that offers a variety of convenient and secure payment options. If you can’t easily transfer your bankroll in and out, it’s not the site for you.
Setting Up an Online Poker Account
Once you’re happy with your choice, you’ll need to create a new account. Fill in the form with your personal details, including date of birth, address and full name. To protect against fraud, you’ll also need to verify your identity using a document such as a passport. A download is required before you can play online poker, whether you’re using a desktop computer, smartphone or tablet device. Install the poker room’s specialist software, log in and away you go! After registration, don’t forget to take advantage of any new player offers. Most casinos put on special tournaments for newcomers, for example. These freerolls don’t cost a fee to play, but there are real prizes up for grabs.
📜 Basic Poker Rules
Most forms of poker use a standard pack of 52 cards, though some variations incorporate jokers or play with a reduced deck. The object is to win the pot by making the best hand or forcing all the other players to fold. The exact rules depend on the specific poker game being played. Omaha uses community cards, for example, unlike Seven Card Stud. Five Card Draw allows you to switch cards you don’t like with the deck. In a tournament, the longer you last, the more money you earn. There are dozens of different poker games, the most popular of which is Texas Hold ’em.
👑 Poker Hands: What Are Hands In Poker?
A poker hand is always made up of five cards. Even in a game like Omaha, where you can choose from a total of nine, your final hand will be composed of exactly five. Each possible hand combination sits within a hierarchy, which applies to almost every form of poker. Let’s now take a look at the ranking of poker hands.
The best possible hand, a royal flush, is just a fancy term for an Ace high straight flush. Its name comes from the fact that this hand is a flush that contains all of the “royal” cards. That is the King, Queen and Jack, combined with a 10 and the Ace. Example: A♣ K♣ Q♣ J♣ T♣
Next in the rankings comes a regular straight flush. As we mentioned, the royal flush is the strongest straight flush attainable. This hand combines the qualities of both a straight and a flush, as defined below. Example: Q♦️ J♦️ T♦️ 9♦️ 8♦️
Four of a Kind
A four-of-a-kind, sometimes abbreviated to 4OAK for convenience, is exactly as its name suggests. You must have all four cards of a specific value combined with any fifth card as the kicker. Example: J♣ J♥️ J♦️ J♠️ 7♣
This is a combination of any three of a kind in tandem with a pair. In games with community cards, more than one player can have the same three of a kind. In that case, the pair is used to break the tie. Example: 9♠️ 9♥️ 9♦️ 2♠️ 2♣
If all five cards share the same suit – spades, clubs, diamonds or hearts – then you have a flush. Unless they also happen to be in consecutive order, in which case it’s a straight flush. Example: A♠️ J♠️ T♠️ 6♠️ 5♠️
Any five unsuited cards in numerical order are referred to as a “straight.” Aces play as both high and low in straights. This means it’s possible to have a five high straight and an ace high straight. Example: 5♥️ 4♣ 3♦️ 2♥️ A♠️
Three of a Kind
When you hold three cards of equal rank, with any two unpaired cards, that’s three of a kind. There are two other ways to describe this. A set is when you hold a pocket pair matched with a third among the community cards. But one in the hole combined with a pair on board is called “trips.” Example: A♦️ A♣ A♦️ 4♠️ 2♥️
As the name implies, if you’re holding two different pairs, your hand is called a “two pair.” If multiple players have two pair, the one with the highest pair wins. And if both players have an equally valued higher pair, the lower pair breaks the tie. Failing that, the fifth random card is used. Example: K♣ K♦️ 6♦️ 6♠️ A♣
Any two matching cards, with three others that are unrelated, is simply known as a pair. You may also hear the term “one pair,” as well. Example: 6♠️ 6♥️ A♠️ J♣ 2♥️
Five completely unconnected cards that do not fit into any of the above-hand rankings. If the highest cards are of equal value, the second card is used for tie-breaking purposes. Then the third, fourth and fifth in sequence. Example: A♣ K♣ 9♦️ 4♠️ 2♦️
🟥 Poker Playing Decisions
Although there are dozens of types of poker, each of which has its own unique rules, all games have some common features. One of those is the different decisions available to each player. Let’s talk about them now.
- Fold: Unless you are in the blinds, you never have to put money into the pot. If you don’t like your cards, you can simply fold them at any time. Your hand goes into the muck, and you’ll take no further part in the round.
- Check: After the flop, if the first player to act wants to continue playing without adding to the pot, they can check. This passes the action to the next player, but no bet is made.
- Bet: Instead of checking, you can make a bet. The minimum and maximum size allowed depends on the game type. Other players must match this bet to stay in the hand.
- Call: If you remain in the game, you must match the last player’s bet. This is known as calling. This is a way to stay in the game without increasing the stakes.
- Raise: Voluntarily increase the number of chips required for others to continue by raising. Anyone behind you must match the raise to stay involved.
The most important decision for any poker player occurs at the start of every round. Are you happy with your starting hand and continue to play, risking your chips? A good hand-selection strategy is critical to success, but the approach depends on your game.
Let’s assume you’re in a No Limit Hold ’em tournament. It’s usually advisable to play tight from the beginning so as not to go broke early. Raising only with strong starting hands, like pocket Aces, Kings and Queens, Ace-King and Ace-Queen suited, is solid advice. In a game like Omaha, a premium hand would contain pocket Aces, but it should also be double-suited to give two chances of making a flush. Good starting hands in lowball games like Razz need to contain mostly low-value cards, ideally below seven.
Medium Strength Hands
These are not hands you’d necessarily want to raise with from an early position. Nor would you ideally call huge all-in bets. The non-premium pocket pairs, from Ten down to Two, are all considered mid-strength starting hands, as are the best-suited connectors, such as Q♠️ J♠️ or J♦️ T♦️. If you find yourself in a late position with no raise in front of you, these medium-strength hands increase in value. This is similar to games with fewer players, such as Heads Up (one-on-one play) or 6-Max (six at a table).
Hands that are just about on the edge of being playable are referred to as “marginal.” They tend to have the potential to improve and win the pot but also have a higher likelihood of losing than premium hands. Marginal hands are often difficult to play and require decisions based on the individual situation and the actions of specific opponents. The classic example of a marginal starting hand is the mid-sized pocket pair, such as 8♦️ 7♦️. There’s no way you’re raising in early or mid-position with such hands. But if you’re on the button with no bets in front of you, it represents a good chance to steal. If you find a call, these hands are still playable on a lot of flops, even though you’re almost certain to be behind.
💡 Poker Odds or Pot Odds
An important concept to understand when playing poker is pot odds. This refers to the current pot size ratio to a call’s cost. Players use pot odds to determine whether or not it’s mathematically correct to call a bet. For example, if the pot size is C$10 and the call cost is C$2, the pot odds are 10 to 2 or 5 to 1. If you believe the chance of winning the pot is better than 5 to 1, then calling is the correct play. Calling without the proper odds will cost you money in the long term. Pot odds usually come into play when someone is on a draw. For instance, if you have four diamonds on the flop, we know nine remaining diamonds are in the deck. There are also 47 cards that we have not seen; that’s 52 minus our starting hand and the three flop cards. So the odds of us making the flush are 9 in 47, a little over 4 to 1. If the pot pays an amount lower than that, it is a mistake to call.
❗ Strategies for Playing Online Poker
New players often ask about playing strategies, but with so many variables, it’s not a straightforward topic. For example, what type of poker is being played? What are the stakes? Is it a tournament or a cash game? There’s a lot to consider. Regardless, here are some general points to consider when formulating your poker-playing strategy.
- Always consider position: Where you sit in relation to the dealer button is crucial in both live and online poker. When you are first to act, you have no idea what the players behind you will do. Use this to your advantage when in a later position by playing more aggressively. But tighten up in an early position.
- Play tight early in tournaments: Playing tight means only entering a pot with strong hands. Further, you should look to be aggressive when you do play. Only bet or raise with good hands rather than calling. This strategy is effective in online tournaments, as you’re less likely to bust early, and you’ll build a positive table image.
- Loosen up in cash games: You can always buy back into the game if you lose your chips. This means you can afford to play a wider range of hands, even betting and raising with speculative draws. Take many more calculated risks than in tournaments.
- Play an exploitative style: This playing style is characterized by taking advantage of the weaknesses and tendencies of your opponents. If you spot behavioural patterns in your opponents, adjust your game to exploit them.
- Manage your bankroll carefully: Online poker can be very volatile, so it’s important to have a good bankroll management strategy in place. This means setting a strict budget for yourself and never playing at stakes higher than you’re ready for.
🚩 Poker Example Round
In the next section of our guide to playing poker, we’ll run through an example hand of No Limit Hold ’em. Imagine we’re sitting on the button in a nine-handed game, and the stakes are C$1 / C$2.
Before the cards are dealt, two players post blinds, which are compulsory bets. The person sitting immediately to the dealer’s left posts the small blind, which is C$1 in this case. A big blind of C$2 is added by the next player. Some games also require participants to post an ante.
Each player receives two hole cards which are private and known only to them. The dealer is typically identified by a small disk known as the “button.” A round of betting follows, starting from the player to the left of the big blind. For the purposes of this example, let’s say I am dealt A♠️ K♠️. The first player to act raises to $4. Seats four to eight all fold. It’s C$4 for me to play. I raise to C$12. The small and big blinds fold, and the initial raiser calls. There’s now C$28 in the pot.
Once pre-flop betting is complete; three community cards are dealt face-up on the table. These can be used by all players in combination with their hole cards to make a hand. The flop in our example comes to A♦️ J♠️ 7♦️. A further round of betting starts with the player to the left of the button. Although this player raised first before the flop, she now elects to check. I fire a bet of C$18, and my opponent calls. The pot is now worth C$64.
A fourth community card is dealt face-up on the board when the flop betting is complete. Let’s say it’s the 5♥️, and our board now reads A♦️ J♠️ 7♦️ 5♠️. Action again begins from the seat immediately to the dealer’s left, and she checks with us. We bet $40, and he calls again. The pot stands at C$144. We have a pair but also a spade flush draw, so we’re in a strong position. But my opponent showed initial strength, and she won’t go away, so I must be concerned about what she might be holding.
A fifth and final community card is revealed before the last round of betting gets underway. In this case, I see the 8♠️ for a final board of A♦️ J♠️ 7♦️ 5♠️ 8♠️. This gives me an Ace high flush, so I bet all-in for our last remaining C$120. The opponent calls. If more than one person remains after this last round of action is over, we have a showdown. Players reveal their cards and whoever has the best hand wins the pot. I turn up our A♠️ K♠️ to show our flush, and my opponent reveals 7♥️ 7♣. She has three of a kind, so the pot is mine.
✅ Tips for Playing and Winning Online Poker
Here are some clever tips to follow if you’re new to online poker.
Tips for Poker Beginners
- Start with the basics: Learn the fundamentals, such as the hand rankings, before playing. Understand the concepts of position, pot odds and bluffing. Get a solid grasp of the game before moving on to more advanced strategies.
- Pay attention to opponents: A key skill in poker is reading opponents and reacting to their playing style. Pay attention to betting patterns, hand histories and chat to get a sense of their strategy. Use any information to your advantage.
- Study the game: The more you study, the better you will become. Read books and articles, watch videos and play low-stakes games to sharpen your skills. Experiment with tracking software to record your plays and review them regularly.
- Take your time: Poker is a casino game of patience and discipline. Don’t expect to become a winning player overnight. It takes effort, practice and patience to become a good player. Don’t be discouraged by short-term losses; focus on the long-term goal.
- Manage your stack: In online poker tournaments, your chip stack represents your competitive life. Managing it well is crucial for success, and once it’s gone, you’re out. Be aware of your overall stack size in proportion to the rest of the field, and play accordingly.
- Watch the blinds: Tournaments have increasing blind levels, which can greatly affect your strategy. Be aware of when the blinds will increase and adjust if necessary.
- Understand the payouts: Each poker tournament has a different payout structure. For example, if the prize pool is top-heavy, playing tight and hoping to jump up a few pay levels is no good. You must play to win, as that’s where the big bucks are.
- Adapt over time: Your strategy should change as the tournament progresses because the blinds increase and the number of players decreases. It is usually better to play tight and conservatively in the early stages. But as the blinds get bigger, it becomes necessary to take more risks.
🎴 Top 5 Online Poker Variations
As we’ve already mentioned, there are dozens of poker games to try. So let’s quickly run through the most popular poker variants.
Texas Hold ’em
This is the game you’re most likely to see on television, as most series use No Limit Hold ’em for their Main Event. Each player receives two in the hole, plus five shared cards on the board. There are four rounds of betting, making it one of the most strategic poker games.
The name Omaha is actually short for Omaha Hold ’em, since this poker variant is related to Texas Hold ’em. It is sometimes referred to as Omaha Hi (High) to differentiate it from the similar Game of Omaha Hi-Lo. There are still five community cards and four betting rounds, but each player receives four cards. You must play exactly two.
Often called Omaha Eight or Better, or Omaha 8, this game uses the same structure as Omaha. However, the pot is split into two. The best high hand wins half the pot, but the remainder goes to the best low hand. A low is defined as 8 high or lower.
Seven Card Stud
There are no community cards in stud games, the most common form of which is Seven Card Stud. As per the name, you’ll receive seven cards in total, but you can only use five to make your hand. The first two and the final card are face down, with the others turned upwards.
Deuce-Seven Triple Draw
This is a lowball game, meaning the objective is to have the best low hand. Since straights and flushes count against you in the 2-7 Triple Draw, the best possible hand is an unsuited 7-5-4-3-2. You can swap unfavourable cards with the dealer after each round of betting.
🔥 Common Mistakes to Avoid in Online Poker
- Playing too many hands: Many players play too wide a range of hands, often because they are bored or want to see more action. Loose play costs you chips.
- Not respecting position: You must tighten up from the early position. A raise from under the gun indicates far more strength than the same raise from the button.
- Playing passively: Many online poker players are afraid to place big bets and don’t like to bluff. But failing to bluff means giving up opportunities to win, and not sizing bets correctly means losing out on chips when called.
- Improper bankroll management: Even the greatest poker player will go broke if they don’t manage their bankroll properly. Don’t buy into games where the stakes are too high!
- Tilt: This is when a player loses their temper and starts behaving erratically. A bad beat often triggers it, but many factors can cause a player to tilt. Take a break when you feel emotional, and come back when you’ve calmed down.
❓ FAQs — How to Play Poker Online
Firstly, we suggest you read this article to learn the fundamentals, such as the poker hand rankings and the decisions available. Next, you’ll want to pick a specific game. We suggest Texas Hold ’em, simply because of how prevalent it is. Finally, join an online poker room and practice for free.
The first step should be registering with an online poker site offering cash games and fun tournaments. You won’t learn many strategies here, but you’ll become familiar with the game’s mechanics. Once comfortable, you can graduate to a low-stakes poker table for real money.
It’s best to start out with Texas Hold ’em. This is the most popular form of the game, and all poker sites offer it. There’s plenty of Hold ’em content and guides to be found online to help improve your game.
Yes, it is. Any site licensed by AGCO may operate poker games after the legalization of online gambling in April 2022.
For most people, yes! The basic rules are pretty simple. There’s an old saying that poker takes a few minutes to learn but a lifetime to master.
Your strategy depends entirely upon which type of poker you’re playing and whether it’s a tournament or a cash game. But there is no “right” way to play. We’ve covered a few basic strategy tips elsewhere in this guide.
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Dominic is an experienced gambling industry professional of well over a decade across a variety of operational and product roles. He has launched retail sportsbooks and online wagering sites for gaming giants across Africa and Southeast Asia. Much of his content focuses on the North American iGaming scene, specifically the newly licensed Ontarian market, including casino & sportsbook reviews and local gambling laws.More info on Dominic Field