Getting Started

Poker is a card game enjoyed by millions of people throughout the world. Nowadays, internet sites offer an opportunity to play in the comfort of your own home.

Poker is easy to understand, taking only a small amount of time to learn how to play. Yet it is complex enough that many books and articles have been written that instruct you how to improve. Is it a game that you would enjoy? Quite likely, yes.

Do you have what it takes to be a successful poker player? Good players come in so many varieties that it would be hard to predict failure or success by looking at someone’s resume. A shoe salesperson could easily be a better poker player than the company president. Even though there is some mathematics connected with poker, one very seldom has to do math while playing. Since a hand’s chance of winning is based partly on the odds, a feel for the odds is needed, but it is based a lot more on memory than doing arithmetic.

One trait strongly associated with poker success is discipline. The essence of poker is betting that your cards are better than the opponent’s, but if you play many hands and the opponent plays only a few, the one’s he selects figure to be better on the average than the one’s you select. You want to play only the hands that have a high prospect of success. Frankly, quite a few people who are good at poker are not disciplined in eating, drinking, or tobacco use, but have learned to be fussy in their choice of which poker hands to play. So you cannot just look at someone and know if they have sufficient discipline to be a good poker player.

Integral to enjoying the game is a reward for winning and a penalty for losing. Often this is monetary, which has led poker to frequently being a gambling game. Yet an incentive such as getting points toward a goal will have the same general effect, causing the player to aim at a net win rather than playing every hand, good or bad.

In playing poker for money, one must be careful to put at risk only what one can afford. Although poker is an enjoyable activity for a great many people, it also can bring misery to a person who loses money that should have been spent on necessities. There are organizations that help people who have a gambling problem, but don’t let things go that far. If you play for money, manage your money responsibly.

Here is how poker is played. Your goal is to win chips. A few chips are put into the pot before the cards are dealt, so the players have an incentive to stay in. Some cards are dealt for a starting hand; then there is a betting round. If someone bets, you must match that bet to continue contending for the pot. If you like your hand–or wish to bluff–you can increase the amount of chips the others must put into the pot to stay. This is called “raising.” The players keep receiving new cards and betting afterward, until all the cards for that poker form have been dealt. When the betting is over, the players show their hands, with the highest-ranking one winning the pot. You can also win a pot by making a bet that no one wants to match. If they all fold their cards, you win.

A poker hand is always made up of your best five cards after all the betting is over. (In most poker forms, you select the best five cards out of a greater number.) The first step in playing poker is learning the relative value of the different hands. That way, you will know if you have a good hand or a bad one, and who wins at the end. Here is the scale of values, from highest to lowest. They are ranked in a manner that the harder the hand type is to get, the more it is worth.

Poker Hand Rankings

  1. Straight flush – This is five cards of the same suit in sequential rank, such as Ks Qs Js Ts 9s. Aces can be either high or low in most poker forms. Five cards of the same suit ace through ten are called a “royal flush,” which is the best possible poker hand.
  2. Four of a kind – All four cards of a certain rank (plus any other card).
    Example: 9s 9h 9d 9c 2h
  3. Full house – Three cards of one rank and two of another rank.
    Example: 7s 7h 7d 3c 3s
  4. Flush – Five cards of the same suit. Example: Ah, Qh, Jh, 9h, 2h.
  5. Straight – Five cards in sequence. Example: Ks Qd Jd Tc 9h
  6. Three of a kind – Three cards of the same rank (plus any two other cards).
    Example: 2h 2s 2d As Kh
  7. Two pair – Two cards of the same rank and two other cards of the same rank (plus any other card).
    Example: Q Q 8 8 4
  8. One pair – Two cards of the same rank (plus any three other cards).
    Example: K-K-6-4-2 beats Q-Q-A-J-9
  9. No pair – The highest card in the hand wins.
    Example: A-6-4-3-2 beats K-Q-9-8-7

Ties are broken, if possible. When two players have the same type of hand, the one with the higher-ranking cards wins the pot. For example, a jack-high straight beats a nine-high straight. Aces and sevens beats kings and deuces. When two players tie for the top card, we keep measuring until the tie is broken. So a flush with cards that rank A-K-Q-J-9 is a better hand than A-K-Q-J-2. With two pair, the higher pair is compared first. Kings and deuces beats queens and jacks. Cards not used to make a pair are also used to break a tie if all else fails, so A-A-K-K-4 beats A-A-K-K-3, because each hand has aces and kings, but the four beats the three. We do not compare any cards not used in the final hand, so only the five best cards are ever compared, and if they are the same, the outcome is a tie. All suits are of the same value, so identical flushes tie.

Types of Poker

There are many types of poker. In most forms, the highest-ranking hand wins the pot. In low poker, the lowest-ranking hand wins the pot. At high-low split, there are two winners, the highest and lowest hands, each winning half the pot.

Betting can be structured, where the amount of a bet or raise is specified. This is called “limit poker.” Betting can be “no-limit,” where you can bet any amount that you have in chips on the table. If a bet is made that turns out to be larger than the opponent has in play, the bettor is refunded the excess amount. (A pot is never lost because you do not have enough money to cover the full amount wagered.) There are also “pot-limit” betting rules, where you can bet any amount up to the size of the pot.

The poker form most often seen on television is hold’em. Each player receives a starting hand of two cards. There are five more cards dealt, but instead of being personal cards for only a particular player, they are common cards, meaning any player may use them. These cards are dealt faceup in the center of the table, which is called “the board.” Sometimes these cards are referred to as board-cards. They are dealt at three points during a deal. The first time is after the players have bet on their starting hands. Three cards are then placed faceup on the board. This is called “the flop.” The players bet for the second time. Another card, called the “turn card,” is placed on the board. The players bet for the third time. Then the last card, called “the river card,” is placed on the board. There is a final betting round, after which the players show their cards to see who wins he pot. This is called “the showdown.” At the showdown, a player may use any combination of personal cards and board-cards for his final hand. On rare occasions, his best hand may actually be the five board-cards, where he is said to be “playing the board.” He cannot win the whole pot that way, since the other players can do the same thing, but he can still get part of the pot if no one else can beat the board.

Hold’em, when played with limit betting, normally uses the lower limit on the initial and flop betting rounds and the upper limit on the turn and river betting rounds. For example, if the game is “$2-$4 limit,” All wagers are in $2 increments on the first two betting rounds and $4 increments on the last two betting rounds.

The game played for huge sums in televised tournaments is almost always “no-limit hold’em,” where a player can bet all his money at any time. This poker form uses to the fullest extent poker skills such as bluffing, reading the opponent, and having the courage to bet all your chips (running the risk being eliminated from the tournament if you lose that hand) when the occasion calls for it. No-limit hold’em is riding a wave of popularity now, both for tournament play and casual games, as more and more people find being able to bet all your money at once to be much more exciting than when the amount you can bet is restricted.

A poker tournament may charge an entry fee, or be a “freeroll,” where prizes are given away without any obligation to pay for playing. Here is how a tournament is run. You are issued a fixed amount of starting chips. If you lose all your chips, you are eliminated from play. (Some tournaments, called “rebuy tournaments,” allow you to re-enter during the early part, such as the first hour of play.) The stakes are continually raised at specified points, as the event transitions from many players with few chips to a few players with many chips. The tournament runs until one player has won by acquiring all the chips. Multiple prizes are usually distributed, based on the number of entrants.

Internet Poker

For much of the twentieth century, the main place for poker-playing was someone’s home. There were only a few places that had legal public cardrooms, such as Nevada, and certain California localities. All that changed with the big expansion of Indian gaming near the end of the century. Still, poker was a game where you were face to face with your opponents in the same physical location.

Now, in the twenty-first century, there are far more poker games on the internet then any other kind. We have the opportunity to play with opponents from around the world in all the comforts of home. There are plusses and minuses to poker-playing in this new medium.

On the minus side, much of the social camaraderie connected with being among friends and acquaintances is absent. Also, you do not get access to information conveyed by watching someone in your physical presence. On the internet, we likely will not know the age, sex, or anything else about our opponent. There will always be a need for live poker games using the same physical table.

But the plus side of playing internet poker cannot be denied. Here are just a few of the benefits:

  1. You can enter or quit a game whenever you please.
  2. There is a much greater variety of choices regarding poker forms, stakes, tournament types, and so forth.
  3. You can play in more than one game at the same time.

Here is some information about playing poker on the internet. There are over two hundred internet sites from which to pick. To play on a particular site, you need to be registered, so signing up is your first step. There is a lot of competition between sites for the business of you, the poker player and customer. See what benefits go with being a player on the site you choose. You can play on more than one site, but must be registered on each site you play.

You have the option of playing just for fun (using “play money”) or for stakes. For fun, you can either play casually at a table or enter one of the many poker “freeroll tournaments” available. A freeroll means you put up nothing to enter, but can win something. Poker sites offer this opportunity of something for nothing to attract new players, as part of their advertising. If you do play for money, there is an immense range of stakes, from pennies to thousands of dollars, that you can choose. It is very important that you treat poker as you would any other form of entertainment, making sure that your activity is within your budget, both in terms of time and money. Even the best players sometimes go through losing streaks, so even though a skilful player gets good long-term results, there is a lot of variance in the short term.

Once you are registered to play on a site, here is how you get into action. You need to be able to use the interface. For Check n Raise (the sponsor of this information), you can simply go to the website and start playing. Most sites require that you download their interface and put it into your computer. In either case, you go to the site and open the lobby window. This will give you access to lists where there is a choice of what you want to play. The broad divisions are between tournament poker and a regular game, and for fun or for money.

There are two general types of tournaments. The first is a “sit n go” event, a single table (sometimes two tables) where the aim is to have an event lasting only a short period of time, such as an hour or so. Note that the more starting tables you have, the longer it will take to run the tournament. The length of time will also be determined by things such as the amount of starting chips for the player, the initial stakes, and how often the stakes are raised. Such tournaments are started whenever there is enough players entered to fill the table, as opposed to having a set starting time.

The second type of tournament is the regular multi-table tournament. Quite often, more events are scheduled by a site than are actually held, as a certain number of people signed up is needed before the event is a go. Of course, player entry money is refunded if the event is unable to be held. There is a wide range for the entry fee charged (which can be zero if it is a freeroll), from a dollar to hundreds of dollars or more. Once again, we remind you to stay within your budget. One of the reasons tournament play is so popular is you know how much money is placed at risk. But even here, the amount will be unclear if a “rebuy” is allowed, meaning if you are eliminated early you can re-enter the event by buying in again. A rebuy tournament also will normally allow an add-on, meaning even if you have not been eliminated, you can buy more chips during the time period where rebuys are allowed.

For entering non-tournament games, look at the list of games that are going and select the one (or more) that interests you. If the game is not full, you can enter it by simply going to the table and clicking on the seat that you want.

You will be asked how much you would like to buy in for, and as soon as you select the amount, you will have a seat in the game. Each game has a minimum buy-in to enter. You can elect to buy-in for more than the minimum. Some games such as no-limit hold’em restrict the amount of the buy-in to a set maximum. (At no-limit, the potential win or loss size depends in great measure on the amount of chips each player has in his stack, whereas at limit poker, the total number of chips in play has little effect.) You are restricted in the amount you can buy in for by the sum you have on deposit. This information is always available to you by going to the cashier cage.

Your next choice is when to get dealt in. If the game is played with blinds, as is hold’em, you will need to put up the amount of the big blind to get started. You may do this in either the regular rotation when your seat is due for the big blind, or at some other point. If you wish to come in when your seat is due for the big blind, you select “wait for big blind” when prompted with a menu. If you wish to get a hand right away, you can put up the amount of the big blind immediately. We suggest you either come in on your big blind or put it up when on the immediate right of the dealer button. That way, you maximize the number of hands you will get for your money.

You have a range of options to exercise the poker decisions of fold, check, bet, or raise. You can choose your action before it is your turn by pre-selecting your decision on the menu. Or you can wait until your turn comes by not selecting anything ahead of time, then clicking on the appropriate pop-up button when your turn comes. The other players cannot see whether you have selected your action ahead of time.

You have a set amount of time to act on your hand. If you exceed that time, you will either be folded or have time taken out of a “time bank.” The time bank is a fixed amount of extra time allowed as a whole, without being allocated for a particular hand. If you use up your supply of time in the time bank, you are then automatically folded. You do not want time taken from your time bank when you are away from the table. This both hurts you and is annoying to other players in the game. When leaving your computer for more than a few seconds, it is prudent and courteous to use the button that asks to be dealt out. Be sure to ask to be dealt in by pushing the same button when you return and are ready to play again.

Naturally, you cannot exercise any options when you are disconnected from the site. The other players are notified when you are disconnected. You have to get back online quickly, or you will be folded for exceeding the time limit. Some sites will have a disconnected player declared “all-in” for the amount of money put into the pot before getting disconnected (Check n Raise does not do this). All-in means you cannot participate in further betting, but can win the amount you have in the pot from each other player. As it can be advantageous for a player to be all-in (which means disadvantageous to the opponents), all sites that allow disconnected players to be all-in put a limit on the number of times this will be allowed. They do not want players to deliberately disconnect simply to get all-in on a hand.

In poker forms such as no-limit hold’em, where you decide how much to bet, the amount is selected by using a “slider,” a device that allows you to pick your wager size. All wagers must follow the poker rule that says a raise must be at least twice the amount of the last bet unless you are going all-in. At no-limit hold’em, an all-in bet must be at least double the size of the last bet or raise to reopen the betting to a player who has already acted on that round. (At limit poker, it must be at least half the size to reopen the betting.)

We suggest you get some practice playing poker on the internet for play money before you actually play for real money, even if you are experienced in a non-internet poker game. There is a separate skill in using the mouse and graphic interface for poker.

How to Improve at Poker

Poker is a lot like other games. Anyone can enjoy participating, but the more skilled you become, the more fun it is to play. You need a combination of theory and practice to improve rapidly at anything. Read some articles and books, then see how you can put the ideas to use in an actual game. These days, there are many opportunities for play, because of the internet. Sites offer tables to practice using free money, tournaments that are freerolls costing nothing. There are a wide range of stakes available, from microscopic to huge, in both tournaments and money play.

Here are a few tips for getting better at poker:

  1. The essence of the game is betting that your hand is better than the opponent’s. Play only good hands, the cards that give you a decent chance to win the pot. Throw away the longshots. Any hand can get lucky and win, but the weak ones do not win often enough to be profitable. It is more fun to stay in and have a chance to win the pot, but success at poker comes from reducing the desire to just participate, and increasing the desire to become a net winner.
  2. The first thing to do is learn the scale of values in judging your hand’s prospect of winning the pot. At hold’em, the value of your hand depends a lot on the nature of the board-cards. If there is no prospect of a straight or flush, then two pair or three of a kind are worth a lot more. So the scale of values depends not just on where your hand is on the overall table of poker hand rankings, but how likely each type of hand is with a particular set of board-cards.
  3. Study the betting carefully to help determine how good your hand is for winning that particular pot. If everyone is just checking, your mediocre hand may be the best one on that particular deal, even though it is not that strong most of the time. If the betting is strong, with a lot of raising, the hand needed to win this particular pot will quite likely be way above the typical hand usually needed to win. The value of your hand depends not only where it lies in the hand rankings, but how it matches up against the hands held by your opponents. The betting is a strong clue to your prospect of winning the pot.
  4. Know when to bluff. When you have a hand that almost surely is a loser, you can either give up, or try to win by running a bluff. Sometimes one course is right, sometimes the other. Bluff when the opposition has shown weakness. Bluff when you have only one or two opponents. The more players still in, the harder to win the pot by a bluff. The bluff is more likely to be successful at no-limit, because you can bet a large amount of money, which is more likely to get the opposition to fold. On the other hand, a lot of bluffing is also done at limit play, because the amount risked is less, even though your bluff will not win the pot as often. You can bluff when you have nothing now, but a good prospect of improvement, such as four cards toward a straight or flush. This type of bluff is called a “semi-bluff,” because you can still get lucky and win by making the best hand if you don’t win immediately. A semi-bluff is common at poker, and a good weapon.

Poker is one of the most fun games ever invented. Play often, get better, and make sure you are not using money needed for necessities. The reward will be a game you can enjoy for a lifetime.