Getting started in poker for the first time can be a scary prospect, learning the rules, hand rankings and memorizing strategies is daunting, but the truth is, poker is far more straightforward than it appears.
How Long Does it Take to Learn Poker?
Depending on how fast you pick up the basic rules, you can realistically learn enough to start playing in about 20 minutes, but it might take another one to six months before you have a grasp on the nuances of the game.
Most of the widely played poker variants have simple rulesets, which is a significant factor in why they are so popular. However, the best way to learn is by playing, whether that be at a home game, or an online free to play version. No amount of research can replace time at the tables.
What is the Easiest Poker Game to Learn?
Five Card Draw is one of the best poker variants to learn first because of its relatively simple ruleset. There are only two phases, and one draw phase in Five Card Draw and the card ranking system is used across multiple types of poker.
Texas Hold‘em is an excellent second choice for beginners. It's by far the most popular variant in the world and has huge amounts of information on how to play in books, the internet, movies, and even video games. Texas Hold‘em is a little more complicated than Five Card Draw with four phases and community cards, but is still a good entry game for poker beginners.
How Many Different Types of Poker Are There?
Poker is an incredibly versatile game that is continuously evolving, new games are invented every year and old games blink out of existence forever. Regardless of the rule variation, all poker variants will fall into one of three categories.
Draw—Has at least draw phase where players can replace the cards they were dealt at the start of the game.
Examples—Badgui and Five Cards Draw are the two most popular games in this category.
Stud—Players are dealt a combination of face up and face down cards as part of their hand.
Examples—Seven Card Stud, Five Card Stud and Razz poker fall into this category.
Community—During play, several community cards are dealt in the middle. Players can use any of the cards they are dealt at the start, and the community cards to make the best possible hand.
Examples—Texas Hold‘em and Omaha Poker are the two most widely played community card games.
Where is the Best Place to Start Playing Poker?
Every casino in the world will have at least one poker table. Live poker is a great experience, but as a beginner, it's probably better to start playing online poker first. Online casinos are one of the best places to learn, the tables are always active and have free to play and low stakes formats for beginners to practice.
Basic Poker Rules
Nearly every poker variant has the same goal, make the best hand combination possible. There is one game type called lowball where the lowest hand is the winner and another where the highest and lowest hand split the pot, but they are better suited to more advanced players.
Poker Hand Rankings
There are several variations on the card and hand ranking systems in poker, to start playing poker you will need to know all of them, from lowest to highest 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, Jack, Queen, King and Ace and list the hand combinations from lowest to highest in the following way:
High Card—When there are no combinations, the highest ranked card determines the strength of the hand. In the event of a draw with another player, the next most significant card, which is called the kicker, is used to determine the winner. Suits don’t matter.
Example: Ace High- Ace, 4, 7, Jack, 2
Pairs—Two cards of the same denomination, if there is a draw, the kicker is used to determine the winner. The highest-ranked pair wins. Suits don’t matter.
Example: Pair of Kings- King, 4, 7, King, 3
Two Pair—Two sets of pairs, if two players have the same pairs, the highest kicker wins. The suits don’t matter.
Example: Two pair, sixes and sevens- 6, 6, 7, 7, King
Three Of A Kind (Trips)—Three cards of the same denomination, kickers are used to settle a draw. The suits don’t matter.
Example: Trip Aces- Queen, Queen, Queen, Ace, 9
Straight—Five cards in sequential order, the suits don't matter. Ace is counted as 1 in the event of a low straight and is the only card that can be used both high and low.
Example: Low Straight- Ace, 2, 3, 4, 5. High Straight- 10, Jack, Queen, King, Ace
Flush—Five cards of the same suit in any order, the numbers don't matter. There are four suits, diamonds, hearts, spades and clubs.
Example: 5 of spades, 2 of spades, 7 of spades, 10 of spades, Ace of spades
Full House (A full Book)—Three cards of the same denomination along with two of another, a combination of three of a kind and a pair. The suits don’t matter.
Example: Ace, Ace, Ace, 8, 8
Four Of A Kind (Quads)—Four cards of the same denomination, the suits don't matter.
Example: 9, 9, 9, 9 5
Straight Flush—Five cards in sequential order that are also the same suit. A straight flush is a combination of a straight and a flush.
Example: Ace of Hearts, 2 of hearts, 3 of hearts, 4 of hearts, 5 of hearts
Royal Flush—The royal flush is the only unbeatable hand in poker. It must consist of a 10, Jack, Queen, King and Ace of the same suit. A royal flush is a combination of a straight and a flush, with the added stipulation of being a high straight.
Poker games will generally have a forced bet at the start of play to ensure there is always chips in the pot, even if everyone folds. The most common format is by using blinds, a small and big blind, and a rotating button to decide the dealer.
The small blind is left of the dealer, and the big blind is the next player in sequence. The big blind is usually equal to the minimum bet, and the small blind is half as big. The blinds also decide who is first to act, the player to the left of the big blind is first, they can bet, fold, raise or call the big blind. Play then goes clockwise around the table. At the end of the round, the big blind becomes the small, and the small becomes the dealer.
An ante is a different type of forced play which all players must pay before the game starts. They can be used in conjunction with or instead of blinds. Unlike blinds, antes are paid by everyone rather than specific players.
Poker has three main types of structures, also imperative to know before you start playing poker:
Fixed Limit—Has a limit on how much players can bet and raise.
No limit—No restrictions on betting or raising.
Pot limit—Plays and raises are limited by the total number of chips already in the pot.
Game Example—Five Card Draw
Every poker game begins with the dealer and blinds being allocated. Generally, each player receives one card, the person who has the highest card becomes the dealer, the small blind is left of the dealer, and the big blind is the next player in sequence. After the blinds are in the middle, the dealer gives each player five cards. Then a round of play occurs. Play starts with the player left of the big blind and goes around the circle ending with the big blind as last to act.
If at least two players are still in the game after the first round, each remaining player can discard up to five of their cards and receive new ones as part of the draw phase.
Then there is another round, starting with the player who is the small blind. If someone is eliminated, the next player to the left of the small blind goes first. At this stage, if there are still at least two players in the pot, it goes to a showdown and everyone flips over their cards, the best five-card hand wins.
Blinds are posted, then the first round occurs. After the initial plays, players discard unwanted cards and draw new ones, followed by a final round. The showdown is always last.
Common Poker Phrases
Poker is full of jargon that you've probably never heard before. There are hundreds of terms and phrases you'll come across during your time at the tables. A few of the more common ones are:
Bad Beat—When a player with the best hand on the table is beaten in the last phase by another player with a hand that has a statistically low chance to win.
Burn—Discarding the top card of the deck and putting it face down on the table, usually done in community card games.
Family Pot—A pot where every player is involved.
Pockets—Two cards of the same denomination.
Tell—A clue other players unintentionally broadcast about the strength of their cards.
Tilt—Playing wildly or recklessly after a string of losses.
Under the Gun—The player who is first to act.
Different Game Types
When you first start playing poker there are only two game types you need to worry about, tournaments and ring games. They both have their own distinct set of rules that set them apart.
Tournament - A poker tournament involves players competing to be the last person standing. Generally knockout style, a tournament can be played by as little as two people, but many tournaments see thousands compete. Prizes are awarded based on time of elimination. Blinds will often increase on a timer, or as players are knocked out. Most require registration to enter and will have a cut off time where no new players can join. Find more information here.
Ring Game - Ring games are a type of poker game where the chips represent the real effective values. In a tournament, you might get 2000 worth of chips, but only need 100 to enter. In a ring game, if you want 2000 worth of chips, you will need 2000. Ring games allow players to sit down and leave at any time; there's no time limit, and play can continue indefinitely. Find more information here.
For more information on poker strategy and gameplay, look no further than Global Poker’s very own Poker School.
Five Poker Tips for Beginners
1. Don't Play Every Hand
If you've read a few different articles listing beginner tips, you've most likely seen this one before, that should tell you how important it is. There is no way to win every hand, and it's a fool's errand to try. Learn to fold and avoid bleeding chips on weak and pointless cards.
2. Play to Your Experience Level
Poker isn't a game that forgives mistakes, playing in a high stakes game when you're first starting out is a huge and potentially costly mistake. Play to your experience level, some casinos offer tables for beginners, and all of them provide low stakes or practice games.
3. Avoid Advanced Techniques, For Now
During your first few poker games, focus on learning the basics, who is first to act, the blinds and the hand rankings. Trying to bluff, look for tells and other advanced strategies are pointless if you don't understand the basics.
4. Keep Learning
The best way to keep improving at poker is to practice and constantly update your knowledge. The best players are always reading about new techniques, odds and strategies.
5. Manage Your Bankroll
Proper bankroll management is a very underrated aspect of poker. Figuring out how much you should play and can reasonably lose will ensure you don't go over your limits. Set a limit, and stick to it; if you find yourself chasing losses, call it a day and come back another time. Look to our Bankroll Managment Guide for all you need to know.