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Playing Poker Online: A Guide
Poker originally gained popularity as an in-person card game in the 1970s; people gathered in dark rooms at the back of bars or in lavish casinos to bet away large sums of money.
With advancements in technology, and as interest in the online world grew, the new millennium saw the launch of legitimate poker websites. These websites went to extreme measures to remain secure, reassuring players that they could safely hold players’ cash and let them wager against one another without risk.
It wasn’t until 2003, when an amateur poker player qualified for the World Series of Poker Main Event through a $40 poker tournament online, however, that people began taking notice of the online poker world.
After the poker player’s win of $2.5 million, the popularity of online poker exploded, to the point where networks like ESPN were regularly broadcasting these tournaments and even celebrities were getting into the game.
Over the course of the next decade, online poker became what it is today; an extremely popular game that relies on and rewards intellectual skills, offering people a thrilling alternative to pot luck gambling games like slots or online lotteries.
The need for intellectual skill means that online poker isn’t something you can go into without prior knowledge of the game. So, we have put together this handy online poker guide to play to help get you started.
When learning how to play online poker, the temptation to skip the basics and head straight to the more complicated details in the belief you’ll learn to understand the game as you go along.
In a game that relies primarily on intellectual knowledge, doing that without first learning the fundamentals of poker can be extremely damaging and will make it harder to learn the basics further on.
In this section, learning the objectives, hand rankings and how to play will allow you to understand the impact of your decisions. You will also have the information you need to quickly pick up more complex poker strategies, knowing exactly when to play them and when to switch it out for something else.
Ultimately, the objective of online poker is to make the best five-card poker hand from the cards on offer in accordance with traditional poker rankings.
You can also win by aiming to be the last person standing on the board after everyone else has surrendered.
To play online poker successfully, it’s recommended that you memorize the hand rankings to the very best of your ability.
By knowing the rankings straight off the bat you will avoid common beginner mistakes, which usually occur when someone thinks they know the winning poker hand with little knowledge of the cards themselves.
The hand rankings, from best to worst, are as follows:
- Royal Flush (cards all in the same suit, with a sequence A-K-Q-J-T)
- Straight Flush (any sequence of cards from the same suit, such as 6-5-4-3-2)
- Four Of A Kind (four cards that hold the same value, for example, four aces)
- Full House (three cards that hold the same value, or three of a kind, and a pair)
- Flush (all cards in your hand are from the same card suit)
- Straight (a basic sequence of numbers where the card suit is irrelevant)
- Three Of A Kind (three cards that hold the same value)
- Two Pair (two lots of pairs in one hand, such as 8-8 and 3-3)
- Pair (one pair, such as A-A)
- High Card (a high scoring card from any card suit)
The Differences Between Online Poker & Live Poker
Many people will start by playing live poker and gradually transition into the online world. This can be a great move as you will already have some knowledge, but it’s important to remember that there are some differences between the two.
Online poker tends to move much faster than live poker, which means you need to know what you’re doing from the very first game. Online poker is ruthless; there is no way you can learn as you go along without losing a substantial amount of money.
It’s also more difficult to bluff online because you won’t be able to go on the facial features of the other players that so often give them away. This doesn’t mean it’s impossible, however, and the more you play, the easier it will be to pick up on these signs.
On a more positive note, however, online poker tends to be less risky as you often play for smaller amounts. It is also more accessible, meaning you can play when you have the money to do so, as opposed to having to wait for an event to open up in person.
How To Play
Poker, both online and in-person uses a standard 52 card deck per game, and there is usually anywhere between 2-10 players at a single table.
If there are more than two players, the person immediately to the left of the dealer places a small blind. This is a small, forced bet that is usually half the minimum bet for that specific poker game.
The person to the left of the small blind position will then place a bigger debt, usually equal to the minimum bet for the specific poker game, called the big blind.
How Rounds Work
In online poker, there are usually five rounds, during which each player will be given the option to fold, call or raise.
At the end of the first round, the dealer will place three cards facing upwards on the board. For every round afterward, another will be added.
These are community cards that anyone can use to contribute to the cards they already have in their hand in order to increase their chances of winning at the end of the game.
Different Versions Of Online Poker
It doesn’t take much searching to realize that there are many different variations to playing poker online. Telling you about all of them would probably leave you feeling overwhelmed. Here, we tell you how to play a few of the common variations.
Limit Hold ‘Em
Limit Hold ‘Em is the most popular poker choice for online games throughout the United States and in several other countries around the world.
In this version, bets and raises made during the first two rounds of betting must be equal to the big blind. This is known as the small bet.
In the further two rounds, bets and raises must be the equivalent of the big blind. These stages are known as the big bet.
In the next two rounds, bets and raises must be equal to twice the amount of the big blind, also known as the big bet.
No-Limit Hold Em
No-Limit Hold ‘Em, sometimes used interchangeably with Texas Hold ‘Em, is a version of poker that is growing in popularity.
It has become the version most commonly used in televised poker tournaments, and the game played at the World Series of Poker, so you may be somewhat familiar with the rules.
If you aren’t, the most important thing to remember about this version is that players may call or raise any amount over the minimum up to all the chips they have available.
The minimum raise must equal the amount of the previous call or raise, which means that if someone wants to re-raise, they must raise at least the amount of the previous raise.
If the big blind for that match is $2, and there has been a raise of $8 to equal $10, a re-raise must be at least $8 for a total of $18.
If a player decides to go all-in with a raise or re-raise and it does not equal the size of the previous raise, the initial raiser can then choose not to re-raise again.
Pot-Limit Hold ‘Em
Pot-Limit Hold ‘Em is extremely similar to the No-Limit Hold ‘Em version we’ve discussed. \
The only difference is that the maximum raise you’re allowed to make is the current size of the pot, or what has already been put in the middle.
If the pot was $14, for example, you wouldn’t be able to raise your bet more than another $14.
How A Winner Is Determined
After the five rounds have ended, there are a few different ways someone can be considered the winner of poker.
If you are the only person left in the game after everyone else has surrendered, you will automatically be granted the winner.
This is why people will often try and bluff about what they have in their hand, to get others to fold and increase their chances of winning.
The other way to be considered a winner is to be the person with the highest-ranking cards after they have been exposed.
In the case that two people have the same hand, which is extremely rare, then more than one winner will be determined and profits will be split between them.
Poker is a varied game with several different versions to choose from, which means many casino websites will have a number of their own rules that you must check before entering your first game.
However, there are a few rules when playing poker online that do tend to have universal application.
The first rule is that the person immediately to the left of the dealer must make a small blind, and the person to the left of that person must make a big blind.
You must also play five rounds before a winner can be determined. If more than one player is left at the end, the one with the highest hand will win.
Finally, although some casinos outlaw it, most will generally accept bluffing as a natural part of the gameplay.
Online Poker Terminology
Poker is an extremely fast-paced game, but when it was brought into the online world in the early 2000s, things only got faster. This means you need to have a basic understanding of the terminology you will come across when playing online poker if you don’t want to look like a beginner.
Knowing the terminology below will also help you gain a better understanding of some aspects of the game we have spoken about and will become especially handy when you go on to look at strategies for your game.
Reading through these terms, and having the article saved so you can return to it, will let you remind yourself of these terms as many times as necessary instead of worrying that you have forgotten something when playing the real thing.
Bear in mind that these online poker terms are generalized and cover all online poker playing websites, but some sites will have specialized slang that you will pick up as you go along.
This term is a slang word developed especially for the online poker community that describes the dealer, said to have been created due to the way the dealer is marked with a button during the game.
Blinds are forced bets that the first two players to the left of the dealer are forced to put into the pot before the game starts. This term is used due to the fact you are forced to put down your bet without seeing your cards first.
A call is the type of bet where you match the amount of the raise currently in the pot of an active game.
Raise refers to betting more than the current raise in the pot, increasing it for all players for the rest of the game.
Folding involves giving up your hand and the chips you have already contributed to a game.
A hole card refers to the first two cards that are dealt to each player. These are dealt facing downwards so only the player can see what they have. These are sometimes referred to as pocket cards.
The preflop is the time when players have received their hole cards, but the flop has yet to be dealt.
Flop is a term used to refer to the three upwards facing cards the dealer places on the board at the end of the first played round.
All-in refers to the act where a player will put the rest of their chips into the pot in a bid to win, at which point they will be unable to make any further moves.
Showdown is used when determining the winner if more than one player remains after the last betting rounds. It specifically refers to the process where players expose their cards to one another to compare their hands and determine the winner.
Popular Poker Strategies
After you’ve learned the fundamentals of playing poker online, you’re going to want to develop some strategies to help you overthrow your competition.
At this stage, the differences between live poker and online poker become most obvious because you aren’t receiving visual clues from your competition and therefore need to implement different tactics.
To compensate, the online poker community has developed several different strategies in the short time that it has been popular; many can be used by all skill levels.
These strategies, a few of which we will explain in more detail, can also be used to learn more complex strategies, meaning the ability to build on your intellectual knowledge of poker is an endless process.
Avoid Calling As A Beginner
One of the most common strategies used by beginner online poker players is to call with every round of the games they play.
This is often done because beginners aren’t the most confident in what they’re doing and don’t want to risk even more than they already are.
Not only will this affect your ability to raise the stakes, but it will also let on to others that you are new to the game, making you a target for their own strategies.
Learning to raise is much more beneficial because you can use this false sense of confidence to bluff your competitors into thinking you have a great hand, even if you don’t.
Taking Last Position
If you know how to play online poker, or have read the second section of this guide, you will know that some positions are better than others.
The first two positions to the left of the dealer tend to be the worst, as these are the people who will be forced to make the small and big blind. Some people may view this as preferable because they get to set the stakes from the beginning. However, this is not a good position for a beginning player.
Going to the middle isn’t necessarily the worst move, but it does give you limited information about your opponents and you won’t know what decisions those who come after you will make.
By taking the last position, however, you don’t have to worry about any of that. You’ll have all the information you need about your opponents, allowing you to make better decisions about your own moves.
Having said information will also provide you with better chances of bluffing if you do want to give that strategy a go.
Perhaps one of the best reasons to take the last position is because it will leave you in complete control over the size of the final pot.
Play The Player
In your first few games of online poker, you’re going to want to focus on yourself to make sure you aren’t doing anything wrong.
After that, however, you should start to shift your focus onto the other players and pay close attention to what they’re doing.
This will provide you with the information you would usually gain from visual clues in live or in-person poker through the patterns they regularly perform.
If you use this strategy you may start to notice that one of your competitors is betting all the time, for example, which could indicate that their cards aren’t very good.
Would this really be a poker guide if we didn’t talk about the art of bluffing?
It is perhaps one of the most famous elements of the game, and even though it is harder to do online, it is an element you may want to delve into as you get better at the game.
In a way, bluffing is similar to playing the player, but instead of just observing what other players are doing, you take action based on your observations.
Without the human aspect, these patterns you learn will become integral to your playing strategy.
If you observe that someone is betting all the time and you think they have bad cards, you can bluff them by saying that you have an ace or another high ranking card.
This may convince them to fold or surrender on the final round, giving you more chances of being the last person standing.
This can be beneficial, however, it is important to remember that you shouldn’t get carried away and forget the reality, especially if your hand isn’t the best.
Doing this in a foolhardy manner can go against you, leading to some pretty costly mistakes. It will also make it obvious that you are a newbie to be taken advantage of by your competition.
If you’re worried, start by making semi-bluffs, and build the amount you lie as you become more confident in your ability to play the game.
If you’re looking for a strategy that highlights the mathematical side to playing poker online, then odds recall is the strategy to use.
Even if you aren’t very good at math, you shouldn’t dismiss this method until you understand what it can do for you.
Basically, this method is about understanding the odds behind common hands to know how likely it is that you, and your competitors, will get certain cards.
For example, the odds of you getting an ace from your hole cards is 222 to 1. This means that, statistically, you’ll only get aces every 221 hands you play.
Some other online poker odds that you may want to know:
- There’s a 17-1 chance you’ll be dealt a pair.
- You’ll be dealt an ace-king suited an average of once per 331 hands played.
- You will flop a set with a hole card pair an average of once every 8.5 games.
You’re Ready To Play
Now you’ve learned the fundamentals of playing poker online, from basic to complex strategies that you can use to enhance your experiences, you are ready to go out there and make bets for yourself. Good luck!