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A Guide to Playing Poker Online
Poker first emerged in America, sometime in the late 18th century. The iconic card game was first played along the Mississippi River and soon spread to the saloons favored by Old West outlaws. By the 1970s, the image of poker players in a smoky room drinking whiskey was a well-established stereotype. But in today's digital age, poker can be played online too.
Advanced technology and the ever-increasing digital lifestyle launched innumerable legitimate poker sites. These online poker sites go to great lengths to maximize security; players can rest assured that their funds will be secure.
However, it wasn’t until 2003, when an amateur poker player made it into the World Series of Poker Main Event by winning a modest $40 online poker tournament. That amateur player won the Main Event, raking in $2.5 million.
At that point, ordinary people sat up and took notice of the online poker world. Understandably, the popularity of online poker surged. Even mainstream networks like ESPN broadcast poker tournaments right alongside regular sports. Even celebrities were getting into poker, further increasing the allure of the game.
Today, online poker has evolved into an extremely popular game accessible to anyone with an internet connection. The popularity of poker relies on a unique combination of intellectual skills and sheer luck. Poker offers players an exciting challenge to gambling games that depend on sheer luck, like slots or online lotteries.
The fact that you need some intellectual strategy means you can’t jump into an online poker game without knowing how the game works. So, to help get you started, we've put together this handy online poker guide to help get you started.
The Basics of Online Poker
If you're a new player, avoid the temptation to skip over the basics and dive straight into the more technical details of the game. When learning how to play poker online, start at the beginning and build your knowledge as you go.
Keep in mind, poker is a game that relies heavily on both luck and a smart strategy. You need to hone your intellectual skills, and jumping in without first learning the basics can cost you. In the end, it can make learning the ins and outs more difficult.
In this first section of our online poker guide, you'll learn the objectives, general gameplay, and hand rankings. This will help you to make the best decisions while playing. You'll also be armed with the exact knowledge you need to learn more complex poker strategies as you go along. You'll know exactly when to use a certain strategy and when to switch to something else.
The Objectives of Online Poker
To put it simply, the goal of both in-person and online poker is to gather the best five-card poker hand you can, one that will vanquish your competitors.
On the other hand, you can also win by being the last person standing, after all of the other players fold.
Poker Hand Rankings
To become a success as an online poker player, you need to memorize the hand rankings. Without knowing this, there is no way you can stay on top.
By knowing the hand rankings, you'll avoid the common newbie mistakes; these usually happen when a new player thinks they have a winning poker hand when they really don't.
These are the poker hands, ranked from best to worst.
- Royal Flush (all the cards are in the same suit, with a series 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 all the same value, for example, four kings)
- Full House (three of a kind, plus a pair, such as three queens and two jacks)
- Flush (all of the cards in your hand are the same suit)
- Straight (a basic series of numbers, such as 2,3,4,5,6. The card's suit doesn't matter)
- Three of a Kind (three cards all the same value, such as 3 aces)
- Two Pair (two sets of pairs, such as 9-9 and 2-2)
- Pair (one pair, such as king-king)
- High Card (a high scoring card from any card suit)
What Are the Differences Between Live and Online Poker?
Many people start with live poker and gradually transition into the world of online poker. This is definitely a good thing since you'll already have some skill and a lot of practice. But, it’s crucial to understand the difference between the two.
Online poker tends to be much faster-paced than a live game; that means you need to know what you’re doing right away. Trying to learn as you go can cost you your bankroll.
Also, it's harder to bluff online, since you won’t be able to see the faces of the other players; in real life, facial expressions often give away winning or losing hands. However, bluffing isn’t entirely impossible online, and the more you play, the easier it will be to bluff, by picking up on subtle cues.
However, one good thing about online poker is that it tends to be less risky since you'll generally play for small amounts. Also, it's much more accessible, with games running 24/7. You can play whenever you have the time and money, without the need to go to the nearest card room.
How To Play Online Poker
Both live and online poker uses a standard 52 card deck. And each game can seat between 2 to 10 players.
If there are more than two players in a game, the player seated to the left of the dealer places a small bet called a blind. This is usually half the minimum bet set for that game.
The player seated to the left of the first blind player will place a bigger blind bet. This should be equal to the minimum bet for that poker game.
How Poker Rounds Work
Online poker is usually played in rounds of five. During each round, the players will be have the option to raise, fold or call.
At the end of the first round, the dealer places three cards facing up on the board. For each following round, another card is added.
These are also community cards that any player can take to add to the cards they already have, to improve their hand by the end of the game.
Different Variations Of Online Poker
You will immediately notice that there are quite a few different versions of online poker. Some are based off the traditional games, and others are specific to certain platforms. Here, we'll just explain the most common variations.
Limit Hold ‘Em
Throughout Canada and the United States, Limit Hold ‘Em is a popular poker variation. It's also popular in Central and South America, Europe and Asia.
In this variation, any raises or bets made during the first two rounds must equal the small blind bet. This is called the small bet.
In the next two rounds that follow, raises and bets must equal the big blind. These are called the big bets.
During the last two rounds, raises and bets must be twice the amount of the big blind. These are also known as big bets.
No-Limit Hold Em
No-Limit Hold ‘Em, also known as Texas Hold ‘Em, is without a doubt, the most popular version of online poker. You'll see it everywhere.
No-Limit Hold 'Em is the most common game used in poker tournaments, including the World Series of Poker. If you've ever watched a poker tournament, you're already somewhat familiar with the rules.
However, if you aren’t familiar with the rules of Texas Hold Em, the most important thing to remember is that players can raise or call any amount over the minimum up to all of their chips. Everything is big in Texas, and in this game, the bets can be huge.
The minimum raise has to be equal to the amount of the previous raise or call. That means that if a player wishes to re-raise, they have to raise an amount at least equal to the previous raise.
For instance, if the big blind for that round is $4, and there has been a rise of $16 to equal $20, a re-raise must be at least $16 for a total of $36.
If a player goes all-in with a raise or re-raise, but it doesn't equal the amount of the preceding raise, the initial raiser can choose not to re-raise one more time.
Pot-Limit Hold ‘Em
This is very similar to No-Limit Hold ‘Em, with the only difference being that the maximum raise you can make is the size of the current pot. For example, if the pot is $20, you could raise your bet by $20.
How a Winner is Crowned
After the five rounds have concluded, there are several ways a player can be crowned the winner.
First, if you're the only player left in the game after everyone else has folded, you'll automatically be the winner.
This is one reason why players often try to bluff their way through a game, to fool others into folding.
Another way to become the winner is to hold the highest-ranking poker hand after everyone's cards have been revealed.
In the extremely rare case that two players hold the same hand, then they both win, and the pot is split equally between them.
The Rules of Poker
While poker rules depend on the specific version being played, there are a few rules for online poker that are universal. However, many casino sites add a number of their own rules that you need to know before playing your first game.
The first universal rule is that the player immediately to the left of the dealer places a small blind bet, and the player to the left of that person places the big blind bet.
Another universal rule is that five rounds must be before determining a winner. If more than one player is left standing, the player with the highest hand wins.
Finally, while some online casinos have rules against bluffing, they mostly accept it as part and parcel of a game of poker.
Online Poker Terms and Definitions
Online poker is a very fast-paced game, and you need to have a basic understanding of the lingo if you don’t want to look like a rookie. You also need to know the unique language of poker to simply survive the game.
Also, knowing online poker terminology will help you gain a better overall understanding of the game. This will particularly come in handy when you review the strategies of your game.
Read and understand these terms, and save this page, so you can refer to it. Remind yourself of these terms, and rehearse them in your mind as many times as you need to. That way, you won't have to worry that you have forgotten a meaning during game time.
Keep in mind, the following online poker terms are general, and cover every online poker room. But, some websites also have their own special slang that you'll learn as you play.
This is a slang term for the dealer.
Blinds are the two forced bets made by the two players to the left of the dealer. These bets are put into the pot before the first round kicks off. It's called “blind” because those two players must place their bets “blind”, before they even see their cards.
A call is a bet that matches the raise currently in the pot during an active poker game.
Betting more than the current amount in the pot, thus, increasing it for the rest of the game for all players.
Folding means you forfeit your hand and all of the chips you have in the game.
A hole card is also sometimes referred to as pocket cards. These are the first two cards that are dealt face down to each player. Only the player can see what the hole cards are.
The preflop refers to the time when the players have their hole cards but are still waiting for the flop to be dealt.
The flop is the three cards dealt facing upwards.
All-in is when a confident player puts the rest of their chips into the pot in a bid. At this point, the player won't be able to make any more moves.
If more than one player remains after the last round of betting, it's a showdown. During a showdown, the two remaining players reveal their cards to see who has the winning hand.
Popular Strategies For Playing Poker
After you’re done learning the basics of playing poker online, you need to develop a few winning strategies to help you vanquish your competition and come out a winner.
This is where the differences between a live poker game and online poker become the most apparent. This is because you won't have any visual cues, such as body language or facial expressions, from your opponents. That means you need to come up with strategies unique to playing online poker.
To compensate for the lack of visual cues, the online poker community has developed a few different strategies. Many of these online poker strategies can be used by both rookies and old hands alike.
A few of these strategies, which we will explain, can also be a stepping stone to learning more complex strategies. In this way, you can build upon your ever-increasing knowledge. In truth, becoming an awesome poker player is a never-ending process.
Avoid Calling as a Rookie Poker Player
One of the most common things beginners will do during an online poker game is to call with every round.
They do this because as a rookie, they aren’t very confident about what they’re doing. More importantly, they don’t want to risk more than they already have.
Not only will calling hamper your ability to raise the stakes, but it will also let other players know that you're new to the game. That instantly makes you a target for their advanced strategies.
Learning how to raise is a better strategy in the long run since you can use that to appear confident in your hand. In this way, you can bluff your opponents into believing that you have a better hand than you do.
Choosing the Last Seat
As you read this page, you know that some table seats are better than others. The first two seats to the left of the dealer are usually the worst since these players are forced to make small and big blind bets.
However, some players like the first two positions left of the dealer, since they get to set the stakes from the outset. But, this is not the position a new player should take.
Sitting in the middle isn’t the worst position, but you be limited in your knowledge concerning your opponents. Also, you won’t know what the players after you will do.
However, by taking the last seat, you won’t have to be concerned about any of that. You’ll have all the information you need about your competitors, allowing you to make better choices with your own moves.
Having the information about your opponents will also give you a better chance to bluff if you want to use that as a strategy.
Finally, the best reason to take the last position is that this will leave you in total control over the size of the last pot.
Play The Player
During your first few games of online poker, focus on yourself to make sure you aren’t making any mistakes.
However, after that, shift your focus onto the other players, and closely watch what they’re doing.
This will give you the information you could gain from visual cues during an in-person poker game. You'll be able to sense certain cues, by the patterns some players usually take.
For example, by using this strategy you might begin to notice that one of your opponents is betting all the time. That could indicate that their hand really isn't that good.
Bluffing is the quintessential art of poker, and the word has worked its way into the common vernacular. While bluffing is harder to do online, it is a strategy you should definitely explore as you become a better poker player.
In some ways, bluffing is like playing the player, but instead of observing yourself, you watch what the other players are doing. You then make your moves based on what you observe.
Without playing in person, the patterns you observe will become vital to your online poker strategy.
For example, if someone is betting all the time, leading you to believe they have a bad hand, you can bluff by saying that you have a king or an ace or some other high-ranking card.
This could convince them to fold, giving you a better chance of being the last player standing.
However, while this can be good, it's important to remember not to get carried away with bluffing. The fact is, a bluff can bite you if your opponents catch on, and your hand isn’t the best.
Bluffing can be foolhardy, and can quickly work against you. This can lead to some very costly mistakes. It will also make it obvious to everyone else that you are a newbie, and you need to be taken advantage of. Your more experienced opponents won't hesitate to do so.
You can always start by making semi-bluffs, and build those up as you become more confident in your game.
If you’re intrigued by strategies that zoom in on the mathematical nature of playing online poker, then odds recall is for you.
Even if you aren’t good at math, you shouldn’t reject this strategy until you understand its full potential. Odds recall can certainly help you win.
Basically, odds recall involves understanding the odds behind common hands. Simply put, it's understanding how likely it is that you, and your opponents, will get certain cards.
For instance, the odds of getting an ace for one of your hole cards is 222 to 1. Statistically, that means that a player will only get an ace every 221 hands that they play.
Other poker odds that are interesting to know:
- There is a 17-1 chance of being dealt a pair.
- You’ll be dealt a suited ace-king 331:1 for every hand, on average.
- A player will flop a set with a hole card pair once every 8 1/2 games, on average.
Now You’re Ready to Play
Now that you’ve learned a few of the fundamentals of playing online poker, including a few basic strategies, you are ready to go out there and take a seat at the table. Show confidence, and always bet on yourself. Good luck!