How Tos

Beginner's guide to playing poker

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Beginner's guide to playing poker
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Ah, poker. That timeless card game of strategy, probability and psychology. It's a game that's been mythologised in cinema and on TV over the years.

But let's face it - most of us don't really know how to play it, particularly those of us who aren't particularly down with gambling.

The current explosion of interest in social casino gaming offers us a good chance to get to grips with it, as you can play from the comfort of your mobile against thousands of other players around the world without having to spend any real money (phew).

There are a whole bunch of great social poker games out there, but we're going to use Pokerist (which features a really useful tutorial, among other things) to get you started on the road to poker mastery.

And trust me when I say that this is written from the perspective of a non-gambling poker noob. So any poker experts who want to pick holes in my poker phraseology can go flip a card.

The basic rules

We're playing the Texas Hold 'Em variant of poker here, which is the most popular form around. It's what Bond plays in 2006's Casino Royale.

Texas Hold 'Em poker is a card game for between two and nine players, with the goal being for each player to form the best five-card hand from seven available cards.

Two of those cards are dealt straight away to each player and hidden from the rest. The other five are gradually dealt out on the table for general use.

The hands

Hands are pre-defined patterns of cards that involved certain sequences of suits or numbers. There are nine basic hands, all ranked according to the probability of their occurrence. Here they are in ascending order of value.

High card

This is the most basic, low-value way in which you can win a round of poker - by having the highest value card on the table. Two is the lowest value card, ace is the highest. If you manage win lots of money with a high card, your bluffing skills are probably on point.


Now we're getting somewhere. If you can form a pair of numbers or ranks, you'll trump any high card hand. In the event that more than one player has a pair, the higher value wins.

Two pair

Pretty self explanatory this one - if you have two sets of pairs, you're in an even stronger position. Again, higher ranked cards are worth more in a tie situation.

Three of a kind

Having three cards of a single rank is even stronger than two pairs. Hey, I don't make the rules.


This is where things get serious. A straight is a sequence of five numbers or ranks of assorted suits. You'll be lucky to get one of these, and unlucky to lose if you do.


Think of the flush as the other side to the straight - but of even higher value. This time it's a collection of five cards from a single suit, but with no set sequence of numbers.

Full house

A three of a kind and a pair in one hand. Also known as the 'greedy guts' hand (it's not really).

Four of a kind

A four of a kind means four cards of one number or rank, and it's the second most valuable hand you can have. If you're not betting some big money with one of these, you're probably an idiot. Or just broke.

Straight flush

The rarest and most valuable hand you can have in all of poker combines the straight and the flush in more than just name. So, you have a sequence of numbers that also happen to be of the same suit. You jammy swine.

The passage of play

So now you know the basic rules of Texas Hold 'Em poker, as well as the values of the hands. It's the procedure of play that typically confuses people, though. I mean, who's this big blind dude everyone keeps talking about, and why do we need to give him money?

Here's how your average game of poker might roll, whether you're playing on your mobile or looking your mates in the eye around the kitchen table.

The first thing you'll see once you've taken your position is that the two players sat to the left of the dealer will place relatively low fixed bets on the table, which are known as the Small Blind and the Big Blind - the small being half the value of the big. This responsibility to start the betting pot rotates around the table, so you needn't feel stiffed.

Next, each player gets dealt their own two cards, and all have the chance to Check (match the Big Blind bet), Raise (place a bigger bet), or Fold (sit out of the round) based on the outlook of their hand.

Then comes the Flop, which involves the dealer playing the first three 'community' cards face up on the table. At this point you'll want to look at your cards and the Flop and see if there are any hands you might be able to form between them.

Based on this, you'll need to decide whether to stay in the hand for the next stage. This might not involve any extra betting, but if a player decides to bet more money, you'll need to match it to stay involved.

Once this is done, the dealer will reveal a fourth community card. More betting and checking and folding, then the final community card is played.

You know have all of the cards you're going to get to form a hand. A final bout of betting will ensue before each player reveals their hand. The highest scoops up all the money.

There are other little nuances with regard to betting and winnings distribution, but when it comes to playing a social casino game like Pokerist or others that doesn't matter. You'll pick the gist of it up as you go along. Have fun!