Without any question, poker is the most famous gambling card game in the world. Its global popularity has spawned many variants; each delivering its own uniqueness and level of excitement. You can play tournaments or cash games against other players, or take on the house in a thrilling casino poker game.
This guide will introduce the basics of this fascinating game. You’ll learn about the different poker hand ranks which apply to near all games. Furthermore, we’ll explain how to play stud poker and draw poker, while covering the best variants you can find at land-based and online casinos.
A standard 52-card deck is used for the majority of poker games. These are known as full-deck games. You will also come across strip deck poker which removes all of the 2s, 3s, 4s, 5s, and 6s from the deck, so you play with 32 cards. This makes it more likely to hold big hands, which creates a more exciting game..
In recent years, a new variant of Texas Hold’em has emerged called Short Deck Poker. It uses 36 cards, with the twos through to fives removed from the deck. Finally, there are a few poker games, such as Pai Gow, that use the joker cards as well.
Poker Hand Rankings
Before specialising in one form of poker or another, knowledge of the running order of poker hands is crucial. The hand rankings cover nearly all variations. Therefore, once you understand these, you’ll be comfortable to advance onto learning specific rules and betting patterns for the game you want to play.
Normally, poker hands consist of five cards, although quite often some of the five cards will only be high cards, which are called kickers. Below is a run-down of the ten hand ranks, starting with the strongest and finishing with the weakest possible hand.
Royal Flush: A royal flush is five cards 10, J, Q, K, and A of the same suit. A couple of poker games may have a trump suit, but usually, there isn’t one. Therefore, if one player had 10, J, Q, K, and A of spades, and another player had 10, J, Q, K, and A of hearts, the pot would be split.
Straight Flush: Another five-card hand. It is similar to a royal flush, but it doesn’t run up to the ace. An example of a straight flush is 7, 8, 9, 10, and J of diamonds. If two players both have straight flush draws, the one with the highest card wins. For example, 8, 9, 10 ,J, Q beats 4, 5, 6, 7, 8.
Four of a Kind: This hand consists of four cards of the same face value. For example, 10 of spades, 10 of clubs, 10 of hearts, and 10 of diamonds. The fifth card is simply a high card (kicker). If two players both have four of a kind with the same value card, the highest kicker wins the hand.
Full House: A full house is a five-card hand made up of three cards of the same value (three of a kind) and two cards of the same value (a pair). An example full house is 9 of spades, 9 of hearts, 9 of clubs, 5 of hearts, and 5 of diamonds. This is called a ‘nines over fives’ full house.
Flush: Any five cards of the same suit, but not in consecutive order, is a flush. For example, 4, 6, 8, J, and A of hearts. This hand is an ace-high flush. If two players both hold flush draws, the one with the highest card wins.
Straight: A straight is another five-card hand. The cards must be in consecutive order, but it doesn’t matter which suit. 2 of hearts, 3 of clubs, 4 of hearts, 5 of spades, and 6 of clubs is an example of a straight draw.
Three of a Kind: As explained with the full house hand, three of a kind is three cards of the same value. For example, 9 of spades, 9 of hearts and 9 of clubs. The remaining two cards are high cards. These come into play if two players have the same value three of a kind hands.
Two Pair: This is a four-card hand. You have two cards with the same face value, and another two with a different face value. For instance, 4 of clubs and 4 of spades, and 10 of hearts and 10 of clubs is two pairs. Once again, the remaining card is a kicker.
One Pair: A pair is just two cards of the same face value, such as ace of hearts and ace of clubs. The remaining three cards are high cards.
High Card: If you have none of the poker hands listed above, your hand simply has a high card
The Three Types of Poker
Although there are dozens of games that carry the poker name, they can be categorised into three distinct types - draw poker, stud poker, and hold’em. They all share similarities and differences. Here’s a quick overview, so you know the main points of each.
When playing draw poker, you don’t see any of the other players’ cards, nor are there any community cards. Among the many variants, five-card draw is the most commonly played.
- All the players at the table put in an ante bet.
- Each player receives five cards which they assess the strength of.
- A round of betting starts with the player to the left of the dealer. There are three possible choices:
- Fold: Throw away your cards and play no further part in the hand.
- Call: Make a minimum bet in accordance with the table limits you’re playing.
- Raise: This option comes available after at least one other player has made a ‘call’ bet.
- After the round of betting, comes the draw. Each player can discard one, two or three cards and draw the same number of new ones from the deck. This is optional; if you have a strong hand already, you can keep those five cards.
- Another round of betting takes place.
- The final part of the hand is the showdown. All the players left in the game reveal their cards to see whose hand is the winner.
Alternative variants use small blind and big blind bets instead of an ante bet. The rules are flexible surrounding this and usually agreed upon by the players before the game starts.
Five-card and seven-card stud are two of the oldest and most well-known poker games. Unlike draw poker, a certain number of your cards are dealt face-up so that all players can see part of your hand. Let’s go through a basic hand of five-card stud:
- All players make an ante bet.
- Two cards are dealt to each player - one is face down, the other is face-up.
- The player with the lowest valued face-up card begins the betting. The options are to fold, call or raise (after a bet has been placed by another player).
- A third card is dealt. This is also face-up.
- Another round of betting gets underway. However, now players can ‘check’, which means to not fold the hand, but not place a bet either.
- This is followed by a fourth card, again face-up, and a round of betting.
- The fifth card is dealt. This one is face-down. The final round of betting follows.
- The hand ends with the showdown, and the winner is declared.
There are two main variants of hold’em poker - Texas Hold’em, which we associate with the World Series of Poker, and Omaha. These games involve hole cards which belong to the player plus community cards in the middle of the table.
The objective is to create the best possible poker hand, or bluff to convince other players you have the strongest hand, from your hole cards and the community cards. Like stud poker, there are multiple rounds of betting in hold’em games, and the pots can become very large. Take a look at our Texas Hold’em Guide for an in-depth look at this type of poker to understand how it’s played.
Popular Casino Poker Variants
Poker is best known as a game played against other players. However, in more recent years, a number of casino poker variants have come to the fore. These keep the fundamentals of poker, but the opposition is now the house dealer.
Of course, as they are casino games, the rules are weighted in favour of the house, just like other card games such as blackjack and baccarat. However, they have the advantage of removing the psychology of bluffing and having to read what cards other players could be holding. The focus is on learning the optimal poker strategy so that you stand the best chance of winning. Here are some of the top poker games found in our live casino.
- Caribbean Stud: After placing an ante bet, you are dealt five cards which are face-up. The dealer also deals the house five cards. Four of these are face-down while one is face-up. You must decide based on the strength of your hand, and the one dealer card you know, whether to raise (double your ante bet) or fold, which means losing your ante. This version also includes a progressive jackpot side bet that can, at times, be worth more than 100,000 dollars.
- Three Card Poker: This game is similar to 3-card brag that is played in the UK. The game involves an ante and play bet. There is also a separate ante bonus paytable from which you can win big if you’re dealt a strong hand. The dealer needs queen high to qualify, so sometimes when you draw a massive hand, you don’t get the full reward for it unless the dealer has better than a queen. Look out for the poker hand rankings - the straight is valued higher than a flush in this variant which is the opposite to most other poker games.
- Ultimate Texas Hold’em: Created around standard Texas Hold’em but played against the casino dealer. Players must make ante and blind bets; however, the dealer does need two pairs to qualify. For new players, this game is a good starting point for hold’em poker. There are additional side bets to increase the excitement, and possibly help you win bigger.
Tips to Improve Your Poker Game
It is said that poker takes a few minutes to learn but a lifetime to master. If you’re new to the game, these are some general poker strategy tips to help build the foundations of a successful career at the tables.
- Understand the Poker Rules: On this page, we’ve provided an overview of the basic poker rules. However, when you decide to play, take some time to learn the rules for the variant you’ve chosen. This tip may sound obvious, but there are many players who start playing Texas Hold’em and later try our Omaha Hi-Lo that get easily beaten because they don’t know the exact poker rules for that game.
- Learn the Ropes with Casino Poker: Whether you want to play hold’em, stud or draw poker, there are casino variants that can help build up your tactical knowledge of the game. In many ways, these are simplified versions of player versus player games. The house does have an edge, so you will lose a few more chips than you win over time, but still, there are advantages to these games. You can use a poker strategy to help you further. This will also reduce the casino’s advantage to the minimum.
- Play your Level: 20 years ago, when online poker first boomed, the standard (of players) was average. That is not the case anymore. There are some very talented players now, and they are waiting to take your cash. However, good players rarely enter small money games. This is why you need to play at your own level. As a beginner, hit the 0.01/0.02 cash games, or $0.50 sit and go games. Then as you become more confident in your ability, start playing for higher stakes.
- Enjoy Free Poker Online: Most poker rooms have daily freeroll tournaments that are a good learning curve. If playing against a dealer, look to take advantage of the best casino bonuses to get some free poker games. Poker is not a game of chance. The more you play, the better you can become, and free poker is a great way to practice.
Poker Strategy: Online poker in the casino are decision-making games. As such, for each variant, there is a poker strategy to follow. These strategies are based on mathematical probabilities, and they provide a clear guide as to what the right decision is in accordance with the odds. We talk more about Texas Hold’em strategies on our dedicated page.
Comeon Content Group
The goal of the Comeon Content Group is to create the gaming market's best guides. With many years of experience in igaming, I have succeeded in building a team that works together to make this possible.