An Introduction to Online Poker
Poker is the quintessential casino game. It’s the game for gamblers, bluffers and strategists. It’s the game played by James Bond in Casino Royale. It’s the game that you too can now play from your computer, without all the hassle of being poisoned by a sinister Frenchman.
Poker has many variations which are all played in different places across the internet. They all stem from the same basic structure and rules: players are dealt a hand of cards. The player with the hand of cards with the highest value at the end of the round is the winner. Players bet against each other, deciding whether they want to bet that their hand is highest and, as they cannot see the other players’ hands, a certain amount of deception and strategy is involved. All the money involved in this game is contributed by the players themselves. There is a dealer (or computer) who, surprise surprise, deals but otherwise has no other impact on the game. In this article, I’m going to outline the most popular form of poker: ‘Texas Hold ‘em.’
Texas Hold ‘em Poker Rules
Texas Hold ‘em can be played by between 2 and 10 players.
Let’s start at the very beginning. Casino tables and televised poker can make it all look very intimidating and complex, but it doesn’t have to be. To play poker, you simply need a pack of cards and something to gamble with. In the case of an online game or a casino, your money is substituted for poker chips (pictured) which have various values depending on where you’re playing.
That big intimidating table you see? That’s just a bit of felt which might have some lines drawn on it for the cards to be dealt onto and a cup holder for your swanky cocktail.
Before you actually start playing, one of the most important things to understand is how the different combinations of cards are valued, as the aim of the game is to have a hand of a higher value than your opponents.
Poker hands are made up of five cards. In variations of poker where more cards are available to the player, the best five card combination is played.
Aces can be used as a high or a low. All other cards follow their natural ranking of 2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,J,Q,K.
The suit of a card does not affect its ranking.
If, at the end of the round, there are multiple hands of identical ranking, the pot (money which has been bet on this round) is split evenly between the winners.
Here are the various poker hands from highest value to lowest:
- Royal Flush
A hand which contains an ace, king, queen, jack and a 10 of the same suit is a royal flush.
- Straight Flush
A straight flush is like a royal flush, but the cards don’t have to be ace, king, queen, jack, 10; they can be any sequential series of cards.
If more than one player has a straight flush, the highest cards of the two hands are compared. The hand containing the highest value card wins.
- Four of a Kind
If a poker hand contains four cards of the same rank, it is called four of a kind. If more than one player has a four of a kind, the four of a kind made up of the highest ranking cads wins. For example, four 7s beats four 3s.
- Full House
A hand which contains three cards of the same rank and a further two of a different rank to the three but of the same rank as each other (a three of a kind and a pair) is called a full house.
If more than one player has a full house, the full house with a higher ranking three will win, for example: a full house containing three 8s is worth more than a full house containing three 5s. If two full houses contain the same ranking three, the pair is also compared in a similar manner.
A flush is a hand in which all five cards are the suit. If more than one player has a flush, the player with the highest ranking card wins. If the highest ranking card is the same then the second highest ranking card is compared, and so on until a winner is decided or a tie announced.
A hand whose five cards are in sequence in two or more different suits, is called a straight.
If more than one player has a straight, the highest cards of the straights are compared and the card with the highest value wins. If the highest cards are the same, the straights are of equal value. Straights are described using their highest card, for example, the pictured hand is an Ace-high straight.
- Three of a Kind
A three of a kind hand contains three cards of the same rank plus two which are a different rank from the first three and a different rank from each other.
A higher ranking three of a kind hand beats a lower ranking one, for example: three queens beats three nines. If two players have a three of a kind of the same value, the player who has a higher ranking card in his remaining two cards, is the winner.
- Two Pairs
If there is a pair of cards of the same rank in a hand, and a second pair of a different rank to the first, along with a fifth card which is a different rank to the two pairs, it is a two pair hand.
Pairs are valued by their rank, for example: a pair of queens is worth more than a pair of 10s. If another player has a two pair hand, the highest value pair of each player is compared. If the highest pairs are the same, then the lowest pairs are compared. If these too are the same then the hand whose fifth card is of the highest value wins.
- One Pair
If there is a pair of cards of the same rank in a hand and the other three cards are all of a different rank to the pair and each other, it is one pair. Should there be two pairs of the same rank, the player with the highest card remaining in their hand wins.
- High Card
This one’s pretty self-explanatory. If you’ve got no other combination of any kind, your highest card serves as your hand. If another player also has no other combinations, the player with the highest card in their hand wins.
It seems like a lot to remember, but as you play these combinations will become second nature to you. Online poker is great because it will calculate the value of your hand for you.
The Game Itself
Now we’re ready to get onto the game itself. There is a dealer button which is passed clockwise to the next player each round. This, confusingly, does not signify who is dealing (as the dealer is a casino employ or computer) but it signifies who will have the first opportunity to bet.
Each player is dealt two face down cards.
Texas Hold ‘em generally starts with two compulsory bets called ‘small blind and ‘big blind’. Before the players are allowed to look at their cards, the player to the left of the dealer button must contribute the small blind bet and then the player to their left must contribute the big blind bet. The value of these bets varies, but the big blind tends to be double the value of the small blind.
The players may now look at their cards.
This begins a round of betting in which the players, taking turns in a clockwise order, must match the bet, raise the bet, or fold.
- Match – If a player matches the bet, they are betting the same amount of money as the current highest better. All players must match the highest bet placed to continue playing.
- Raise – If a player raises the bet, they are placing a bet which is higher than all previous bets. The other players must match this to continue playing.
- Fold – If a player folds, they return any cards they have to a dealer, lose any money they have bet, and the round is over for them.
The round ends when all the players have either matched the highest bet, folded or gone ‘all in’.
Going all in means that a player has bet all of their available chips and cannot, therefore, bet any more.
If all but one player folds at any point in the game, that player automatically wins all the money that has been bet.
Assuming that the game has not already ended, the dealer now deals ‘the flop.’ The flop is made up of three cards and is placed in the centre of the table. These cards, and the ones that will subsequently join them, are used by the players, in combination with their own two cards, to form the strongest poker hands they can. Another round of betting ensues at this point.
Once the flop’s betting round is over, the dealer deals a fourth card to the centre of the table, this is called ‘the turn.’ There is now another round of betting.
The dealer deals a final card called ‘the river’. There is now a final betting round and, if there is still more than one player left, they move onto the showdown.
Going clockwise round the table from the big blind, each remaining player now reveals the best poker hand they can make using their own cards and the cards in the centre of the table. The player deemed to have the best hand wins and the game starts all over again.
Playing Poker Online
Poker is probably the most popular online card game and is generally cheaper than playing in a casino.
Playing poker online is much the same as playing in real life, only your assessment of whether your fellow players are bluffing or not is no longer influenced by their body language or behaviour.
There are hundreds of reputable poker websites on the internet all with easy to use controls. Get online, try a few out, and decide which suits your needs best, but first read our reviews of the best online casinos.
Poker Tips by Online Casino Masters Australia
- Don’t refuse to fold just because some of your chips are in the pot.
- Many online poker rooms will offer a certain amount of free chips when you first sign up – these are well worth claiming.
- Just because you fold less, doesn’t mean you’ll win more.
- Always remember to play responsibly