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Poker has many different variants, but the general premise is the same: you’re dealt some cards, you bet based on how successful you think those cards are at winning, and at the end, whoever has the best poker hand wins the pot. How the card are dealt and how many, in addition to how the game is played from the initial deal to the showdown, is different for every game variant, so please visit each one’s rules page. The most popular games today are Texas Hold ‘em, Omaha and Seven-Card Stud, so make sure you learn how they’re played. You should also familiarize yourself with poker hand rankings.

Since Texas Hold ‘em is one of the most-played variants right now, we’ll use it to illustrate how a game of poker flows:

Pre-flop 1st betting round

The game starts with the dealer button moving one space to the left and that person shuffling and dealing the deck to the first two players (the small and big blind). Without even looking at their cards (they haven’t been dealt yet), they have to post a ‘blind bet’ to get the action started. Once the blind bets are in, the dealer gives everyone two cards face-down their hole cards.

Since the small and big blinds have money in the pot, if you want to stay in the hand, you need to match the amount of chips that each active person before you put in. In this case, let’s say the big blind was $2, so if nobody has raised that amount yet, you just need to put $2 into the pot and you maintain your eligibility to stay in the hand. However, let’s say someone after the two blinds, but before you, raised the bet to $4, you need to put $4 in the pot to stay in the game. Betting continues clockwise around the table until all bets are ‘equalized,’ which means everyone has put the same amount of chips in the pot and nobody wants to raise anymore. Once that’s done, it’s time to see the flop.

The flop 2nd betting round

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The dealer deals out three cards face-up, which are available for everyone to use (called ‘community cards’). If your two cards and the flop make a decent poker hand that you think can win, then keep checking or betting until you make it to the showdown. If your hand isn’t that good, the most important thing you can do is to fold. There’s no such thing as a bad fold it saves you money that would have been wasted on a hand that might not have won.

Play moves around the table with each player either folding, checking, betting, calling or raising. If nobody has bet yet, you can bet. If someone before you has bet, you call if your hand is decent, but if you have a very strong hand, you should raise a few times to rack up the pot.

The turn 3rd betting round

Once the bets are equalized, the dealer deals out a fourth card face-up for everyone to use. Action goes around the table until the bets are equalized.

The river 4th betting round

The fourth and final betting round happens when the last community card is dealt face-up. As in the other rounds, the action moves clockwise around the table until all bets are equalized.

The showdown

Once the bets are equalized, all active players (meaning everyone who has put chips in the pot and have not folded) turn over their two hidden hole cards for the showdown, where their cards are compared to everyone else’s. The winner is whoever has the highest-ranking poker hand (there is also a type of poker where the lowest-ranking hand wins) and gets to take the pot.

The dealer button moves one person to the left & the game starts all over again with the two blinds placing their blind bets.

The best place to learn how to play poker is online: it’s free, convenient (you can play in your own home) and best of all, you can play many hands in a short time, giving you lots of practice. Poker Stars and Full Tilt Poker are two great sites with free tables and an abundance of  players. You should check them out if you haven’t already!

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