How to Learn Poker from Scratch


Here are the basic tips for learning the game of No-Limit Texas Hold’em. It should go without saying that when you’re ready to start playing in competitive games live or online, you should start at low stakes while you’re still learning the game - so you don’t bleed your bankroll before you build up the proper experience to jump up to higher limits and buy-ins. 

This allows you space to make mistakes or lose hands, and you will make mistakes while learning, but do not get embarrassed when that happens.

Learning the Basic Hand Rankings

Here are the hand rankings in poker from lowest to highest. Please note all of these examples are for five-card hands. You can combine any amount of the two cards dealt to your hand with five community cards dealt on the board.

Pair: Any two of the same cards in your hand, for example 4-4, or J-J. This beats any high-card hand.

Two Pair: Any two pairs held in your hand, for example Aces and Eights.

Three-of-a-Kind: Three of the same cards in your hand, for example, 8-8-8.

Straight: Any five cards in a row in your hand, for example, A-K-Q-J-10. The straight to the highest card always wins, and in most forms of poker the Ace can be played high like the example of a Broadway straight above, or low in an A-2-3-4-5 straight called a wheel.

Flush: Any five cards of the same suit in your hand, for example five spades. The flush with the highest card always wins.

Full House: Any three-of-a-kind and pair held in the same hand, for example K-K-K-Q-Q. The hand with the highest three-of-a-kind always wins.

Four-of-a-Kind: Four of the same cards in your hand, for example, 7-7-7-7.

Straight Flush: Five cards of the same suit in a row, for example, Jh-10h-9h-8h-7h. The straight flush to the highest card always wins.

Royal Flush: The best hand in poker, nothing else can beat it. Five cards of the same suit in a row to the high Ace, for example, AcKcQcJc10c.

Poker Positions at the Table

Let’s take a look at the different positions at the poker table. It is important to understand these positions because they influence the type of starting hands you decide to play. When you are playing from early position, you don’t get the added advantage of seeing what your opponents do before you - like the players in late position. Please note this example uses a nine-handed table ,since that is most likely the number of players you start playing with in low-limit cash games and small buy-in tournaments.

Button (Late Position): The dealer, and the last player to act on every street except for preflop. This is the best position at the table, and you play more hands from here that are of less starting strength due to the advantage of the position.

Small Blind: You are already in for half a bet preflop before you receive your cards. Second to last to act preflop, but you are the first to act on every other street, placing you at a disadvantage. For example, if the blinds are 100-200 with a big blind ante of 200, you are be in for 100 chips before the hand.

Big Blind: You are already in for a full preflop bet and ante before you receive your cards. You often decide to defend your cards from this position if raised by other players. Last to act preflop, but you play every other street from early position. For example, if the blinds are 100-200 with a big blind ante of 200, you are in for 400 chips before the hand.

Under the Gun (Early Position): The next three players to act after the blinds in early position are UTG, UTG+1, UTG+2. Similar to the blinds, these positions are at a disadvantage, and you only want to play strong starting hands when you are in these situations. You at least can decide to fold before committing any chips to the pot.

Lojack and Hijack (Middle Position): The sixth and seventh players to act are considered to be in middle position. You can play weaker starting hands in these spots, but still need to be weary of the two players waiting to act behind you.

Cutoff (Late Position): The second to last player to act in a hand is considered to be in late position just like the button. This is another position of strength with only one player left to act behind you, and weaker starting hands can be played in this spot.

Starting Hand Rankings

At the start of every poker hand you receive two starting cards. You then decide to play those two cards based on the strength of the hand combined with the position you’re sitting at around the poker table as listed above. There are 169 possible NLH starting hands, far too many to mention here, so we just focus on the basic types of starting hands. There are many hand ranking charts available online to give you a full overview.

Pocket Pairs: Any two of the same card dealt to your hand. Two Aces is the strongest down to Two Deuces as the lowest.

Suited Connectors: Any two cards of the same suit in a row dealt to your hand. AsKs is the strongest down to 3s2s.

Suited Hands: Any two cards of the same suit, but not in a row, for example Kd-8d or Qh-7h. 

Offsuit Connectors: Any two cards in a row, but of different suits, for example J-10 or 7-6.

Offsuit Hands: These hands are the weakest because they are not only different suits but they also are not in a row. A hand like A-9 offsuit is still decent, but 7-2 offsuit is the worst hand in poker and should not be played.