How To Play

Learn how to play poker in minutes with our guide to the basics

Rules of Poker

The world-famous game of poker provides an exciting and challenging combination of short-term luck and long-term skill, where bluffs, statistics, and awareness of others combine in a game that is notoriously simple to learn and tough to perfect.

It takes 'a minute to learn but a lifetime to master', said Mike Sexton; he was referring to the world’s most popular variant, no limit Texas hold’em, but all community card games (and most poker games in general) have the same basic rules and hand rankings. Learn them, and you’re on the road to learning, and mastering, the game of poker.

Aim of the Game and Hand Rankings (High)

It’s often said that games like bridge are card games you can play for money, but poker is a betting game played with cards.

The aim of the game is to win pots, either by making strong hands at showdown or bluffing your opponents into folding. Without betting, whether with matchsticks or chips, poker would just be an exercise in watching the deck pick winners.

Whether playing draw, stud or community card games like hold’em, players take turns to bet on their hands over one or more betting rounds, showing – or pretending to show – strength. The higher the hand, the more likely it is to win at showdown (the end of a hand when hole cards are revealed).

Poker hands are made up of five cards, whether solely from a player’s own hand (stud, draw) or from a combination of hole cards and community cards available to all players at the table (hold’em, Omaha).


Royal Flush

This is the top straight flush with its own famous name, ten to ace suited (any suit).


Straight Flush

Five sequential cards of the same suit, e.g., Heart_6 Heart_7 Heart_8 Heart_9 Heart_10. In straights, aces play  both high and low, so Club_1 Club_2 Club_3 Club_4 Club_5 is the lowest straight flush.


Four of a Kind

All four cards of the same rank (also known as 'quads'). Heart_1 Diamond_1 Spade_1 Club_1 are the best four of a kind. In the (rare) event that two players have the same quads, the fifth card (the 'kicker') determines the winner.

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Full House

Three cards of the same rank, plus a pair, e.g., Spade_11 Diamond_11 Heart_11 Spade_8 Diamond_8. When ranking full houses, the three of a kind is compared first. So Spade_11 Diamond_11 Heart_11 Spade_8 Diamond_8 beats Club_9 Diamond_9 Spade_9 Diamond_1 Heart_1.



Any five cards of the same suit, e.g., Heart_13 Heart_11 Heart_9 Heart_4 Heart_3. If more than one player has a flush, flushes are compared from high card down to determine the winner.



Five sequential cards in any suit, e.g., Diamond_4 Club_5 Heart_6 Heart_7 Spade_8. In straights, aces play both high and low, so the lowest possible straight is Diamond_1 Club_2 Heart_3 Diamond_4 Club_5, and the highest Diamond_10 Club_11 Spade_12 Spade_13 Heart_1 (any suits).

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Three of a Kind

Three cards of the same rank, plus two kickers, e.g., Diamond_13 Heart_13 Spade_13 Diamond_10 Heart_7. This hand is also known as 'trips'.


Two Pair

The strongest pair is compared first to decide a winner, then the second, then, if hands are still tied, the fifth card (the 'kicker'). So Heart_1 Diamond_1 Heart_7 Club_7 Diamond_11 beats Club_1 Spade_1 Heart_5 Club_5 Diamond_13, and Spade_12 Heart_12 Diamond_9 Spade_9 Club_10 beats Club_12 Diamond_12 Heart_9 Club_9 Heart_6.

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One Pair

Two cards of the same rank. If two players have the same one-pair hand, the winner is decided by comparing kickers (the rank of the other three non-paired cards).

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High Card

The highest card or cards in a five-card hand, when no pairs or better have been made. Aces count as high. Hands are compared from high card down, so Spade_13 Club_11 Spade_8 Spade_6 Heart_3 beats Club_13 Diamond_11 Club_8 Spade_4 Diamond_2.

Actions in Poker

There are really only five moves in poker: bet, check, call, raise, and fold.

  • Bet: Betting involves voluntarily putting chips into a pot as the first player to do so on any given betting round. Once a bet is made, all other players must at least match that bet amount to remain in the hand.
  • Check: When there’s no bet in front of a player, checking passes the action on clockwise to the next active player. If all players check in a betting round, it ends, and the next board card is dealt/round starts.
  • Call: If there’s been betting in the current betting round, to call is to match the highest current bet to stay in the hand.
  • Raise: If there has already been a bet or bets in a betting round, players may raise by making a larger bet. This reopens betting and other players, including the initial bettor, must match the new highest bet to stay in the hand.
  • Fold: Players may fold on their turn, throwing their cards away and taking no further part in the action until the next hand starts.

Betting Limits: No Limit, Fixed Limit and Pot Limit

The 'limit' is the amount you can bet at any one time. In no limit games you can bet any amount (up to all of your available chips) at any time. While there’s no maximum bet, the minimum bet is the amount of the big blind. The minimum raise is double the big blind, or, if there has already been a raise, double that amount.

Fixed limit games have defined betting increments. For example, in a $2/$4 game, the blinds are $1/$2 and for the first two betting rounds (preflop and on the flop), the bet size is fixed at $2. For the second two betting rounds (on the turn and river), the limit doubles to $4.

In Pot limit games, the minimum bet is the size of the big blind, and the maximum bet is the pot. To 'raise the pot', add together the total amount of chips in the pot (including your call amount), then add that to the call amount.

For example, preflop in a $1/$2 pot limit game, the first player to act can bet a maximum of $7 (the small blind is $1, the big blind $2, and the call amount is $2 – so 'raising the pot' is a raise of $5 which is added to the call amount).

Another example: on the turn, the pot stands at $30. Player 1 bets $15. The maximum raise for Player 2 would be the amount in the pot ($45) plus the call amount ($15), so, $60. Their maximum bet would therefore be $75 (the pot-sized raise plus their initial call amount).

This might seem a little complicated at first, but playing online takes the effort out of calculating the pot; a slider will tell you the minimum and maximum bet at every stage.