Poker Rules are the Foundation for Successful Play

The popularity of poker has skyrocketed in recent years, especially with the explosive growth of online poker. There are many different poker variants available to players, yet the basic rules of play are consistent from one game to the next. Our in-depth poker guide is designed to provide easy to understand rules for all poker games.

Poker Basics: Understanding Hand Values

There are only two ways to win a game of poker: you bluff your way to victory, or you are holding the nuts and you win at showdown. The art of bluffing is a learned skill, requiring players to bet and raise with the goal of forcing opponents to fold their hands. The other way to win at poker is by having the best poker hand going into the showdown. This is the final stage of play where 2+ players reveal their hands after all betting rounds have been completed.

The goal in most cases is to simply compile the strongest possible 5-card poker hand. Below is a typical example of a poker hand ranking chart. It includes several examples of poker hands that can be formed:

Poker Hand Name

Example of Poker Hand

A Royal Flush

A suited Ace, King, Queen, Jack, 10

A Straight Flush

A suited 6-5-4-3-2

Four of a Kind


A Full House

K-K-K-2-2 (a trip and a pair)

A Flush

5 suited cards, 10-8-6-5-2

A Straight

10-9-8-7-6 of different suits

Three of a Kind


Two Pairs


One Pair


High Card

K-J-6-3-2 (not suited, not connected and unpaired)

How to Compile Poker Hands

In games of Texas Hold’em, players are dealt 2 pocket cards (hole cards), in addition to 5 community cards. These include the Flop (first 3 community cards), Turn (the fourth community card), and the River (fifth and final community card).

All players currently involved in the hand can use these community cards to help form a 5-card poker hand. In Texas Hold’em, players can use their hole cards in addition to the community cards to form the strongest 5 card hand, or simply play the board.

Once all the betting rounds of play have been completed, the showdown stage is reached. At this point, players will reveal their cards and the poker player with the strongest 5-card poker hand wins the pot.

The most popular poker variant is NL Texas Hold’em, otherwise known as No Limit Texas Hold’em. It's important to understand the game playing structure of Texas Hold’em to understand how to compile a winning hand.

The Rules of Play: No Limit Texas Hold’em Poker

The Blinds

The Button is an important position in poker. In-home-based poker games, the button indicates who deals the hand. At professional poker rooms, players don't deal hands to one another, there is a designated dealer hired for this purpose. The dealer does not partake in poker gameplay. The Button moves around the table after each hand has been played. The purpose of this is to determine where the action begins during stages of poker games.

Even before players receive their 2 hole cards, the player left of the button is required to post the Small Blind (SB). This is a mandatory bet. The player left of the Small Blind is required to post the Big Blind (BB). These forced bets seed the pot, and encourage other players at the table to compete by betting and raising during the hand. In the absence of blinds, players will not be motivated to bet and raise during the hand. In other words, they would never blind off and they would never lose chips by folding pre-flop. They would simply wait for a pair of cowboys (Kings) or a pair of pocket rockets (Aces) before buying in to a hand.

The Small Blind (SB) and the Big Blind (BB) represent the betting stakes in play. If the Small Blind is $2 and the Big Blind is $4, we can say that this is a 2/4 (2-4) game of poker.

The Pre-Flop Stage of Play

Once the blinds have been posted, each poker player will receive 2 cards dealt face down. The SB will receive the first card and the other players will be dealt cards in a clockwise fashion around the table.

The action begins with the player just left of the Big Blind. This position is referred to as UTG (Under the Gun). UTG has several options available: Call the Big Blind by matching his/her bet, Raise the Big Blind (adding an amount greater than double the BB), or simply Folding the hand (discarding the cards and forfeiting the round of play).

The action continues from one player to the next in a clockwise fashion around the table. All players have the option of calling the size of the previous bet, raising that bet, or folding accordingly.

Example #1

Assume that the blinds are $1/$2 and Under the Gun decides to raise the bets to $6. The player immediately to the left of UTG may have a strong hand and wishes to re-raise. The minimum required raise amount must at least equal $10. Why? The difference between the initial raise of $6 and the first blind of $2 is $4. It is quite possible that the next player can raise an amount greater than $10, perhaps with no maximum whatsoever. If a player does this, he/she could go all-in.

Example #2

In keeping with the same blind structure of $1/$2, UTG may decide to raise to $6. Now, the player immediately to the left of UTG raises to $18. Clearly, there is a $12 difference between the previous bet and the current raise. At this point, any other poker player who wants to re-raise the stakes would be required to raise to $30. Typically, the size of a raise is much greater than the bare minimum.

In the event that no raise takes place pre-flop, players may just decide to call the Big Blind (BB). The Big Blind player has two options available: Check ($2 has already been placed on the table), or raise (if additional betting activity takes place). As always, poker play continues in a clockwise fashion around the table until all players in the hand have had a chance to act.

The Flop

The Flop begins with 3 community cards being dealt into the center of the table. These are cards that all players at the table can use. The purpose of these community colleges to help players form the strongest possible 5-card poker hand.

The action continues with an additional round of betting, beginning with the first player in the hand, left of the dealer.

If players decide to check, the action passes to the next player. If players decide to bet, this impacts the decisions of players to follow. If a poker player has already placed a bet, the next player can call (match the bet size of the previous player), raise (increase the bet size by at least a multiple of 2, or the difference between the current bet in the previous bet), or simply fold the hand.

Why Do People Bet in Poker?

There are several reasons why people bet, notably:

  • To Add Value – by betting, it is possible to deny one's opponents value by preventing them from gaining poker equity in their hands and forcing them to get called by worse hands.
  • As a Semi-Bluffing Tool – betting can be used with a Straight Draw or a Flush Draw when players are trying to do one of the two things:
  • Increase the pot size and the potential winnings when a player is ready to make the draw
  • Get other players to fold so that the money already invested in the pot can be won
  • For Bluffing – players who have weak hands may try to make their opponents fold stronger hands by bluffing. A successful bluff can scoop the pot!

The Turn

Once the betting round on The Flop has been completed, another community card is dealt. This is known as The Turn. With the Turn in play, there are now 2 hole cards (pocket cards) in addition to 4 community cards (3 cards on the Flop and the fourth card) for players to try and achieve the best 5-card poker hand.

At this stage of the game, another betting round commences. The action begins with the first remaining player left of the Button. Play continues in a clockwise fashion, and the betting round will be complete once all players have had an opportunity to act. They can place money into the middle of the table by calling the last bet, raising the bet amount, or by checking.

The River

The River is the fifth and final community card dealt to players. At this stage of the game, players have 2 hole cards (pocket cards), The Flop (first 3 community cards), The Turn (the fourth community card), and The River (the fifth community card). Once all the cards have been dealt, players in the hand must determine the strength of their 5-card poker hand. The last round of betting takes place and this is followed by the showdown stage of play.

The Showdown

Once the showdown stage has been reached, players will reveal their cards. A poker hand ranking chart is used to determine the strongest hand. All the chips in the middle – the pot – will be awarded to the winner. The dealer button will then move left, before the next round of play begins.

Showdown Rules

  • If all poker players check, the first player to show their cards is the one left of the button. This will be followed by each player left of that player. If a player's cards do not beat the first player’s hand, that player can simply muck the cards (discard them face down). It may be beneficial to reveal cards to ensure that they do form a losing hand. The dealer can then decide which hand wins.
  • If another player decided to raise or bet and subsequently got called, the last person to bet or raise will show their cards first. This process continues with each player directly to their left.
  • If the player believes that they have a winning hand, they may simply flip them over to show other players at the table. There are no rules against this.

Other Considerations with Poker Rules

Cash Games Versus Tournaments

  • Blinds – in cash games, the blinds are constant. They never increase. With poker tournaments, the blinds increase every X number of minutes. This is based on the particular blind structure of the poker tournament.
  • Real Chips vs Poker Tournament Chips – when players are competing in cash games, what you see is what you get – it's real cash. In poker tournaments, players compete for tournament chips. These were received when the buy in fee was paid.
  • Length of Games – cash games are typically SNGs (Sit & Go’s) where players can up and duck at any time. In poker tournaments, the gameplay follows the blind structure until a winner is crowned. Alternatively, a deal can be brokered between the remaining players to determine the winner.

Going All in

This is one of the most frequently referenced terms in poker, and players understand that it means putting all of your money into the middle when your betting on a hand. A player who goes all in is limited to the winnings they have available in their stack. Assuming that Player A places a bit of $50 on the turn and Player B only has $35 remaining in his/her stack. If Player B decides to call, then $35 will be taken from Player A’s bet and placed into the main part. The remaining amount of $15 will be returned to Player A if they are engaged in heads up poker play.

There is another alternative. The $15 can go into a side pot dedicated to players who are still competing in the game. Once a player goes all in that player cannot win anything from the side pot. If two players are going head-to-head against one another and one of them goes all in and the other one calls, there is no additional betting or action that takes place. The cards are dealt to showdown.

What are Antes?

Certain cash games use Antes, but there are more frequently used in tournaments. They perform a similar function to blinds, because they are mandatory bets which are required of players before the hand begins. They are added to the main pot, to seed the pot for other players. Note that Antes do not add to the money used in the pre-flop stage of betting, like the blinds do. It's important to understand that there are simply used to increase the size of the pot pre-flop and provide players with a reason to play for the money in the middle.

In modern poker games, Button Antes replace Traditional Antes for saving time. This is especially true in tournament play, and it is down to fast-track the game. As blinds rotates in a clockwise fashion around the table, all players currently competing wall be subject to these Button Antes at some point.

Poker Rules for Other Variants of the Game

*Be advised that certain poker games do not automatically award-winnings to the high hand – Omaha Hi-Lo is a case in point!

In Omaha Hi-Lo, each player is dealt 4 hole cards (pocket cards) as opposed 2 with Texas Hold'em. With 4 cards in hand, it may seem that players have twice as many chances to form a strong hand, but… In Omaha Hi-Lo players are only allowed to use 2 of the 4 pocket cards in addition to 3 of the 5 cards on the board. In fact, this is the precise combination of cards that must be used to form a winning hand.

In Omaha Hi-Lo, half of the pot goes to the player with the lowest hand (Ace-8), and half of the pot goes to play with the highest hand (standard poker rankings chart).

2-7 Triple Draw Poker is another game where players are tasked with forming the lowest possible hand. This game is a lowball poker game with a few important rules in play. The Aces are high. For example, the following hand represents an Ace-high not a Straight – Ace, 2, 3, 4, 5. Also, Straights work against players so a hand like 2-3-4-5-7 is the strongest possible hand in this lowball game. Flushes also work against players in this game.

Wrapping it All Up

Poker strategy cannot be understood without knowing the poker rules. The rules of the game determine what actions players can take. This in-depth poker guide provides useful information on gameplay, rules, and hand combinations. Refer back to it whenever necessary, and in no time at all you'll be tearing things up on the poker circuit.


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