How To Play Poker

How to Play Poker: A Beginners' Guide

Confused man surrounded by books

Published: March 18, 2024
Written by Global Poker

Just started out on the poker tables? Don’t sweat it, we’ve got you covered with our ultimate crash course for poker newbies. In 10 steps, this beginner’s guide will help you master the basics with ease, and if you really pay attention, you might just find yourself in with a winning streak!

New to poker? It’s more than likely you’re currently experiencing a roller coaster of emotions — excitement at playing something new, awe at how great the game is, and maybe even a little bit overwhelmed because there’s so much to know and learn. It’s a blend of experience, knowledge, luck, skill, and strategy. And that’s what makes it the best card game; there’s always something more to learn, and every hand has the potential to teach you something new. 

Most beginners start playing with their friends at a similar level, unless you’re a big shot and hit the tables on your first go — although word from the wise; that’s not advisable as a newbie!

With that in mind, here's our guide to getting the most from your playing experience at a beginners’ poker game.

1. Know Your Starting Hands and Position

Often, beginners play almost every hand. That’s because they don’t know the difference between a good hand or a bad hand. Often, they don’t know which starting hands (hole cards) are the better hands to play or fold, so they just keep playing until they’re forced to fold. And of course, it’s only natural to want to be part of the action! Having said that, if you want to become a competent poker player, it’s essential to know which hands are more likely to win and which ones are more likely to get you into some serious trouble! 

Your hole cards and your position at the table make a HUGE difference in how you should play. You should raise with stronger hands in earlier positions (when you’re one of the first players to act), and play more hands in later positions (closer to the dealer button). If someone before you raises, they want to show they’ve got a strong hand, and you need to think about what that means in relation to your hand.

2. Reduce the Number of Players You're Playing Against

When you’ve got a strong starting hand, make sure you raise appropriately so that you send out the signal that you’ve got a strong hand. Doing this will encourage beginner players with weaker hands to fold, which is great news for you as it means there are fewer other players for you to go up against. That makes it less likely for one of those weaker hands to catch a lucky run of cards to beat you!

3. Use a Bit of Math

Not everyone is into the numbers (especially at a beginners game), or math, but having some grasp on the numbers will help your game a lot. It’s important to be able to work out which community cards are available that might give you the winning hand. These are called ‘outs’. Any card you hold or can see, you need to remove from your calculations of your outs. If you know you have 6 outs for the next card to improve your hand, multiply it by 2 and add 1. This is your % chance of getting a card you need from the next dealt card. Therefore, in the example above, you have a 13% chance of getting the card you need.

4. Know the Pot Odds

As we’ve said, when you’re starting out, you want to be in the action. Typically, beginners call too much, mainly because they don't understand pot odds. They stay in hands too long when they should have folded. Calculating the pot odds at a beginners game involves some math, but knowing the pot odds will determine whether you should pay to see more cards or get out early.

Pot odds are the ratio of the size of the pot to the size of the bet (example: a $10 bet into a $50 pot is 5:1 - pay 1/5 of the pot to make 5 times the bet). Once you know your outs, you can better calculate the pot odds. In our example above, with 6 outs we have a 13% chance of getting a card that helps us. The current pot is $90 and the bet to us is $10. Pot+bet=$100. If you divide the bet by the pot amount ($10 divided by $100), you get 10%. In our case, we should call because we already determined we have a 13% chance of hitting a card we need to better our hand. If the bet was $20 (pot+bet=$110; $20 divided by $110), we would fold because we would need 18% or better pot odds to call.

(Don’t worry, practice will help you with this, we promise!)

5. Learn the Rule of Two and Four

The rule of two and four will help you if you’re not a math wizard. It aids in calculating your odds of winning a hand, helping you to decide whether to call, raise or fold. 

After the flop is dealt, count your outs and multiply that number by two to determine the percentage chance of making your hand on the next card. Multiply the outs by four to gauge the percentage change of completing your hand on the river. The numbers you get from these simple calculations are the approximate percentage chance of your getting your drawing hand.

6. Work Out Your Value Betting

A value bet increases the value of the pot and means you have the possibility of winning a bigger pot, which is always good! If an opponent believes their hand is good, the more likely they are to call for more money. Even if the player thinks you can beat them, you can make a bet small enough that the pot odds are right to make a call, especially when playing with players who rely on mathematics. Players who stick to their hands at all costs -— who won’t fold irrespective of the pot odds — are more likely to call value bets, even big ones. A more timid player will need to be convinced to call. Being aware of all of this will help you decide on the size of your value bet. If you bet too much your opponent may fold and you lose money. If you don’t bet enough, you win less. Your bet size has to be small enough to get called and large enough to cut the pot odds to anyone drawing a better hand. It’s something that takes some working out and practice, so give it a go and you’ll soon see how valuable this can be.

7. Know Your Standing Raise

Who doesn’t feel a twinge of excitement when we get good cards? Beginners get excited when they get good cards and tend to overbet. When you raise big every time you get aces you are telling the rest of the table you have something, probably aces. So the best strategy to disguise the strength of your hand is to make the same bet size every time. Your opponents won't know what you're holding. Also, avoid calling unless you're ready for a raise and avoid raising unless you're ready for a re-raise.

8. Learn to Continuation Bet

A continuation bet is when you raise before the flop and bet again after the flop. This is a strong position to take and tells the rest of the table that you’re confident. A continuation bet takes advantage of the early initiative and opponents are likely to fold unless they have a strong hand. However, you can’t expect this strategy to work every time. Experiment with it. You’ll soon learn how effective it is and when it is beneficial to employ this strategy.

9. Bluffing 

Ah, bluffing! Beginners often bluff because it’s commonly perceived as the secret to great poker. (We’ve all seen the movies where the hero loses their money, only to come back later and recover all their losses and then some, thanks to a clever bluff that out-smarts the opponent, right?) 

Bluffing usually involves pretending to have a strong hand when, in truth, you hold a weak hand. Of course, it can also work the other way around; you’re hiding a strong hand, but you pretend it's weaker to exploit the vulnerabilities of other players and entice them to invest more money in the pot. A player with a weak hand can bet or raise, prompting others to fold, allowing them to win without revealing their cards.

Some players never bluff. Bluffing works best when you have a single opponent, find yourself in a late position where no one before you has shown strength, or when the board suggests your opponents may have strong hands. Bluffing tends to be less successful with multiple opponents, those who rarely fold, or when there is already a substantial amount of money in the pot, making it difficult for any bet to persuade them to fold.

However, to avoid being easily rumbled, if you bluff with weak hands you should also bluff when you’ve got a strong hand.

10. Watch and Learn From Other Players

Watch your opponents even when you're not in the hand. You can learn a lot from watching and paying attention — their betting habits, showdown hands, how often they bluff, etc. Beginner players usually have a number of tells.

Poker for Beginners - Common Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is the best starting hand in poker?

The best starting hand in poker is generally considered to be pocket aces (two Aces as hole cards). However, the strength of a starting hand can vary depending on factors such as your position at the table and the style of play of your opponents.

What is a “bluff” in poker?

A bluff in poker is when a player bets or raises with a weak hand in an attempt to deceive their opponents into thinking they have a stronger hand than they actually do. The goal of bluffing is to force opponents to fold better hands, allowing the bluffer to win the pot without having to show their cards.

What are “community cards” in poker?

Community cards are cards that are dealt face-up in the center of the table and are shared by all players in the hand. These cards are used in combination with each player's hole cards to make the best possible poker hand.

What is a “pot limit” in poker?

Pot limit is a betting structure in poker where the maximum bet a player can make is equal to the current size of the pot. This means that players can bet up to the amount that is already in the pot at the time of their bet.

What is the difference between “fixed limit” and “pot limit” poker?

In fixed limit poker, there is a predetermined betting limit for each round of betting, whereas in pot limit poker, the maximum bet a player can make is determined by the size of the pot.

What is the “big blind” in poker?

The big blind is a mandatory bet posted by the player sitting two positions to the left of the dealer button before any cards are dealt. The big blind amount is typically twice the size of the small blind and is used to stimulate action and build the pot.

What is the “poker hand ranking”?

The poker hand ranking is a set of rules that determines the hierarchy of poker hands from highest to lowest. The most valuable hand is a royal flush, followed by a straight flush, four of a kind, full house, flush, straight, three of a kind, two pair, one pair, and high card.

What is a “call” in poker?

A call in poker is when a player matches the current bet or raise made by another player. This allows the calling player to stay in the hand and see the next community card or showdown without increasing the size of the pot.

What are “cards of the same suit” in poker?

Cards of the same suit refer to hole cards or community cards that belong to the same suit (hearts, diamonds, clubs, or spades). Having multiple cards of the same suit increases the chances of making a flush, which is a relatively strong poker hand.

How do I learn to play poker?

Learning to play poker involves studying the rules of the game, understanding basic strategies and tactics, practicing with friends or online, and gaining experience by playing regularly. There are also many resources available, such as books, articles, videos, and online tutorials, to help beginners improve their poker skills.