Playing online poker pits you against other players instead of against an unbeatable house edge. Anyone familiar with casinos who has sat down at a table for a game that requires a degree of skill or strategy has seen the mistakes that other players make. These players will make the same mistakes against you at the poker table. This article will go through the rules of Holdem, tips for how to play, and finally a section for those who are playing with the main goal of recreation.

Texas Holdem

Old school poker players will remember the days when five card draw ruled the roost. Nowadays, the two most popular games are Texas Hold’em and Pot Limit Omaha. Texas Hold’em poker dwarfs PLO in terms of player pools, tournaments, TV coverage, and skill level of opponents.

Texas Hold’em is the game that you see on TV when you watch the World Series of Poker. It features two hole cards for each player. Hole cards are cards which are only known by the player holding them, as opposed to face up cards which are generally used in drawing games and community cards which are face up and modify all players hands. Community cards are placed in the middle of the table in clear view of all players.

No Limit Hold’em is popular because of the dramatic nature of the game. Everytime you see a flop, your entire stack is at risk. You can pull off insane bluffs and call down a massive bet with nothing but Ace high. It is truly a game where understanding how your opponent is playing his range of cards and what range of cards that you can possibly have in any given situation is much more important over the long term than the actual two cards in your hand. If you have a read that someone is betting the flop with 90% of their hands but only betting the turn with their strong hands, you can buy the pot easily on the turn when your opponent shows a hint of timidity.

What are the flop and turn, you ask? We will quickly go over the rules.

Each player has two cards, known only to themselves. Two players post the big and small blind, which will determine the minimum bet size. The first round of betting starts. Players can “limp”, that is to say simply call the size of the big blind, raise, that is to say raise to at least two big blinds, or fold.

For example in a game with a £1 small blind and £2 big blind, the first player to act could either A) put £2 in the pot in the hopes of seeing a flop B) raise to a minimum of £4 or C) fold and lose no extra money. Players then in order are able to react by calling, reraising, or folding themselves. The last player to act preflop is the Big Blind.

In online poker generally 2-3 players will see the flop. In live poker, it is more likely to have 4 players or more to the flop.

The flop is three community cards dealt face up in the middle of the table. These cards interact with your two hole cards to form a combination of the best possible 5 cards you can make.

There is another round of betting, following the same protocol as the preflop round. What changes, however, is that the last player to act is the player in the dealer position. This positional advantage is very powerful in Texas Hold’em Poker.

The turn is then dealt, putting a fourth community card on the table. There is another round of betting.

The river is then dealt, putting a fifth community card on the table. The final round of betting occurs, and then players remaining in the hand table their hands. The pot is shipped to the player with the best possible 5 cards. On a board such as 10JQKA all of the spades, putting a royal flush on the table, the best possible five cards are shared by all players left in the hand. At this point the pot would be chopped between the players. This example is to illustrate that you can use one, both, or none of your hole cards in determining your hand ranking.

How do hands rank? The best possible hand is the Royal Flush, being 10 through A of all the same suit. Then comes the straight flush. It is a hand consisting of five cards in a row, for example 56789 all of the same suit. Then comes quads, or four of the same card, for example 5555A. Then comes a full house. This is trips and a pair, for example 33355. Then comes a flush, or five cards of the same suit. After the flush is a straight. A straight is five cards in a row. Then comes three of a kind, for example 222AK. Then comes two pair, for example 99885. Then comes a single pair, for example KK534. Then comes a single high card, for example K5629. Once you get the hang of the hand values it gets quite simple.

Winning at Texas Holdem can be as simple as choosing who to play against

When you sit down at a table in the casino, you want to choose a loud, preferably drunk group of players who just want to gamble and have fun. This is the same online. The difference is that you cannot see your opponents. However, most sites allow you to see how many players are seeing the flop on average for each hand. The higher the percent, the looser the table. You can also spectate a game to find out who the weakest players are and try to sit down with position on them.

Poker requires focus

If you want to play poker for fun, you can do it at the same time as you watch TV, browse the internet, or even read a book. We do not recommend this. If you want to make money playing poker you need to be focused at all times. When playing live the number of hands you see is abysmally slow compared to online. You have no excuse with the high level of downtime. You need to be watching your opponents closely to find out which opponents are playing a wide range of hands, which are more aggressive, and which are passive but will call down a stack if they hit the board.

When you sit down at a table your job is to formulate a strategy to beat each player individually. You need to be playing a solid game without any obvious leaks and take advantage of the massive exploitable tendencies of your opponents which are prevalent at low stakes live games.

Online poker is the same, however most, if not all pros play multiple tables. Generally this is in the range of 4-6 tables, but there are some players who play 20+. This requires a different approach. At this point while you do need to be exploiting your opponents you need to also be playing with a solid strategy against the player pool. You need to know what to do in 95% of situations without having to think too hard. Anonymous sites take this a notch further, giving you little to no time to formulate reads on opponents.

Poker requires discipline

There is a reason we have not yet delved into even simple strategy on how to actually play the game. That is because while being a skilled player is required to beat the games, it is also not enough. Poker requires discipline. Discipline in choosing your preflop starting hands and folding those that do not make the cut. Stuck £500? If you start playing any two cards, and believe me, you’re going to want to after getting sucked out on for a massive pot, you’re torching money. You are gambling. Poker is a game for the long term. Players without discipline are washed away by the waves of variance.

Discipline goes hand in hand with focus. It is understanding when you are not playing at 100% and stepping away from the table. Longevity in poker goes towards those who always play their A game, even if their A game is mediocre compared to a skilled player who loses their composure and throws away hours, if not weeks of work tilting away their stack either in high stakes games, through poor play, or through the pits.

Poker strategy

You must have heard it before. Tight, aggressive. When you get up into higher stakes and the effective rake is lower, there will be time for fancy plays. At the micro and low stakes of online poker, you make your money by playing a solid game and paying complete attention to how your opponents are reacting to each situation. This means playing a tight range of hands. It means rarely, if ever limping in the small blind – either raise or fold, and most of the time just fold.

It also means bankroll management. Poker is a game of edges. Sometimes the edges are large. Sometimes they are razor thin. If you are not comfortable for the stakes you are playing, then you will hesitate to push those edges.

Think about the game you want to play. Think about losing 10 buyins, and yes, it happens. Even when you play 100% correctly, which no one does. If you are playing at £1/£2, are you prepared to lose £2000? If you are playing £0.01/£0.02, is losing £20 going to ruin your day? Then either don’t play, or play recreationally with money you can afford to burn. There was a time not too long ago that simply having the right preflop strategy was enough to print money playing Holdem. These days that is simply not true. Pushing postflop edges is the key to winning the massive pots.

Playing Poker for Fun

There is nothing wrong with playing poker for fun. For the vast majority of the world, poker is a game of enjoyment. Not everyone has to be a hoodied up, sunglasses wearing headphones in player who uses poker to pay the bills. For those playing poker for fun, it is still useful to pick a variant that best suits your style. Texas Holdem might be a poor choice. Pot Limit Omaha, for instance, is perfect for those who like to gamble. The edges are smaller and you are much less likely to call an all-in drawing dead as in Texas Holdem.

Cash games might be a poor choice as well, especially online. Depending on the site you play at, even the lowest stakes tables can be full of pros who are making a living playing from countries with a very low cost of living. They can make a decent wage playing a huge amount of £2 buy in tables. You will not find these players on sites catering to UK players only. You will find these players on sites with global player pools.

This can make MTTs very attractive. MTTs are multi-table tournaments and we fully recommend them to new players and those who want to play poker for fun. You can have hours of fun for a very low cost, and there is nothing quite like the feeling of running deep in an MTT and getting your chance at turning a small buy in, sometimes just £1 or £2, into a three of four figure score. Choose tournaments that have no rebuy option. This is very important. In rebuy tournaments, recreational players tend to bust out and stay out. Do you know who keeps rebuying? The pros. Stick to a few tables of MTTs and enjoy them.