Poker Games – Everything you Need to Know

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Introduction to Poker

Poker has a long and storied history, emerging over centuries from various card and domino games. While the exact origins are unclear, poker seems to have developed from the Persian game As-Nas in the 16th century, spreading to French colonies in North America by the 18th century. From there, poker evolved across the American South and West throughout the 1800s, incorporating bluffing and betting elements. By the early 1900s, poker was a widely popular game across the US.

Several variations of poker emerged during its evolution. Stud poker involves players being dealt a mix of face-down and face-up cards, and betting occurs in rounds. Draw poker has players exchange cards between rounds of betting trying to improve their hands. Community card games like Texas Hold’em deal some cards face up that all players can use. While rules vary, all poker games blend skill, psychology and chance. Players bet based on hand strength but can bluff and read opponents. Poker rewards long-term strategic thinking, calculation of odds and managing risk. It has exploded in popularity in recent decades as a game of skill rather than just chance.

Playing Poker – The Basics

Poker is played with a standard 52-card deck, with no jokers. The suits are hearts, diamonds, clubs and spades. The card ranks from highest to lowest are:

  • Ace
  • King
  • Queen
  • Jack
  • 10 through 2

The goal of poker is to make the best five-card hand according to traditional poker hand rankings. Here are the hand rankings from strongest to weakest:

  • Royal flush – Ten, Jack, Queen, King and Ace of the same suit
  • Straight flush – Five consecutive cards of the same suit
  • Four of a kind – Four cards of the same rank
  • Full house – Three of a kind and one pair
  • Flush – Any five cards of the same suit
  • Straight – Five consecutive cards of mixed suits
  • Three of a kind
  • Two pair
  • One pair
  • High card – Any hand that doesn’t make any of the hands above

Poker uses a structured betting system. The two most common structures are:

  • Limit – There are fixed bet sizes for each round of betting. For example, $2/$4 limit means bets and raises of $2 for the first two betting rounds, and $4 for the last two rounds.
  • No limit – Players can bet any amount up to the chips they have in front of them. Minimum and maximum bets depend on the stakes.

Blinds and antes force betting action right from the start. Blinds are mandatory bets made before any cards are dealt. Typically two players post blinds, a small blind and a big blind. Antes are small chips every player must contribute to the pot each hand. Blinds and antes incentivize players to play hands, rather than just wait for premium cards.

Texas Hold’em

Texas Hold’em is the most popular poker game in the world. It is played with a standard 52-card deck, and between 2-10 players can participate in each hand. The gameplay flows as follows:

  • Each player is dealt two hole cards face down. These are private cards that only you can see.
  • There is a round of betting starting with the player to the left of the dealer button. Players can fold, call or raise during the betting round.
  • Three community cards called the flop are dealt face up on the table. These are shared cards that all players can use.
  • Another round of betting takes place starting with the player left of the dealer button.
  • A fourth community card called the turn is dealt face up.
  • Another betting round.
  • Finally the river (5th community card) is dealt face up.
  • A final betting round occurs. If more than one player remains after the betting, there is a showdown where the remaining players reveal their hole cards. The player with the best 5-card poker hand wins the pot.

Pre-flop Strategy

  • Be selective with your starting hands based on their strength and position at the table. Hands like high pocket pairs (AA, KK) and big suited connectors (like QJs) are premium hands to play from any position. Smaller pocket pairs like 22-66 are good from early position or on the button. Avoid speculative hands like small offsuit connectors from early position.
  • Position is critical. Being one of the last to act gives you a big advantage since you get to see what others do first. Hands like small pairs and suited connectors play much better from late position than early position.

Post-flop Strategy

  • Consider hand strength, board texture, and position when deciding whether to bet or check. Pay attention to how many players saw the flop and their tendencies. Don’t automatically continuation bet every flop.
  • Evaluate hand strength based on your hole cards and the community cards. Count outs to figure your odds of improving. Consider backdoor draws and implied odds when continuing.
  • Pay attention to board texture. Draw heavy, wet boards favor drawing hands. Dry, blank boards favor made hands like big pairs. Don’t chase draws against multiple opponents on dry boards.
  • Leverage position to maximize value from big hands and bluff opportunistically. Be more cautious bluffing against multiple opponents from early position. Value bet aggressively from late position.


Omaha is a community card poker game with similarities to Texas Hold’em. However, there are some key differences:

  • Each player is dealt 4 hole cards instead of 2. You must use exactly 2 of your hole cards with 3 community cards to make your best 5-card hand.
  • With 4 hole cards, players have many more possible starting hand combinations. Hands with suited Aces are very strong.
  • There is more action since players have more ways to make strong hands. Pots tend to get bigger compared to Texas Hold’em.
  • Position is less important since players see the flop with 4 cards instead of 2.
  • Drawing hands are much stronger, since you can draw to flushes and straights with 4 hole cards.

Gameplay and Rules

The gameplay and betting structure of Omaha is similar to Texas Hold’em. There are 4 rounds of betting – pre-flop, flop, turn, and river.

  • Players are dealt 4 hole cards instead of 2.
  • The player to the left of the dealer button posts the small blind. The player to the left of the small blind posts the big blind.
  • There is a round of betting pre-flop starting with the player to the left of the big blind.
  • The dealer burns a card and deals the flop of 3 community cards face up. There is a betting round starting with the first active player to the left of the dealer button.
  • The dealer burns another card and deals the turn card face up. Another round of betting.
  • Finally the dealer burns a card and deals the river card face up for the final round of betting.
  • Players make their best 5-card hand using exactly 2 of their 4 hole cards and 3 community cards.

Pre-Flop Starting Hands

With 4 hole cards in Omaha, starting hand strategy is different than Hold’em. Some guidelines:

  • Hands with big pairs are strong but vulnerable if the flop does not connect. Small and medium pairs lose value.
  • Suited Aces are very powerful. You can flop big draws and nut flushes. These hands play well multi-way.
  • Double-suited hands have added value for nut flush draws. Look for A2dd3c4c type hands.
  • Connectors and gappers play better since you can flop big draws with 4 cards. QJT9, JT98, T987 are strong.
  • Speculative hands with 3-4 cards of the same suit have potential. QJT9 with 2 spades for example.

Post-Flop Adjustments

With 4 hole cards, players tend to continue with draws on the flop more often compared to Hold’em. Some key adjustments:

  • Chase flush and straight draws aggressively. Overcards lose value as draws gain power.
  • Be cautious when facing big bets if you have only top pair or an overpair. Sets and straights/flushes often beat those hands.
  • Pay attention to the board texture when deciding to chase draws. Paired boards are not ideal for flush draws.
  • Since players have more draws, you can bluff catch more often when facing aggression. But don’t call off your whole stack without strong holdings.
  • Value bet aggressively when you make big hands. Many players will pay you off drawing to partial equity.

Stud Poker

Stud poker refers to a variety of poker games where players receive a mix of face-down and face-up cards. The most popular stud variations are 5-card stud and 7-card stud.

In 5-card stud, players are dealt one card face down and one card face up. There are then three more rounds of face-up card dealing with a betting round after each round. Players make the best 5-card poker hand from their own cards.

7-card stud follows a similar structure but with two extra card dealing rounds, so players end up with three face-down cards and four face-up cards. The best 5-card hand wins the pot.

The key difference from draw and community card games is that each player’s hand is unique to them. Reading opponents’ possible hands from their upcards is an important strategic skill.

Hand values in stud poker follow the standard poker rankings. Pairs and high cards gain in relative value compared to draws and flushes. Sets are less common but very strong.

Since there are no community cards, position tends to be less important than reading hands. Betting is often based on hand strength rather than position. However, late position still provides an advantage in seeing more opponent cards first.

Overall, stud poker rewards strong hand reading abilities. Patience is also important, as drawing hands need the right cards to improve. Stud requires adjusting from the strategies of draw and community card poker.

Draw Poker

Draw poker is a poker variant where players are dealt a complete hand, and then have the option to replace cards from that hand after the first betting round. The goal is to end up with the best 5-card poker hand. Some examples of draw poker games include:

  • Deuce-to-Seven Draw – Players aim for the lowest possible hand using at least one deuce. Straights and flushes do not count against your hand value.
  • Badugi – Players aim for the lowest 4-card hand possible, with all cards being different suits and ranks. The best possible hand is A-2-3-4 with each card being a distinct suit.
  • Triple Draw – Players are given three opportunities to replace cards from their hand, with betting rounds in between.

Rules and Gameplay

The gameplay of a draw poker game generally follows this structure:

  1. Players are dealt 5 cards face down.
  2. There is a betting round where players can check, bet, raise, call, or fold.
  3. Players can choose to replace 0-5 of their cards. This is called the draw.
  4. There is another betting round.
  5. Showdown – Remaining players reveal their hands and the best 5-card hand wins.

The number of draws and betting rounds may vary depending on the specific draw poker variant being played. Players strategize on which cards to keep or replace from their hand based on their draw odds and potential hand value.

Draw Odds, Pot Odds, and Implied Odds

  • Draw odds refer to the odds of getting the cards you need on the draw to improve your hand. For example, if you hold 4 cards to a flush, your draw odds to hit your flush on the next card is 4:1 (4 outs with 1 card to come).
  • Pot odds compare the size of the pot to the bet required to stay in the hand. If the pot odds are higher than your draw odds, you can call and try to improve. If your draw odds are lower, you may need to fold.
  • Implied odds consider future potential winnings if you hit your draw. Even if the current pot odds don’t justify calling, implied odds may make it correct if you think you can win a larger pot when you improve your hand.

Understanding draw poker odds and calculating pot odds is an important skill. It helps determine when it is profitable to call draws based on the size of the pot and your chances of improving. Making these decisions well is key to winning at draw poker long term.

Basic Strategy Tips

Hand selection, bet sizing, bluffing, and reading hands are key components of basic poker strategy that new players should focus on.

Hand Selection

Choosing which hands to play is one of the most important decisions in poker. You want to play hands that have profitable potential but avoid overplaying weak hands. Some basic guidelines for Texas Hold’em starting hand selection:

  • Play strong pairs (AA, KK, QQ) and AK suited from any position
  • Play other pairs and suited connectors in early position, fold from later positions
  • Fold weak aces and low pairs in early position
  • Suited connectors like 67s have potential in late position

Make adjustments based on your position at the table and the actions of opponents. Tighter play is recommended for beginners until you gain more experience.

Bet Sizing

Proper bet sizing gives you the most value from strong hands while minimizing losses on weaker ones. Some tips:

  • Bet 3-4x the big blind pre-flop with premium hands
  • Bet 1/2 to 2/3 pot size on the flop as a continuation bet
  • Size your bets based on the pot odds your opponent is getting
  • Don’t bet too little and give opponents the proper odds to call

Implied odds consider future betting rounds and how much you could win. Pot odds help determine if a call against a bet will be profitable long-term.


Bluffing and semi-bluffing (with a draw) are essential but should be done in moderation by beginners. Consider:

  • Bluff when you represent a made hand based on the board
  • Bluff sparingly against multiple opponents
  • Semi-bluff on good draw opportunities when you have outs if called
  • Avoid bluffing on blank boards that didn’t improve your hand

Use bluffs judiciously to keep opponents off balance. But don’t bluff just for bluffing’s sake.

Hand Reading

Being able to read opponents’ potential hands based on their actions and your board improves decision making.

  • Consider an opponent’s pre-flop raise range for potential hands
  • Assess what they could be holding based on flop and turn actions
  • Make educated guesses on hand ranges, but don’t rule out bluffs
  • Assume opponents are also reading your potential holdings

Practice hand reading by putting yourself in opponents’ shoes. The more information you have, the better your reads will become.

Advanced Strategy Concepts

Once you have a good grasp of the fundamentals of poker strategy, you can start to explore more advanced concepts that will take your game to the next level. Here are some of the key advanced strategies to study:

Range Analysis

Analyzing ranges is critical in poker. A range refers to all the possible hands a player could hold in a certain scenario. You want to put your opponents on likely ranges based on their actions, then make decisions against those ranges. Ranges can be linear (evenly distributed) or polarized (focused on strong and weak hands). As a hand plays out, you update your assumptions about your opponent’s range.

Balancing Ranges

Balancing your ranges means playing a mix of strong and weak hands in the same way. This makes it harder for opponents to put you on a specific hand. For example, you’d raise with your strongest hands and some weaker hands as bluffs. Balanced ranges are important at higher levels when opponents are paying close attention to bet sizing and other patterns.

Exploitative vs GTO Strategy

Exploitative play refers to targeting and exploiting specific weaknesses you notice in opponents. GTO (game theory optimal) strategy means playing theoretically perfect poker to be unexploitable yourself. The best players blend GTO and exploitative play. They develop overall balanced strategies, then tweak those strategies against recreational players who consistently make mistakes. Mastering both approaches is valuable.

Bankroll Management

Bankroll management is a critical skill for any poker player who wants to play professionally and make a long-term profit. Having proper bankroll management can be the difference between going broke and having a sustainable poker career. Here are some key bankroll management guidelines:

  • Buy in for no more than 1-2% of your total bankroll at any table. This prevents you from going broke in a single session. If your total BR is $1,000, your max buy-in would be $10-20.
  • Have at least 20-30 buy-ins for the stakes you play. This allows you to withstand variance and downswings without having to drop down in limits. If you have a $1,000 bankroll and play $1/$2 NLHE, you should have at least $600 set aside for that game.
  • Manage tilt and avoid playing on a short bankroll after big losses. This leads to over-aggression and spewing off your remaining bankroll. Take a break if you lose multiple buy-ins quickly.
  • Build your bankroll over time by withdrawing profits and saving them. Don’t take shots at bigger games unless you have the proper bankroll for it. If you run your $1k roll up to $2k, withdraw the initial $1k and let the profits ride separately.
  • Use good BRM even for tournaments. Buy-in for no more than 5% of your BR for any given tournament. This prevents you from losing your entire BR in a single tournament. Satellite entries should be 1-2%.

Proper bankroll management requires patience, discipline and avoiding tilt. But it’s essential for any poker player who wants to play profitably long-term. Managing your BR effectively will allow you to move up the stakes smoothly as your edge and profits increase over time.

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Poker is a complex game that requires skill, strategy, and practice to master. Throughout this guide, we’ve covered the basics of the most popular poker games and discussed key strategy concepts for becoming a winning player.

To recap, the basics of poker include understanding hand rankings, betting structure, and gameplay for games like Texas Hold’em, Omaha, Stud, and Draw. Good players use concepts like pot odds, implied odds, position, bluffing, and bankroll management to gain an edge. While luck is involved, poker is largely a game of skill with many nuances.

For those interested in learning more, there are many great resources. Books like Super System by Doyle Brunson and The Theory of Poker by David Sklansky offer classic poker strategy theory. Modern books by authors like Jonathan Little provide updated tactics. There are also great instructional poker videos and training sites like And nothing beats actual experience – play small stakes online or home games to hone your skills without high risk.

Poker remains one of the most fascinating and popular card games in the world. It requires intellect, intuition, and grit. Master the skills of poker and it can provide hours of entertainment, social interaction, and potential profit. Yet it takes dedication to become an expert. Use this guide as a starting point on your poker journey and keep learning. With the right mix of study and practice, your own skill will continue to grow along with your appreciation for the nuances of the game.

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