Looking to play poker online but aren't sure where to start? Here we cover poker hand ranks and highlight the different variants available

Online poker

Online poker is undoubtedly the most popular type of card game on the internet. Millions of players from all over the globe have enjoyed playing poker online since the late 1990s. Texas Hold'em is still the preferred variant, but there are many others such as Seven Card Stud, Five Card Draw, Razz and Omaha that are also very popular.

Each of these games is operated on player versus player format; however, if you look inside your favourite online casino, you'll discover a host of other poker variants that are played against a dealer. These include Pai Gow, Tequila, Caribbean Stud, Oasis and Three Card to name a few.

List of Poker resources

How to Play Online Poker

With so many variants, newcomers can become a little overwhelmed but once you pick up the basic objective of the game, it's very simple to play. That doesn't mean to say you will start winning immediately. This is a game of skill and strategy. Plus, when you are playing against real players, as opposed to a dealer, there is also the added element of bluffs and double bluffs to contend with.

The number one tip you must start with when learning how to play, is to understand the poker hand ranks, which we've listed further down this page. Once you know which hands beat other hands, you'll have a solid platform to build upon.

The method of gameplay alters slightly depending on the variant you are playing. When at a table playing Texas Hold'em, for example, players take it in turns (in a clockwise direction) to have their turn in a round. Extra cards are added to the middle of the table - these are known as Community Cards - and then the players who are still active in the hand will get the chance to play again. Naturally, playing against a dealer differs slightly, but the actual betting format is very similar.

A hand of poker is won if all the other players fold (muck their hand) before the final showdown or by the player who has the strongest hand at the showdown. This is where bluffing plays a huge role. You can win a hand even if you don't hold very good cards by betting big and forcing the other players to fold before the end.

Player Actions

The entire concept of poker is based on strategy, which is what makes it so interesting and exciting. If you have nothing upon which to base your decisions about whether to call, fold, raise, or reraise, you might as well play the lottery.

It is important to get acquainted with an action strategy to improve your game. Throughout the course of a playing session, a skilled player uses various actions a number of times to keep opponents on their toes. If you raise right out of the gate, instead of being patient enough to hold out for a check-raise, you can miss out on the chance to win an even bigger pot. If you raise from certain positions often enough, players will begin calling your bluff.

Learning how to apply your strategy for each action will help you become a good poker player, and the best way to do that is to practice, a lot. Action is the term used for a player's turn, and the time in which a you decide whether to fold, to check, to call, to bet, to raise, to state the number of cards you want to draw, to declare your hand, or to otherwise engage in an active game.

  • Opening: Opening is a reference to the first person at the table to place a bet. This is always the person to the immediate left of the dealer. In poker games with blinds (when a player puts money in the pot before their cards are dealt), technically, the big blind opens, whereas all remianing bets must match, or raise the big blind bet.
  • Rules for opening bets vary, depending on the variant played. You may need to have a specific hand, like in Jacks or Better, or maybe a specific amount is set for the bet to open.
  • Calling: A bet made by matching an opponent's previous bet without raising the bet, to remain eligible to win the pot. When you want to stay in the action, you put up an equal amount and 'call' to stay in the game.
  • Folding: Forfeiting your hand, or 'mucking' your cards, which removes you from being eligible to win the pot. Any money you have already put into the pot is forfeited. Players who choose to fold are not required to show their hand.
  • Checking: If no player has placed a bet before you, you can check the bet to stay in the game without having to wager. It is the same as betting zero.
  • Raising: This is when you bet over the amount, or increase the bet, that someone before you has bet. How much you can raise depends on the betting structure of the game.
  • Re-Raising: This action is raising a bet that has already been raised by another player.
  • Check-Raise: To check on your first action, and then raise your opponent's bet on your next action.
  • All-in: To wager all of your chips. You may go 'all-in' to maintain a stake in the pot for a hand that you would otherwise not have enough chips to call.

Betting Structures

Another important element of poker is the betting structure, which varies depending on the game, the house, and tournament.

It is essential to know what the betting structure is before you begin to play. The three main betting structures are pot-limit, no limit, and fixed limit.

Although these betting structures involve games of poker with different rules, there are general rules about betting that apply for all of them.

  1. Pot-Limit: the maximum amount you can bet is the amount of the pot, which is very dynamic. Many players avoid playing these types of poker games in a land-based casino because it can be difficult to keep up with the amount of the pot, if you are playing at a large table with a lot of action going down. Keeping track can become intimidating, especially if you are dealing with bets and raises coming in fast. It's important to know the rules of the house before you sit down and the amount in the pot before you bet.
  2. No-Limit: there is no-limit on the amount you can bet. This allows you to go all-in anytime you want to. Watching your opponents is essential, because you are vulnerable to bluffing, slow-playing, and protection. While the betting structure is simple, bet what you want, whenever you want.
  3. Fixed-Limit: there is a pre-determined betting limit on the minimum and maximum bets. The amount in fixed-limit tables apply to each bet, not each round of betting, so re-raises are possible.

Spread Limit: this betting structure is not commonly used, like the first three mentioned above. It involves a range of bets that are allowed. For example, in a $1 to $10 spread, which is low compared to other spread limits, such as $10 to $1,000.

The smaller spreads make you work for your money, because it is hard to get your opponents to fold when you make larger bets.
This betting structure has a tendency to weed out weak players who show their tells easily by predictable bets, which is generally placing larger bets on strong hands, and smaller bets, and even no bets, on weaker hands.

The large spreads, like the one mentioned above, are known as 'California Spread,' named for the popular betting scheme used in many California casinos, where no-limit poker is legally forbidden.
The maximum limit is set the same as the maximum buy-in, which results in a no-limit first betting round, and the entire game is as no-limit as possible, while the casino is technically obeying the law.

Poker Rules - The hierarchy of hands

As highlighted, the main rule is the knowledge of the hand ranks. Every poker game involves the same hierarchy of hands, with the hands of higher value being less common, therefore harder to acquire, than the hands of lesser value. The rank and suit of the cards in each player's hand determines the value of the hand. The individual cards rank from best to worst, and the rank of a card will break a tie between two players, if they have the same hand.

Ranks: A, K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2

Suits: Hearts, Diamonds, Spades, and Clubs.

Suits are all considered to be of equal value. There are 4 suits with 13 ranks, and 4 x 13 equals 52 cards to make a complete deck of playing cards.

Listed below is the rank of hands, from the highest value to the lowest in descending order. If more than one player in a game has this hand, comparing the hands to see the highest-ranking card will determine the winner.

  • Royal Flush - five cards of the same suit and in sequence: ace, king, queen, jack and ten.
    Example: 10♣ J♣ Q♣ K♣ A♣
  • Straight Flush - five cards of the same suit and in sequence: 9, 8, 7, 6 and 5 (all) of clubs.
    Example: 9♠ 10♠ J♠ Q♠ K♠
  • Four of a Kind - each card must be the same rank. For example, 8 of clubs, 8 of diamonds, 8 of spades and 8 of hearts. If two players both have the same value four of a kind, then the player with the highest fifth card (known as the kicker) will win the hand.
    Example: 9♠ 9♦ 9♥ 9♣ 5♣
  • Full House - three cards of the same rank and another two more cards of equal rank. For example, 9 of clubs, 9 of diamonds, 9 of spades, 3 of hearts and 3 of clubs.
    Example: 3♣ 3♠ 3♦ 6♣ 6♥ (Threes over Sixes)
  • Flush - five cards in which they all must be from the same suit, but not in sequence.
    Example: Q♣ 10♣ 7♣ 6♣ 4♣ (Queen-High Flush)
  • Straight - five cards with them running in sequence, but not from the same suit.
    Example: Q♣ J♠ 10♠ 9♥ 8♥ (Queen-High Straight)
  • Three of a Kind - three card hand. Each card is of the same rank. For example, 10 of spades, 10 of clubs and 10 of hearts. If two players both have the same value three of a kind, then the player with the highest kicker (fourth then fifth if required) wins the hand.
    Example: 9♠ 9♦ 9♥ 5♣ 8♣
  • Two Pair - four card hand consisting of two cards of equal rank and another two cards of equal rank. For example, Jack of clubs, Jack of spades, 9 of hearts and 9 of clubs.
    Example: J♥ J♣ 4♣ 4♠ 9♥ (Jacks over Fours)
  • One Pair - two card hand both of equal rank. For example, 2 of diamonds and 2 of clubs.
    Example: 4♥ 4♠ K♠ 10♥ 5♠
  • High Card - if you have a hand that doesn't match any of these above, you only have a high card.
    Example: K♥ J♣ 8♣ 7♦ 3♠ (King High)

Stud Poker and Draw Poker

In Stud Poker, players are dealt 5 cards. Players then evaluate the strength of their hand of cards, and place bets according to that strength. The player who outbids their opponents wins the pot, unless another player matches the player's bet. If that occurs, the two players left in the game will reveal their cards, and the player with the best hand wins the pot. This is called a "Showdown".

In Draw Poker, players are dealt 5 cards, and a round of betting makes its way around the table. Any player who puts money in the pot against their hand of cards will remain in the game, and get the chance to improve their hand by trading up to 3 cards for new cards from the deck to replace them. Any player who should happen to be holding an Ace card can trade up to 4 cards for new cards from the deck.

Conclusion

Online poker has remained the king of card games for a very good reason - it's extremely compelling and enjoyable to play. For brand new players, many of the top online poker sites offer superb "Poker Schools". These are a great way to learn the ropes in more depth and pick up playing tips from the pros.

In terms of your budget to play, it caters for all types. There are €0.01/€0.02 cash tables up to other games worth hundreds and thousands of Euros. Commonly, the higher quality players tend to play for higher stakes, so if you're just starting out, it's advisable to play the small money ones until you become more confident with your skills.