When someone invites you to their place for poker night, it’s usually safe to assume you’re about to play No Limit Texas Hold’em. But sometimes, you might get caught off guard – like the time my friend had me over for movie night and put Twilight on. She and I no longer speak. But I digress. If you’re looking to learn how to play poker, you’ve landed on the right page. In this article, I’m going to run you through 10 of the more popular variants of poker and how to play them.
How to Play Poker – the ‘ABCs’
There truly are SO many variations and even more names for them – I know a guy who plays No Limit Hold’em with two Jokers added to the deck as wild cards and calls the game ‘No Limit Jokem’. You’ll find idiots like him everywhere. But as long as you know your way around the 10 variations I’m going to run through, it should be easy to quickly orientate yourself to even the stupidest versions of the game like ‘Jokem’ or ‘Pokem’ (trust me, you don’t wanna know).
Before I jump into it however, I’m assuming you are familiar with poker hand rankings (ie. what hand beats what). There’s really no point learning how to play poker and then throwing away a Royal Flush at your next game.
How to Play No Limit Texas Hold’em (NLHE):
By far the most popular version of the game. If you’ve ever watched poker on TV (WSOP, WPT, High Stakes Poker, Poker After Dark, Rounders, etc.), this is the game they’re playing. And there’s good reason for it too – it’s easy to understand and has lots of betting rounds! When I first learnt how to play poker, NLHE was the game I started with. Personally I do think NLHE is one of the more exciting variants and it’s probably the one that I enjoy playing the most.
If you find that you don’t understand some of the terms used, you may want to read this article first.
So here’s how it goes, step by step:
- 2 cards are dealt face down to each player.
- The 2 players on the left of the Button, the Big and Small Blinds would have already placed their bets.
- The player on the left of the Big Blind, a position known as Under The Gun (UTG) starts the Pre-Flop betting round.
- The UTG can either Call, Raise or Fold. Note that a raise needs to be at least 2x the Big Blind (or 2x the last raise, if any raises have occurred).
- The action than moves on to the next player and so on until the Button makes the final move.
- Once everyone has completed their Pre-Flop action, the Flop is dealt. That’s 3 community cards dealt face up.
- Again, another round of betting begins, but this time starting from the Small Blind.
- Once done, another card is dealt face up. This is called the Turn.
- Yet another round of betting, again starting from the Small Blind.
- One more final card is dealt – called the River.
- And a final round of betting occurs before the remaining players reach a Showdown and display their cards.
- Best five-card combination wins the Pot.
As you can see, there are a total of 4 betting rounds: Pre-flop, Flop, Turn, River. This creates a lot of action – especially in No Limit Hold’em because there is technically no limit to the maximum bet size. I say technically because you can’t actually bet your entire house or car or pet crocodile – you can only bet what you have bought into the game with ( ie. what’s in front of you at the table – your chips, cash, maybe wedding ring).
At any given street, players can choose to fold and get out of the hand – which usually happens and only the most bad ass of players make it to the river with complete bluffs. You may be surprised to know that most hands are won without getting that far.
How to Play Pot Limit Hold’em:
Alright, so No Limit took a while to explain didn’t it! This one will be less painful I promise! Just make sure you’ve understood the structure mentioned above for NLHE. Quickest way to learn how to play poker is to just start dealing the cards out. Trust me. So if you have a deck of cards handy, do it.
Pot Limit follows the same structure as No Limit Hold’em. Pre-Flop, Flop, Turn, River – everything’s the same. The only thing that is different is the betting amount allowed per street.
Basically, the maximum amount that you can bet is the total amount that is in the Pot. Hence – Pot Limit. So for example, you are the 2nd person to act and the pot originally has $10. You can bet up to $10. And let’s say you’ve got your $10 chip all ready and what not but the person before you bets $10 (you’re 2nd to act remember?) – Now what? Well, quite simple: The pot now has a total of $20 ($10 original and another $10 added by the first guy to act).
So you can bet a total of…?
How to Play Fixed Limit Hold’em:
This one’s pretty similar to No Limit & Pot Limit as well. Again, the only difference is the betting amount allowed. For Fixed Limit, the Big Bet & Small Bet are pre-determined. So for example, if you’re playing in a $2/$4 game, one big bet would be $4. One important point to note is that in Fixed Limit, the Big Blind is always equal to the pre-determined Small Bet.
Bets made Pre-flop and on the Flop will have to be in increments of the Small Bet, while bets made on the Turn and River will have to be in increments of the Big Bet. So in this example, bets and raises will always be in increments of $2 until the Turn card hits – and will then be in increments of $4.
An important point to also note is that depending on the location you play at, the number of bets may be limited or fixed. For example, you may not be able to bet on the Turn if 3 people have bet and raised before you (if 3 is indeed the set limit at that particular table). Be sure to check this before you start playing.
How to Play Omaha:
Have you ever heard the expression ‘Same but Different’? Kind of applies here a little.
Omaha is also a really popular variant of the game. I enjoy playing this quite a bit too. When it comes to Omaha, there is one major difference – you get dealt 4 hole cards instead of 2 like in Hold’em. The rest is the same – 3 community cards on the Flop, 1 more on the Turn and last one on the River. Just like in Hold’em however, you have to use at least 3 community cards to make your best 5-card hand. So even though you have 4 hole cards in front of you, only 2 can be used for the purposes of making your hand at showdown.
This actually changes the dynamics of the game completely – since a huge number of additional hand combinations have been introduced to the game. Whilst in Holdem, holding 2 pairs at showdown may be considered a decent hand – in Omaha its value drops significantly.
You’ll have better showdown hands. But so will your opponent.
So consider that before you go All-In with your top pair top kicker!
How to Play Straight Poker:
Ok this one is super duper easy. If you don’t get this, quit now. You’ll never learn how to play poker. Sorry.
You get dealt 5 cards face down. You can choose to bet, fold, raise or call – depending on your position of course. And then everybody remaining in the hand (those that didn’t fold) turn over their cards – and the best five card combination wins.
I know what you’re thinking – might as well just deal them one card and say the highest card wins right?
Don’t look at me. I didn’t invent it.
How to Play Open Face Chinese (OFC) Poker:
There’s a good chance if you’re just learning how to play poker, you’ve never heard of Open Face Chinese (OFC) Poker. But this game is all the rage at the moment and is being deemed the ‘next big thing’ in the world of poker. As an added bonus, it certainly doesn’t hurt that when you say you play OFC, some poker noobs think it’s a variation of UFC – and you end up sounding like a complete bad ass.
Among pros, it’s the most widely played game on their ‘private tables’ simply because the stakes and bets can go up really high on this one. If you’re a newbie who’s just learnt how to play poker, then you’ll probably not want to get into this variant until you’ve gotten proficient in the more popular ones. But believe me, OFC is only going to get more popular in time to come. Maybe you’re reading this article in 2050 and you’re all like…”Damn right Dawg…..Open Face Chinese is the only poker we play now”.
In OFC, each player gets dealt a total of 13 cards in the order stated below (to a maximum of 4 players in a game, if it wasn’t already obvious) – and you get to work laying out your hand into 3 portions:
- Back Hand: 5 cards
- This hand is placed on the table, closest to you
- It should be a 5-card poker hand that is the strongest among all 3 of your arranged portions
- Middle Hand: 5 cards
- Also a 5-card poker hand that should be weaker than your Back Hand
- For example, if your Back Hand is a Straight, then your Middle Hand cannot be a Flush
- Front Hand: 3 cards
- A 3-card poker hand: either High-card, Pair or Three-of-a-kind
- This must be weaker than your Back & Middle Hands
- A 3-card poker hand: either High-card, Pair or Three-of-a-kind
Careful with the order of strength. Any mistake (eg. If your Middle Hand is stronger than your Back Hand) would cause your entire 13-card holding to be declared a foul (for which you incur a penalty of 6 points). It’s tougher than it sounds because you don’t lay all 13 cards out at the same time due to the dealing structure.
- Play begins with 5 cards being dealt, one at a time, starting from the player seated on the left of the dealer
- You then categorise these 5 cards, faced up into your Back, Middle or Front Hands (for example you could allocate 1 card to your Front Hand, 2 cards to your Back Hand and 2 cards to your Middle hand). The position of these cards cannot be changed
- Then the remaining 8 cards are dealt to each player, also one at a time. You place these faced up wherever you deem best – and again, card positions cannot be changed once placed
- Once all 13 cards are dealt and arranged, you compare hands and tabulate points
The points scoring system in OFC takes a little effort to understand. While individual games may have their own variations, the ‘general’ one goes something like this:
Front, Middle & Back Hands are compared individually against your opponent (or opponents). 1 point for each line you beat. So essentially, you need to win at least 2/3 to get that 1 point.
A ‘Scoop’ occurs when you beat all 3 Front, Middle & Back Hands at the same time – you get a bonus of 3 points which adds up to a total of 6 (1+1+1+3).
Then there are additional bonus points for ‘Royalties’, scored differently for each of the Front, Middle & Back Hands that go like…
Back Hand Royalties:
- Royal Flush: 20 points
- Straight Flush: 10 points
- Quads: 8 points
- Full House: 6 points
- Flush: 4 points
- Straight: 2 points
Middle Hand Royalties:
- Straight Flush: 20 points
- Quads: 16 points
- Full House: 12 points
- Flush: 8 points
- Straight: 4 points
Front Hand Royalties:
- AAA – 222: 22 to 10 points respectively (ie. 22 points for AAA all the way down to 10 points for 222)
- AA – 66: 9 points to 1 point respectively
I know it sounds really complicated when you’re just learning how to play poker but once you start playing for a bit, it becomes second nature and you dish out the points like you’re reciting the alphabet. OFC is a very new game within the poker community so scoring and penalty systems are truly open to individual interpretation/liking – but the concept of the game remains the same. So ultimately, don’t worry about the scoring system as much as getting familiar with game play and of course, strategy.
In all honesty, I’m still in the experimental stages of OFC myself (playing on my iPad every night before I go to sleep these days) – but I’ll certainly write up a detailed article on further variations in OFC as well as strategy once I’m more proficient.
How to Play 7-Card Stud Poker:
Before Texas Hold’em hit the scene proper in the 1970’s, 7-Card Stud was rockin it big time. Like Angelina Jolie before Megan Fox came along. When it comes to 7-Card Stud, there are two fairly common variants: High & High-Low (or Hi-Lo). Game play from start to finish is the same with the only difference being that in the High version the best hand wins while in the High-Low version the best and worst hands split the pot.
So here’s how this one works:
- All players place an ante before the deal
- Each player gets dealt 3 cards – 2 faced down and 1 faced up
- The player with the lowest faced up card begins the betting round with a compulsory bet called the ‘bring-in’
- Play continues to the left and the rest can either call, fold or raise
- Next, a fourth card is dealt faced up to remaining players
- From here on, the player with the highest cards (considering both faced up cards) bets first. Unlike the first round, there is no compulsory ‘bring in’ bet
- A fifth card is dealt faced up and a similar betting round begins
- A sixth card is dealt faced up and again, another betting round
- Finally, a seventh card is dealt faced down and the final betting round gets on its way
- All remaining players in the hand then show their faced down cards and the best 5-card hand combo takes the pot
How to Play 5-Card Draw Poker:
This one’s fairly simple. Actually after going through OFC, what isn’t?! Two small variants to take note of in 5-Card Draw though – the blinds version and the antes version:
In the blinds version, just like in Texas Hold’em, the two players on the left of the Button post a Small and Big Blind respectively before play begins. In the Antes version, everyone posts an Ante and play begins from the player immediately to the left of the Button. Easy-Peasy right? Fantastic.
Regardless of the variant, this is how it plays out:
- All players are dealt 5 cards faced down
- A betting round begins (no forced bets)
- Then remaining players can choose to discard and be re-dealt any number of cards from their original 5
- Another round of betting ensues
- Showdown occurs between remaining players – and the best 5-card combo takes the pot
If you’re like me, you’ve probably watched this one being played in Cowboy movies. Do take note that while it may seem like it, shooting your opponent and then riding off into the sunset is not part of the game.
How to Play Caribbean Stud Poker:
Here’s an entirely different one. Caribbean Stud poker is played against the Casino – so be warned that there’s no way you’ll ever have a mathematical edge when playing this. Read my article on Expected Value if you don’t already know this.
- You start by placing an Ante bet (and an optional progressive Jackpot bet)
- You get dealt 5 cards faced down. So does the dealer, with 1 card faced up
- You either Raise to exactly double your Ante or Fold, in which case you forfeit your Ante
- Then comes the showdown. Dealer displays his hand and the winner’s decided
A couple of points to note:
- Dealer needs to ‘qualify’ for you to win (which means dealer must have Ace-King or better)
- You get paid equivalent to your Ante only if the dealer doesn’t qualify.
- If the dealer qualifies and beats you, your Ante and Raise get taken
- If dealer qualifies and loses, you get paid on your ante and on the raise (depending on your hand and the payout structure)
The optional progressive Jackpot bet essentially pays you a bonus for a hand that’s a Flush or better. Payouts can vary from Casino to Casino and are displayed prominently at the table. If you’re lucky enough to hit a Royal Flush, the pay out can be a rather substantial one. If you’re wondering how lucky is ‘lucky enough’, the probability of being dealt a Royal Flush is less than 0.000001. So go figure. Maybe after you’ve won the Jackpot with a Royal Flush you should go invest in a lightning-proof set of clothes.
How to Play Pai Gow Poker:
Same goes for Pai Gow Poker – It’s played against the Casino as well. Personally I’m not too fond of this one because every time I’ve played it, the action has been way too slow. A lot of ties in this game. It’s a good table to sit down at with your friends and pass the time – It’s low risk and quite often everyone at the table will win or lose together. So it’s pretty sociable like that. Also, great cure for insomnia.
A Joker is added to the deck of cards – which acts as a wild card of sorts that can only be used as an Ace, or to complete a Straight, Flush, Straight Flush, or Royal Flush.
Without further ado:
- You place your bet
- Dealer dishes out 7 cards to each player (including the Dealer)
- You make a 5-Card and 2-Card hand (the 5-Card hand must always be stronger than the 2-Card one)
- If you beat both the Dealer’s 5-Card and 2-Card hands, you win. If you beat one and not the other, it’s a push
- The Dealer’s advantage becomes apparent in Ties, where the Casino wins.
Also, do note that when you do win a hand, the payout is subjected to a 5% commission taken by the Casino.
That’s all folks! Now you know how to play poker! I’m definitely going to be running through in-depth game play and strategy for most, if not all, of these individual variants in future articles – so stay tuned for that.
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