Poker can be a challenging game to play. It requires focus, confidence, and the ability to read people, but it can be overwhelming for new players—you’ll have a lot more fun playing if you know the ins and outs of how to play poker and nail down the basics.
Because there are so many different forms of poker, I’m only going to cover the absolute basics, but I’m also going to give you tips that will just help you become a better player generally and not quit before you get a chance to experience this awesome game in depth.
Now whether you win money playing poker or not is up to you—you get out what you put in—so if you really want to win a lot of money in poker and compete with the big boys, you have to put in a lot of time and effort (beyond just learning the basics).
If you’re still reading, I’m willing to bet that you’re serious about learning this incredible game, so keep in mind that while some of these tips will only be usable in in-person poker games, some of these tips will be usable against machines or in-person—either one.
1- Learn The Hand Rankings
Poker hand rankings indicate which possible poker hands have the most value, and to do that, you’ll need to understand how the cards themselves are ranked.
Here’s that ranking from lowest to highest:
Cards also come in different suits:
Hands are created out of combinations of cards and suits. Here they are in order from least valuable to most valuable:
- High card (the highest card in your hand)
- Pair (two 2s, two aces, two kings etc)
- Two pair (a pair of 2s and a pair of 4s for example)
- Three of a kind (three 7s, three kings)
- Straight (five cards in a sequence regardless of suit, so 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 or 10, jack, king, queen, ace)
- Flush (five cards in the same suit regardless of sequence, so 2, 7, 10, ace, 3 of hearts for example)
- Full house (a pair and a three of a kind, so 2 kings and 3 aces)
- Four of a kind (four aces, four 3s etc)
- Straight flush (five cards in the same sequence and suit, so 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 all hearts)
- Five of a kind (five aces, five jacks—this usually requires your deck to have a joker in it—the joker is a wild card and can be any card you choose)
Whoever has the best hand wins.
You need to have these hands memorized if you’re playing poker so that you’ll know how you’re actually faring as you play, but don’t worry—it’s easier to memorize than you think.
Pairs are the least valuable thing. Another thing to remember is that a pair of 2’s is less valuable than a pair of 3’s. The pairs move up in value as the numbers get bigger. The most valuable pair you can hold is a pair of aces. So a pair of aces will beat any other pair. But a pair of aces will lose to three of a kind, even if the three of a kind is all 2’s.
Generally, the more cards that match in a hand, the more valuable that hand will be. So if only 2 cards match in a hand, it’s not very valuable. But if all 5 cards in a hand match, for example in a royal flush (10, jack, king, queen, ace, all the same suit), it’s very valuable. So remember that the fuller your hand is, the more value it will probably has.
Also remember that the higher number each of your cards is, the more value it will have. Ideally, you will have a hand of higher value cards that is full. Having 4 kings is a great hand. A straight flush from 10 to ace is also a great hand. But a pair of twos won’t win you many games.
You’ll find it easier to memorize the poker hand rankings once you’re playing. Try to remember the methods I’ve told you for remembering the rankings and you’ll catch on faster.
2- Start with Small Amounts of Money
I know we all see the superstars of Poker on TV playing high stakes with millions of dollars at stake—most players want to jump right in and be a superstar of Poker immediately. Unfortunately, we can’t all do that. I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t have a million dollars to lose.
Try to resist the temptation to start playing poker gambling for high stakes off the bat. You’ll win more money if you gambe for extremely high stakes, but you’ll also lose more money. There’s no reason to rush into playing the game.
Part of this reason I suggest starting off with low amounts of money has to do with tip #1. Tip #1 suggest learning all the possible combinations of hands before you begin playing. Playing with low stakes helps you accomplish tips #1 and #2 at the same time. I also feel it’s easier to learn the layout of all the poker hands in real games. It’s more fun to actually play poker than it is to memorize a bunch of spreadsheets.
If you spend time playing low stakes games, you’ll find you’ve learned all the poker hands and which ones are more valuable quickly and easily. Then, once you’ve learned them all, you’ll be able to move up to higher stakes games.
Another reason to start with low stakes games is that it’ll simply be less stressful. If you’re playing for small amounts of money, you won’t be as concerned about losing than if you are playing for $10 or $100 hands. Play with low stakes until you become more comfortable with the game.
3- Stay in Good Shape and Rest Well
Poker is a mental game, so if your mental state is bad when you’re playing it, your game will suffer. Take care of yourself when you play poker so you can put your best self on the table.
Humans can only take so much turmoil—if you’re drinking or tired, you’ll make mistakes that could cost you a lot of money.
People also can get stuck in patterns. If you make it a habit to play poker on weekends after a long work week, you’ll get used to playing poker tired. If you’re always drinking before or while playing poker, you won’t be the best poker player you can be. If you want to make money playing poker, you need to take resting seriously.
Make a ritual out of how you play poker. Play it on the same day every week, and make sure you get lots of rest beforehand. Eat healthy every day, and your body will be in better condition, allowing you to play at a higher level. Even working out regularly can keep you mentally fit and make you a more competitive poker player.
You may think it’s silly to stress how important this is, but it has a real impact on your game. Why take all the time to study poker and become professional if you’re not going to put your body in the best position to play the game?
4- Learn Odds
Odds are that you already know what poker odds are (see what I did there). But you need to learn as much about poker odds as possible if you want to make a lot of money playing poker.
Let’s start with pot odds. Pot odds are a concept that helps you understand if it’s worth your time to continue with your hand.
In most poker games, there’s a pot (the chips that everyone has bet so far) and a series of cards that are drawn during each round of betting. Not all poker games have this, but many do. When you get your initial cards, you may not yet have a good hand, but you may be able to create a good hand with the cards that are coming.
When you don’t quite have the hand you want, you need to calculate the odds that you’ll get the hand you want.
This list shows common Texas Hold Em Hands and how many cards you need to improve your hand. Here are a few different types of incomplete hands:
- Gut-shot (you need one card to create a straight, but you’re missing a card in the middle. Your hand might be 2, 3, 5, 6)—4 outs (an “out” is the card you need to get to complete your hand)
- Open-ended straight draw (you need one card to create a straight, but you’re missing a card on the outside. Your hand might be 2, 3, 4, 5)—8 outs
- Flush draw (you need one card to create a flush, but you’re missing a card of the right suit. You might have 4 hearts in your hand)—9 outs
- Flush draw & gut-shot (you need one card to create a flush or a straight, but you’re missing a card in the middle and a card of the right suit. Your hand might be 2, 3, 5, 6 all spades)—12 outs
- Straight flush draw (you need one card to create a straight or a flush, but you’re missing a card in on the outside of the straight, and you’re missing a card of the right suit. Your hand might be 2, 3, 4, 5 all clubs)—15 outs
Multiply the outs by two to find your odds of hitting the hand by the next card and multiply them by 4 to find the odds of getting the cards in the next two hands.
This tip is also related to tip # 2. If you start with low money, you’ll have a lot of chances to learn exactly how odds work without losing a lot of money. Play at low stakes until you fully understand odds.
Poker can be a challenging-yet-fun game to play. If you’re spending some time in Las Vegas, Oklahoma, Atlantic City, or any other place where gambling is legal, you’ll probably want to play poker. You can even play poker online—you just don’t want to be the one losing money at the table.
If you play with low stakes, learn hand rankings, stay in good shape, and learn the outs, you’ll be on your way to making lots of money playing poker.
What tips do you have for a new poker player? Let us know in the comments!