In the past few decades, poker has gone from being a game known to gambling enthusiasts and hobbyists to the most famous card game in the world. The popularity of online poker has catapulted the game into the public sphere, and more people than ever are curious about learning to play, whether to have some fun with friends or as a serious career option.
Here, we’ll talk you through the rules of poker, which will allow you to sit down at a table and start playing. However, remember that great poker is also a matter of experience: it is easy to learn basic poker rules, but to develop considerable skill in it may take years – that is after all part of the fun of it!
Before we learn the rules of poker, let’s have a look at the game’s history. Unlike many other casino games, which originated in Europe, poker is an American game. Although its early origins have been attributed to older French, Persian, and English games, poker as we know it – with current poker rules – was developed during the 18th and 19th centuries in the Mississippi River region of the U.S. It is believed to have been carried from the casinos of New Orleans to the surrounding areas through casino riverboats.
The rules of poker continued to develop and change throughout the 19th century, but it wasn’t until the 1970’s, with the popularisation of poker tournaments, that the game started to gain mainstream appeal. It continued to grow in popularity during the next few decades, becoming a staple of casino gambling and popular culture, but experienced a huge boom in the 21st century with the advent of online casinos and video poker.
Before you learn the rules of poker, it is important to understand that thinking of ‘poker’ as one game is misleading. There are a few iterations of the game, each with their own poker rules. Essentially, there are three main types of poker:
Within these categories, other variations can be added onto each game in addition to the basic poker rules. A few examples include:
Because of the different variants listed above, it can be difficult to outline the rules of poker. For the sake of simplicity, we are going to learn the rules of poker as played in Texas Hold’Em, which is by far the most popular version, and the one you are most likely to encounter.
The dealer rotates every round and is indicated by a white token called the dealer button. In a casino, a dealer will distribute the cards but the token still rotates amongst players to determine who places first bets. In both dealing and playing, poker rules dictate the game always proceeds clockwise (to the left).
The person to the left of the dealer places the first bet, known as the small blind, and the person left to them places a larger bet, known as the big blind. These forced bets are in place to ensure betting occurs in every round, and in professional poker the minimums will increase as the game progresses.
Two hold cards are dealt to each player, to be kept hidden. Five community cards will eventually sit face up on the table: the aim is to create the best five-card hand using the seven cards available to you.
Techniques, strategies, and tips aside, basic poker rules revolve around knowing your hands. When you learn the rules of poker, most of your time and effort is going to be based of memorising what the hands look like, what their value is, and – if you are mathematically inclined – what their odds are. The whole game is based around getting the best hand in relation to the other players: if you don’t know the full hierarchy, you will not only not be able to play very well, but the game is also not likely to be very fun.
So, in order of most valuable to least valuable, below are the possible hands according to the rules of poker: