Poker is one of the most popular card games – with millions of Canadians enjoying the game both live and online. You can play poker for free with friends – or try your hand at high stakes games in casinos and poker rooms stretching from Montreal to Vancouver.
This page introduces the betting, strategy, and rules of poker for new players. The focus is No-Limit Texas Hold’em – the most popular form of poker. You will find information on hand rankings, and the order of actions in a hand (rules) first below. Bluffing is a key component of any poker game and is covered separately. Strategy, poker variations and the different formats this game is played in are then explained.
You win chips in poker in two ways. You can get your opponents to fold, in which case you win the pot. Alternatively, if a hand reaches ‘showdown’, then the strength of hands on a standard hand ranking chart will be compared. The winner goes to the player with the best poker hand.
Every player needs to know the standard poker hand ranking chart before starting to play:
In Texas Hold’em your best poker hand uses the best 5 cards from the community cards and your own 2 cards. It is possible for two players to have the same ranked hand; in which case the pot will be split. The rank of cards is used to determine the winner when two players have a flush, straight, or full house.
Texas Hold’em is by far the most popular form of poker today. Some 80% of all hands are in this format. ‘No Limit’ betting means you can bet any amount of chips you wish any time it is your turn. In this form of poker every player gets two cards of their own, and must combine them with the flop, turn and river.
Here is a look at exactly how a hand of Texas Hold’em works.
On the table there is a ‘button’. This indicates the player who is dealing. It is moved clockwise around the table after each hand. The button shows which player acts first and last in each hand.
Blinds are involuntary bets. They start each pot in Texas Hold’em. The player to the left of the button posts a ‘small blind’ and the next player left will post the ‘big blind’.
The size of these blinds will be fixed on a cash game table at around 1/100th of the standard buy-in. For example, the blinds might be set at 50c/$1 in a $100 buy-in game. In a tournament, the blind levels will increase as the tournament goes on.
Once the two ‘blinds’ have been posted, the dealing will take place. Every player will receive two face down ‘hole cards’. These are for the individual players eyes only.
At this point, the first betting round will take place. In this first round, the player to the immediate left of the big blind will start the action. Each player has three options when their turn comes:
If someone raises, then the play continues clockwise until everyone has a chance to react to that bet. For example, one player might raise 3x, another might call then a 3rd player raises a total of 10x the big blind. The initial raiser and caller (plus the players in-between yet to act) will get a chance to re raise, call or fold before the betting round is considered closed.
If everyone folds to a raise, then the pot is awarded to the betting player without the need for any cards to be shown down.
With the first round of betting complete, the players will see the ‘flop’. These are the first three community cards and are dealt face up. The second round of betting will now start. The active player left of the button starts the action, with the player on the button (or closest to it) always closing the betting.
Once this round of betting is complete, the ‘turn’ will see the dealer reveal one more community card. Another round of betting takes place before the dealer reveals the final card – the ‘river’. At this point, the final round of betting will now take place.
With the betting now complete, the players will reveal their hands and the player with the best ranked hand will scoop up all of the chips.
If the last betting round is completed with 2 or more players still in the hand, a showdown is used to determine the winner. If the betting is completed before the river, then the final community cards are dealt first. The player that made the last bet or re-raise shows their hand first.
With 2 hole-cards and 5 community cards, you need to create the best possible poker hand using just 5 of them. If the shared cards make the best hand, then that is what is used. It is possible to that players have the same ranked hand – for example, a straight. In this case the straight with the highest card wins. It is possible for the pot to be split.
There are situations where a player is all-in, and other players want to continue betting and raising. In this situation, a side pot is created for new bets. The smaller stacked all-in player has no involvement in this side pot, though can win the initial pot that they contributed to.
It only takes a few hands before the order of events, betting and determining who wins the pot becomes intuitive. After that you are ready to start battling for pots.
A good way to beat new players is to be a little more disciplined with your starting hand selection than they are. By sticking to 2-card starting hands which have good prospects, you will win money from opponents that play ‘any 2’ or overplay suited cards (for example).
Starting hands can be grouped:
Some examples of bad starting hands include Ace-Six off suit (which is easily ‘dominated’ by bigger aces). Hands like Queen-Eight suited are also trap hands. If you hit 1 pair, you will never really know if you are ahead without risking a lot of your chips.
There are two ways to win at poker. One is to win with the best hand and the other is to make all your opponents fold.
Bluffing plays an important role in the game. To be a successful poker player, you will need to maximize the amount of money you win when you do have the best hand. At the same time, you need to win a share of the pots you get involved in where you do not have the best hand – or where nobody hits the flop.
You must bluff sometimes. A player that never bluffs is easy to beat. You simply fold when they bet big and you do not have a strong hand – and bet whenever they check (stealing the pot). If you always bluff, experienced opponents will beat you easily – waiting for good hands and letting you bet your stack into them.
The best form of bluff for new players to learn is the ‘Semi Bluff’. Here you are betting when you have 4 cards to a flush or straight. Sometimes you will win the pot right away when your opponent folds. When you do get called, you can make a strong hand on the turn or river – winning a big pot that way.
Bluffs are player dependant. They work best when you have 1 (or max 2) opponents, who have not shown strength in the hand. If you are last to act (on the button) and an opponent that called your raise pre-flop checks to you, then a bet will often take the pot down. In the same spot, with a raise and re-raise ahead of you on the flop – you can easily fold and save your bluffs for another day.
The basic form of poker sees the chips you bet with have a real money value. This is known as a ‘Cash Game’. When you head to online poker Canada sites, you will find several different forms of poker – along with variants with different rules and betting styles.
Within Texas Hold’em you’ll find the following formats:
No Limit Hold’em is quickest poker game to learn – making it the best game for new players who want to get started with poker. This is far from the only format – and was rarely played at all until about 15 years ago.
Here are some of the alternative types of poker. You can enjoy many of them online, and in the bigger card rooms at Canadian live casinos:
Texas Hold’em has betting variants. It can be played with fixed limit bets, or with pot limit betting.
No Limit Hold’em is a great starting point for new players, as there will never be an issue finding a game, whether live or online.
When you first learn to play poker, the phrase ‘tight is right’ is important. You should aim to only get involved with your best hands. If you look around, you’ll be able to find many ‘starting hand charts’, which tell you the hands you should be playing. Obviously, if you are dealt a pair of Aces, you should bet and raise aggressively, but what if you are dealt King-Ten off-suit in middle position? These charts will tell you when or if you should be playing that hand.
If you only ever bet with premium hands, or bet different sizes depending on how strong your hand is, experienced opponents will take your chips very quickly. While you learn the game, betting consistent amounts will help disguise your strength. Once you get a feel for the tables, you can spot situations where adjusting bet sizes to exploit your opponents is best.
One hugely important factor in poker that players learning to play overlook is ‘position’. If you are the last person to act in a hand, you have a huge advantage. This is because you have all the information from the other player’s betting before you act. If you see bets and raises ahead of you, then you can fold – saving chips. If nobody shows any interest in the pot and it is checked to you, acting last gives you the opportunity to bet, winning a pot you might not have been able to win had you acted first.
Poker is a game which is easy to learn, though almost impossible to master. Even the world’s best poker players are continually working on their game. Hand reading, odds and exploiting different types of opponent can always be improved.
The best way to become an expert poker player is to get involved in the action. Free Poker apps will only get you so far – as there is little incentive for anyone to fold when no money is at risk. You can get a good bonus and tournament entries with a minimum deposit at many of the best Canadian poker sites. Once you check out the different poker formats, try some bluffs and learn about bet sizing and position – you will be in a great position to specialize, and maybe even learn to become a profitable long-term player.