How to Play Poker like the pros – Rules, Strategies, and Advice
How to play poker online? As one of the most lucrative casino card games, poker is easy to learn but hard to master. If you’re planning to become a poker pro, you will need a thorough understanding of the game rules, use a well-defined strategy, and be a master at reading your opponents. Read on to discover the exact steps
There are many variations of poker, each having its own set of rules. Based on our analysis, the most common form amongst professional players is by far Texas Hold’Em. In the guide below, we will cover all the crucial aspects of the game, such as the basic rules. These strategies can improve your odds and advice collected from poker legends, like Daniel Negreanu.
Here is how to play poker from complete beginner to advanced level:
Learn the basics of the game
No matter if you’re entirely new to the poker world or need a refresher, let’s quickly go over the basic rules that you must know if you want to play competitively.
Poker Hand Rankings
Before you join an online poker table, you’ll need to be familiar with the ten poker hand rankings. In order from the lowest to highest they are:
- High Card – if there is a tie, the highest card wins
- Pair – two cards of matching rank
- Two Pairs – two cards of matching rank and two other cards of different matching rank
- Three of a Kind – three cards that have the same rank
- Straight – a sequence of five non-suited cards
- Flush – five cards of the same suit in any order
- Full House – when the player has a pair and a three of a kind
- Four of a Kind – four cards of the same rank
- Straight Flush – when the player gets five cards in sequence of the same suit
- Royal Flush – a Straight Flush containing cards from 10-A
Bear in mind that if two people have the same hand, the person that has the higher cards wins. For example, if you get a pair of 10s and your opponent gets a pair of 3s, you will win, because your pair is higher than his. However, if the hands have the same card ranks, the game will result in a tie, and the pot will be evenly split.
How a poker hand is played
To play Texas Hold’em, you will first need to bet your ante, which is the buy-in bet to play the round. The ante is generally a small bet, like $1 or $5.
The poker game is played in a clockwise direction with the dealer. Directly to the left of the dealer are two forced bets, which are known as the small blind and the big blind.
The big blind represents double the value of the small blind, and it also represents the minimum bet at the table. The table stakes define the small and big blind values. Once the blinds are posted, the players are dealt two cards, one at a time, starting from the small blind position. The two cards in your hand are called the hole cards. Once they are dealt, the first betting round, which is called the pre-flop, begins.
Now, players will have to make their first decision on whether or not to play their hand. Since the small and big blind have already committed chips to the betting pot, the first action begins with the player located on the left of the big blind position, called under the gun.
If a player wants to play their hand, they will need to at least match the previous amount or raise by at least double the previous bet.
Once everyone placed their bets, the pre-flop round is over. The dealer will now reveal three cards, which are called the flop. The flop has three community cards that all players can use in combination with the hole cards. Now it’s the moment to plan what hand you want to make while keeping in mind that there are still two more cards to be revealed.
Once the flop is dealt, the post-flop betting round begins, starting with the first player to the left of the dealer.
Whenever a player is in the first position, they have three option
- Check – pass the opening action to the next player in turn
- Raise – add an amount at least equivalent to the big blind to the betting pool (or all-in)
- Fold – forfeit this round, which it is not advisable to do when in the first position
Players that aren’t willing to call or raise a bet will be forced to fold. If everyone but one of the players fold, that player wins.
Once the bets have been decided, the dealer reveals the next card, which is called the turn. The post-turn betting round player actions are identical to the previous round.
The next and last card revealed by the dealer is called the river. The final betting round, known as the showdown begins. Once all wagers have been placed, the players will reveal their hands, starting with the last aggressor.
Your goal is to have the best five-card hand possible made with any combination of the seven available cards (five community cards and two hole cards), even if that implies using only one card from your hand and four cards from the board.
Understand the game theory and math
Game Theory Optimal (GTO) Poker represents the holy grail of gameplay strategy, which makes you almost unexploitable to your adversaries. Essentially, GTO allows you to prevent other players from taking advantage of you, in case you’re overusing a specific playstyle. Mastering GTO is the primary strategy recommended by pro players. Still, they advise you to deviate from it if you want to exploit your opponent.
While GTO itself is a defensive style of play, if you want to maximize your profit potential, you must combine it with exploitative play. Even though this idea mostly applies to professional players, amateurs should start using it if they want to improve their rankings in the poker world.
Calculating pot odds
The pot odds represent the ratio between pot size and bet size you are facing. Let’s say there is $1000 in the pot, and the bet is $1000. The pot is now $2000, and you need to call $1000 to continue, so the ratio is 2000:1000, and you get 2:1 odds (33%). This percent defines the risk-reward rate that controls how wide your range can be. For instance, if you get high pot odds, you can continue the hand with a wide range. However, if the pot odds are low, you must play a lot tighter.
The approximate percentage that your draw will hit can be calculated by multiplying the number of outs you have by four during the flop, or two on the turn. For instance, if you have two diamonds in hand and two on the flop, you have a total of nine outs to hit your draws, giving you a fair chance of 18% to hit on the turn, or 36% to hit by the river. Using this shortcut in conjunction with pot odds can be a great indicator to determine if a draw is worth continuing with or not.
Implied odds represent the pot odds that factor in how many chips can be won on later bets. You might not get enough pot odds on the flop to call with a draw, but by calculating how much you can potentially win on the turn and river, you might be able to call and be profitable.
For instance, if your opponent makes a bet size of 10 big blinds into a pot that is of 20 big blinds, the pot now contains 30 big blinds, with ten left to call. If you’re on a flush draw (9 outs), you have 3:1 pot odds, which are way worse than the 4.22:1 you need to make a profitable call. But, because of the potential profit that you can make if your draw lands on the turn and river, you can still make this call, despite not being lucrative in isolation.
Additionally, the size of the pot and the bets can be used to calculate the folding frequency, by applying this formula:
Bet / (Pot + Bet) = Folding Frequency
The formula above will give you the percentage that you should fold. However, you should make adjustments based on intuition and how great your hand is, instead of relying only on this formula.
If you want to dive deeper into the math and GTO in poker, this scientific paper from Boletin de Matematicas explains why using mathematics is a crucial winning factor.
In a nutshell, GTO poker is the base strategy from which you can begin creating more advanced strategies while avoiding becoming too predictable. In the next chapter, you will learn how to use a diversified poker strategy to maximize your profit potential and quickly adapt to your opponent’s playstyle.
Develop an advanced poker strategy
By now, you’re already familiar with all the poker basics. However, if you want to perform at a tournament level, you will need to develop your strategy. Let’s get started!
Be advised that winning consistently in poker requires hard work. If you’re not willing to put in the extra effort, you won’t succeed. If that’s the case, you should stick with playing for fun, which is just as great!
Poker is a fascinating game that features a plethora of strategies, playstyles, and ways to play. Your first decision should be regarding what type of playstyle suits you best, by choosing one from the list:
- Aggressive –this style involves betting often, opening pots and putting players under pressure;
- Passive – an approach that requires calling more often and letting the opponent make the betting decisions instead;
- Loose – when you play almost all of your hands, hoping to get lucky or forcing the others to fold;
- Tight – players using this style value caution, folding often, and taking fewer risks.
If you’ve identified yourself in more than one of these playstyles, you’re on the right track. Adaptability is one of the essential poker skills because playing the same way every turn will make you predictable.
Understanding the position advantage
The position is the order in which you act. In poker, acting last means that you’re in position, and if you go first, you are at a disadvantage or “out of position.” In poker, the position is essential, because it’s a game of incomplete information. If the opponent always acts before you, chances are you will make better decisions, because you can collect more information than him.
Gathering extra information can drastically improve your win rate because you will have better control of the hand when you’re in position. Because of this fundamental positional dynamic, you should be more defensive if you’re out of position. Conversely, you must take advantage of being in position by playing aggressively to maximize profitable opportunities.
As soon as you collect the necessary information, you must adjust your strategy to achieve the maximum profit. For instance, if you are in the cutoff and the button player aggressively three-bets, you should tighten the opening range because of the positional disadvantage. However, if you are the small blind and your big blind folds too often, you can open a broader range than your default strategy requires. Correctly adjusting your game plan will bring you excellent win rate improvements
The position will help you win pots even if you don’t have the most reliable hand. When both you and your opponent missed the flop draw, your positional advantage will bring you more wins during this round. Being in position allows you to pressure the opponents and take the pot even if you have the second-best hand. Your adversaries can even suspect you have a weak hand, and they won’t be able to do anything about it.
Take advantage of ranges and board textures
In poker, the more accurately you can identify the opponent’s range, the more complex and accurate decisions you can make.
Professional players no longer think in terms of single hands. Instead, they continuously analyze the range of hands that they could make or could convince the adversaries they have versus the range they think the opponent has. Essentially, a range represents every hand that the opponents might logically have in a specific situation.
Your aim during a poker hand is to narrow down this range as much as possible, by tracking and analyzing their play patterns. When an opponent plays his hands the same way all the time, it is possible to guess their exact hand.
First, you will need to separate the range into value and bluffs, because most often you won’t need to know their bluff hand accurately. Instead, you should understand that they are bluffing with a particular frequency. Start the process by assessing how many hands they open from each position and determine how frequently they cold call or three-bet during pre-flop.
Ranges become more polarized as the pot size increases, meaning that the value hands will be way more potent than bluffs. As the bet gets bigger, the range will become tighter, so you must hold a steady hand to execute a value raise.
To maintain a balanced range means you are using various strategies that make you unexploitable. Let’s say you always bet the pairs and check any other hands. This move will make you vulnerable against opponents that know how to play poker well because they can instantly read and exploit you.
If you want to avoid this situation, you must balance the range of hands you bet in every case, by checking on strong hands sometimes or even betting some bluffs. Using this strategy will keep your opponents guessing and protect you from becoming an easy target.
Analyzing which player has the best range on the board can be made by applying the range versus range equity method. For instance, if a player opens by raising a tight range from under the game, he will have a higher proportion of strong hands than a button player that makes a cold call on a 3-3-4 flop.
When analyzing range advantage, always factor in the opponent’s tendencies. If you’re up against an average player who cold calls during pre-flop, you should expect to be at a disadvantage most of the time. However, if your opponent is a loose player, that won’t be the case, since this type of players usually has many weak hands in their range.
Periodically adjusting your ranges to how they are perceived will allow you to exploit your opponent’s perception. This trick can be achieved by tightening your opening ranges, which will make them more aggressive when you land premium hands. Additionally, you will always be prepared against any adjustments that they might make. Have a look at your weakest hands and expand or remove them depending on the situation.
Your adjustments must be made based on your opponents, not on your stakes, because the math is similar no matter what the final pot is.
In the table below, we’ve represented a button calling range, purely for demonstrative purposes. The green color represents the range of a player making a near-absolute 3-Bet. In contrast, the red color represents the button player range. By using this example, you will develop the ability to build a mental picture of the opponent’s pre-flop range. This skill will help you make accurate predictions like the legendary pro players.
Only bluff when it makes sense
Bluffing is an essential strategy because it can make the opponent fold even if they have a much stronger hand than you. Most often, your poker hands will be junk that you might be tempted to fold before the flop, or hands that you wouldn’t want to bet too many chips on. In these situations, bluffing is crucial, because you might have a chance of winning with a weak hand.
To be a successful bluffer, you will have to play as if you had a premium hand. The lie you’re trying to tell with your actions must be consistent, even if it means raising or calling a more substantial bet. At higher levels of play, the opponents will quickly figure out that you’re bluffing if you’re throwing out a random bet hoping that they will fold, and you’ll be punished.
Of course, the strategies mentioned above are just some guidelines that should get you on the right path. If you want to understand how to play poker, you should start training and try to adapt to all the different opponents that you encounter. The more games you play, the easier it will be for you to make the most optimal decisions.
Before you get started playing with real money, we suggest you download a free play version of poker on your smartphone, such as the official WSOP app. It is essential that you first understand all the basic concepts and apply them in a real scenario, even if you’re training on a demo play version of poker.
Keep track of your progress
To achieve success with card games, you must use some sort of software that collects historical data. But why?
Well, becoming an advanced player and understand how to play poker, requires easy access to gameplay statistics, such as win rate, hand ranges, board textures, etc.
Professional poker players use an app called Equilab, which can be integrated with the online poker platform that they are using. After collecting enough data points, they will analyze their progress and how they perform against different hands and betting ranges.
In case you’re not able to set up a tracker or simply want to analyze your games the old-fashioned way, you can log your results in a notebook and use formulas to calculate your progress.
We recommend that you start to keep track of your progress from the very beginning because it is one of the main ways through which you can improve and get better results over time. When you see an improvement, you can move on to real money online poker or even high roller tables.
Improve your skills by watching pro replays
Apart from being highly entertaining, watching professional tournaments or streamers that play online poker is an ideal way to learn the ins and outs of the game.
In a nutshell, analyzing pro replays can help you understand how to react in certain situations and what are the essential strategies that you can apply yourself. Make sure you choose a player that has a playstyle that suits your own. Whenever you’re trying to learn a new aspect of the game, go to that pro player’s Twitch or YouTube channel and focus on how they use that particular technique or strategy.
When you’re just getting started with poker, watching replays might be a little bit confusing, but after you’ve played for a while, it will all start to make sense. You will be able to use the knowledge that you’ve gathered to your advantage and win the pot more often.
In case you don’t know where to start, we highly recommend you visit the Poker section on Twitch.tv, a powerful platform where many pros stream their games. Watching streams allows you to view un-cut games in real-time and get a better understanding of how to react in certain situations.
For example, a place to learn the Run It Up 24/7 Twitch stream is a nonstop live poker broadcast powered by PokerStars, where professional players participate in high stakes tournaments. Another excellent resource for learning how to play poker professionally is the PokerStars YouTube channel. They post an abundance of video content, including competitions, top plays, and interviews with legends of the game.
Know the poker jargon
In the world of poker, knowing the jargon is an essential factor for success. While it will not directly impact your gameplay, it will surely help you get familiar with how to play poker like the pros.
Let’s have a look at some of the most important poker terms and their definitions:
Action – represents the opportunity to make a move. While at the table, you will often hear the dealer is saying, “Your action,” and then you’ll need to choose if you want to check, call, raise or fold.
Bad Beat – when an underdog hand beats a favored one. This term is generally used to indicate that the winner shouldn’t have even been in the pot and that they got fortunate by catching the only card in the deck that would bring them the win.
Bluff – when you bet or raise while holding a hand that you consider weaker than the one of your opponents, hoping to make them fold their more substantial hand.
Button – a marker used to indicate the nominal dealer, which is also used to refer to the player that is on the button.
Buy – when you bluff, hoping to buy the pot without getting called. Betting or raising, hoping that the players between you and the button will fold, which allows you to act last in the upcoming betting rounds.
Check-Raise – when you check and then raise if a player behind you bets. Some people believe that this move is not ethical. However, this move is permitted in most casinos, and it represents a vital poker strategy, especially in low-limit Hold’em, where you will need a way to narrow the field in case you’re holding the best hand.
Community Cards- the cards presented face-up in the middle of the poker table and shared with all the players. They are also commonly called “the board.”
Dealer – represents the player that is theoretically dealing the cards. When a professional or automatic dealer is present, the player who would be dealing the cards would still need to be identified, because the blinds and bets are to the left of the dealer. This is generally achieved by using a marker, called “the button” which moves clockwise to the next player after a hand is complete.
Hole Cards – these are the two cards that are dealt face-down to the players.
Kicker – an unpaired card that is used to determine the better hand from two similar ones. For example, if you have AK and the opponent has AQ. If the board has an Ace, you will both have a pair of aces, but you have a king kicker. The kickers are a decisive factor in Texas Hold’Em.
No Limit – a version of Hold’Em in which a player is allowed to bet any amount of chips.
Outs – the cards that can help you win. For example – Any heart card will complete my flush, so I have nine outs.
Pocket – the unique cards that only you can see. For example, “I had pocket sixes(pair of sixes), or I had King-Queen in the pocket.
Rainbow – when the flop contains three different suits, meaning that no flush can be formed on the turn.
Rank – the value of a card – “eight,” “queen,” “ace,” etc.
River – the fifth community card put out face up, which is commonly known as “the fifth street.” The poker community loves making puns with the river, such as: “He drowned in the river.”
Showdown – the last round of a poker hand, when all remaining players must turn their cards and determine who has the best hand, usually after the fourth round of betting is complete. If the final bet or raise isn’t called, there won’t be a showdown round.
Suited – a poker hand in which the two cards have the same suit. For instance: “He got Q and 4 of spades, it was suited.”
Tilt – when a player is on tilt, it usually means that he’s not in the best shape, and he plays recklessly. This often happens after you get a bad luck streak, and you become more impulsive by making aggressive decisions such as wild bluffs, calling or raising with bad hands or not folding often enough
Turn – the fourth community card that is put face up by itself, usually referred to as “the fourth street.”
Under the Gun – the player who acts first on a betting round. For example, if you are to the left of the Big Blind, you are under the gun before the flop.
Underdog – a player or hand that isn’t mathematically favored to win the pot.
Over to you
If you’ve made it this far, you already have an in-depth understanding of how to play poker. Now it’s time to start getting results!
If your ambition is to become a professional poker player, you will need a progression plan. Success requires hard work and a thorough analysis of your gameplay, without overextending. You can begin your journey in lower stakes live poker rooms.
Our recommendation is keeping a play/learning ratio of around 80/20 if you want to get optimal results. Your mindset is also essential, and you should never let your ego overcome your ambition. Another efficient way to maximize the outcome is treating the poker games as a business by keeping a record of your profit/losses and adjusting your bankroll accordingly. Are you ready?