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Poker Basics You Need to Know | How to Play Live Poker

Live poker games can be absurdly overwhelming when you’re new to the game. We’re not just talking about big Texas Hold’em poker tournaments here, either – just the basics of walking into a casino to play a game for the first time can be incredibly frightening. Instead of being scared of poker games, let’s just approach this in a methodical manner. The first thing you need to learn how to do is to get comfortable with the poker basics.

Poker Basics: Getting Ready to Play Poker

Getting comfortable with the poker basics usually means knowing exactly what’s going to happen when you get to the casino. Before you arrive, this is what’s going to need to happen:

Get on the List

Go ahead and get on a wait list before you hit the casino, be specific and tell them exactly what poker game you want to play, 4/8 Limit Hold’em or maybe a 2/5 No-Limit game. Though calling ahead isn’t technically one of those poker rules that everyone follows, it will help you to get playing faster. You’ve usually got about an hour between the time you call and the time you play, so watch your time.

Check In at the Poker Room

Your next step is to physically check in. Most poker rooms have their own guest services counter, so you’ll go straight there. Depending on how much time’s left on your wait, you might get a pager – and try not to get too distracted by the other games in the casino while you’re waiting, all other casino games have a – EV (negative expected value).

poker basics - checking in

Familiarize Yourself with the Poker Game

You might already know all the basic poker rules, but you might not know the house rules for this particular casino. Most casinos are very good about posting up their poker rules, so take some time to read them and memorize them.

It’s also a good idea to spend some time refreshing yourself with basic poker strategy. Know what your poker hands are worth, figure out how you want to play, and get comfortable. You should, in theory, be preparing to sit down and really test yourself.

Grab Your Chips

Yes, you can get your chips at the table, but you can also pick them up while you’re waiting. Honestly, you have the time so go ahead and do it yourself. And, yes – you’re going to have to put your money on the counter here, so get used to it before the game.

Playing the Game

Now it’s time to discuss the poker basics when you’re sitting at the table. This shouldn’t be too different than when you are playing in poker tournaments, but it’s still a good idea to go through. This is how your game will probably go:

Find Out if You Have to Post

You may or may not have to post up some money (usually equal to the big blind) just to get dealt into the game. You should have figured this one out when you were reading the rules, it’s one of those poker basics that most dealers will be happy to help you with, but it’s probably better not to draw any attention to yourself.

Call Your Action

This is really something you need to get in the habit of not because it’s a rule, but because it makes your life so much easier. Yes, everyone should know the poker basics but you don’t want to depend on that.

So, what does that mean? If you raise, say that you raise and say how much. If you want to fold, say that you fold. Make life easy on the dealer and let play proceed a little faster by being obvious with your actions.

Pay Attention

There’s nothing in the poker basics as important as paying attention. Keep track of who is playing and when it’s your turn. Don’t make everyone stop just to catch you back up.

Ask Questions

The scariest thing to do in a game of poker is to ask questions. It’s also the most important. If you don’t know a house rule, ask! It’s going to keep you from making mistakes and it might even cause other players to underestimate you.

Asking questions also helps you to avoid committing some of the worst sins at the table. If you’re playing in a casino, a rules violation is going to cost you a hand. If you mess up frequently, it’s also going to cost you the ability to play in that room. It’s better to ask ahead of time than to beg forgiveness later.

The Absolute Basics of Poker

Let’s take a step back. Maybe everything above sounded right to you, but maybe it was all gibberish. We are going to look at the absolute basics of how to play Texas Hold’em Poker, including the basic poker rules and some basic poker strategy.

Texas Hold’em is played with a standard card deck, and can be played either at tables of two to ten players or Texas Hold’em poker tournaments that can feature thousands. This is one of the most popular variants of poker in the United States.

When you start a hand, the dealer will deal two cards to each player starting to the left of the dealer button (the small blind) and go clockwise. Betting action will start with the player under the gun (UTG) – the player to the immediate left of the big blind.

poker basics - pre-flop

One of the most important poker basics is to know what you do once you have your two cards. First, wait till the action is on you. If you are in the UTG position you are the first to act, you may take one of three actions– you can call the big blind (match the big blind bet), you can raise (raise the pot), or fold (exit the hand). If you are in another position, wait till the action gets to you and either call, raise, or fold.

After the first round of betting, the dealer will place three cards up in the middle of the table. These are the community cards called the flop, and these community cards help all players to build their hands. Once the flop is down, players do another round of betting (checking, betting, calling, or folding).

After that round of betting comes another card, the turn card or fourth street, followed by another round of betting. Then will come the final community card, called the river. After the river comes one last round of betting.

After the last round of betting, the player with the best hand who is still in the game will be declared as the winner of that hand. The dealer will then push the winner the pot, and the next hand will begin.

Before we move on, we should probably also discuss another one of the poker basics – the blinds. The term seems fairly nebulous, but it’s actually fairly simple. These are the bets that every player is forced to make in the game.

poker basics - big blind

Blinds come in two varieties – small blind and big blind. They rotate together around the table after every hand, forcing players to bet so it promotes action. The blinds are so named because they make you bet without actually seeing your cards – betting blindly, in other words.

Poker Basics: Cash Games vs Tournaments

It’s really hard to talk about the poker basics without talking about poker tournaments. Most people don’t start there, of course – they start in cash games.

Cash games are simple. You have your money, you play it, and you leave whenever you like. You play until you’re happy with what you’ve won or you can’t afford to buy in again. It’s the simple kind of poker most people play.

Tournaments, on the other hand, are a totally different animal.

When you play in a poker tournament, everyone buys in before the event and all the money is put in a larger prize pool. Players all start with the same size stack and they all compete until one player has all the chips. You play until you’re forced out – if you run out of chips you’re done and you win nothing.

Blinds tend to matter a little more in tournaments. They are used to move the game along, and they grow as the game goes on. This encourages more aggressive play in the later stages of the game and forces players to spend their chips even when they’d like to be a little more defensive.

Who wins a tournament? Generally, the player who beats all the other players and has all the chips. However, a fair number (around ten percent of the participants) of the other players take home part of the prize pool as well.

Basic Poker Strategy

Now that you know the basic poker rules, we can start talking about the basic strategy of poker. This is what you need to know not necessarily to play, but rather to win. We are just going to concentrate on the big stuff here – don’t worry, there’s plenty left to learn later.

So, the best poker tip you’ll ever get is to fold most of your hands. Seriously, you should probably be playing less than twenty percent of the cards dealt to you. You want to stick to the good stuff, especially when you first start playing.

By the way, the good hands are basically pairs above eights, and then aces paired with face cards. That poker range can get a little looser later, but that’s a really good place to start.

You should also learn how to be aggressive when you do play. Don’t call – calling is a rookie move that’s going to make you less money. If you think that you can win, bet and be aggressive! Make some moves – that’s why you are here, after all.

Finally, get really used to losing hands. Everyone loses hands, Everyone loses great hands to garbage hands and Everyone makes mistakes. Get used to it now, and it will impact you much less.

The thing is, you’ll keep getting more hands. You’re not going to be taken out by one stupid move in the beginning of a game, at least not unless you let yourself fall apart. Keep playing until you learn how to roll with those bad moves.

The addendum to that is that you need to get used to losing with really good hands. Sometimes luck is going to be against you, even though the odds were with you. Sometimes you’re going to hold onto an Ace and Queen as your pocket cards and you’re going to lose absolutely everything.

The problem with good hands is that they get beaten by both great hands and lucky flops. They encourage players to get too confident too quickly, and those players are soon parted with their money. Watch any big poker tournament – you’re almost always going to see someone famous lose the whole pot because they’ve got something that’s good but that isn’t quite great.

In fact, let’s talk about the most dangerous hand in poker for a second. You might think that’s is a two-seven off-suited, but you’d be wrong. No, that hand’s terrible and everyone knows it, that’s a hand you just don’t play. The most dangerous hand is an ace and a queen, because it’s actually not all that bad and it’s a hand that you actually play.

An Ace and a Queen can beat quite a bit. They’ve got the potential to run to everything from a really good pair with a good kicker to a royal flush. The problem is, this hand can be beaten by hands that are just slightly better.

poker basics - AQ

An Ace and a Queen can make you stupid, for lack of a better term. They’re good enough to play, good enough to bet with, and good enough to make you feel foolish when you win. Don’t get too attached to hands like this because other players will make you regret that attachment as quickly as possible.

Final Thoughts

You are going to be anxious the first time you walk into a casino and play in a live game, and that’s fine. The nervousness can be useful, after all, and you still know what you’re doing. The setting might be different, but remember to tell yourself that you do actually know how to play poker.

What you need to do is to keep playing the game you love. Get out of your head and into the game to remind yourself what you can actually do. Brush up on your poker rules, figure out how the game is played in that casino, and have some fun. You’ve got this, so be the poker player you know you can be.

Stepping into the casino is going to be scary at first, but it’s going to become something very different soon. Casino players aren’t always the best, and they’re not always going to be as prepared as you. Casino poker games can be excellent for building up your bankroll once you get comfortable with them, so start working on getting acclimated to these games as soon as you can. See you at the WSOP!

♠ pokerjournal.org

Poker Basics – FAQs

Q: How many types of poker games are there?

A: There are tons of poker variations. It’s better to remember that there are just three types of poker: Draw poker, Stud poker and Community Card poker. Texas hold’em and Omaha both fit into the latter category, which is by far the most popular.

Q: How do you bet in poker?

A: When it’s your turn to act, you decide how many chips you want to bet, take that amount of chips from your stack and place those chips beyond the betting line.

Q: What is the minimum raise in poker?

A: The minimum raise is whatever the big blind is at that time. For example, if you’re playing in a 2/5 NL cash game, the minimum raise is $5. If you’re playing in a tournament where the blinds are 100/200, the minimum raise is 200.

Q: How do you play poker well?

A: Patience, discipline, reading ability and fearlessness. If you can combine those four elements, you’re on your way to a successful poker career, but it’s not easy.