How to Play Poker


How to play poker

The Tournament Survival Guide for Beginners

There are countless elements to poker, from understanding the odds of getting a specific hand, to knowing when to bluff and fold – every hand and every game is unique. Here we’ll talk you through everything you need to know about how to play poker, covering the rules, stages and etiquette of the game.

We’ll debunk confusing jargon, offer advice direct from our professional players and help you learn everything you need to know. See a term you don’t understand? With our poker glossary you can hover over words highlighted in red to find out what they mean.

So, if you’re sitting comfortably, let’s get started!

Learn How to Play Poker – Fast!

If you want to learn how to play poker quickly, easily, and profitably, follow this handy guide to poker for beginners. Here, you can learn to play No Limit Texas Hold ‘em poker against your friends at home, in a live casino, or in an online poker room.

We’ll guide you through the rules of the game so that you can learn to play poker, fast. You’ll find out about how to bet, what the stages of the game are - and we’ll teach you how to bluff.


The key rules of poker

Before we go into detail on poker hands and strategies, we’ll take you through the basics with some more detailed poker for beginners advice. We’ll be looking at the most popular poker game here – No Limit Texas Hold’em.

‘No Limit’ means there’s no maximum bet – you can go ‘all-in’ by betting all of your chips when it’s your turn to act.

  • Before cards are dealt, the 2 players to the left of the dealer place the initial compulsory bet. These bets are known as the blinds – the small blind and the big blind.
  • The first stage of poker is the pre-flop, which is where players are dealt their ‘hole’ cards. These stay with them for the whole game.
  • The player to the left of the big blind begins the action. They can do one of three things: call, raise or fold. The rest of the players then in turn do the same.
  • Next is the flop, which is where 3 community cards are dealt face up on the board – these contribute to your hand. Players can choose to check during this round if no one has made a bet. The action begins with the player left of the dealer.
  • The turn comes next, which is where a fourth community card is dealt. Just like in the flop, another round of betting follows.
  • The River is when the last community card is dealt. Players have a final opportunity to bet here.
  • During the Showdown, which is after betting has finished, players show their hands to each other. The player with the best 5 card hand wins the game and the pot.
  • Knowing how and when to bluff will help your chances of success in poker.

The blinds

Texas Hold’em poker rules require that every hand plays out using 2 different blinds: the ‘small blind’ and the ‘big blind’.

A blind is an initial compulsory bet placed by the 2 players to the left of the dealer, before any cards are dealt. The blinds rise throughout the game, ensuring players are competing for a pot and increasing the pressure to play hands.

Serious tournament players will often measure their chip-stack based on how many big-blinds they have.

Small blind

The small blind is sandwiched between the button (the dealer: generally regarded as the best position) and the big blind. The small blind is half the value of the big blind.

Big blind

The big blind is placed by the player seated to the left of the small blind. It is twice the size of the small blind.


The ante is an additional bet introduced in the later stages of a game. It is a compulsory sum placed by each player at the table to enforce game play.

Once these initial bets have been placed and the cards have been dealt, the real action begins. This starts with the player who is under the gun: to the left of the big blind. Play then continues, and the button moves one spot clockwise with each hand.

Poker betting options

Each poker hand consists of betting rounds – we’ll go into these poker betting rules a little bit later. To proceed to the next round, players must match the agreed price for each round (if they can’t afford to match it, they can put all of their remaining chips in instead).

Let’s take a detailed look at your different options:


Checking means you decline to bet, without folding your hand – you’ll pass the action on to the next person. You cannot check if there has been a bet during that round. If every active player checks during a round of betting, that round is considered complete.


Folding means discarding your cards until the next deal. Bear in mind that you can only fold when facing a bet – folding out of turn is considered bad etiquette and against the rules in some circles.


If a bet hasn’t yet been made, you have the option to make a bet yourself. Once a bet has been made, the rest of the players then have the option to fold, call or raise. The minimum bet is always the same as the big blind.


A call is made once a bet has been placed in a round of poker. Calling involves matching the current bet.


If you want to increase the size of the initial bet, it would be the time to ‘raise’ and make a bigger one. When raising, you must do so in one move – you cannot incrementally raise your bet amount.

TOP TIP: As a new player, announcing the total you’d like to raise before putting your chips into the pot will ensure you don’t fall foul of string betting rules.

You could raise for a number of reasons:

  • Because you like your hand and want to increase the size of the pot.
  • To get your opponent to fold.
  • To get rid of players (thin the field).
  • To make an opponent pay to make a hand he is drawing to.
  • To take control of a hand (for example, raising in position on the flop may give you a free card on the turn).

Poker Hands

High card

If no-one at the table has a pair, then the player holding the highest ranked card wins.

Tie breaker: the player with the next highest card wins, and so on. Suits don’t matter here.

A pair

A pair is 2 cards of matching rank i.e. 2 aces, plus 3 unrelated side cards.

Tie breaker: the highest pair wins. If players have the same pair, then the side cards are used as deciders - the highest wins

Two pair

Two pair, as the name suggests, involves 2 cards of matching rank, plus another 2 cards of matching rank and one unrelated side card (or kicker).

Tie breaker: the pair of the highest value, wins. If 2 players have the same pair, the highest-ranking second pair wins. If there’s still a tie, the player with the highest kicker card wins.

3 of a kind

‘3 of a kind’ involves 3 cards of the same rank, plus 2 unrelated side cards.

Tie breaker: the highest ranking 3 of a kind wins. However, in some community card games, players may have the same 3 of a kind and the highest side card wins.


‘Straight’ refers to 5 cards in a sequence, of any suit. For example, you could wind up with a straight of the 2 of diamonds, 3 of clubs, 4 of spades, 5 of diamonds and the 6 of clubs.

Tie breaker: the highest-ranking card at the top of the sequence wins.


A flush is 5 cards of the same suit, of any value, such as a queen, 7, 6, 4 and 2 of diamonds.

Tie breaker: the player holding the highest ranked card wins the pot. In the case of further ties, however, the second, third, 4th and fifth-highest cards can also be used to establish the winner.

Full house

A full house involves 3 cards of the same rank, plus 2 cards of matching rank.

Tie breaker: The player with the highest ranking 3 matching cards wins the pot. If both players have the same 3 matching cards, the pot is awarded to the player with the highest 2 matching cards (the pair).

4 of a kind

This hand incorporates 4 cards of the same rank (for example, 4 aces) and one side card, commonly called a ‘kicker’.

Tie breaker: the highest kicker wins.

Straight flush

A straight flush is made up of 5 cards of identical suits, in numerical order (for example, a 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 of spades).

Tie breaker: the highest rank at the top of the sequence, wins.

Royal flush

A royal flush is the best possible hand. It consists of an ace, king, queen, jack and 10 of the same suit. Unbeatable.

Once you know your poker hands rank, it’s time to learn how to analyse your opponents.


Style of Play

When learning how to play poker, everybody has their own style. Here are the 4 key types of poker personality:

Tight players play only a small percentage of hands, waiting patiently for either good cards or particularly advantageous situations.

Loose players play a high percentage of their hands. This sees them play in numerous positions with a wider range of starting hands.

Aggressive players consistently make aggressive bets: betting large amounts so that it costs their opponents more to stay in the hand.

Passive players rarely raise, preferring to call and check.

Most players will start out passive, but you can change your poker personality over time – with experience comes confidence.

Your previous style may even morph into one of the more advanced personalities:


A player with lots of patience, but a fear that stops them from taking the risks necessary to dominate a poker table.


A player who plays too many hands, and who doesn’t hesitate to lead with bets or raise. They’re eager to get into the pot.


A player who plays more hands, but who checks or calls over betting and raising. They lack the courage of their convictions.


A calm, collected and confident player with the ability to instil fear into their opponents. They combine patience with the conviction to bet aggressively when they sense a good opportunity.

Tight/aggressive is one of the most profitable ways to play poker – combining game knowledge with patience and good judgement.

Along with your style, it’s important to consider your position at the table. Grosvenor Pro Jeff Kimber notes that your position at the table can have a significant effect on your fortunes.

Playing on the button (or as close to it as possible) affords some great opportunities, as does being the last to act after the flop. Use a strong position to pick up information from your opponents: if they check, you can bet and try to win the pot, and if they bet, you can raise them, and use their reaction to try to assess the strength of their hand.

Sitting in an advantageous position means that you can potentially win a hand without having the best cards.

Style isn’t the only thing to take into account when devising a poker strategy, though. As Jeff Kimber, another Grosvenor pro, points out below, your position at the table can have a significant effect on your fortunes.

Playing on the button (or as close to it as possible) affords some great opportunities, as does being the last to act after the flop. For one thing, you can pick up information from your opponents: if they check, you can bet and try to win the pot, and if they bet, you can raise them, and use their reaction to try to assess the strength of their hand.

Sitting in an advantageous position means that you can potentially win a hand without having the best cards.


Know your opponent

Knowing your opponent is what separates the best poker players from the rest.

Watch your opponents to try and figure out what kind of player they are. If they play few hands and bet small, they’re likely to be tight/passive, and susceptible to intimidation by more aggressive players.

A loose/aggressive player will often enter too many hands and lead with too many bets. Try and work out when they are over-playing their hand, taking a big risk or bluffing – and you can profit from their recklessness. A loose/passive player will check or call often but lacks the boldness to make the big moves.

Tight/aggressive players are the ones to really watch out for: they play fewer hands and aren’t afraid to raise when the opportunity arises. These are the players who use fear to knock out their opponents.

Playing styles alone aren’t enough to predict a player’s moves with total accuracy. You should also be looking out for players’ betting patterns, and things like tells – the little things players do that can offer clues about their cards. Here are some of the classics:


Check-raising is when you check in an attempt to coax your opponent into betting, then you pump up the action with a raise – often because you have a brilliant hand.

If you encounter a check-raise, you should strongly consider folding - unless you think you have an unbeatable hand yourself.

Folding on the flop

If a player bets or raises pre-flop, but then folds to a bet on the flop, it’s likely they’re a tentative player. Their starting cards will have been well worth betting on (for example, a strong pair), but this tendency to fold proves they’re capable of stepping back and carefully evaluating the situation.

That said, next time this player bets on the flop, you can assume they have a strong hand. Now you need to decide whether your hand is strong enough to beat it.

Body language

Paying attention to bets isn’t the only way to pick up tells: you can uncover a lot about a person by analysing their body language.

If an opponent sits forward in their seat, they could very well have a strong hand. If their shoulders are slumped, and their body less tense in general, it’s often a sign of a weaker hand.

A person’s breathing is also a giveaway. Shallow breathing (or if a person is not moving, apparently holding their breath) is a common indication of a weak hand or a bluff; look out for signs that a player is trying to control their breathing.

Pay attention to your opponents’ actions before they reveal their hands, as they may unknowingly reveal their strategy.

A Note on Bullies…

Many opponents will push their luck (especially against new players who are learning how to play poker), to determine how far you’ll go before you fold. Jeff Kimber has some sound advice for dealing with bullies at the table…

Often, bullies are bluffers and aggression can stop somebody throwing their weight around. Put the pressure on, and you’ll soon uncover their real motivation…

"If we re-raise them, quite often we’ll find that they have no hand and they fold, and we win the pot." Jeff Kimber

How to Bluff

Before we get into the nitty-gritty details of different hands, strategies and poker science, it’s important to familiarise yourself with the rules of the game.

If there is one word that is synonymous with poker the world over, it’s ‘bluffing’. Bluffing isn’t just about keeping a straight face, it’s about using your opponent’s understanding and knowledge against them.

BLUFF: To make other players believe that you have a better hand than you actually do by betting or raising.

Successful bluffing involves staying calm under pressure and upping the stakes, by betting or raising even when your hand isn’t that strong. Done correctly, you’ll plant a seed of doubt in your opponent’s mind and make them rethink their strategy. Ultimately, you want them to fold so you can take the pot.

Bluffing isn’t without risk however, you need to pick your time carefully.

When to bluff

A bluff is often successful when it follows a safe move (such as a check or a player showing weakness) by the previous player, as your action appears strong in comparison. As a new player, bluffing can also be effective:

On smaller pots

Here, the risk is much smaller. Bluffing at smaller pots is a great way to get the hang of bluffing, without suffering a big loss if things don’t go to plan. However, this tactic can depend on your playing style.

Bluffing on smaller pots is generally associated with loose/aggressive players. A tight/aggressive player might say that bluffing on small pots hampers your chances of doing it on bigger pots, by establishing a pattern or image that other players can read.

“It’s important that the story you’re telling with your bluff makes sense. Play the hand like you would if you actually had the hand you’re representing.” Jeff Kimber

When fewer players are in the pot

It’s easier to throw 1 or 2 people off the scent than a whole table. Plus, with fewer hands in play, there is less chance of these remaining hands being strong. However, this is quite a common moment to bluff, so be persistent and stick to your guns.

When you have given opponents ‘the fear’

This one relies on how other players perceive you, so it requires a bit more investment. If you consistently appear strong and confident, making the competition wary, they will be much more likely to fold when you bluff.

Avoid bluffing on the river

River bluffs make it very easy to spot an amateur player. At this stage of play, your motivation to bluff is likely to be sheer desperation to win the hand, regardless of how you have played to this point. The resulting bluff appears sudden; singling you out and offering vital tells to the rest of the table.

But for all of the emphasis on bluffing, Joe Beevers is quick to remind new players that this isn’t the only way to reap success at the table.

Rather than assigning too much importance to bluffing, remember to prioritise your hands. At the end of the day, the hands in play can make all of the difference, and it’s almost always the best hand at the river that gets the chips!

Slow playing

Slow playing involves playing a strong hand weakly - rather than the other way around - to encourage more players to stay in the pot. Our own poker pro, Jeff Kimber, explains:

“Slow-playing is all about setting a trap for your opponents; coaxing them into the pot without revealing the strong position you are in. By keeping your emotions in check and being patient, you can spring the trap later and make an impressive pot.”

Poker Etiquette: Avoiding newbie mistakes

Before sitting down at a table to play a game of poker, it’s worth giving yourself a lesson in etiquette. Poker is a tough game, but this isn’t an excuse to play in a way that could cause offence to others.

Here are some important things to know before you consider sitting at a poker table.


Disrespect the dealer

As in any other game, expressing anger at the table, shouting, and generally becoming abusive or disruptive isn’t acceptable. Especially when it’s aimed at the dealer – you could even get banned from the casino!

Go on tilt

This is when you overcompensate from losing a hand and play over-aggressively because your emotions have got the better of you. This often results in even bigger losses.

Grosvenor Poker pro, Joe Beevers, has some valuable advice about going on tilt.

"It’s not about how you play the hand where you suffer the bad beat. It’s how you play the very next hand that’s important."

Joe Beevers

Slow roll

Slow rolling is seen as the biggest breach of poker etiquette you could possibly make. When you have the winning hand and you know it, you delay showing your hand, forcing others to reveal theirs, before smugly unveiling your cards. Unlikely to make you popular at the table.

Discuss your hand with the table

Don’t chat to people about your cards, their cards or even the community cards – what you reveal could affect play. For example, telling another player which cards you folded can change mathematical calculations and other players’ strategies.

Once you have folded, relinquishing any right to the pot, respect that other people are still in the game.

Misrepresent your hand

In contrast to bluffing, misrepresenting your hand involves verbally telling players that you have a winning hand at showdown when, in fact, you don’t. So, say you tell your opponent that you have the winning hand, causing him to muck his cards because he believes you’re about to take the pot, and then you show a different hand – this is misrepresentation, and the tournament director will be called to the table.

Misrepresenting your hand is an absolute no-no in poker games, and will never be tolerated.

Act out of turn

You should always pay attention to when it is your turn to act. Acting out of turn can disrupt the flow of the table, but more importantly, it can show your intentions to your opponents and let them know what you are going to do in advance.

Furthermore, there can be penalties for acting out of turn, such as only being allowed to call or losing the right to raise. If you have acted out of turn by mistake, apologise and clarify with the dealer or floorman in charge what your options now are, from a betting perspective.

If you’re in any doubt, don’t be afraid to clarify with the dealer, “Is it on me?”

Be a bad teacher

A good player will never tell another player that they are playing badly. Quite the opposite, in fact. They may try to make their opponent feel good about playing incorrectly – after all, it’s in their best interest!

So, if you ever hear someone berating another player, you can be sure they’re a bad player who is trying to make themselves look better to their peers.

Remember, everyone at the table is a competitor. Play your own game.


Pay attention to the game

When you are playing a hand, pay attention. There is nothing worse than a distracted player losing track of the action and having to be constantly reminded when it’s their turn to act.

If you focus throughout the whole game, rather than playing on your mobile phone between hands, you could pick up vital tells you may otherwise have missed.

Ready to play? Check out to find out when the next tournaments are happening in your local casino, or hone your skills by playing poker online.