No casino table game comes with a legacy more storied than poker, and these days there are so many flavours of online poker that it’s hard to keep them all straight. But here’s an introduction that should get you started off on the right foot. This overview of online casino poker is not intended to be comprehensive. For new players, I am just going to go over the basic rules, some playing strategies, and talk about some of my favourite poker variations, like Texas Hold’em and Omaha. I’ll also get into some of the finer points of mobile poker as well as some of the social and competitive aspects. There are live games, tournaments, and sit and go play options that I’ve come to know and may have some insights that will prove helpful.
The Basic Rules
Poker is played with a deck of 52 cards. The Ace can be played as high (above a King) or low (below a Deuce). A hand typically consists of 5 cards, which can be assembled in various combinations of varying rank. For example: three cards of the same kind beat two pairs of the same kind. A flush (all five cards of the same suit) beats a straight (five cards whose values are consecutive order, like 3-4-5-6-7. Three aces beat three kings. The most valuable combination is the straight flush, with consecutive card values all belonging to the same suit. There is even the unbeatable and exceedingly rare royal straight flush, topped by an ace.
How does betting work in poker? If you are “under the gun” – your betting turn is first – you can either open with a bet, you can “limp” by making a minimum bet or call. If another player opens, you can call the bet, or “raise” the bet, which means “seeing” the other player’s bet and then adding an additional wager that other players must call. The other option is to “fold”, which takes you out of the round but may be a good idea if you are convinced you have a losing hand or want to cut your losses.
The pots can grow large, especially if players believe they have winning hands, or bluff successfully that they do. Of course, if you’re just playing against a computer, then the practice of bluffing is not very effective!
Just like in the Old West, poker often ends in a showdown, when the players remaining in the game show their hands and the software determines who is the winner. Even if players do not need to show a losing hand, you can always see the hand by requesting it afterwards. There is no showdown, however, if one player’s bet in any round is not matched by the other players. In that case, the player with the unmet bet is the winner.
Different Varieties of online poker
How you get those five cards in your hand, and how you bet, varies between different poker variations you may be playing.
In Five Card Draw, which is popular in video poker, you make an opening deposit, called an ante, then get dealt five cards. Then you bet again, then you can choose to replace some of your cards with new ones, with another betting round following that draw.
In Texas Hold’em, the game play is different and a bit more complicated. First, you put in your ante, often called a “blind” (because you haven’t seen your cards yet). You need to press the button for the blind to signify that you are in the round. You need to wager the big blind and the small blind (which is usually half the value of the big one).
After getting dealt two “hole” cards, you bet in what is called the “Pre-Flop” round. Then there are three rounds in which “community” cards are dealt face up for any player to use, with betting after each round. The second round is called the Flop and involves three community cards being dealt. Then comes the Turn, in which an additional card is dealt. Finally comes the River round, in which a final community card is dealt face up.
In Texas Hold’em, the best 5-card hand combining the five community cards with the two hole cards is the winner. There are seven cards in all to choose from, but if you have any doubts about what is the best variation, don’t worry. The software will show you!
Omaha resembles Hold’em but differs in that there are four hole cards, not two. Also, in Omaha you must use exactly two of your hole cards, and exactly three of the community cards. In practice, that means more combinations and more complications. But don’t worry, the software will always show you your best hand.
In some poker variations, like Deuces Wild, a wild card is added to spice things up. A wild card can be whatever you want it to be, substituting for any other card, letting you make more valuable combinations from your cards.
These days most poker games are available on your smartphone or tablet, both for Android, iPhone/iPad, and Windows Phone. In many cases the games play instantly in the browser of your device so there is no need to download anything, Load times tend to be quite fast but of course it depends on your internet signal. Sometimes, apps dedicated are also available. Bear in mind that the screen on a mobile device is smaller, so you should decide if you are more comfortable playing on the go or in the comforts of home.
Tournaments, Sit & Go, and Live Options
Online poker tournaments are found at better casinos and involve competition between players to see who wins the most in a given time period, and to pit the winners against each other around a table, just like in the high-stakes games in Vegas.
Sit & Gos are a great thing to try if you are relatively new to poker. They tend to be inexpensive to enter and they lead you step by step from early stages into money rounds in a matter of minutes. It’s a great way to get your feet wet at minimal risk.
Live Poker is another online play option that’s become super popular. Via video feed you can see your fellow players as well as the dealer. You can try to read your opponents’ faces, bluff ‘em, and even socialize with them.
Poker Against the House
The popularity of poker has led some casinos to create a new breed of online poker in which you play not against other players but against the house. Caribbean Stud Poker is one of the more famous of these variations, and some people love it. Players have found ways to strategically reduce the house edge in these games, so if you come across a game like this and want to give it a try, do your homework and practice!
I confess: I love Hold ‘em best. Omaha second best. The high stakes betting action is part of the thrill behind poker, but if you’re new to the game, try to get in some practice with free games, bonuses or low stake games first.