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Online Poker for Beginners

You don’t have to be a Hellmuth or Ivey to play a mean game of poker. These basics can get you started—and maybe even turn you into a Moneymaker.

With U.S. casinos still shuttered due to the Covid-19 crisis, maybe you’ve turned to online casinos for a little recreation.

Online poker sites are also up and running, with their usual slate of special tournaments and live cash games. If you’ve never played online, now’s a great time to start.

Here’s a beginner’s rundown on the game:

Same Game, Live or Online

The rules of poker are exactly the same, whether you’re playing live or online.

Texas Hold’em is far and away the most popular game, largely because it’s simpler than other variations, and ideal for playing on a mobile device or laptop. Unlike stud poker, you don’t have to keep track of cards that were folded earlier in the hand.

You’re dealt just two cards, face-down, meaning only you can see them. Then five “community cards” are dealt in stages. They’re visible to everyone. The object is to make the best five-card hand from the available seven, the two dealt to you and the community cards.

“Blinds” are mandatory bets that are made before any cards are dealt. To ensure action on every hand, the second-to-last player dealt plays the “small blind.” The last player dealt plays the “big blind.” The two blinds rotate around the table, changing places every hand.

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After the initial bets, three community cards are dealt face-up in the middle of the table—that’s called the “flop.” Players try to make the best hand from their two cards and the community cards. Then comes another round of betting.

As the game progresses, a fourth card is dealt—called the “turn”—followed by a fifth and final community card, called the “river.”

Bets are made after each round, and bets made after the river are the last bets of the hand.

Simple, right? But strategizing Hold’em, and trying to figure out what your opponents are holding, can get pretty intense. Like anything, it’ll take a lot of practice to understand the nuances of the game. For example, players are going to fold the vast majority of hands, simply because they were dealt two weak cards to start. That’s why the mandatory blinds are there—to ensure each hand sees at least some action.

If you’re new to Hold’em, you may want to look for some social casino sites, where you can play for free to get the hang of it, before betting real money.

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Poker Tournaments, & How They Work

Basically, there are two types of online poker games. Cash games are regular games, with each hand standing alone. Players make their bets from a personal account. Though some games restrict the amount that can be bet, you’re free to play as many hands as you want and give up your seat at the table at any time.

In poker tournaments, you’ll pay an entry fee and administrative fee to the online site. Then all the players get a stack of chips of an equal total value; those chips only have that value within the tournament. For example, the entry fee may be $50, but you’ll get $10,000 in tournament chips.

Once everyone is in, you begin playing hands. For the winner, the goal is to bust every other player in the tournament by winning all the chips in play. In big tournaments, that can take a long time, but most standard online tournaments just take a few hours. It’s a different kind of play, however, usually referred to as grinding. Grinding simply means you’re in for a long session and will see a lot of hands. Players who keep their cool and demonstrate patience are the ones that usually “grind out” the win through sheer endurance.

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A host of variations are in place to speed up tournaments. Most involve the blinds we discussed earlier. In cash games, the blinds stay set, but in tournaments, they rise as the tournament rounds—or hands—are played. With blinds rising, it becomes hard for players to protect their stacks, because they’ll be forced to bet the blinds. By the end of a tournament, those blinds can get pretty high.

Variations such as turbo games raise the blinds very quickly, shortening the length of the tournament. Another variation is a Sit n’ Go tournament, basically a tournament for a single table of players. Only the top two finishers win money, but the tournament is over very quickly.

The appeal of tournaments is that you can see a big return when you win. The top finishers – usually the top 10 in small tournaments – get paid from the prize pool or the total of all entry fees. The top winner gets the largest share. It takes patience and nerve, but tournament players can win big while risking very little.

No-Tell Poker

As simple as it sounds, there’s still a lot to learn about online poker. Most importantly, you can’t see your opponents, making them harder to read—there are none of the tells, or unconscious facial expressions or gestures that can give away a hand. Online, you’ll have to decide if an opponent is bluffing by observing his or her betting patterns.

The good news is that Hold’em is so popular, there are endless variations. You can start at low-stakes tables until you build up some experience and confidence.

Since we’re all stuck at home anyway, it might be a good time to explore what’s out there.

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