All the concepts, references, and terms you need to know to be successful at online poker!
Poker is not a complicated game. Like many things in life, though, it simply has knowledge barriers that must be crossed before a person can advance their understanding of it. In poker, the first of those barriers is knowing what “poker” is, the second is understanding the vocabulary, and the third is understanding two or three very basic concepts.
This page, which will be updated periodically, will eventually contain all of the knowledge you’ll need to cross those first three barriers.
Note: All the poker knowledge in the world is useless if it isn’t accompanied by experience! Check out two of the first articles #ElitePoker ever published to learn about Bitcoin, and how it’s your gateway to getting back to online poker, and then about the best US-available online poker sites, and get yourself back on the tables! Want more motivation? Join us in our VIP Chat and ask about the #ElitePoker private games, where you can compete with other subscribers, and the #ElitePoker staff, for real money, prizes, discounts, and more!
Barrier One: “I’ve never played poker, & don’t really know how.”
“Poker” is not actually one specific game, but rather a word used to describe an entire family of games. All of the games in that family, though, have a few things in common:
- They are all card games.
- They are all played in the form of “hands”. The deck of cards being used for the game is used for the duration of one “hand”, and is then re-compiled and thoroughly shuffled before being used for the next “hand”.
- They all use some form of tokens (usually chips, but sometimes coins, bills, or other things) to represent the currency of the game.
- In all games, a hand begins with one or more of the players being forced to wager a certain amount of this currency . The players who are forced to do this, and the sizes of these initial wagers, are determined by the rules of that specific game.
- In all games, the players are then dealt cards.
- Players then take turns wagering on who holds the best cards. The number of cards dealt, how they are dealt (face up, face down, etc.), how the order of play is decided, and what the “best cards” are, are determined by the rules of that specific game.
- Play proceeds according to the rules of that specific game. Most games have additional “rounds” of wagering, where new cards are introduced to each player and players continue taking turns wagering on who holds the best cards.
Play of a hand ends when either:
- All of the players, except one, choose to stop wagering on their cards (called “folding”). In this case, the one player left willing to wager wins the hand and collects all of the money wagered by the players thus far (called “the pot”).
- Play reaches the end of the hand (as determined by the rules of that specific game), at which point however many players are still participating (whoever hasn’t “folded”) reveal their cards. Whoever holds the “best” combination of 5 cards (again, as determined by the rules of that specific game) wins the hand and collects all of the money wagered by the players thus far (called “the pot”).
What differentiates one game from another within the poker family is how the game defines the rules for the following:
- The compilation of cards used to create the deck (although this is almost always the “standard” 52-card deck, also called the “French deck”).
- Which players have to place the forced wagers at the beginning of each hand.
- The size of those forced wagers.
- The number of cards dealt, how they are dealt, and how the order of play is decided within each round of wagering.
- How many rounds of wagering there are before the hand is ended.
- The minimum and maximum limits on the sizes of wagers within each round.
- The ranking system used to determine the “best” combinations of 5 cards.
Barrier Two: The Vocab
Hand – The unit of play within a game of poker.
Dealer – The person at the table responsible for holding the deck, maintaining the correct order of play, handling and organizing the chips being wagered, and distributing the cards according to the rules. In casinos and professional card rooms the dealer is usually a member of the staff of the facility whose sole purpose at the table is to act as the dealer — they do not participate in the game as a player — whereas in informal or otherwise private settings (like home games) the players usually take turns acting as the dealer, while also participating in the hands as players.
The Dealer Position – aka “the button” – Some games require a certain player at the table to be designated as “the dealer”, even if they aren’t the actual person dealing the cards (like in a casino, where the cards are dealt by a non-playing staff member). This is because, in those games, the order of play is decided by this “dealer position”, with play always beginning to the dealer position’s left and continuing clockwise, making “the dealer position” the last to act in each round.
The actual location of this “dealer position” changes from hand to hand by being moved clockwise, around the table, one spot at a time. It is kept track of by a small, but easily-visible token called “the button”, which is usually a black or white disk roughly 2″ in diameter and just a few cm tall. Moving “the button” this way after every hand ensures that all players at the table are given equal turns playing first, second, last, etc., which is important because it’s understood that acting last in a given betting round is a large advantage for a player.
Blind – One of the two types of forced bets games can require a player to make at the beginning of a hand (the other being an “ante”). In games that require one or more blinds, the blinds are posted by the first players to the left of “the button” (see above). Most games with blinds require two of them, a “small blind” and a “big blind“, with the first player to the left of “the button” posting the “small blind” and the second player the “big blind”. Once those blinds are placed, the first round of cards is dealt, and the player to the left of the “big blind” (the third player left of “the button”) is the first to act, having to decide whether to participate in the hand (by calling or raising on the amount of the “big blind”) or to simply fold right then.
Ante – One of the two types of forced bets games can require a player to make at the beginning of a hand (the other being a “blind”). An ante is a forced bet that must be made by every player at the table in order to play in the hand. It is more commonly seen in games that do not have a preset order of play (and, therefore, do not have any sort of “blinds”), like Stud, although games with preset orders (like Hold’em and Omaha) can sometimes require both “blinds” AND antes. This is rare, though, and is usually only seen in the late stages of tournaments, where the “blind+ante” structure can be used to force players into more aggressive action.
Hole Cards – Any cards a player receives face down during a hand.
Board Cards – aka “the board” – Some games feature rounds where a certain number of cards are dealt, face up, in the center of the table, and are intended to be “community cards” usable by any of the players. This collection of cards is called the board.
Pot – The collection of wagers already placed during a given hand. Generally, at the end of a round of betting, all wagers placed during that round are moved to the center of the table and mixed together, creating a pile of chips called the pot.
Cash Game – The “standard” format for poker: The “currency” used in the game represents actual amounts of money (usually, players purchase chips to stand in for actual coins and/or bills, with chips of different colors representing different amounts). In a cash game, if a player says they bet “$10”, they are risking an actual $10 of their money. Players can join, or leave, a cash game at any time, and simply take their chips to the cashier to exchange them back for actual coins and/or bills (the “cashier” part is not necessary when playing online, as this transaction/exchange happens virtually).
Tournament – A special format in which a certain number of players each “buy-in” for a predetermined amount of money and receive a predetermined amount of chips. They are then seated at tables randomly, begin play all at the same time, and proceed to play until one player is in possession of ALL of the chips. Usually, the sizes of the blinds and/or antes at the beginning of each hand increase every X number of minutes, which puts pressure on players to take more risks as their stack of chips becomes smaller and smaller relative to the cost of playing.
Sit ‘n’ Go – Identical to a tournament, but instead of the event beginning at a predetermined time, it begins whenever a certain number of players has registered and paid their “buy-in”. Sit ‘n’ Gos are almost exclusively found online, and usually consist of only 9-27 players on 1-3 tables, whereas “tournaments” can sometimes begin with thousands of entrants on hundreds of tables.
Full Ring – When the table is considered “full” according to the rules of the facility in which it’s taking place. Generally, a “full” table is one with 9 players on it, although some card rooms and websites allow 10-player tables.
6-Max – When a facility limits a table to a maximum of 6 players. This is much more common online.
Short-Handed – Technically, any table that isn’t full is short-handed, but in reality the term is generally used any time there are 5 or fewer players seated.
Heads-Up – When there are only 2 players seated.
“X”-Handed – where “X” is the number of players seated – For example, “4-handed” would mean there are 4 players playing, “8-handed” would mean there are 8 players playing, etc.
No-Limit – aka “NL” – When a game sets no maximum on the size of the bets placed during any round of a hand. At any time, a player can wager all of the chips they have. No-Limit games usually feature “blinds”, with the minimum bet allowed being the size of the “big blind”.
Pot-Limit – aka “PL” – When the maximum a player can wager at any time is an amount equal to however much is currently in “the pot”. Pot-Limit games usually feature “blinds”, with the minimum bet allowed being the size of the “big blind”.
Limit – When there are predetermined sizes for all of the bets placed during each round of betting. At any time, if a player wishes to “bet” or “raise”, they can only do so in this predetermined amount. Limit games are less common than NL and PL ones, especially online.
Hold’em – The most popular poker game around, especially online, and the game toward which most of our content here at #ElitePoker will be geared.
Hold’em is a “blinds” game, with the two players to the left of “the button” posting a small blind and a big blind, respectively, at the beginning of a hand.
Players are each dealt 2 cards, face down, and engage in a round of betting beginning with the player to the left of the big blind.
After this round, three “community cards” are dealt. These cards are known as “the flop”. A betting round occurs, starting with the first player to the left of the button.
After that round, one community card is added to “the board”. This card is called “the turn”. Another round of betting, starting with the first player to the left of the button.
Finally, a fifth community card is added to the board. This card is called “the river”. This is the final card used in the hand. There is one more round of betting and, if more than one person is still playing, a “showdown” to determine which player has made the best 5-card combination out of their 2 hole cards and the 5 community cards. This person wins the pot.
Omaha – Identical to Hold’em, only the players are dealt 4 cards, face down, at the start of the hand, and they MUST use exactly 2 of those cards when comprising their final 5-card poker hand. EXACTLY 2. Not 0, not 1, not 3, and not 4. TWO.
While each variation of poker can differ in how it regulates the actions available to the players during each betting round, there are a handful of actions that are (virtually) always available. When it is a player’s turn to act, they must perform exactly one of the things listed below. Once the player’s one action is taken, play moves to the next player at the table.
Check – Taken when a player wants to pass the action to the next player without making a wager. A player can only check when there are no wagers put to them (usually, this happens when they are the first to act in a given betting round, or when they are positioned elsewhere but everyone in front of them also checks).
Bet – Technically, a bet occurs when a player wagers an amount that must be responded to by every other player in the hand (a “raise” is, technically, a type of bet). In practical usage, though, the word “bet” describes the first wager made in a given betting round.
Call – To match whatever bet is being put to you.
Raise – The player matches the amount currently put to them AND places a bet on top of that amount. Usually (in NL or PL games), this bet on top must be at least the size of the bet being matched, e.g. if Player 1 bets $100 and Player 2 wants to raise, that raise must be to at least $200 (Player 2 couldn’t raise to $150, for example, because that would equate to matching the $100 bet and then only placing a $50 bet on top). The only time this minimum size rule does not apply is when a player wishes to go “all-in”, but doesn’t have enough money to, technically, make a legal raise.
Fold – To stop participating in a given hand. A player can fold at any time, even if there are no bets being put to them (although this wouldn’t make any sense given that they could just “check” in that situation and continue playing in the hand for free).
All-In – While not a type of action in and of itself, the term all-in is used any time a player is risking everything they have left on the table. This is much more commonly seen in NL and PL games.
Shove – Again, not, itself, an action, but a verb used for the act of going “all-in”.
As you digest our (or, certainly, my) #ElitePoker content in the coming weeks, you’ll discover that “position” is the most important thing at a poker table. It influences your starting hand selection, your decisions within each betting round, and even the overall style of play that will be optimal at a given table (that last one, specifically, is one of my favorite subjects in the game. Look forward to an article dedicated to it soon!). With that in mind, here are some of the words (and abbreviations!) you’ll need to know when we start discussing the most vital, and most misunderstood, concept in the game.
Each of the positions below are going to apply more to “blind” games like Hold’em and Omaha, as they are the ones where players act in the same order during each betting round. In a game like Stud, where the player designated first to act may change throughout the hand, each position at the table would not be referred to by these terms, but rather simply “first to act”, “second to act”, etc. The importance of each position would remain the same, though.
The Button – We mentioned it above, but it’s worth noting here because it’s the most important position at the table. The player said to be “on the button” is the one designated as the “dealer” for the current hand, and they get to act last during each betting round.
The Small Blind – aka “SB” – The player in the first spot to the left of the button. This player is not only responsible for posting the “small blind”, but they then have to act first in each betting round.
The Big Blind – aka “BB” – The spot to the left of the SB, responsible for posting the “big blind”.
Under The Gun – aka “UTG” – The player to the left of the BB. In the first round of betting (right after the hole cards are dealt), this player becomes the first to decide whether to play (by calling or raising the BB) or to fold, since the first two positions (the SB and the BB) are forced to perform their assigned actions.
The Cut-Off – aka “CO” – The position to the right of “the button”. The CO is the second to last player to act and is therefore considered a strong position.
While the position names listed above apply to specific seats at the table, the ones below refer more to general areas and could apply to several of the seats, depending on how many people were actually seated and playing.
Early Position – aka “EP” – At a full table (8+ players) where every player is still in the hand (e.g. when it’s the first round of betting), EP would be a name that applies to the first 2-3 players to act.
Middle Position – aka “MP” – The 2-4 players to play after the players in EP. Note that, if there are only 6-7 players seated, the players sitting one and two to the left of UTG (UTG+1 and UTG+2) could probably be considered both “EP” and MP, since these spots are in a sort of “no-man’s land” between UTG and CO.
Late Position – aka “LP” – The button, CO, and (depending on table size) the 1-2 seats to the right of the CO are considered LP. It’s worth noting that, if there are 7+ players at the table, the position immediately to the right of the CO is sometimes called “The Hijack“.
Barrier Three: Basic Concepts
At the highest levels poker can be endlessly complex, but for 99% of the games out there (and likely 100% of the games you will ever actually encounter), having an understanding of just a few concepts will be more than enough to give you an edge on your opponents.
Each of these lessons could — and likely, will — receive their own standalone article, and deservedly so, but for the purposes of this handbook they’ll be discussed only briefly. Think of these as “need-to-know”-level summaries: Everything you’ll need in order to implement these concepts into your game will be given to you here. If you want to understand them in more detail, I suggest doing some research on your own and/or waiting for the upcoming lessons here at Elite Poker.
Update: This section’s discussion of pot odds and win odds has received its own article, check it out at the link below!
Stay tuned, this handbook is going to get a LOT bigger in the coming days, weeks, months, and years!
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