Australian Poker Guide - Making the Turn, Avoiding the Flops

Card and Hand Rankings

Suits are equally ranked

= = =

Card rank within each suit

A K Q J 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2

Poker hands in descending order

  • J
  • 10
  • 9
  • 8
  • 7
Straight flush
  • 7
  • 7
  • 7
  • 7
  • A
Four of a kind
  • 5
  • 5
  • 5
  • 8
  • 8
Full house
  • A
  • 10
  • 7
  • 5
  • 2
  • J
  • 10
  • 9
  • 8
  • 7
  • 9
  • 9
  • 9
  • 7
  • 3
Three of a kind
  • K
  • K
  • 4
  • 4
  • 8
Two pair
  • 10
  • 10
  • 4
  • 7
  • 3
One pair
  • A
  • J
  • 10
  • 7
  • 5
High Card

Poker is without question the sexiest form of gambling in modern times. Perhaps still second-runner to Baccarat in the historical glamour department, television coverage of poker in the 2000s - aided and abetted by the hole card camera - catapulted poker to star status, a position it's holding onto tenaciously.

Poker In a Nutshell

Though fairly diverse in variations, the basic goal of poker is to win the pot to which contestants contribute chips during several betting rounds during a hand. And while there's always the notion of a best hand based on hand ranks and whether the highest or the lowest ranked hand is considered best, a distinguishing trait of all poker games is that it doesn't necessarily take the best hand to win. Indeed, winning with lesser hands is a huge component of the appeal of the game.

The fact that a player can win without the best hand also means poker is inherently a game of skill, a fact increasingly acknowledged by governments around the world. As such, it makes little sense to judge poker with the same moral indignation that previous generations did pure games of chance.

While it's true that someone incredibly lucky enough to be dealt a series of strong hands has a better chance of winning, it happens so rarely as to be a non-factor. The consistent, skilful evaluation of the potential of hands relative to the value of pots wins in the long run. It's actually a form of mathematically predicting the likelihood of future outcomes and whether those outcomes are worth the risk of their not occurring.

Hands with the same rank are further qualified by the highest card(s) among those that qualify the hand for that rank. For example, a straight whose highest card is an ace (an "ace high straight") ranks higher than a straight whose highest card is a jack (a "jack high straight"). Similarly, two pair of kings and eights beats two pair of kings and sevens.

When the cards that determine a hand's rank tie, the additional "kicker" cards determine rank. For example, K♣ K♦ 7♥ 5♠ 2♠ beats K♥ K♠ 6♣ 5♦ 2♥. When kickers also tie, the hands tie.

Playing Poker

All poker games require players to have a stake in a hand by adding chips to a common pot. Most games require an initial stake in the game called the ante. Being required, an ante is considered a "forced bet". Putting forward that stake is called "anteing in" or "anteing up". In some games, anteing may consist of more than one forced bet, likely in fixed amounts.

Once all players have a stake in the game, betting rounds called "streets" ensue. The number of streets depends upon the game, as do their names. While streets are often named after their depth into the game (e.g. Second Street, Fourth Street), they'll also have more colourful names that have evolved over time (e.g. "The Flop" in Texas Hold'em).

Street Betting Options

  • Fold Surrender one's hand and interest in the pot
  • Check Choose not to bet when others haven't bet
  • Bet Choose to bet when others haven't bet
  • Call Match the bet of a previous player
  • Raise Both match and increase the bet of a previous player

The dealing of "community cards", which are cards that all players can use to make the best hand, separates streets. After the number of streets germane to a game have transpired, either one player is still in the game, or multiple players have a "showdown" where hands are compared, and the best hand wins.

The typical sequence of events per hand is:

  • Anteing
  • Dealing private player cards
  • A betting round (aka street)
  • Dealing one or more face-up community cards (or visible cards to each player)
  • Another betting round
  • Additional betting rounds whose number depending on the game
  • The showdown (if necessary)

Play continues until either one player remains in the pot, or there's a showdown to determine the winner.

Poker Strategy

Hollywood would have you believe that winning poker is about taking rash risks on top of nerves of steel, perhaps with a well-placed card-up-the-sleeve and a revolver in case you get caught before trotting off on your horse, laughing your way back to the Ponderosa. Well, Hollywood would also have you believe in a love at first sight that leads to being happily ever after, while anyone who's ever been married can firmly "say it ain't so".

Indeed, the basis for winning poker is a combination of an honest assessment of yourself (e.g. what you're willing to risk), a deep understanding of the likelihood of a winning hand occurring at any point during play, and a real-time awareness of how that likelihood stacks up against what the pot is or might eventually be worth. The adage "don't throw good money after bad" applies.

First, what game suits you? Note that's not the same as asking what game you enjoy the most. Many people get a real thrill from living on the edge. But are you the kind of person that thrives and prospers on the edge? If not, then you would probably be playing limit poker instead of its no-limit sibling. Does a game make more sense to you when the highest hand wins, or can you get your mind around the notion of the lowest hand being the best hand? The answer to that should determine whether you play Hi games, Lo games, or are well constituted for Hi-Low games.

Once you've found your optimal game, you then need to become solid on the rules of that game, and master the hand ranks that apply to all games. The last thing you want to do is be betting hard on your straight when another player clearly has strong flush possibilities.

Limit Poker Versus No-Limit

Limit Poker is characterized by betting in a pair of pre-defined amounts called the small bet (SB) and big bet (BB). These bet amounts are clearly listed for a game. For example, in a $2/$4 limit game, the SB is $2 and the BB is $4. When either bet is required or permitted depends on the poker variant.

A variation on the limit theme - especially in Omaha - is called pot limit, in which players can bet up to the amount currently in the pot.

In no-limit poker, bets can be any amount, even one's entire stake if desired, although there may be table-specific rules about raises and stakes betting. That said, there is usually a minimum opening bet, and raises typically must be at least as big as the previous raise.

Finally, get a strong handle on the aspect of the game that separates the pros from the wannabes: rating your and other players' hands. A gut feel is nice, and will probably come with experience. But the players who do the math finish the path, so to speak.

As usual, there are simpler and more advanced methodologies. You can scour the Internet for a lot of fine tunings of hand rating techniques. But let's look at the simplest way that is still heads above not rating hands at all, namely comparing "card odds" with "pot odds". The goal is to know when it's best (and how) to bet, and when it's best to fold.

Between the cards you see in your hand and in the community/visible cards, you can calculate a rough card odds, which are the chances of your hand becoming the highest ranked given the cards left in the deck. The cards you need are called "out" cards or "outs". Grant it, you can't see other hands and so you can't know for sure exactly what's left in the deck. But at least everyone else is at the same disadvantage.

The number of outs you need depends on the hand you hope arrive at. For example, eight cards can complete an outside straight. Four suited cards become a flush with any of the nine cards left in that suit. Given you know your outs, you can calculate the card odds. It's ratio of the number of remaining cards that are not outs to the number of outs needed:

  • total_unseen_cards - total_outs : total_outs

Going with the flush example, nine cards deliver your flush, so you have nine outs. If you're playing Texas Hold'em and betting the flop, you can see five cards overall: your two hole cards plus the three community cards.

That leaves 52 - 5, or 47 unseen cards. Subtract the number of outs (9) from the remaining unseen cards (47). The result tells you that 38 unseen cards don't make your flush, versus nine that do. Your card odds are 38:9, which is roughly 4:1. According to the card odds, your chances against drawing the out you need are four times greater than hitting it.

Next, evaluate the value of the pot relative to what you need to bet to win it, also known as the pot odds. If, for example, the pot contains $16 and the player before you bet $4 to bring it to $20, then you need to call with $4 to win that $20. The ratio of the pot relative to your bet is the pot odds, which is 20:4 in this case, or 5:1.

Should you call? Well, the pot odds are 5:1, but there are 4:1 card odds against your hand hitting an out. Pot odds of 5:1 means you must win once every six opportunities to break even. Card odds of 4:1 say you'll win an average of once every five times, which is more of than once every six times. Therefore, the amount you must call with to win the pot is supported by the chances of your hand winning, so you should call.

If, on the other hand, the pot stood at $12 instead of $20, the pot odds would be only 3:1, requiring a hand than wins at least once every four times. In that case, your hand isn't good enough to justify calling, and you should fold.

Poker Variations

While the possibilities for varying the basic premises of poker are many, some major favourites have emerged over time.

Game Hole Cards Exposed Cards Betting Rounds Best Hand
Texas Hold'em 2 5 (community) 4 highest
Omaha Hi 4 5 (community) 4 highest
Omaha Hi-Lo 4 4 (community) 4 highest and/or lowest (8 high)
Seven Card Stud 3 4 4 highest
Razz Poker 3 4 4 lowest
H.O.R.S.E. * (see below) * (see below) 4 * (see below)
Five Card Stud 2 3 varies by table highest
Five Card Draw 5 0 varies by table highest

* Depends on the variant in effect (Hold'em, Omaha Hi-Lo, Razz, Seven Card Stud, Eight or Better Seven Card Stud)

Multiply those options by the possibility of no limit and various limit versions, and one quickly arrives at a set of variations that address every player's fancy and style.

Live Dealer Versus Online

Live dealer solves some trust issues for those who can't come to trust that random number generators are truly random. A real dealer shuffles the deck, deals the cards, and interacts with the players. It's a slower pace than a purely automated online game, but some players prefer that. They find comfort in watching the card management with their own eyes and being part of interactions that seem more real and engaging than the virtual kind.

On the flip side, some players really come to love the faster pace of games managed automatically. Purely online environments can also offer far more tables. And the connectivity bandwidth requirements are lower because the data exchanged between players and the online casino is purely game related, as opposed to the heavy burden that bidirectional video streams place on equipment all the way from a casino hosting site, through networks, right down to each player's computing device. Finally, the absence of video feed real estate on the playing device screen means more room for card and pots odds calculators, and online information that one may have either forgotten or never known in the first place.

Top Tips

The top tips aren't particularly esoteric. In fact, they're mostly common sense. But emotions can run white hot in the heat of the action, and so it's good to keep tips like these handy to stop any costly emotional haemorrhaging in its tracks.

Don't convince yourself to play every hand.
Remember that winning is a consequence of risking the smallest bet for the biggest pot with the most promising hand. Some starting hands are absolute dogs with little or no reasonable chance of becoming winners. Don't even waste your time on them.
Don't drink and play.
Serious poker is like anything else that's serious, requiring all your faculties. And even if you don't drink enough to put a dent in those faculties, you're who you are for a reason and will have to live with yourself after the game. Don't dampen natural inclinations in hopes that playing looser is necessarily better. It may be better for someone else, but that's probably because they're naturally looser to begin with. Be yourself.
Don't feel compelled to bluff without good reason.
You can only go to the bluffing well so often for it to remain credible, or you risk becoming the proverbial Boy Who Called Bluff. Bluffing is only effective in some circumstances (one opponent remains, the table can't read you, opponents are obviously weak, visible cards support your bluff, you're sitting late position without a strong hand ahead of you). But it can be disastrous in other situations (it's obvious an opponent won't fold for being so pot invested or other reasons, numerous players are still in the hand).
Don't play emotionally, especially on the negative end.
Other players will pick up on it take advantage of you.
Don't let your pot investment keep you in a hand.
When card odds don't support the pot odds, it's time to get out. Do the math and let it be your friend. It'll hold you up in the long run.

Beginner's Mistakes

Beginners make mistakes. However, while your opponents will gladly forgive you for as many mistakes as is humanly possible for you to make, your dwindling bankroll won't. These are several behaviours you absolutely must avoid:

Not paying attention to visible cards
makes it impossible for you to do the most important thing of all, namely properly valuing your hand to know when and how to bet. Understanding how visible cards support your hand and might support opponents' hands is critical to your success.
Not paying attention to opponents
blinds you to a wealth of information known as "poker tells", which are patterns of behaviours and past actions you've correlated. Poker tells are the difference between wondering if someone is bluffing and having a pretty good feeling they are because they've done so before in a similar circumstance, or even have repeatedly done something as obvious as twitch a certain way before they bluff. You should be soaking up poker tells at all times, including when you're not in a hand.
Playing outside your bankroll or skill comfort zones
are fast paths to playing emotionally instead of intelligently. You have to know and be honest with yourself. While reckless showboating might work on rare occasion, it's usually the equivalent of painting an "easy fish" target on your back.
Calling at the end of hands solely to force someone to reveal their hand
may give you a certain amount of information about how they play, but you're doing so in the costliest possible way. Save that money for when you need to make your move.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Are Online Poker Sites Safe and Legal?

    The international sites we feature are licensed, have great reputations for personal information security and money safety, and are completely legal for Australians.

  • Where Can I Learn How to Play Poker?

    Most online poker sites have extensive guides to playing the variations of poker they provide because they want you to play, enjoy yourself, and return as often as you can.

  • Am I Playing Online Poker Against the House?

    No. Online casinos merely host and facilitate games in exchange for a small amount of each pot. Your only opponents are other players like you.

  • What Banking Methods Can I Use?

    Specific methods vary from site to site. But in general, you'll be able to use credit/debit cards, e-wallets, bank wires, electronic checks, ACH, and even mailed checks. Check with a site's online banking documentation to find the method that best suits your needs.

  • What About Bonuses?

    The sizes and details of bonuses vary dynamically across sites as they compete for your business. But you're missing out on potentially valuable bankroll if you don't take advantage of them. Some of the verbiage you'll encounter includes signup bonuses, deposit bonuses, no deposit bonuses, free bonuses, refer-a-friend bonuses, and loyalty bonuses that accumulate the more you play.

    Sites may place withdrawal restrictions on bonuses, especially "playthrough" requirements where you'll need to wager a certain amount of your own money to collect a bonus. Time limits in which to satisfy the requirements may also apply. Be sure to thoroughly read and understand a site's bonus rules, and query customer support as needed to avoid any misunderstandings.

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