Poker first emerged in the early 19th century in New Orleans and was made popular by the infamous floating saloons that cruised the lazy Mississippi in days gone by.

This game uses a combination of chance and skill. On the one hand, winning depends to some extent on the hand you are dealt in relation to the hands your opponents are dealt. Your chances of success are however greatly affected by your level of skill; how accurately you are able to predict your opponents’ actions based on your observation of the cards they exchange, their pattern of betting and their general personalities.

So how does the game work? Poker is played with a standard deck of 52 playing cards. The cards are ranked from high to low, with Aces at the top (as in Ace, then King, then Queen etc.) although Aces can also be played low (as in Ace, two, three etc.) There are four suits, hearts, diamonds, spades and clubs, and no one suit is ranked higher than another. All poker hands consist of five cards, and the highest hand wins. In the event of evenly ranked hands, the high card rule is followed, meaning that the highest next relevant card determines the winner.

There are several different hands that a player may draw. The description that follows shows these hands as ranked from the weakest possible hand to the strongest:

1.) High card: This is a hand that doesn’t contain any real competitive combinations. In this case, if nobody else has a pair or higher, the highest card wins.

2.) Pair: Your hand consists of one pair with three other cards (in the event of a tie, the hand with the highest of the three cards wins)

3.) Two Pair: This is when your hand contains two pairs and a 5th card. In this case, the highest pair wins ties.

4.) Three of a kind: this is when you have three cards of any rank (eg. Three tens or three Jacks etc,) and two left over cards (not a pair, otherwise this hand would be a full house!)

5.) Straight: 5 cards in order (eg. Ace, two, three, four, five.) Obviously when there is more than one straight in a round, the highest straight wins.

6.) Flush: This is when your hand contains 5 cards all of the same suit (but not necessarily in any order.) High card rule breaks ties.

7.) Full House: this is three of a kind and a pair. Ties are broken first by the three or a kind, but should these tie, the pair is used to determine the winner.

8.) Four of a Kind: four cards of the same rank (eg. Four Kings.)

9.) Straight Flush: This is the best hand you could possibly hope for: five cards of the same suit all in order .

Now that we have identified the possible hands that may be played, we can move on to the process of how the game unfolds. There are many variations, but the basic procedure is fairly simple. Often minimum and maximum betting amounts are agreed upon beforehand. Each player must pay in an agreed “ante” or “stake” to be dealt in, whereupon they receive five cards. Then betting commences. When your turn rolls around, there are three choices open to you:

You may Call: this is when you bet just enough to match what has been bet since the last time you bet. You would call if you believed there was a chance you could win, but your hand wasn’t strong enough for you to raise the stakes.

You may Raise: If you believe your chances of winning to be strong, you would first bet enough to match what has been placed in the pool since your last turn, and then you would raise the bet another amount.

You may Fold: This is when you don’t call or raise; you quit that round forfeiting any monies that you have already contributed up until that point, but reducing your losses on a poor hand. When folding, NEVER show your cards to anyone, since this would give them an idea of how you play (for example, whether or not you bluff!)

Betting carries on until everyone has folded, called or raised the initial bet. Then all cards of active players are revealed, and a winner is determined on the basis of the card rankings.

Online Poker follows the same principles as lives games, but there are some differences between playing online and face-to-face poker, and things to be aware of when playing online. For instance, online games can be accessed at any time of the day or night, and in some instances you can play for free!

Online poker can be a convenient, profitable alternative to traditional games, but before starting out, make sure that you acquaint yourself with the new features of online participation; for example the time-bank feature (which allows a stipulated amount of time to act), the layout of the site, the cashiers page etc.

Secondly, always read all of the terms and conditions of the site, and use only reputable online poker rooms. It is important to be fully aware of the rules governing the website you are playing on, and to understand the terms under which you will be playing (especially considering the many bonus offers used to attract players.)

Finally, start off playing low-stakes (even if you are a seasoned poker player,) until you are accustomed to the format and features of online poker so as to avoid unnecessary losses due to playing in an unfamiliar environment.