Online poker has helped to bring the game to a much broader audience and playing base than it previously had, so much so that the winners of some big online tournaments get seats at World Series of Poker tournaments and can go on to become international superstars of the game.
Most of the sites that we list offer a variety of different poker games, from classic editions of the game to the more obscure, as well as with live dealer versions, while some of our casinos also run separate poker room sites.
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The rules of online poker
As Texas Hold’em is the game that is most popular in online casinos, we’ll outline the basic rules as an example of how poker is played.
The first step, and something that every poker player needs to know, is the ranking of hands, as in the end this is what determines who wins or who loses a pot. Although there are a couple of exceptions, almost every version of online poker is governed by these same rules when it comes to the order of hands:
- Royal Flush (A-K-Q-J-10, all the same suit e.g., A♥-K♥-Q♥-J♥-10♥)
- Straight Flush (five consecutive cards, all the same suit e.g., 8♣-7♣-6♣-5♣-4♣)
- Four-of-a-Kind (four cards of the same value e.g., A-A-A-A)
- Full House (three-of-a-kind, plus 1 pair e.g., A-A-A-8-8)
- Flush (all the same suit e.g., A♣-10♣-8♣-4♣-2♣ )
- Straight (five consecutive cards, unsuited e.g., 6♣-5♠-4♦-3♣-2♥)
- Three-of-a-kind (three cards of the same value such as 5-5-5)
- Two-pair (e.g., 10-10 and 3-3)
- Pair (any pair)
- High card (a hand with none of the above combinations)
Online Texas Hold’em uses a standard 52 card deck, and the aim of the game is to make the best possible poker hand using at least one of your two cards in combination with at least three of the five communal cards that are dealt face up in the centre of the table.
To begin a hand, two players (beginning with the two closest to the dealer’s left, and then moving clockwise around the table) are required to make compulsory ‘blind’ bets before any cards are dealt. Known as the small and large blinds, these bets get the pot started and are set amounts (in a tournament, the size of the blinds increases as the game goes on).
Then, all players are dealt two cards face down (one at a time, going around the table clockwise), and a round of betting ensues. The player immediately to the left of the large blind is the first to ‘speak’, and they can either bet or ‘fold’ (throw in their cards and drop out of the hand). The next player can then ‘call’ (match the bet), ‘raise’ (increase the size of the bet), or fold. Play goes around the table until all players have either called or folded.
The next stage of the game is the ‘flop’, where the three communal cards are dealt face up in the middle of the table. The big blind is the first to speak in this betting round, and they can ‘check’ (make no bet), bet or fold. If the first to speak checks or folds, the next player to bet can also check, but if a bet has been made they have to call, raise or fold. If a player has checked but players after them have bet, then that player then has to call or raise to stay in the hand (they can also fold).
This is then followed by ‘the turn’, when the fourth face up communal card is dealt, followed by another round of betting.
The last communal card, known as ‘the river’ is then dealt, and there is a final round of betting. The pot is won if: there is only one player left who has not folded; or all bets (and raises) have been called and there is a ‘showdown’, which means the remaining players turn over their face down cards so that the best hand is revealed. The player holding the best hand wins the pot.
Other online poker games
While Texas Hold’em is the most commonly played online poker game, there are some other popular versions that you can find at our featured sites.
Omaha is the game that is most similar to Texas Hold’em, in that it features both face down player cards and face up communal cards. However, the main difference is that players receive four cards, of which they are required to use two, along with the three communal cards, to make the best hand. Other features of the game, like the flop, the turn and the river, are the same, as is the betting.
Although less common than Texas Hold’em or Omaha, 7 Card Stud is played at a number of our featured casinos and poker rooms.
There are no communal cards — rather players are dealt a sequence of face up and face down cards (7 in total) from which they must make the best 5-card poker hand. Other major differences are that instead of blind bets, each hand starts with every player contributing an ‘ante’, or set bet, of a pre-determined value, and 7 Card Stud is usually a ‘pot limit’ game, meaning no bet or raise can be bigger than the total amount in the pot at any given time. (Most Texas Hold’em and Omaha games are ‘no limit’, meaning bets and raises can be as large as the players want to make them.)
3 Card Brag
3 Card Brag is another popular poker game, and is also found on several live dealer platforms as well. Played with a standard 52 card deck and ante bets, players get three cards which must be better than the dealer’s to win; however, the dealer’s hand must contain at least a Queen or better to be considered, otherwise the player wins automatically. There is also a game within the game, the ‘Pair Bonus’, where you can bet on being a dealt a pair.
Mobile online poker
Online poker is a game that adapts well to the smaller screens of smartphones and tablets, and so is a featured game at many of the sites that we recommend. You can play mobile Texas Hold’em and Omaha and take part in tournaments, as well as play the games that have been adapted from poker that we outline below.
Most of our mobile casinos offer an app to access their mobile casino, with some having apps that are dedicated entirely to poker. However, poker is also available at sites where you play in a web-based version directly in your device’s browser, and to my mind the quality and speed of the gameplay is essentially the same, regardless of which platform you choose.
Online poker tournaments
Tournament play is slightly different to regular online casino poker, in that all players start off with the same number of chips, and the tournament winner is the one who ends up winning them all. There are free and low-entry fee tournaments held regularly at all our featured sites (with relatively small prizes), as well as much bigger special events where the entry fee is higher, but so are the prizes.
The two main types of tournament are Sit’n’Go and Scheduled events. With a Sit’n’Go, there is no definite starting time, but rather you register to play and then wait for the table to fill up, and then it begins. The entry fee will usually be free or relatively small (or you might get entry as part of a Welcome Bonus), with a prize that isn’t huge, but this is a popular way to play as you can essentially sit down and play whenever you like.
Scheduled tournaments tend to be bigger (and therefore more expensive to enter, but you sometimes get free entry as signup bonus), and so they will usually offer much bigger prizes, and even entry into other large-scale poker tournaments
Other casino poker games
There are several other online casino games that are variations of poker.
Video poker is the most obvious, and is based on 5 card draw poker, the main difference being that you are playing against the dealer (or RNG) rather than other players. You’re dealt five cards on the screen and have the choice to either retain or discard any or all of them to try and make the best possible 5 card poker hand to beat the dealer’s. There are more than fifty different versions of video poker, and the strategies for each can be quite different, so I would recommend playing free video poker in practice mode to find the version that you most enjoy.
Pai Gow is an increasingly popular poker adaptation that in fact actually started out as an ancient Chinese domino game. You play against the dealer and are dealt 7 cards, with the aim of making better 5-card and 2-card hands than they have.
You’ll also find at our featured sites Let It Ride, based on 5-Card Stud poker, where you have to make the best five card poker hand from your two face down cards and three face up communal cards. The unusual feature (and where the game gets its name) is that at any stage during the course of the hand you can withdraw a third of your bet, or keep it all in play and let it ride. Caribbean Stud poker is also based on 5-Card Stud, and is another poker game where instead of playing against other players, you play against the House.