Beginner's guide

What is the best variation of poker for absolute beginners?

Poker is probably the most famous and iconic casino game. In fact, it is more than just a game. Few can argue that WSOP events are as much a sport as snooker, pool or darts, and there is even talk of poker becoming an Olympic event. At the same time, the game has been a focal point of so many books and movies that it has a mystique about it that is all its own.


However, these factors can serve to discourage beginners from approaching the game. New players are trying both physical casinos and their online variations every day, with the latter having been particularly popular over the first half of 2020 for obvious reasons. A first timer will happily explore the huge variety of slot games at sites like or place a bet at the roulette wheel. Most will even be confident to try a hand or two of blackjack.


Yet anyone who has never played poker before will typically look sidelong at the game with a blend of fear and longing. That doesn’t have to be the case and here, we will explore some simple versions of poker that are ideal for beginners. Not only are they fun to play in their own right, they also provide the ideal launchpad for moving on to more advanced variations of our wonderful game.


Video poker

This is where most people start, and with good reason. In video poker, it’s just player versus machine, and there is zero opportunity for embarrassing yourself while you get to grips with what you are doing. You can also start out playing on a “just for fun” phone app, so any novice errors will not harm your wallet.


In video poker, you are dealt a hand of five cards and can choose which ones to hold. The rest are redealt, and that makes up your final hand. Each video poker game has a table displayed that shows what each hand is worth. The beauty of this is that in no time, a beginner understands the relative worth of a straight, a flush, three of a kind and so on.


The numerous variations of video poker can seem off-putting, but whichever one you choose, the fundamental gameplay is the same. Some simply offer different rewards for specific hands, while other have additional dimensions, for example 2s are treated as wildcards in Deuces Wild. A good starting point with no added complications is Jacks or Better.


Three card poker

Conceptually, this game is even simpler than video poker. It is popular with those who enjoy playing blackjack or baccarat as it takes a similar format of just playing against a dealer’s hand. There are two distinct bets available. The first is the “pair plus” wager, which you can place before looking at your cards. As the name suggests, this is a bet that your hand will contain a pair or better.


To start the game, place your ante wager and your pair plus bet if you choose to do so. You can then look at your three cards and decide whether or not to place a play wager and go up against the dealer’s hand. Conventional strategy states that you should play with Queen-six-four or better, otherwise you should fold.


If you fold, you lose the ante wager (and the pair plus wager if you placed it). If you play and the dealer has Jack-high or worse, you collect the play wager and the hand is over. If the dealer has Queen-high or better, you win if you have a superior hand, and there is a bonus for a straight, a straight flush or three of a kind.


Note that the pair plus wager is a side-bet, and the dealer’s hand is irrelevant to whether you win or lose this.


Caribbean stud poker

This variation is similar to three card poker in that it is played against the dealer and the dealer’s hand must have a certain qualifying value. In this case, it is Ace-King or better, sometimes known as “Ace-high with a King kicker.” The game is played with five cards, so it feels more like “real” poker and brings into play all those possible hands that you learned in video poker, such as a full house, two-pair and so on.


Pay the ante, and you and the dealer are each dealt five cards, yours are face up, while four of the dealer’s are face down. You must decide from the quality of your hand and the dealer’s upcard whether to place the play wager by doubling the ante, or to fold your hand. If you fold, the ante is lost and the hand is over. If you play, the rest of the dealer’s cards are revealed.


If the dealer does not have a qualifying hand of Ace-King or better, the game cannot be “opened” and all bets are returned. If the dealer qualifies and has a superior hand to yours, you lose the ante and play wager. If your hand is better, you receive a payout as per the game’s play table. When you play online, this is usually shown on-screen, just like video poker. Payouts vary, but typical values go from even money for a pair or high card to 100/1 for a Royal Flush.


Caribbean poker also has the option for a jackpot bet. This is a side-wager that your hand will be above a certain value (typically three of a kind, but sometimes a flush). This can be tempting, particularly as it protects you from that annoying scenario whereby you have a great hand but the dealer doesn’t qualify so you get no reward. However, the statisticians say optimum strategy is to decline the jackpot side bet.


Welcome to the world of poker

These three poker games can all be picked up very quickly, even by a complete novice. As well as being enjoyable, they provide the perfect groundwork to exploring many other versions of poker. Welcome aboard!

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