If you're new to online poker, it might surprise you to hear that cash games can be the best place to take your first steps. It's vital to take a look at how poker cash games evolved, how they're played and how to navigate your way around the lobbies and tables of the best online casinos.
Online poker began in IRC chat rooms, with players typing commands and no graphics. Then in 1998, Planet Poker launched the first major platform on which gamblers could bet real money on the outcomes of their poker games.
By July 2002, around 1,400 active players were accessing the major poker sites every month. The numbers steadily climbed as online poker's popularity grew, and more and more competitor sites appeared offering a wide variety of games for players to try. Now, millions of people play online regularly and billions of dollars are bet in online games every year.
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Poker cash games are non-committal tables in which players wager real money on a game-by-game basis and can leave at any time, exchanging their chips for cash. They can be the best introduction for beginners, or experienced players new to the online environment, because they involve a real financial risk.
Betting play money often leads to a gung ho approach that might not translate to cash games. They also allow players to bypass the long run-times and expensive or complicated buy-in procedures of tournament poker.
The most important thing to know in any poker game is how the winner is determined. Winning hands are ranked as follows:
One Pair | two cards with the same face value
Two Pairs | two sets of two cards with the same face value
Three of a Kind | three of the same face value card
Straight | five sequential cards of different suits
Flush | five non-sequential cards of the same suit
Full House | a pair and three of a kind
Four of a Kind | four cards of the same face value
Straight Flush | five sequential cards, all in the same suit
Royal Flush | the sequence of ten to ace, all in the same suit
If no player has any of the above hands, the highest card wins (aces are counted as high). High cards also determine the winner in the event of a tie.
In all poker games, a marker (known as the button) indicates the last player to bet. The person to his or her left must place a fixed minimum bet (the big blind) and the player to their left must place a bet of half that amount (the small blind). Betting progresses clockwise until every player has acted, then the next round begins.
However, specific rules change between poker variants, which include:
Texas Hold’em Poker | Players are dealt two cards that only they can see. Five community cards are revealed in three stages, each of which is accompanied by a round of betting. Players then make the best five-card they can, including at least one of their two original cards.
Omaha Poker | Players are dealt four cards that only they can see, before five community cards are dealt in a series of betting rounds. Players must then use at least two of their own cards to make the best hand possible.
7-Card Stud | Players are dealt seven cards, three face up, two face down, and betting progresses over five rounds. Two more cards are dealt to each player. Their best five cards make the winning hand.
5-Card Draw | Players are dealt five cards. They then place bets before discarding some, all or none of their cards. Replacement cards are dealt and each player must use them to make their best hand.
Hi-Lo | Sometimes combined with Omaha or 7-card stud, Hi-lo poker requires players to use seven cards to make two hands. Their five best cards make the big hand and the next best pair make the small one. A stake is wagered on both hands.
Top poker sites also offer a range of table options, which determine how gameplay progresses. Key considerations are:
Limits | Pot limits set fixed maximum increments for each betting round. No-limit tables allow players to raise the stakes as high as they like.
Table Size | Most online poker tables allow for six players, but many variations cater for larger or smaller numbers.
Timing | As an extra feature, many tables set time limits for how long a player can deliberate over a hand.
Poker clients differentiate themselves in various ways. Some function on downloadable software and are an excellent choice for speed and stability, though they take up hard drive space. Others are in-browser, which is more flexible. Many poker sites also offer apps or mobile browser sites for smartphone and tablet users.
Additional features, such as chat functions, the ability to make notes, viewable game statistics and the option to see the game history can all play a big part in making poker cash games both enjoyable and profitable. Check which of these a site has on offer before committing to play.