Poker is a complex card game - a rich world of statistics, strategy and player psychology that takes various forms and can't be quickly or easily summarised. There are, however, some basic tenets which can guide players away from the myths and money-spinning schemes, toward a tailored and (hopefully) profitable strategy.
The first step in playing poker is to decide which form you want to play.
Texas Hold'em and Omaha are popular forms of community card (or flop) poker. Two cards are dealt and the remaining three selected from a pot of five cards in the middle of the table. Players bet after seeing their two cards (the ante) and can increase their stake, check or fold after each turn of a card. This gives significant control over playing style, and the amount of money risked on a hand.
Simpler types that beginners should consider are straight poker, in which a full hand is dealt, and draw poker, in which players can discard unwanted cards to try and gain a better hand from a new deal.
Assessing the probability of a winning hand is the first big decision in any game, and arguably the most important. These are the winning poker hands in order from lowest to highest:
Playing bad hands to the end is the quickest way to lose money, so don't be frightened of folding.
The main way to control a poker game is by betting strategically.
The button denotes who posts the big blind (a mandatory initial stake) and who posts the small blind (half the big blind). Players in these positions are already invested in the hand and may wish to play differently, especially since they will bet first on each turn and can effectively pressure other players.
Folding loses your entire stake, but protects you from further losses. A conservative strategy would be to fold on all but the best hands.
Checking means sticking with your current bet, not raising or folding. This is useful when you are looking to entice rivals into betting, or when you simply want to wait for the next card without risking any more money.
Raising means increasing the stakes - a bravado move to bring more money into a game and maximise winnings from a good hand. This is also the way to bluff in poker, but this is a much more risky strategy than many newcomers realise: a near-myth in the world of poker that's hard to pull off. Plenty of pros advise against it.
Finding 'tells' is tough, another near-myth, but tracking how regularly players bet, fold, bluff etc can be used to determine a counter strategy over the course of a poker session. Online poker sites like 888 Poker also have a note tool for exactly this purpose.
To bypass the psychology and play the numbers, try speed poker. The rapid dealing of hands means that there is more focus on the cards and the stakes.