Online poker in South Africa is growing in popularity. Do you have the skills to keep ahead of the pack? With our beginner’s guide, you can learn the poker rules fast and hit the tables running. Get the full lowdown on:
- Tips for playing cash games and tournaments
- Basic hand values and rankings
- The best poker variants to play
Live poker has been around for centuries in one form or another. Online poker is a relative newcomer, and there are subtle differences between the two formats. Let's take a closer look at the ways online and live poker differ.
Play Anywhere, Anytime - If you live hundreds of miles from Port Elizabeth or Mossel Bay, you may struggle to get your live poker fix. That's the beauty of online poker. In South Africa, you can log on at home or on your mobile to play Texas Hold'em, Omaha or Stud. Games run 24/7 as long as there are players.
Choose Stakes to Suit Your Budget - Land-based poker rooms have higher minimum stakes than you will find online. Online poker sites let you play from just a few Rand, and you can even enter free-to-enter tournaments to win money.
Try Out Interesting Variants - Most offline cardrooms spread Texas Hold'em and little else. The best online poker rooms will have a range of interesting variations to try. Choose from Hold'em, Pot Limit Omaha, or bounty tournaments where you win cash for knocking other players out.
Gain More Experience by Playing More Hands - When you learn how to play poker, you will notice that online games move a lot faster than live. You can fit in many more hands per hour online than in your local cardroom. That means you get more experience and learn the game faster.
Earn Rakeback or an Online Bonus - Some land-based cardrooms in South Africa might offer a few comps to players. The bonuses at online poker rooms are much better. Players can earn free Rand when they sign up or earn rakeback on cash games. You can even join a VIP program and get added benefits like poker trips abroad.
Enjoy the Social Element - Playing poker online is convenient but in a live poker setting, you can also chat to players, have a meal, and relax.
Enter Big Money Live Tournaments - The best poker sites will offer regular tournaments. But not all online rooms attract enough players to help create a massive prize pool. At the biggest live poker tournaments and cash games in places like Las Vegas, South Africans can experience the thrill of big-money action.
Get Physical Tells From Your Opponents - Live poker gives you the opportunity to glean physical tells from other players. Tells are physical or verbal clues that opponents will give off. Tells can reveal players' hand or give clues on whether they are bluffing.
Experience Travel to the Biggest Cardrooms in the World - There are a handful of poker rooms in South Africa that run tournaments. But the beauty of live poker is that you can enjoy big action at the most exciting casinos around the world. Sit down at a tournament in Las Vegas or hit the cash games in London or Macau.
It takes minutes to learn how to play poker. The basic rules are simple, although mastering the game takes far longer. Let's look at the basic poker rules in a game of online Texas Hold'em.
1 - Post the Blinds
Before a hand is dealt, the blinds are posted. The player to the left of the dealer posts a 'small blind'. The player to the left of the small blind posts a 'big blind', worth double the small blind. In a tournament, the blinds will increase every level. This encourages play and brings the game to a natural finish.
Later on in a tournament, antes come into play too. These are enforced bets paid by all players, including the blinds. In many live tournaments, the player on the button will usually pay all antes in one go.
2 - Deal the Cards
The cards are dealt. In Hold'em, players receive two cards face down.
3 - Pre-Flop Action
The player to the left of the big blind ('Under the Gun') is first to act. They can call (match the big blind), raise, or fold (discard their hand). The raise is worth double the big blind, or at least the size of the previous bet. Play proceeds clockwise round the table. If there has been no raise, the big blind has the option to 'check' and place no more chips in the middle.
4 - Post-Flop Action
Once all bets have been called, three cards are dealt in the middle of the table. This is the flop and is shared by all players to help make the best poker hand possible.
There is now a second round of betting, starting with the small blind. They have the option to check or bet. Subsequent players can also check if there has been no action.
5 - Playing the Turn
Once the betting has been completed, a single fourth card is dealt into the middle of the table. This is called the 'turn'. A third round of betting takes place.
6 - Playing the River
A fifth card is added to the community cards in the middle. A final round of betting takes place.
7 - Showdown
After the last action, the remaining players compare hands. The winning player scoops the pot.
Most popular poker variants use high poker rankings. That is, the straight flush is the best hand available. Games like 2-7 Single Draw have slightly different rankings where the ace can count as a low card.
Let's examine the rankings for poker hands in Texas Hold'em. These are the most common rankings you will need when you learn how to play poker.
(e.g. Texas Hold'em, Omaha, Stud)
(e.g. 10-J-Q-K-A hearts)
Five highest cards (10, J, Q, K, A) in order, all of identical suits.
(e.g. 6-7-8-9-10 hearts)
Five cards in order, all of identical suits.
Four of a Kind (Quads)
Four cards of the same rank, plus a 'kicker'.
Three of a kind (three cards of the same rank), plus a pair.
(e.g. 2-4-6-7-Q hearts)
Five non-consecutive cards of the same suit.
(e.g. 4h 5c 6d 7h 8s)
Five cards in consecutive order, but of different suits.
Two pairs of matching ranked cards, plus a kicker.
One pair of matching ranked cards, plus three other cards.
Five unconnected, non-consecutive cards. The highest card plays.
At a top poker site, you will be able to find a wide variety of cash games and tournaments. Let's examine the most popular variations that South African players can enjoy for real money.
Hold'em is the "Cadillac of Poker" and can be found at all good online poker sites. Players receive two hole cards and share five community cards to form the best five-card hand. Hold'em is easy to learn and you can play it No Limit, which means there are no restrictions on the size of your bets. The game is popular, but fortunes can change wildly on the turn of each card.
In Omaha, players are dealt four cards each. They still share five community cards with the other players, but must use exactly two of their hole cards to form a poker hand. Omaha is usually played Pot Limit, which means the maximum raise is worth the size of the pot, including the call. Because so many cards are in play in Omaha, you generally need to have a nut hand (the best available) or be drawing to the nuts.
If you play online poker in South Africa, you can try the Stud tables on your laptop or mobile. Two cards are dealt face down to each player, followed by four cards face up. There are betting rounds in between. A final down card is dealt to the players and they must make their best 5-card hand. Online 7-Card Stud players aren't as skillful as Hold'em players, so there is money to be made.
Ready to play? You'll find these great games at our top-rated online poker sites.
At all poker sites, you will be able to play cash games or tournaments. Cash games have a maximum buy-in and the blinds never increase. Tournaments can take anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours to complete. Let's compare and contrast the two.
Choose a Range of Buy-Ins - You can pick cash games based on their blind levels. Online cash games may start from R0.14/R0.28, but it's common to have full tables at R140/R280. The maximum buy-in to sit down might be worth 50-100x the big blind. You can even play cash games for free at practice play tables.
Pick From a Dozen Disciplines - No Limit Texas Hold'em cash games tend to be the most popular online variants. The best poker sites will have Limit Hold'em and Pot Limit Hold'em, as well as Stud, Omaha, and Razz cash tables.
The Blinds Never Go Up - Unlike a tournament, once you sit down at a cash game, the blinds will never increase.
The Games Never End - As long as you have cash at the table and there are other players seated, you can keep on playing. If you run out of money, you will have the option to re-buy and replenish your stack by visiting the online cashier.
Earn Rakeback at the Poker Site - In many cash pots, you will have to pay a fee to the poker site. This is called the rake. Regular players can earn 'rakeback' by racking up enough hands or even join a rake race promotion to win prize money.
Choose Your Buy-In Level - Online poker tournaments have a range of buy-ins to suit all budgets. Look out for games that offer re-buys or add-ons. These are additional fees that allow busted players to buy back in.
Choose From a Range of Disciplines - Freezeout tournaments play down to a winner, with a percentage of the top finishers sharing the prize money. Good poker rooms will also offer single table 'Sit 'n Gos' which begin when every seat is filled. Knockout tournaments, meanwhile, award bounties when you eliminate players.
Tournament Blinds Increase - Unlike cash games, tournament blinds increase regularly to help bring the event to a natural close. The poker lobby will clearly display the blind schedule. This gives you an idea of whether a tournament is too fast or too slow.
Win Money in Freerolls - Most of the best poker websites in South Africa offer freerolls. These are free-to-enter tournaments that give away a small amount of prize money to the players. Freerolls are great for helping to develop poker skills.
Win a Slice of the Guaranteed Prize pool - Get a package to a big tournament overseas like the WPT or WSOP.
Online poker has a language all of its own. Here are some common terms you will come across when playing.
All-In: To bet all of your stack on a hand.
Ante: A forced bet paid by all players at the start of a hand.
Backdoor: Completing a winning poker hand using the turn and river.
Big Slick: A slang term for Ace-King.
Blinds: Forced bets paid by two players (small blind and big blind) at the start of a hand.
Cards: Dealt to each player at the start of a hand.
Check: To pass the action to the next player without betting.
Check-Raise: To pass the action before raising an opponent's bet.
Flop: The first three community cards in Hold'em or Omaha.
Fold: To discard your hand.
Hold'em: Popular form of poker played online, featuring community cards.
Rake: Fee taken from the pot by the poker site or cardroom.
River: The fifth and final community card dealt in Hold'em or Omaha.
Speak: Make a check, bet or raise.
Stakes: Portion of player's buy-in used for a game.
Turn: Fourth community card dealt in Hold'em or Omaha.
Now you know how to play poker, you're ready to hit the online tables. Discover the best poker sites identified by our experts. Make a ZAR deposit today and start your poker journey.
Are you ready to get playing poker online? Here's a helpful FAQ section for South African players. We'll see you at the tables!
Cash games and tournaments require different skills, but if you opt for a basic strategy you can win money at the cash tables. Cash games also require a bigger bankroll to take multiple rebuys into account.
A poker freeroll is an online tournament that is free to enter. The poker site may put up some prize money which is shared among the top finishers.
Texas Hold'em is easiest poker variant to learn, and the most popular. Because the outcome of the poker hands can change wildly on the turn of a card, Hold'em will remain a hit with players everywhere. With even a basic set of skills, beginners can win money in Texas Hold'em.
The ace is the highest card in games like Texas Hold'em and Omaha. However, in 'lowball' games like Razz, the ace acts as the lowest card.
A straddle is a cash game bet placed before a hand is dealt. It's equal to double the big blind. A super straddle is equal to double the first straddle. In action games, it's possible to have the entire table placing straddles before the poker hands are dealt.
In Texas Hold'em, Omaha and Stud, a flush beats a straight. In some three-card variants of poker, like Brag, a straight beats a flush.