Unless you’ve been living under a rock, chances are you’ve at least heard of Texas Hold’em. While Texas Hold’em is actually fairly simple to play, it can look really intimidating when you don’t know what’s going on; there are cards all over the table, and players use a lot of jargon that doesn’t make much sense to non-players.
Luckily, learning how to play Texas Holdem is quick and easy. Here’s a quick guide to the rules of Texas Hold’em!
How to Play Texas Hold’em: Getting Started
To play Texas Hold’em, you’re going to need a standard deck of 52 playing cards, and some people to play with. Typically, Texas Hold’em is played with anywhere between two and ten players, but if you’re just starting out and want to understand how the game normally works, a group of six to ten players will probably work best. You’ll also want chips, as well as something you can use to signify which player is the dealer (many poker sets come with a dealer button).
How to Play Texas Hold’em: Hand Ranks
The object of the game is to make the best five-card poker hand possible. Each player receives two cards, face down, that they can examine but should be kept secret from the other players. In addition, every player can use five community cards that are placed in the center of the table by the dealer during the course of the hand. Each player’s hand can be made up of any combination of those five community cards and their two “hole cards.” Hands are ranked according to the normal poker hand rankings. If you need a refresher, those rankings look like this (starting from the lowest hand):
Five suited cards in sequential order: T♥9♥8♥7♥6♥
This is the strongest hand in Texas Hold’em, and includes any hand that is a straight made up of five cards of the same suit. The strongest possible Straight Flush – AKQJT of the same suit – is known as a Royal Flush.
Four cards of the same rank: Q♥Q♦Q♣Q♠
This group, also known as ‘quads’ or ‘poker’, includes any hand that has four cards of the same rank, such as AAAA3. Hands in this group are ranked by the rank of the quads, and then, if necessary, the rank of the single card.
Three cards of the same rank and two cards of another rank: 2♥2♦2♣9♥9♣
Also known as a boat, a full house is a combination of three of a kind and a pair. These hands are ranked by comparing the rank of the three of a kind, then, if necessary, the pair.
Five cards of any rank in the same suit: 4♣6♣J♣A♣9♣
Any hand with five cards of the same suit, such as five clubs, is a flush. Ties are broken by the rank of the highest card in each flush, followed by the second highest card, and so on. E.g. An ace high flush, beats a ten high flush. A flush is sometimes called a “blue”.
Five cards of any suit in sequential order: K♦Q♣J♥T♣9♠
Straights are also known as runs. Straights include any hand with five cards of consecutive rank, like 56789. Aces can be played as either a high card or a low card in straights. If two players have a straight, the straight with the higher cards wins. The “nut straight” is A-K-Q-J-T and is known as “Broadway.”
Three cards of the same rank in a five-card hand: 8♥8♣8♦XX
If you have a this hand with a pair in your hole cards, it is known as a set. If you have one card in your hand and two on the board, it is called trips. Ties are broken by the rank of the three of a kind, then the rank of the highest unpaired card.
Two cards of the same rank, and two of a different rank in a five-card hand: 5♦5♣K♠K♣Xx
Two pair is the most common winning hand at showdown in No-Limit Hold ‘em. This group includes any hand with two pairs of cards from the same ranks, like TTQQ6. Ties are broken first by the rank of the higher pair, then the lower pair, and then the unpaired card.
Two cards of the same rank in a five-card hand: 9♥9♣XXX
This group includes any hand that contains one pair of cards of the same rank, like 77QK2. Ties in this group are broken by the rank of the pair, and then by the rank of the highest non-pair card, and so on.
Any five-card hand that does not correspond to the above rankings.
The highest card in the hand determines the name. For example, a High Card hand of K♥9♦6♣3♠2♣ is called “King High.”
Hands in this group are ranked by their highest card (aces are high), with ties broken by the second highest card, then the third, and so on.
How to Play Texas Hold’em: Rules of Play
In Texas Hold ‘em, there are four rounds of betting. These rounds are also refereed to as “streets”.
- Pre-flop, when players are dealt their first two hole cards.
- Flop, when the first three board cards are dealt.
- Turn, when the 4th board card is dealt.
- River, when the 5th and final board card is dealt.
Each hand of Texas Hold’em begins with the two players to the left of the button posting the small blind and large blind, respectively. The size of these blinds, along with the size of the bets throughout the game, will be determined by the betting structure you choose to use.
Limit Hold’em games employ a fixed betting structure. A $5/$10 Limit Game, for example, has forced “blind” bets of $2 and $5 (small blind and big blind) and a small bet of $5 followed by a big bet of $10. Players can bet and raise in $5 increments until $20 before and on the flop ($20 is the equivalent of 4bets and is known as capping. This is the maximum number of raises allowed in any round of fixed limit holdem betting). On the turn and river, the bet size doubles, so in a $5/$10 game, bets and raises of $10 increments are made on the turn and river with a cap of $40.
In No-Limit Hold’em games, players can bet and raise as much as they like at any point. For example, a $1/$2 game with blinds of $1 and $2 will have a minimum bet of $2 and a maximum bet of all your chips. No Limit Texas Hold’em is the most popular betting structure in todays games.
Pot-Limit Hold’em games play much like No-Limit, but players are restricted to betting and raising the size of the pot.
After the blinds are posted, the dealer deals two cards face down to each player. Beginning with the player to the left of the big blind, each player now has the following options for playing their hand:
Fold: A player may fold at any time, forfeiting their cards and ending their participation in the hand.
Call: A player may match the current bet.
Raise: A player may raise the current bet (the amount of the raise allowed will depend on the game structure).
Players will also have the option to check (or pass) at times during the hand; this occurs when no bet has been made yet in a betting round. In the case of the first betting round, only the big blind will have this option, and only if there is no raise (as the big blind has already put the initial betting amount into play to start the hand).
Play moves around the table clockwise. A round of betting ends when all remaining players have called the current bet, or when only one player is left in the hand because everyone else has folded. In that case, the last player takes the money in the pot, and the hand is over.
If two or more players are left after a the first betting round ends, then the dealer will deal three cards (known as the flop) in the middle of the table. These community cards can be used by all players to help make their best hand. On this and all later betting rounds, the play starts with the first player to the left of the dealer button.
As long as at least two players remain in the hand, play continues as normal. After the flop, the dealer will deal a fourth community card, known as the turn. After another round of betting, the dealer will then deal the final community card, known as the river. At that point, there is one last round of betting. If that round ends with two or more players still in the hand, all remaining players now “showdown” by revealing their hands. The player with the best hand according to the hand rankings above takes all of the money in the pot. If there is an exact tie between two or more players, they will split the pot as evenly as possible.
After each hand, the dealer button moves one seat to the left, and play begins again as normal.
While there are many more intricacies to the rules of Texas Hold’em, this should be enough to get you started. Now that you understand how to play Texas Hold’em, it’s time to get to the tables and start playing!
Joe, Chris, Jack, Martin and Matt are playing a game of $10/$20 Fixed Limit Hold’em at a leading online poker room. Each player has $500.
Joe posts a $5 small blind and Chris a $10 big blind. Matt, as dealer (or “on the button,” a reference to the dealer button used to indicate the betting rotation) then deals two cards to each player, beginning with Joe and dealing clockwise. When each player has two cards, the betting commences.
Jack folds his cards but Martin likes his a little better and decides to call, matching the $10 big blind. Matt raises to $20 and Joe folds. Chris calls the extra $10 and so does Martin.
With the betting round complete, making a $65 pot, Matt “burns” the top card of the deck (discards it face-down) before dealing the first three community cards – the flop – on the table. The burn is used to prevent cheating.
The flop is: J♥ 2♣ 2♥
With the action going clockwise from the small blind, Chris is first to act and checks. Martin bets $10 and Matt raises to $20. Chris folds and Martin 3-bets to $30. Matt calls to create a pot of $125 and then burns a card before dealing the fourth card, the turn.
The turn makes a board of: J♥ 2♣ 2♥ 8♥
Martin checks and Matt bets $20 – on the turn and river, remember the betting is in increments of the big bet. Martin calls for a pot of $165 and the river is dealt.
The river completes the board: J♥ 2♣ 2♥ 8♥ 4 ♠
Martin bets $20 and Matt raises to $40. Martin 3-bets to $60 and Matt 4-bets to $80, which caps the betting. Martin cannot raise any further and calls for a final pot of $325 – since he has been called, Matt must showdown first. He turns over J♣J♦ for a full house, jacks over twos. Martin shows A♥ K♥ for an ace-high flush that loses to Matt’s boat.