The Complete Guide to Playing Texas Hold’em
This guide was written for absolutely anyone to learn how to play poker, and more specifically, Texas Hold’em. I wrote it with the intention of having my mom read it, who knows nothing about poker, and learn how to play. It worked, by the way (but she did have quite a few questions). If you’re new, it helps to find someone who already knows how to play and run you through a simulation or two. You can also feel free to contact me with any questions you may have.
If you’re completely new to poker, I suggest you read the entire guide from start to finish. However, if you already have an understanding of some of the basic concepts, you can expand the Contents box below to more easily find what you’re looking for. Alternatively, you can press CTRL+F (or CMD+F on Mac) to open your browsers search function.
- 1 The Complete Guide to Playing Texas Hold’em
- 2 A Very Brief History
- 3 Players
- 4 The Limit
- 5 Chips
- 6 Button, Blinds, and Antes
- 7 The Deal
- 8 Betting Actions
- 9 Preflop
- 10 Flop
- 11 Turn
- 12 River
- 13 Showdown
- 14 Ranking of Hands
- 15 You Now Know How to Play Texas Hold’em!
A Very Brief History
Texas Hold’em (often just referred to as Hold’em, Holdem, Hold em, or Hold Them) is the world’s most popular form of poker and has been for quite some time. According to Wikipedia:
Although little is known about the invention of Texas hold ’em, the Texas State Legislature officially recognizes Robstown, Texas, United States as the game’s birthplace, dating the game to the early 1900s.
Popularity continued to grow over the decades and exploded in the early 2000s due to Internet poker and again in 2003 when Chris Moneymaker won the WSOP Main Event. But enough about the history, you’re here to learn how to play the game, so on with it.
Texas Hold’em is a betting form of poker which can be played with 2 – 10 players at one time. (In rare cases, tables with 11-12 players may happen. It’s technically possible to deal a hold’em hand with a maximum of 22 players.) A game with 2 players is referred to as heads up, 3-6 players as short handed, and 7-10 as full ring or full table.
Our examples throughout this article will assume a 9 player full ring table, but there are some differences when playing heads up, and those are explained when needed.
The image below shows the positions on a 9 player table. This will be explained in more detail further in the article.
SB = Small Blind
BB = Big Blind
UTG = Under the Gun
UTG+1 = 1 After Under the Gun
MP = Middle Position
MP+1 = 1 After Middle Position
HJ = HiJack
CO = Cutoff
BTN = Button
Hold’em can be played with a fixed limit, pot limit, or no limit betting structure. Less common variants are cap and spread limits.
In fixed limit, often called limit hold’em, bets are “fixed”, as expected by the name. In other words, if you’re at a $5 – $10 limit hold’em game, players may bet or raise in increments of $10 preflop and on the flop. On the turn and river this limit is often doubled. Bets are often capped after four raises, meaning once a fourth bet has been placed, no one else can raise.
In pot limit hold’em, players can bet any amount from the big blind to the full size of the pot. If the pot size is $50 in a $1 – $2 pot limit game, and your stack is $75, you can bet any amount from $2 – $50. Often times people verbalize “pot” meaning a pot sized bet. You will find many online poker sites also have a Pot button which will bet or raise according to the size of the pot.
No limit hold’em is the most common version of the game and probably the variation you want to learn how to play. Almost all the television broadcasts, including the WSOP Main Event, are played as no limit hold’em. In no limit, players can bet any amount from the big blind up to their entire stack at any point in the hand. In other words, if the pot is $20 in a $1 – $2 game, and you have a stack of $500, you can bet the entire $500 when it’s your turn. When a player bets their entire stack, this is referred to as being “all-in”. The most well known phrase in poker is probably “I’m all-in.”
Our examples throughout this article will assume no limit hold’em is being played.
Cap games are played until the pot reaches a certain size at which point the pot is capped and no more betting is allowed. If a pot reaches the cap, all remaining players are treated as all-in and the remaining cards are dealt. Cap games are often played as no limit or pot limit until the cap is reached.
Spread limit games are similar to cap games. They are basically no limit games with a cap on how much a single player can bet in any one hand. These games are often found at casinos in California due to a silly law that doesn’t allow no limit style games. A game may be referred to as $5 – $200 spread, which means a player can only bet a maximum of $200 per hand, even if they have more in their stack. Once a player bets $200 he is treated as all-in.
To sit down at a poker table, players purchase chips for cash from the dealer or pit. If you’re playing online, you will be prompted to purchase chips in order to sit. Some casinos have money plays rules meaning any cash you have on the table is also in action and considered part of your stack, but still require a player to purchase some chips to play with. These chips have the same value as cash and can be exchanged as such when leaving a table, but make the game much easier to play.
In a tournament, player’s pay one buy-in and receive the same amount of chips. These chips do not have the same cash value as they do in cash game.
Button, Blinds, and Antes
Before the hand begins, one player is assigned the button. If it’s the very first hand, this is usually done by dealing one card to everyone at the table and the player with the highest card is given the button. (In the event of a tie, the order of suits come into play. Spades > Hearts > Diamonds > Clubs.) The player with the button is referred to as the dealer as the button usually has the word DEALER or a D written on it. In home games, this often means it’s their turn to deal, but in a casino or any game with a permanent dealer (such as online) the button is a way to keep track of position and blinds. The button moves one position to the left after every hand.
The blinds are forced bets paid by players before any cards are dealt to start the action of every hand. The position immediately to the left of the button is the small blind, and the position to the left of the small blind is the big blind. The big blind also serves as the minimum bet on all streets. If a game is labeled as $1 – $2, this means the small blind is $1 and big blind $2. In most cases, the minimum buy-in is 20 big blinds, which in this case is $40, and maximum buy-in 100 big blinds, which in this case is $200. Always check the table rules as these are not universal.
The big blind is usually double the small blind, but you may see cases with blinds being larger, such as $0.10 – $0.25, $1 – $3, or $2 – $5.
In some cases, antes are added on top of the small and big blinds. The ante is usually a much smaller forced bet, but must be paid every hand by every player. Antes are most common in tournaments, but can be added to any format. As an example, you may be in a poker tournament with a small blind of $500, big blind of $1,000, and ante of $100. This means every hand one player has to pay a $500 small blind, another a $1,000 big blind, and every player, including the small and big blinds, must pay $100 before the cards are dealt. Antes increase the size of the pot and therefore increase the action as there is more incentive to try and win the pot.
Heads Up Differences
In heads up matches, the dealer is always the small blind and the player out of position is the big blind. The dealer/small blind acts first preflop and then last on all other betting streets.
Cards are dealt clockwise starting at the player to the left of the button, the small blind. Each player receives one card at a time, face down, in clockwise order until each player has two face down cards. These are referred to as your hole cards. At no point should you expose your hole cards, unless it is a showdown where no more betting is possible.
Players may not bet until it is their turn to act. Betting order always determined by position. The player to the left of the button always bets first and the player who has the button always bets last. Betting first is referred to as being out of position, whereas having the final bet is being in position.
The first round of betting begins after the cards are dealt, which is referred to as preflop. The player immediately to the left of the big blind is first to act. This position is called being under the gun.
When it is a players turn, they have various options available to them depending on their stack size, previous action, and which part of the hand it is. These options are explained below.
This action matches the previous bet and allows the player to continue in the hand. If the blinds are $1 – $2, and a player is under the gun, they can elect to call for $2. If a player is in a pot where another player raises to $25, they can call for $25. If a player does not have enough chips to call a bet, they can call all-in with their remaining stack. This may create more complex scenarios such as side pots, which are explained below.
Folding means the player gets rid of their cards and exits the hand. They give up any bets they placed prior to folding and can never re-enter the hand. This may also be referred to as a pass or passing, usually in European games.
If there are no existing bets in front of a player, they can place an initial bet of their own. Remember, in no limit hold’em, this amount may range from the big blind all the way to your full stack at any point in the hand.
If there is an existing bet in front of a player, and their stack size is sufficient, they can raise the previous bet(s). Raise is short for “I call and also bet x amount on top of.” Some poker rooms have varying rules, but a raise usually must be at least double the previous wager. For example, in a $1 – $2 game, if it folds to a player preflop, the minimum raise one could make is $4, double the big blind.
The minimum raise size is more complex when considering previous bets. If on the flop Player 1 bets $10, and Player 2 raises to $20, what is the minimum amount Player 3 could raise to? Most people would assume $40, but the correct answer is $30. This is because Player 3 can call the $20, and raise double the previous wager, which was $10 more on top of a $10 bet.
If there are no bets in front of a player, they may check. By checking, player’s give up their right to bet and move the action to the next player to act. A player can not check if a bet has already been placed. Checking is done by verbalizing “Check” or tapping the table, or if you’re playing online by pressing the Check button.
If no one raises preflop, the big blind can check to complete the betting round and is not required to put more money in the pot. This is because the blinds are considered the first bet.
How to Bet
If you’re playing online, this is easy. All online poker rooms have a bet slider in the right corner of the table which you can drag, or use any of the predefined bet amounts and click Bet. You can also manually type in any valid amount.
If you’re playing at a casino, players may bet, raise, or call by moving their chips to the center of the table or by verbalizing your action and amount. Verbal bets are always binding. This means if you say “call” you then can not raise, and if you say “raise” you can’t elect to call instead. Most casinos have a line rule, meaning any chips that cross a line (real or imaginary) must go into the pot. If you elect to raise without declaring it, you must use more than one chip or it will be considered a call. In other words, if someone bets $500 and you throw one single $1,000 chip into the center without saying anything, this will be considered a call. Some casinos are very strict about these and other rules, so make sure to learn them.
Home games tend to be more relaxed on situations like this, but it depends on house rules.
As mentioned earlier, the action starts after the cards are dealt with the player who is under the gun, directly after the big blind. This is called preflop and is the first betting round. During this round of betting, player’s use only their hidden hole cards to decide how to act and do not share cards with any of the other players.
Once all the action is done preflop, we move to the community cards. These are face up cards shared by everyone at the table to improve their hand. Community cards are split into three sections:
The flop is the second betting round and the first set of community cards. These are 3 cards all turned face up at once. Betting continues with the player to the left of the button acting first.
After the flop, the turn is the third betting round where one more card turned face up. Betting continues in the same order.
The river is the final betting round and community card, which is one more card turned face up. Again, betting continues in the same order.
After all betting has finished on the river, any remaining players enter the showdown. This is where cards are turned face up to determine who has the highest ranking hand. These are based on the ranking of hands, shown below.
The player who made the last aggressive action has to show first, or if no action exists, the player to the left of the dealer. Then the remaining players can elect to muck if they can’t beat the previous player, or turn their hand face up if stronger.
Side pots are quite common as player’s stacks are almost never the same size. If only two players are involved, there are no need for side pots as the player with the larger stack simply calls the other player’s smaller stack. In other words, if PlayerA has $40 and goes all-in, PlayerB with $100 just puts in $40.
If three or more player’s are involved and all-in, side pots may be needed. For example, if PlayerA is all-in with $50, PlayerB all-in with $75, and PlayerC all-in with $100, there will be one main pot, and one side pot. A player can only win as much as their stack. Therefore the pot would be split like this:
Main Pot: $150
Side Pot: $50
Any of the players can win the main pot, but only PlayerB or PlayerC can win the side pot. This is because PlayerB and PlayerC had more chips than PlayerA. It’s possible for PlayerA to win the main pot, and PlayerB or PlayerC to win the side pot.
This could be as complex as 3 or more side pots, but anything over one side pot is pretty rare. This is all done automatically when playing online and the dealer handles it in a casino. It can be kind of confusing in a home game, so make sure to learn and practice.
Ranking of Hands
Card values start at 2 (the lowest) up to Ace (the highest). The only exception to this is with a straight as the Ace can be high (TJQKA) or low (A2345). During a showdown, the Ace is always high. Suits are never considered when determining the winning hand.
During showdown, hands use the standard 5 card poker rankings, which are the same across many different variations of poker:
Three of a Kind (aka Trips)
Four of a Kind (aka Quads)
You Now Know How to Play Texas Hold’em!
And that’s it! Just repeat the process and you are playing Texas Hold’em! Although, this doesn’t say anything about how to play properly, but it’s a start.
Before you dive too deep into real money games, I suggest you get together with some friends and play for fun, or you can visit any of our online poker rooms and try out their play money tables. This will help you learn how to follow the action.
Best of luck!