Guide to Playing Texas Hold'em
Welcome to the Texas holdem poker section of our site. On this page we provide a complete guide to the game, how to play, the rules, and online versions. We also offer some observations about free games, strategy, and tips for winning. Throughout you'll find links to other pages that cover specific subjects in greater detail.
We're going to assume that the reader is a beginner and is starting from scratch. This doesn't mean that there's nothing in this section to help the intermediate or advanced player. If you already understand something we've covered here, just skip past it and move on to something you do need to understand.
Texas holdem is one of a number of poker games called "community" poker games. In a community poker game, each player receives a certain number of cards, and each player also shares several community cards which are dealt in the middle of the table. In this specific game, you get 2 cards face down, and 5 cards are spread out in the middle of the table.
You can use any combination of the 2 cards in your hand and the 5 cards on the board in order to create the best possible 5 card poker hand. Rounds of betting take place during certain parts of the deal, which happen in stages, and the player who hasn't folded and has the best hand at the end wins the money in the pot.
Other community card games that are related to Texas holdem include Omaha, Omaha 8, Pineapple, and Crazy Pineapple. The main differences between Texas holdem and these other community card games is the number of cards dealt to each player—in Omaha you get 4 "hole cards", and in Pineapple you get 3.
How to Play - The Rules for Playing Texas Holdem Poker
Now that you have a general idea of how the game works, we'll cover the specific rules for playing in detail. Once you've read this section, you should have a pretty good idea of how to play Texas holdem. We also include a link to our incredibly detailed guide to how to play Texas holdem, as well as other detailed guides
The first thing you need to understand about the game is how the betting works. In most other varieties of poker, every player has to place a mandatory bet called an "ante". They place this bet every hand, and this forced bet is what drives the action. Without a forced bet, players could just wait until they had a perfect hand before entering a pot. That would make for a boring poker game.
You'll occasionally run into a Texas holdem game which uses an ante, but most of them don't. All Texas holdem games (even those with an ante) use a "blinds" system. A blind is a forced bet, just like an ante, but it's a rotating bet. You only have to place a blind bet when it's your turn; the blinds rotate around the table.
There are 2 blinds in Texas holdem—the small blind and the big blind. These are pre-determined by the stakes of the game. In general, the small blind is half the size of the big blind. In a home poker game, the blinds are posted by the 2 players to the left of the dealer. In a casino cardroom, where there's a professional dealer, a dealer button rotates around the table so that the players know who has to post the blind. In a heads-up situation, the player with the dealer button places the small blind, and the other player places the big blind.
Texas holdem can be played in one of 3 varieties based on the betting rules:
In limit holdem, the sizes of the bets are pre-determined, and you can't bet more than those sizes.
You're playing in a $3/$6 limit holdem game. During the first 2 rounds of the hand, your bets must be in increments of $3. You can bet $3 or you can raise $3. During the final 2 rounds of the hand, your bets must be in increments of $6. You can bet $6 or you can raise $6.
In pot limit holdem, the sizes of the bets are limited by the amount of money in the pot. You cannot bet or raise more than the size of the pot.
You're playing in a pot limit game with $2/$5 blinds. There's $7 in the pot, so the most you can bet or raise when it's your turn is $7. Once someone has bet $7 into the pot, there's now $14 in the pot, so you can raise that amount. Pots can grow in size very quickly in pot limit holdem, which changes the strategy in multiple ways.
In no limit holdem, you can bet as many chips as you want to, as long as you have the money in front of you.
You're playing in a no limit holdem game with $2/$5 blinds. There's $7 in the pot, and you have $93 in chips in front of you. You can raise up to $93 if you want to, but no more.
One common misconception that's used as a plot point in television and film is when a poker player has to risk his house or something in order to cover the size of a bet someone else made at the table. This never happens in real life. In an actual poker game, you never have to bet more money than you have in front of you, but the other player only has to risk that amount, too.
You raise the pot to $93, but the player who acts after you only has $50 in front of him. He can still call your bet, but you'll only risk $50 against that player. The money is put into a side pot.
The last piece of the betting puzzle is based on the way the deal is handled. Here's how that works:
The 2 players to the left of the dealer post the blinds. Then the dealer deals everyone their 2 hole cards.
Once everyone has their hole cards, there's a round of betting. You can call the big blind to get into the hand, or you can fold. If you call, you have to put a bet of the appropriate size into the pot. If you fold, you don't have to put any money into the pot, but you don't get any additional cards, and you don't have a chance of winning at the showdown. If you really like your hand, you can raise, which means you put the amount of the bet into the pot along with an additional amount. The player who bet previously has to put more money into the pot in order to stay in the hand.
After this betting action, the dealer deals 3 cards into the center of the table. These 3 cards are called the flop. After the flop, there's another round of betting. The only players who can participate at this point are the ones who didn't fold before the flop.
Then the dealer deals another face up card—the turn. After the turn, there's another round of betting.
Finally, the dealer deals one more face up card—the river. After the river, there's a final round of betting.
After all the rounds of betting, all the players who are still in the pot turn over their hole cards. The player with the best hand, composed of the cards in their hand and on the board, wins the money in the pot.
In limit games, the numbers refer to the size of the bets during the first 2 rounds and during the 2nd 2 rounds.
You're playing in a $4/$8 limit holdem game. The blinds are $2 for the small blind and $4 for the large blind. After the hole cards and after the flop, the bets are made in $4 increments. After the turn and after the river, the bets are made in $8 increments.
For more information on betting strategies, you can refer to any of our in-depth beginner guides:
- Texas Holdem Basics
- Texas Holdem Games and Variations
- Texas Holdem Games
- Texas Holdem Video Games
- Texas Holdem Rules
- Texas Holdem Glossary
- Downloadable Texas Holdem Games
- No Download Texas Holdem Games
- Texas Holdem Live Play
- Texas Holdem Hands
- Texas Holdem Betting
- Texas Holdem Books
- How To Deal in Texas Holdem
- Texas Holdem Chips and Chip Amounts
- Texas Holdem Examples
- Texas Holdem for Dummies
Texas Holdem Hands and Hand Rankings
Texas holdem is rarely dealt with wild cards. (A wild card is a card that can be used to "stand in" for a card you need to make a better hand.) You'll sometimes find wild cards in use during home poker games, but not in casino cardrooms. But most of the time, there are no wild cards in Texas holdem.
As a result, the standard rankings of poker hands apply. We've listed them below from best to worst possible hand. The rankings are based on how unlikely it is to receive a particular hand:
There's one more concept you need to understand about hand rankings—kickers. A kicker is a card that breaks a tie.
You have a pair of kings. Your opponent also has a pair of kings. Normally if both players had a pair, the higher-ranked pair wins, but in this case, there is no higher ranked pair. So the players compare the single cards in their hand to see which of those is higher. If you have an ace kicker and he has a queen kicker, you win.
We got into more detail about poker hand rankings on that specific page of our site.
Texas Holdem Online
With the growth of the Internet, Texas holdem online has become a thing. Since this site is in English, we have a lot of readers from the United States, so our coverage of online Texas holdem is going to slant slightly toward the US market. But players all over the world play Texas holdem on the Internet.
The differences between the game as it's played online and as it's played in traditional land-based cardrooms are slight. Of course, one game is played on a computer, so you're not face to face with the other players, but that difference is more minor than you might think. A lot of the differences have to do with practical matters like buying in and placing bets.
In a traditional cardroom, you exchange cash for chips, and you play poker with the clay chips at the table. In an online cardroom, you have to deposit money into an account with the cardroom first. Once you've done this, you can use that money to buy into the various games on the site.
Multiple deposit methods are available at online cardrooms, here we list a few:
Most people just use a credit card to fund their account, but you can also get money to an online poker site using a wire transfer or a service like Western Union or Moneygram. Some credit card issuers decline any transaction that's flagged with an online gambling code as a matter of policy, especially if you're from the United States, so other deposit methods become necessary.
Another option for making a deposit at an online poker room is to use an online wallet of some sort—preferably one that specializes in online gambling. In countries where online poker is legal and regulated, you can use the original online wallet—PayPal. But in countries like the United States, where poker is in a murky legal area, you might have to use an online wallet that specializes in such transactions. Even some of these wallets restrict transfers from U.S. players.
Another option for funding online gambling accounts that's growing in popularity is BitCoin. If you're not familiar with it, BitCoin is a peer-to-peer financial instrument. You can consider it to be something like privately-issued digital money. To use BitCoin for an online gambling transaction, you need to have some kind of BitCoin wallet service.
Another difference between land-based and online Texas holdem is the availability of the games. Of course, traditional cardrooms, whether they're hosted by a casino or whether they're a free-standing cardroom, accept any players who walk in the door—provided they're of age and can afford the buy-in.
But online cardrooms have restrictions related to your country of origin. In fact, most online cardrooms don't accept players from the United States at all any more. A hand full of rooms still do, but most poker sites are worried about legal action. If you're from the USA, you should consult our site for recommended places to play. In the absence of significant legal oversight, an online cardroom's reputation is more important than ever.
How the game plays is subtly different online, too. For one thing, you're not able to see your opponents at all. This eliminates some of the reading of other players that's often a big piece of a professional's strategy.
Other tells exist, though. Online players can analyze another player's screen name, his behavior in the chat box, and his betting behavior in order to get at least a general idea of his opponents' tendencies. Some data-mining software can be used to separate which players win consistently from those who lose consistently. Many of the more reputable cardrooms disallow the use of this kind of software as it's contrary to the spirit of the game.
Another major difference is the rate at which you're able to play. In a traditional cardroom, dealers are fast, but they'll never be as fast as a computer. You'll see at least twice as many hands per hour playing online.
Game variety is a big plus on the Internet side of things. In a casino cardroom with only a dozen or so tables, the games and limits available can be limited. But with a nearly infinite number of tables in a virtual setting, an online cardroom can offer an almost unlimited variety. The only real limitation is based on whether or not other players at the site want to play your game at your stakes.
Other differences exist, but those are the biggest.
Free Texas Holdem Poker Games
We left out one big difference between Internet Texas holdem and traditional brick and mortar games. In a land-based casino, you'd never find a poker game being played without real money on the line. The house makes its money by taking a percentage of each pot (the "rake"), so they have no incentive to offer free games.
But in the world of online Texas holdem, free games are not only common—they're ubiquitous. These are great opportunities for players to learn how the game works, especially in terms of the control interface. All online cardrooms have subtly different buttons for calling, checking, folding, and raising. It's a good idea to spend some time at the free tables getting used to the interface. After all, it would be a shame to accidentally raise if you have a 27offsuit preflop (which is the worst possible preflop hand). It would be an even greater shame to accidentally fold if you have AA preflop (which is the best possible preflop hand.)
Some sites and apps specialize in offering nothing but free Texas holdem games, but for the most part, the free games are marketing tools for the real money versions of each site. In some cases, the free-only sites work on a points system, and sometimes these points can be traded for prizes.
If you want to play Texas Holdem for free, check out our Texas Holdem game page:
Texas Holdem Strategy
Unless you've had your head buried in the sand over the last decade or two, you probably already know that poker—even Texas holdem—is a game of skill. Lucky might play a larger factor in Texas holdem than in other games, but the skill element is undeniable. This means that smart players want to learn something about Texas holdem strategy.
We offer an entire section of articles about Texas holdem strategy that you should visit, but we introduce a few key concepts below:
- Texas Holdem Advice
- Texas Holdem Low Limit Play
- Texas Holdem Medium Limit Play
- Texas Holdem High Limit Play
- Texas Holdem Blind Play
- Texas Holdem Playing Styles
- Texas Holdem Micro Limits
- Luck VS Variance in Texas Holdem
- Texas Holdem Odds
- Texas Holdem Pre Flop Play
- Texas Holdem Post Flop Play
- Texas Holdem Tournaments
- Texas Holdem Sit N Gos
- Texas Holdem Psychology
- Texas Holdem Tilt
- Texas Holdem Tells
- Texas Holdem Starting Hands
- Expected Value in Texas Holdem
- Bluffing in Texas Holdem
- Texas Holdem Events
Your approach to the game can be looked at in a couple of different ways. One of those looks at how often you decide to play in a hand—this is a measure of how tight or loose you are. The other looks at how often you decide to bet and raise as opposed to calling and checking—this is a measure of how passive or aggressive you are.
In fact, you can categorize most players into one of 4 categories:
A tight player is a player who doesn't play many hands. He folds most hands and only stays in a hand if his cards are good enough to have a better than average chance of winning.
A loose player is the opposite. He plays more hands than average, hoping to improve his holdings during the later rounds of betting.
Of the two approaches, tight is usually better, especially for beginners. You can remember a simple rhyme that makes a nice mantra to remember how you should play:
"Tight is right".
An aggressive player is a player who tends to bet or raise. He rarely checks or calls, preferring to put more into the pot almost every time he acts. Betting and raising have advantages over checking and calling, because when you bet and raise, you create a situation where your opponent or opponents might fold. If you check or call, you've created no incentive for them to not stay in the hand and possibly draw out on you.
A passive player, on the other hand, is more likely to just check or call when it's his turn to act. This eliminates the possibility of running the other players out of the hand and winning a hand without a showdown.
Most experts agree that a tight aggressive approach is the best way to play. You don't play a lot of hands, so when you do get into a hand, you have a better than average chance of winning the pot at a showdown. Other players will also notice that you're not playing a lot of hands, so they'll be more likely to respect your bets and raises.
Also, when you do get into a hand, you're doing 2 things by being aggressive. You're getting more money into the pot with better than average hands, which increases the amount of money you're likely to win at a showdown. But you're also increasing the percentage chance you have of winning. If you've increased the chance of everyone else folding by a few percentage points, you've made a big change to the expected value of your bets.
A loose aggressive player is often called a maniac. This can be an effective approach if you have a certain degree of skill, because a maniac will often pick up a lot of small pots just by bullying the other players out of hands. Some pros use this style consistently to good effect.
A tight passive player is often called a rock. This player might break even but is more likely to lose. He lets too many opponents play speculative hands without paying for them, and so they often draw out on him. This is a better approach than being a loose passive player, but not by much.
A loose passive player is often called a calling station. This is the player at the table who keeps calling bets to keep the raisers honest. He rarely makes any raises, but he'll chase a hand down to the river more often than not. This is the best kind of opponent to face, but it's also the worst kind of player to be.
We have an entire page about bluffing where we go into detail, but here's what you need to know about bluffing and semi-bluffing in Texas holdem, in broad strokes:
Bluffing is when you bet or raise with a hand that's probably not the best hand in play. Your goal when bluffing is to get your oppo13.25nent or opponents to fold so that you can win the pot without a showdown.
A semi-bluff is similar to a bluff, but it's done with a drawing hand. You don't have the best hand, but you still have an opportunity to draw to a better hand during the later parts of the deal.
Bluffing isn't something you should never do, but it's also not something you should always do. If you never bluff, your opponents will always fold when you bet and raise, which means you won't get any action and won't as much money as you could. If you always bluff, you'll get called down a lot and lose a lot of money.
In fact, one of the concepts that most people don't think about when it comes to bluffing relates to position and the number of opponents you're facing. You should only bluff from late position, which means you're acting AFTER most of the other players at the table. If you're the first player to act, and all 7 of the players behind you call your bet, you're in trouble.
Also, you should probably only bluff when you're facing one or two opponents. The more opponents you're trying to bluff, the harder it is to succeed.
You're trying to bluff 4 players. Each of them has a 50% chance of folding in the face of a raise.
But what you're concerned about is whether or not ALL of them will fold. To determine the probability of that, you multiply the odds that each of them will fold:
Unless the size of your bet is very small, a 6.25% chance of winning doesn't warrant bluffing.
Semi-bluffing often makes more sense, because you now have the opportunity to win the pot in two ways. If everyone folds, you win the pot by default without even having to show your hand.
But if you draw out on your opponent, you can win at the showdown.
You have 4 cards to a flush—2 in your hand 2 on the flop. You THINK your opponent has a high pair. Right now, you have the worse of the 2 hands.
But you raise.
He might fold, thinking you have 3 of a kind or 2 pairs.
But even if he calls, you have a roughly 1in 3 shot at drawing to a flush on the turn or the river. If you hit your flush, you'll win, unless he draws to a better hand, too.
Bluffing is an overrated part of the game, mostly because of television and movies.
When you act in a game of Texas holdem is incredibly important. Poker strategy writers refer to this as "position". Based on where you are in relation to the blinds, you get to see what the players who act before you do.
You have a pair of 7s. You're playing with some reasonably tight opponents. You're the first person to act, so you call the blind. The player behind you raises. The player behind him re-raises. And the player behind him re-raises the first two players.
When it gets back to you, the choice is clear—you have to fold. The odds of one of those 3 players having you completely dominated are excellent.
You have a pair of 7s. You're the last person to act. Three players ahead of you are "jamming the pot", i.e. betting and raising aggressively. When it's your turn, you fold—but you saved a bet, because you didn't enter the pot in the first place.
Here's the rule of thumb about position:
You need a much stronger hand to enter a pot in early position than you do in late position.
The actions of the other players matter, but they matter less than being able to see what they're going to do.
More money is lost at the holdem tables because of players' refusal to take position into account than for any other reason.
The 2 cards in your hand are your hole cards. These are also called your starting hand. Smart players have certain requirements that their starting hands have to fulfill before they're willing to play them. The best players' starting hand requirements are integrated with position.
Pairs are always legitimate starting hands, but bigger pairs are better. If you're in early position, you might not even play small pairs at all. It depends on the texture of the table and your tolerance for risk.
Big suited cards are also legitimate starting hands a lot of the time. They give you the opportunity to make a flush and also to make big pairs on the flop or on later rounds. These hands are better if they include an ace or a kind.
Suited connectors are cards with the potential to make either a flush or a straight. The 7 and the 8 of hearts is an example of a starting hand that would be considered suited connectors. As a rule of thumb, the higher the ranks of the cards and the fewer gaps between them, the better.
The earlier your position, the stronger your hand needs to be in order to play it. Big pairs, especially aces and kings, are almost always playable from any position. AK suited is also almost always playable, and AQ suited is often playable.
If you're playing something from the more speculative groups, you really need to hope to improve your hand on the flop in order to stay in the hand. For example, if you have a pair of 2s as your starting hand, you really need to hit another 2 on the flop to stay in the hand.
You should probably only be playing the best 15% to 20% of the hands preflop, which means you'll be folding pretty often. And even on the hands in which you stay, you'll probably fold 50% of those when you see the flop. This line of thinking is called "fit or fold".
A lot of Texas holdem strategy involves just being patient and waiting to get the cards. Then you bet the cards.
Texas Holdem Tips
We also have an entire page of Texas holdem tips for you to peruse, but here are some quick, broad-overview type tips for you to think about:
- Bet or raise instead of checking and calling
Passive play is losing play in Texas holdem. The easiest way to avoid being passive is to bet and raise instead of checking and calling. We know successful players who never cold call at all—they believe they should either raise or fold.
- Be selective about the hands you play.
This is arguably less important than being aggressive, but for new players, it's pretty important. Some loose players do well if they're really aggressive, especially if they're playing against some passive players. But the most consistently profitable strategy for newer players is to be tight and aggressive.
- Pay attention to position.
Most Texas holdem players don't pay nearly enough to their position when deciding which hands to play and how to play them. The rule of thumb is simple enough—have more stringent requirements from your hands in early position.
- Bluff carefully if at all.
We're big fans of the semi-bluff. If you are going to bluff, do it when you're in late position and when you only have one or two opponents. The odds of successfully bluffing 3+ players go way down, unless you're playing with extremely tight players.
- If you're going to play online, try the free games first.
That way you'll learn how the controls work and avoid any potentially costly mistakes based on silly user-errors that could have easily been prevented.
For more tips, be sure to check out our Texas Holdem Tips page:
Texas holdem is a great game, and we're really proud of the resources we've included in this section. Our goal with this page and with all the pages we link to from here is provide the most comprehensive guide to the game that you'll find.
This is a long page and covers a lot of information, but much of it is aimed at beginners. The other pages in this section are of a wider variety—some are appropriate for beginners, but other pages and concepts are probably more suited for intermediate or advanced players.