Texas Holdem Basics

Texas Holdem Guide to Learning The Basics

Texas holdem is by far the most popular form of poker played in the world today. You can see it played on television, online, in poker rooms, and in most casinos. You can even find home games in almost any city if you know who to ask or where to look.

But how do you get started playing if you've never played before?

We've designed this Texas holdem basics page just like a Texas holdem 101 guide. By reading the sections on this page we walk you step by step through the options and rules for holdem and give you some simple tips so you can get started playing right away.

Read all the way through the page from top to bottom and then come back and go over the sections where you need more help. Once you master everything here you can start learning more in our strategy section.

But don't get ahead of yourself and try to take in too much at one time. Learn the basics first and then start trying to improve your game slowly.

The Deck

Texas holdem uses a standard deck of 52 playing cards. The deck has four suits of 13 cards each. The four suits are spades, hearts, clubs, and diamonds.

The cards in each of the four suits are ace, king, queen, jack, 10, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, and two. Aces can be used as a high card above the king or a low card below a two. Otherwise, the rank of cards from high to low is as they're listed above from ace down to two. None of the four suits have a higher rank than the others.

Rank of Hands

The rank of hands used in Texas holdem is the same as many traditional card games. The highest possible hand is a royal flush and the lowest possible hand is two, three, four, five, seven of at least two different suits.

Here's a list of the different possible Texas holdem hands from highest to lowest. To see who has the best hand, start from the top of the list and work down towards the bottom. The first hand you see on the list is the better hand.

  • Royal Flush

    Ace, king, queen, jack, 10 all of the same suit.

  • Straight Flush

    Five cards in sequential order all of the same suit but not ace high.

  • Four of a Kind

    Four cards of the same rank, like four sevens or four jacks.

  • Full House

    Three cards of the same rank and two cards of a different rank. For example, three queens and two nines is a full house of queens over nines.

  • Flush

    A flush is any five cards, all of the same suit. When two or more players have a flush the one with the highest card wins. If they have the same highest card the next highest card wins. This is continued until one player has a higher card than the others. If all five cards are of the same rank the pot is split.

  • Straight

    Five cards in sequential order of at least two different suits. The ace can be used to form a high straight or a low one. Ace, king, queen, jack, 10 is a straight as well as five, four, three, two, ace.

  • Three of a Kind

    Three of a kind is three cards of the same rank, such as three twos or three aces.

  • Two Pair

    Two cards of the same rank and two other cards of the same rank.

  • One Pair

    A pair is two cards of the same rank like two fives or two kings.

  • High Card

    If your five card hand doesn't make any of the hands listed above you have a high card hand, designate by the highest card in your hand. If the highest card in your hand is a queen and you don't have a higher ranked hand as listed above, you have a queen high hand.

If two or more hands tie the pot is split between the winning hands. But a tie must be five identical cards. When two players have the same two, three, or four card best hand they use the remaining cards to determine who wins. This is called a kicker.

Example

One player has a pair of kings, a pair of eights, and an ace and the other player has a pair of kings, a pair of eights, and a seven. Both players have the same two pair, but their fifth card is different. The player with the ace as the fifth card wins the hand because the ace is higher than the seven.

If two or more players each have a pair, the highest pair wins. The higher cards win if the hands are otherwise the same. In a full house, the higher three of a kind rank wins.

Limit – No Limit – Pot Limit

Texas holdem is offered in limit, no limit, and pot limit varieties or limits. This deals with the amount players may bet on each round of play. Otherwise, the games are played the same way using the same set of rules and regulations.

Limit

Limit Texas holdem has a strict betting amount that is used on each round. Before and on the flop players have to make bets and raises of a set amount and on the turn and river they must use another set amount. The second amount is almost always twice the early amount.

The betting limits are expressed as two numbers divide by a slash. 3 / 6 means the early betting limit is $3 and the last two rounds use $6 increments.

No Limit

No limit uses a minimum betting limit on each round, but the maximum amount a player may bet is only limited to the amount they have in front of them. A player may bet any amount up to and including their entire stack on any betting round of no limit Texas holdem.

Pot Limit

Pot limit is the least popular form of Texas holdem and is rarely played in land based play. In pot limit play you can bet any amount up to and including the amount in the pot. This is usually pretty straightforward, but in the case where a player bets and you want to raise, you add the amount it takes to call to the pot before determining the amount you can raise.

This doesn't mean you take action in two steps. You only make one bet, but you add the amount required to call mentally to determine the total amount of the bet you can make.

Example

If the pot has $60 in it and an opponent bets $20. The new amount in the pot is $80. If you want to raise the maximum amount you add $20 to the amount in the pot in your head to get a total pot of $100. So you can raise up to $100. If you want to raise the maximum amount you place $120 in the pot. This is $20 for the call and a raise of $100.

Don't worry if this seems a bit confusing. You probably won't ever have to play pot limit Texas holdem and if you do, the dealer can help you until you get the hang of it. If you play online the software takes care of everything so you don't have to worry about it.

Other poker games, like Omaha and 7 Card Stud are more likely to be played in pot limit than holdem.

Tournaments or Ring Games

Texas holdem is played in ring or cash game format and tournament formats. A ring game doesn't have a set procedure for ending and players come and go. You can join a ring game at any time as long as there's an open seat and you have the money. You can also leave at any time by picking up your chips and leaving the table.

Tournaments have a set starting point and play down until only one player remains. You can find numerous tournament variations and they can all be played in any of the limit formats listed in the last section. But most Texas holdem tournaments boil down to either single table or multi table events.

Single Table Tournaments

A single table tournament, usually called a sit and go, has 10, nine, or six players most of the time with the top three or two players finishing in the money.

Multi Table Tournaments

A multi table tournament can have up to thousands of entrants and the pay outs are based on the tournament structure.

Before the Deal

The process of events before a hand is dealt depends somewhat on what has just happened. If a new game or a new tournament is being started the dealer does one set of things and if a hand just ended the dealer follows a different set of procedures.

The dealer is the person dealing the cards. In a casino or poker room an employee of the house deals the cards and does not play in the game. In a home game many times the players deal the cards. When you play online the computer software the poker room uses takes care of dealing the cards.

In a normal Texas holdem game one of the players is also called the dealer. The dealer position is also called the button, based on a white disc with the word dealer on it that gets passed around the table after each hand.

The player who has the dealer button in front of them gets to act last on each betting round in a Texas holdem game except the first one.

In the case of a new game or tournament starting the dealer shuffles the cards and then deals a card face up to each of the players at the table. The player who receives the highest card is awarded the dealer button for the first hand. The first player to the left of the dealer button then must place a forced bet called the small blind and the next player to the left is forced to place a big blind bet.

About The Blinds

The small blind is usually half the big blind and the big blind is usually the same as the smaller amount in a limit game. So a 50 / 100 limit game has a small blind of 25 and a big blind of 50. In a no limit or pot limit game the blind levels are set by the house. In a tournament the blinds are determined by a schedule that has the blinds increase at set times.

In the next hand of a continuing game or tournament the dealer makes sure the dealer button is passed one place to the left and that the new blinds have placed their forced bets. The dealer can also make change or help a new player buy into the game.

The dealer shuffles the cards or places the deck in an automatic shuffling machine while getting a freshly shuffle deck from the machine. Once the blind bets are placed and the dealer has a shuffled deck of cards the deal is ready to start.

The Deal

The dealer deals one card at a time face down to each player around the table from left to right starting with the player in the small blind. This continues until each player has received two face down cards. These are called the player's hole cards.

Example of a Deal in Texas Holdem

Once each player has their hole cards the player to the immediate left of the big blind acts first and must fold by passing their cards to the dealer face down, call the big blind by placing a bet equal to the big blind into the pot, or raise. The possible amounts of a raise are based on the limits that we discussed in an earlier section.

Once the first player to the left of the big blind acts, the next player to the left acts by folding, calling the previous bet, or making a raise. Play continues to the left with each player making the same decisions until play reaches the small blind.

The small blind may fold, complete the amount of their bet to equal the current bet, or raise. In a pot that hasn't been raised the small blind can put enough into the pot to equal the big blind, or another half bet. Once the small blind has acted the big blind can check in a pot that hasn't been raised, call a bet in a raised pot, fold in a raised pot, or raise.

Play continues to the left until each player has folded or called the most recent bet. If everyone folds except one player that player is awarded the pot. This is true at any time during a hand.

Remember in a limit Texas holdem game the bets before the flop and on the flop are at the lower betting limit. All raises are restricted to the amount of the lower betting limit.

The Flop

Once all of the beginning of the hand betting has been completed the dealer takes the top card of the deck of un-dealt cards and places it face down in the discard pile without anyone seeing the value. This is called burning a card and the purpose is to help prevent cheating.

If the cards were to be marked in some way a player still wouldn't be able to see the value of the next card to be dealt because of the burn card not being discarded until the next card was being played.

The next three cards are turned face up in the center of the table. These cards are called the flop and they're the first of five total community cards that will be in the middle of the table face up at the end of the hand. Players combine their two hole cards with the five community cards to make the best possible five card poker hand.

Example of a Flop in Texas Holdem

Once the flop cards are displayed the first remaining player to the left of the button position is the first to act. This player may bet or check. Play then moves to the left. Each player may check if a bet hasn't been made, call if a bet has been made, or raise. This process continues to the left until each player has checked, folded, or called the last bet.

The Turn or Fourth Street

In limit Texas holdem all bets on the turn and river are the upper betting amount. In a 10 / 20 game all bets and raises on the turn and river are at the 20 level.

At the beginning of the turn the dealer burns the top card again and places one additional card face up in the center of the table with the other community cards.

Example of a Turn in Texas Holdem

The play then starts with the first player left in the hand to the left of the dealer button. This player may check or bet. Play continues to the left just like on the flop and continues until each player has checked, folded, or has called the most recent wager.

The River or Fifth Street

On the river the dealer burns a final card and places the fifth and final community card face up in the center of the table.

Example of a River in Texas Holdem

The river betting round is carried out the same as the turn betting round.

Showdown

Once all of the betting has been completed on the river the remaining players reveal their hole cards to determine which player has the best five card hand. Players can use both of their hole cards and three community cards, one of their hole cards and four community cards, or just the five community cards to form their best five card hand.

If no one placed a bet on the river the first player to the left of the dealer button is the first player to reveal their cards. Then the next player to the left can reveal their cards or discard them if they don't have a better hand. In some poker rooms you may see the cards if they're discarded and in others you can't.

Please Note
Generally it's considered poor etiquette to ask to see the discards even in the poker rooms where it's allowed. You can use your own judgment in this situation.

If one or more bets have been made on the river the player who made a bet that was called last is required to show their cards first, with play continuing to the left.

When you play at an online poker room the software takes care of everything at the showdown. If you aren't first to act and you don't have the best hand you may have the option to fold or show your cards.

As a general rule you never want to show your cards unless you have to. When you show your cards in a hand that you don't win you give your opponents extra information about the way you played the hand that they might be able to use against you at a later date. You want to avoid giving your opponents any extra information about the way you play.

Never let the dealer have your cards in a live Texas holdem game until you receive the pot when you win a hand. If you're not sure who wins a hand never give up your cards until you know and understand. Also never take another player's word for the strength of their hand. Some players may state that they have a better hand than you to try to get you to fold. Once your cards are in the muck or discard pile they generally can't be brought back out.

Basic Strategy

Texas holdem strategy has hundreds of books and thousands of web sites dedicated to it, so we only have room for the basics here. We do have a complete section dedicated to Texas holdem strategy, so once you learn the basics make sure you take the time to read our other strategy articles and pages.

The first thing you need to think about when it comes to Texas holdem strategy and your long term chances to win is you need to try to play against players who are worse than you. At first this can be difficult because you might not be very good at first. But as you get better it can be easier to find games with players who aren't as good as you.

It doesn't matter how good or bad you play, if you only play against players who aren't as good as you the odds are that you'll win more than you lose in the long run.

The basic idea that fuels winning Texas holdem play is you need to maximize the amount of money you win when you win and minimize the amount of money you lose when you lose. This sounds like a common sense type of approach, but most players don't seem to play this way.

You need to bet and raise when you have the best hand to maximize the amount in the pot, and check and call when you're drawing to a better hand to minimize your risk. When you don't know if you have the best hand or not you can use odds and percentages to get a good idea of the possibilities either way.

The way you end up with better hands on average than your opponents is by playing better starting hands than they do on average. When you're first learning how to play holdem don't play many hands. Most new players play twice as many hands or more than they should, quickly drain their bankroll.

Another important strategy concept that helps you become a winning player faster is learning how position impacts the hands you can play and your profitability. The general rule of thumb is you can play more hands in late position than in early position. So you should only play your top starting hands from early position.

You gain a large advantage when you get to act last, so you tend to win more money in late position than in any other position at the table. This is because you get to see what every other player does before you have to make a playing decision. You also have the opportunity to take a free card for the turn and / or river when all of your opponents check.

Once you learn how to use your position, pick your starting hands, and how to maximize your wins and minimize your losses, you'll be well on your way to playing winning Texas holdem. At that point you can start learning the finer points of advanced strategy.

Common Slang

Like many popular gambling games Texas holdem has a unique language that includes a number of interesting terms. Here's a small list of popular Texas holdem slang you might need to know at the table.

All In:
If a player bets all of their chips in a no limit Texas holdem game they're all in. You can say all in when you want to bet all of your chips.
Back Door:
Usually used in reference to a long shot straight or flush draw. If you have two of the same suit in your hand and the flop only has one of your suit, you have a back door chance at a flush. If the turn and river both match your suit you hit a back door flush.
Bad Beat:
When a player loses a hand on a long shot draw they receive a bad beat.
Board:
The board is another name for the community cards.
Boat:
A boat is a word used for a full house. Some players call it a full boat instead of a full house.
Bullets or Rockets:
Bullets or rockets are slang terms used for pocket aces. Pocket aces are the best possible starting hand in Texas holdem. Some players say they have pocket rockets when the have a pair of aces in the hole.
Calling Station:
A calling station is the word used to describe a player who calls and almost never raises when they face a bet. A calling station rarely wins money in the long run. Most successful Texas holdem players play tight and aggressively. They don't play many hands and the ones the play they play in an aggressive manner. When you bet and raise you can win with the best hand or if your opponents all fold. When you just call you can only win with the best hand.
Connectors:
Connectors is a name used for cards that are in sequential order or close. An eight and nine are connectors. A seven and a nine are one gap connectors. The word connectors is often combines with suited. A seven and an eight of the same suit are called suited connectors.
Continuation Bet or C Bet:
A player who makes a raise before the flop often bets after the flop whether they help their hand or not. When a player makes the second bet after the flop they're continuation betting.
Cowboys:
Deuce is a name for a two.
Deuce:
Deuce is a name for a two.
Ducks:
A pair of twos is often called ducks.
Fish:
A fish is the name for a poor Texas holdem player. It's a derogatory term and many players refer to other players as fish even if it's only a way to transfer attention away from their poor play onto someone else.
Gut Shot:
A type of straight draw where only one rank of card will complete the straight. If you have a seven, eight, 10, jack you need a nine to complete your straight. This is called a gut shot straight draw.
Hooks:
Hooks is a name used for a pair of jacks.
Limp:
When a player calls the big blind before the flop they limp into the pot.
Nuts:
The best possible hand with the cards on the board, or community cards, is called the nuts. Some players mistakenly say they have the nuts when they have the most likely winning hand but not really the best possible hand.
Off Suit:
Two cards that aren't suited are called off suit. This usually refers to a player's two hole cards.
Open Ended:
A straight draw that can be completed by a card on either end. For example you have a six, seven, eight, nine so if you get a five or a 10 you complete your straight.
Quads:
Quads is another name for four of a kind.
Rags:
The name used to describe a flop or board that has all unconnected cards that doesn't appear to be useful to anyone.
Runner Runner:
Slang used when a player hits a back door draw. The player needs a runner runner to win the hand.
Set:
A set is three of a kind with two of them in a player's hand. A pair of pocket fives with another five on the board is a set of fives. A set is always a three of a kind but three of a kind isn't always a set. Three of a kind can be two cards on the board and one in a player's hand.
Stack:
A stack is the amount of chips a player has. If a player gets stacked they lose all of their chips.
Straddle:
In some poker rooms the payer to the immediate left of the big blind can make a bet before the cards are dealt that is twice the amount of the big blind called a straddle. The first betting round starts with the player to the left of the player who placed the straddle and the person who made the straddle bet acts juts like the big blind in normal play.
Suck Out:
When a player sucks out they hit a long shot draw to win a hand that they shouldn't normally win.
Suited:
When two cards are the same suit they're suited. This usually refers to two hole cards being the same suit. If you have an ace and a king of the same suit then you have ace king suited.
Tilt:
Sometimes a Texas holdem player who receives a bad beat will let their emotions take over after they receive a bad beat and start playing poorly. When this happens a player is said to be on tilt or tilting.

Conclusion

Learning the basics of Texas holdem is fairly easy, but to get a true feel for the game you need to start playing. Once you've learned everything on this page sit down and play a few hands. You can play for free at most online poker rooms.

If you can't play online, see if you can get together a group of friends and family to play a home game. A group of eight to 10 is best, but you only need four or five for a practice game.

When you're ready to play for real money take it slow and start at a low limit.

You can play micro limits online, stating at pennies, and most land based poker rooms have limit holdem as low as 5 / 10 and no limit buy ins as low as $100. Or find a low buy in poker tournament to try your luck at chasing a big win.

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