The Rules of Texas Holdem
Learning how to be a winning Texas holdem player can take years of study, practice, and effort. Some players can do it in a shorter amount of time while others never reach a point where they can play break even poker.
But learning how to play Texas holdem only takes a few minutes. By the time you're finished reading this page you'll know how to play in a home game, in a casino or poker room, the difference between cash games and tournaments, and information about variations and violations. Even if you've ever played a game of poker in your life, you can start playing in less than an hour.
While it's not a requirement to learn the rules of holdem, if you have a deck of cards you should get them so you can use them to practice while you read this rules tutorial. As you learn the rank of hands use the cards to build the actual hands so you can see them. When you learn how the deal, flop, turn, and river are played, deal the hand out as you're learning. This helps you learn quicker and see what it looks like in live play.
In this section you learn how the basics of Texas holdem work. You start by learning about the hand rankings used to determine which player wins at the end of the hand, how each hand is set up, dealt, and played, and everything else you need to know in order to play a game.
After you learn the basics the following sections cover different situations you may find useful as you start playing in different games, places, and situations.
Most games of modern poker are played using a standard deck of 52 playing cards. Players receive cards and place bets based on what they have and what they hope to improve to throughout the hand. After all of the cards have been dealt and all of the betting action has been completed the players show their hands and the best hand wins the pot.
In order to play Texas holdem you need to know what the cards are in a deck of poker cards and how they can be put together to form hands. Most poker games, including Texas holdem, use a best five card poker hand to determine a winner.
A deck of cards has 52 cards consisting of 13 different ranks with four different suits. Each rank of card is represented in each of the four suits.
The four suits are spades, hearts, clubs, and diamonds. Spades and clubs are black and hearts and diamonds are red. In Texas holdem all four suits are of equal value and the colors are of no importance.
The 13 ranks, from highest to lowest are as follows:
The only other thing you need to know about the value of single cards from high to low is that aces may be used as ones for the purposes of completing a straight. See the explanation of a straight below.
Each suit has one of each of the 13 cards we just listed. So the deck has an ace of spades, an ace of hearts, an ace of clubs, and an ace of diamonds.
Now you need to know the hands that can be formed by using your best five cards. Here's a list of possible poker hands from highest to lowest.
A royal flush is five cards, all of the same suit, consisting of an ace, king, queen, jack, and 10. The four possible royal flush hands are the ace, king, queen, jack, and 10 of spades, the ace, king, queen, jack, and 10 of hearts, the ace, king, queen, jack, and 10 of clubs, and the ace, king, queen, jack, and 10 of diamonds.
A straight flush has five cards of the same suit in sequential order. Examples of a straight flush include jack, 10, nine, eight, and seven all of clubs or eight, seven, six, five, and four all of diamonds. If two players have a straight flush the player with the highest card in their hand wins. In the two examples we just listed, the clubs hand is higher than the diamonds hand because the highest card in the clubs hand is a jack and the highest card in the diamonds hand is an eight.
Four of a kind is any four cards of the same rank. Four kings or four sevens are both four of a kind. If you have four of a kind kings you have the king of spades, the king of hearts, the king of clubs, and the king of diamonds. If two or more players have four of a kind the one with the highest ranking four of a kind wins. In the example the four of a kind kings beats the four of a kind sevens. If two or more players have the same four of a kind, and the only way this can happen in Texas holdem is if all four are on the board of community cards, the player with the highest fifth card wins the hand. If players have to compare cards like this it’s called a kicker. A kicker can be any card in a five card hand that isn’t used to make the main ranked hand. If two players have the same pair, their highest third card is compared. If the kicker is the same rank the next card is used until one player has a higher five card hand. If all five cards match the hand is a tie and the pot is split.
A full house is a five card hand consisting of three cards of the same rank and two cards of the same rank. In other words, a hand that includes both a three of a kind and a pair is a full house. Examples of a full house are three queens and two sevens, or three sixes and two nines. If two or more players have a full house the player with the highest ranked three of a kind wins the hand. A hand of three jacks and two sevens beats a hand with three eights and two aces.
Any five card hand that’s made up of all cards of the same suit is a flush. It doesn’t matter which five cards of the suit make up the hand, as long as they're all the same suit it's a flush. Five diamonds or five spades or five hearts or five clubs is a flush. If two or more players have a flush the player with the highest ranked card in their flush wins. An ace high flush is the highest, followed by a king high, queen high, etc.
A straight is five cards in sequential order. The ace can be used to form a low straight of ace, two, three, four, and five or a high straight of ace, king, queen, jack, and 10. If two or more players hold straights the highest straight is the one with the highest card. Just like a flush, an ace high straight is the highest, followed by a king high, queen high, etc. If an ace is used as a low card below a two, it counts as a one so it isn’t the highest card when you compare two or more straights. This type of straight, also called a wheel, is a five high straight.
Three of a kind is a hand with three cards of the same rank. Three aces or three sevens are both three of a kind hands. When two or more players have three of a kind hands the player with the higher ranking three of a kind wins. If two or more players have the same three of a kind they compare their highest card not included in the three of a kind, with the highest fourth card winning the hand. If the three of a kind and the fourth card are the same rank the fifth card is compared with the high card winning.
Two pair is exactly as it sounds; two cards of the same rank and another two cards of the same rank. Two sevens and two eights or two aces and two threes are examples of two pair hands. If two or more players have two pair the player with the highest pair wins. A two pair hand with a pair of aces beats any other two pair hand. When two or more players have the same two pair hand the fifth card is compared with the highest fifth, or non-paired, card being the winner.
One pair is two cards of the same rank. Two jacks or two sixes are examples of a pair. The highest pair wins if two or more players have a pair and if players have identical pairs their third card is compared, and fourth card if the third cards are the same, etc.
If you don't have a hand that makes any of the combinations listed above you have a high card hand based on the highest card in your hand. If you have an ace you have an ace high hand and if your highest card is a jack you have a jack high hand.
To find out which player wins each hand of Texas holdem simply start reading the list from the top and stop as soon as one of the payers remaining in the hand at the end holds one of the combinations. If one player has a full house and another has a flush the full house player wins because the full house is listed higher on the list than the flush. But if the flush was a straight flush it would win because a straight flush is listed higher than a full house.
Before we cover the blinds, which are part of every Texas holdem game, let's get the antes out of the way.
An ante is a forced bet made by every player at the table before the cards are dealt. Usually the only time you use an ante is during the later stages of a tournament. They're almost never used in a cash or ring game. Before you enter a tournament it's a good idea to look for the structure information to see if it has an ante requirement in the later rounds.
Don't worry if it does, because the dealers and tournament organizers will tell you when the antes start. If you play online the software takes care of it so you don't have to be concerned about them at all.
Blinds are forced bets that players make before the cards are dealt. Each round has two players make blind bets. One player makes a small bind wager and another makes a big blind bet. The players who're responsible for the blinds rotate after each dealt hand so each player is required to make the blind bets an equal number of times.
The amount of the blind bets is set by the house and usually is directly related to the amount of the minimum and maximum bets during the normal betting rounds. The small blind is almost always half of the big blind. So if the big blind is $10 the small blind is $5.
Playing online the poker room software takes care of them and in a live game the dealer will tell you when to place a blind bet and how much to bet.
Before each hand or round is dealt a player is designated as the dealer. This player usually has a round disk placed in front of them, called a button, and they act last on each betting round except the first one. The small blind is the person to the dealer position's immediate left and the big blind is the next player to the left. After each hand the dealer button is moved one player to the left and the blinds move accordingly.
When you play in a poker room or casino the house provides an employee to deal the cards. This person is called a dealer but they're not to be confused with the player with the dealer button.
In a limit game the big blind is equal to the amount of the smaller betting limit. This is the limit used for the first two betting rounds. If you're playing a $20 / $40 limit game the big blind is $20 and the small blind is $10.
In a new game when the dealer and blinds positions must be set the casino supplied dealer shuffles the cards and deals one face up to each player. The player with the highest card is assigned the dealer button for the first hand. If two or more players receive the same ranked card for the highest card the first one to receive the card is the winner.
The only other possibility that you may run across is called a straddle. In some poker rooms the player to the immediate left of the big blind may make a bet before the hand is dealt of twice the big blind. This acts as another blind.
After the dealer position has been assigned and each of the blinds has been placed the cards are dealt from left to right starting with the player in the mall blind. Each player receives a single card face down on the first time around the table and a second card face down on the second time around the table. So each player ends up with two face down cards.
These two cards are called pocket cards or hole cards.
Once each active player has their two face down cards the first player in the hand to the left of the big blind is forced to act. This player can fold by turning their cards into the dealer face down, call by placing an amount equal to the big blind into the pot, or raise any amount dictated by the house rules.
If you're playing in a limit game you can raise exactly one bet size. If the big blind is $10 you can raise $10 by placing a total of $20 into the pot. This is $10 for the call and $10 for the raise. In a no limit game you can make a raise of any size from the minimum table limit up to and including the amount you have on the table.
Play continues to the left with each player making one of the following actions.
- Fold by giving the dealer their two cards face down
- Call the current highest previous bet
- Raise an amount based on the house rules
On the first round the small blind can fold, raise, or put an amount into the pot that calls the current high wager when added to their blind. So if the small blind is $5 and the current bet is $20 the small blind only has to place another $15 in the pot to call.
The big blind can check in a pot that hasn''t been raised, fold if the pot has been raised, call if the pot has been raised, or raise.
Play continues to the left until each player at the table has folded or called the highest wager on the round.
Once the first betting round is complete the dealer places the top card in the discard pile, called burning a card, and places the next three cards face up in the center of the table. These three cards are the first three of five total community cards that players will use in combination with their two hole cards to form their best five card hand at the end of the current hand.
The first remaining player to the left of the dealer position is the first to act on the flop and the remaining rounds. This player can check or bet, with a bet amount controlled by the house rules. In a limit game the bets on the first round and this round are at the lower limit. The bets on the turn and river are at the higher limit.
If a bet has not been made each player may check or bet as play continues to the left. If one or more wagers has been made on the current round a player may call or raise. Once all players have called the most recent high bet or folded play continues to the turn.
The dealer discards the top card and places a single card face up with the three community cards from the flop. Play starts with the first remaining player to the left of the dealer button who either checks or bets.
Play continues to the left with each player either checking or betting if a bet hasn't been made and folding, calling, or raising in the event of a prior wager. Play continues until each remaining player has folded or called the most recent top bet.
The river is played exactly like the turn with a fifth and final community card and the same betting procedures and limits.
Once all of the betting has been completed on the river each remaining player shows their hand and the best hand wins the money in the pot. Each player uses the combination of their two hole cards and the five community cards to form the best possible five card poker hand. You can use both of your hole cards and three community cards, one of your hole cards and four community cards, or all five community cards.
In the event of two or more players having identical five card poker hands the pot is split between them.
We've already mentioned a few things about Texas holdem tournaments, but you need to know a few more things about them.
You can find two different types of tournaments to participate in. Single table tournaments are only a single table and multi table tournaments are any tournament with more than one table. Both types play down to a single winner with multiple positions being paid.
Each tournament has a specific structure for blinds, antes, and pay outs. If you play an online tournament you can find the details in the sign up area or linked to from it. When you play a live tournament you'll be able to look at the details when you sign up. Ask the person registering players if you don't see a sheet with the information you need.
Single table tournaments, also called sit and go tournaments, have either nine or 10 players and pay the top three or have six player and pay the top two finishers. Multi table tournaments generally pay the top 10% or fewer finishers.
Casino Games and Home Games
The main difference between playing Texas holdem in a casino or poker room and in a home or private game is the casino or poker room usually provides a dealer and the players usually deal in private games.
Sometimes the house rules vary slightly between the two venues, but they can also vary from poker room to poker room. The important thing is to find out all of the regulations before you start playing.
If you play in home or private games you need to watch closely to make sure you aren't being cheated. You also need to be ready for about anything that can happen at the table. Home games often allow string bets, table talk, and a number of other things you won't see in a poker room or casino.
Most casinos and poker rooms use a rule that's called cards speak. This means that the players can claim they have any hand they want but the cards are the only thing that matters. So you should never let the dealer have your cards in a hand you think you lost until you see the other player's cards and make sure they have a winning hand.
Many home games have more lax rules, but they still will end up awarding the pot to the person with the best hand as long as you point out your hand is actually better.
Most casino and poker rooms operate with certain etiquette rules in place as well as specific things you can and can't do. Here's a quick overview of the main violations you'll see and should try to avoid in a Texas holdem poker game.
Something that almost every player does occasionally is play out of turn. They get distracted and fold or bet before it's their turn. Usually this isn't a big deal but it can change how someone is planning to play their hand so you should try to never do it.
Television and movies are responsible for players all over the world making string bets. A string bet is when a player says they call and then say they raise. The proper way to make a raise is simply to say you raise and state how much. When a player makes a string bet they say they call and place the number of chips out to make a call and then they say they raise and place more chips in the pot. When you want to make a raise count all of the chips out you need to make a call and the raise and push them forward together.
When you make a bet you should slide your chips forward so the dealer can reach them and count them. Your chips should never enter the pot until the dealer puts them there. Players can try to short the pot by throwing their chips directly into the pot.
Texas holdem players like to talk and tend to talk about all kinds of things, including the hands they're playing. When you aren't involved in the current hand you should never talk about it. You can talk about the hand after it's over, but anything you say that could influence the current hand is not acceptable. Saying something as simple as a flush is possible could alter the way a hand plays out.
If you're involved in the hand you can usually talk about it as much as you want, but this is something that may have specific rules of the house. A few poker rooms specifically rule that you aren't allowed to say what you have. Other rooms allow you to say what you have, lie about what you have, show a card or both cards, or do just about anything you want to do.
How to Get Started
The easiest and safest way to get started learning the rules of Texas holdem and how to play is by signing up to play for free at an online poker room. Most online rooms let you play for free and the software takes care of the dealer button, the blinds, and deals the cards. All you have to do is join a game and start playing.
Once you play for a while on the free tables consider playing on the lower limit real money tables. This will help you learn the rules quickly and easily. Then you can join a game in a poker room or casino to see the few minor differences between playing online and playing live poker.
Texas holdem rules are fairly easy to learn, but it takes a great deal of practice to become a winning player. Once you learn how to play by reading the rules listed above and playing a few hands online and in a casino or poker room you should start reading our strategy articles. They'll help you quickly go from a beginning player to a winning player.