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