Texas Holdem for Dummies
Like the title suggests, this page is designed to take a person who knows nothing about Texas holdem and walk them step by step through the game so they can start playing without embarrassing themselves. The title should really say Texas holdem for the ignorant because not knowing about something is ignorance, not a matter of being dumb. But for dummies is much more catchy so we went with it.
Just understand that what you don't know about Texas holdem doesn't rank you with the dummies of the population, and after reading this page you'll have graduated to a level far above the dummies stage. If you really study and learn from the details below you'll probably advance past the bottom 25% of the poker population immediately.
Where else can you get a jump on a quarter of the population by simply reading a page?
One of the best ways to learn how to play a new game is by watching other players, but if you don't understand the terms the players are using and don't understand the rules it can take a long time to pick up on the fine points of the game.
It's somewhat like trying to learn a new language by moving to a new country without taking any language lessons.
This page starts with the basics by covering the important terms you'll hear at the table and then goes over the possible poker hands and their strengths. Then you'll learn the exact step by step way a game of Texas holdem is set up and how a hand is played, and as a bonus we've included a basic strategy section.
If your goal is to be able to start playing Texas holdem as quickly as possible without looking like you're inexperienced or don't know what you're doing this page will prepare you like no other resource.
In order to understand a game at the most basic level you have to learn some of the common terms. Like many games, Texas holdem players use a specialized language with terms that aren't used in normal conversation or terms that mean something different than you're used to.
Here's a list of common terms used at the Texas holdem table.
- Hole Cards
The two cards dealt face down to each player. Your two card starting hand is your hole cards.
- Burn Card
The dealer places a card in the discard pile, also called the muck, before dealing the flop, turn, and river. This card is called a burn card. The phrase burn and turn refers to burning a card and turning over the next community card.
- Community Cards
The community cards are cards placed face up in the center of the poker table. These cards are used in combination with your hole cards to make the best possible five card poker hand. Every player uses the community cards. The community cards are made up of the flop, turn, and river. Some players call the community cards the board.
The flop is the first set of community cards dealt after the first betting round. Three cards are dealt face up.
The turn is a single community card dealt following the betting round conducted after the flop.
The final community card is called the river and it is dealt after the betting round following the turn.
After all of the community cards are dealt and all of the betting rounds have been completed all of the remaining players show their hole cards and the winning player receives the pot. When the players show their cards it's called the showdown.
When you fold you turn your cards in to the dealer face down instead of calling the current bet.
If you decide to remain in the hand you must call any bet that has been made earlier in the round. This includes the big blind on the first round of betting.
A raise is when you not only call the current bet but decide to place a larger bet. This is all done at one time, unlike what you often see on television. You don't say I'll call and raise. You simply state that you're raising and push the amount of chips forward to cover the call and the raise. If you say I call and raise it's a string bet and this isn't allowed in poker rooms.
When there hasn't been a bet on the current round of betting you may check to the next person. You can't check on the first round unless you're in the big blind and no one has raised. You must call, raise, or fold on the first round in any position other than the big blind.
- All In
In a no limit Texas holdem game you can push all of your chips into the pot whenever it's your turn to place a bet. When you bet all of your chips it's called all in. You can say I'm all in.
- Limit Holdem
Limit Texas holdem has a strict bet and raise limit on each round of betting. The first two betting rounds are the same size as the big blind and the last two rounds are played at double this amount. If the big blind is $40, the small blind will be $20, the first two betting rounds will be $40 per bet and the last two will be conducted at $80 per bet. This means that when you bet you have to bet the amount for the current round. When you arise you can only raise the current limit. On the first betting round of the example above, you can fold, call the $40 big blind, or raise to a total of $80, which is your call of $40 and a raise of $40. A limit game with the above limits is called a $40 / $80 game.
- No Limit Holdem
No limit Texas holdem has a small and big blind like limit holdem but you can raise any amount up to the size of your stack of chips. The only restriction is if you raise you have to raise at least an amount equal to the last bet of the round. If the last bet was $20 you have to raise at least $20. If no one has made a bet on the current round you can raise any amount.
- Big Blind
The big blind is a forced bet that a player must make on every hand of Texas holdem. It's also the name of the position for the player who's forced to make the bet. The big blind is two seats to the left of the player in the dealer position. After each hand the big blind moves one seat to the left. In limit Texas holdem the big blind is equal to the smaller of the two betting limits. In a $20 / $40 game the big blind is $20. In a no limit game the size of the big blind is determined by the house.
- Small Blind
The small blind is a forced bet that is made on each hand of Texas holdem. It also refers to the position of the player making this forced bet. The small blind is between the player in the dealer or button position and the big blind. The amount of the small blind is almost always half the amount of the big blind. If the big blind is $20 the small blind is $10. Occasionally you may see a table with a small blind that is a different amount, but it's rare. The small blind rotates one seat to the left after each hand.
- Dealer or Button
The dealer or button is the player who is the last person to act on every round except the first one. This player usually has a small round disc in front of them that looks somewhat like a button. In a poker room the casino personnel who deal the cards is called a dealer, but when you hear someone refer to the dealer position or button they mean the player, not the person dealing the cards. The dealer button is passed to the next player to the left after each hand.
- Under the Gun
Under the gun refers to the position who is first to act on the first betting round. This player is seated immediately to the left of the big blind.
Chips, or poker chips, are the round things, usually made of clay, you receive in exchange for your cash. You use the chips to make bets and when you're done you exchange the chips back for cash in the cashier cage area.
Your stack is your collection of poker chips at the poker table you use to place bets with.
Position is a term used to describe where you're seated at a table in relation to the other players. Your position changes as the dealer button is passed around the table. Early position is when you have to act first or second in the hand and late position is when you have to act in the last two positions of the hand. Middle position is in between early and late position.
The nuts is a term used to describe the absolute best possible poker hand in the current situation. If the best possible hand is an ace high flush, if a person holds an ace high flush he has the nuts. If you have the nuts after the river you can't lose the hand unless you fold. Many players incorrectly use this term when they have a very strong hand but not the absolute best possible hand.
In real money Texas holdem games the casino or poker room makes money by taking a small amount from each pot. This is called the rake. Both land based and online poker rooms take rake.
- Ring Game
A ring game is a Texas holdem game that has players join and leave as they run out of chips or decide to stop playing. You bring chips to the table and leave with whatever chips you have left or have won. If you run out of chips you can buy more and keep playing if you wish. If you walk into a local poker room or log into an online poker room and join a game in progress it's a ring game.
- Sit and Go Tournament
A sit and go tournament is a small tournament, usually with nine or 10 players. You pay a set buy in and the final three players win prize money. First place usually receives 50% of the prize pool; second place gets 30%, and third place receives 20%. When you run out of chips you're eliminated from the tournament. A few online poker rooms run two or three table sit and go tournaments, but traditionally they're single table events.
- Multi Table Tournaments
Multi table tournaments make up every other tournament. The events at the World Series of Poker are multi table events and many online poker rooms run big events. You pay a fee, receive a set number of chips, and play until you win all of the chips in play or run out of chips. Usually somewhere around the top 8 to 12% of the tournament entrants finish in the money. A few tournaments, called re-buy tournaments, allow players to buy back into the tournament for a limited time if they lose all of their chips. Most tournaments don't offer re-buy opportunities so if you lose all of your chips you're eliminated.
Each game of Texas holdem is dealt using a standard playing card deck of 52 cards. Each deck has four suits made up of 13 cards per suit. The four suits are spades, hearts, clubs, and diamonds. In Texas holdem each suit is equal in value.
The ranks of card in each suit from lowest to highest are 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, jack, queen, king, and ace.
The following hand values are ranked from highest value to lowest. Go down the list until you find the value of your highest possible hand. Then do the same for your opponent's hand. Whoever has the highest hand on the list wins the hand.
- Royal Flush
A royal flush consists of the top five cards all in the same suit. The ace, king, queen, jack, and 10 of hearts make up one of the four possible royal flush hands. The same five cards, all in spades, or all in diamonds, or all in clubs is also a royal flush.
- Straight Flush
A straight flush is five cards in order, all of the same suit. The 8, 7, 6, 5, 4 all of clubs is a straight flush.
- Four of a Kind
Four of a kind is a hand with four cards of the same rank. A hand that has the 10 of clubs, 10 of hearts, 10 of spades, and 10 of diamonds has a four of a kind in 10's. In the case of two players each having four of a kind, the player with the higher ranked four of a kind wins the hand. If the board has four of a kind the player with the highest other card wins the hand. If the board has four of a kind and a higher fifth card than any remaining player the pot is split between all remaining players.
- Full House
A full house has three cards of the same rank and two cards of the same rank that don't match the first three cards. If you have three aces and two kings, you have a full house. If you hear a player say they have a full house with aces full of kings, the three of a kind is stated first and the pair is stated second. If two or more players each have a full house the player with the highest ranked three of a kind wins the hand. If the three of a kind is the same the player with the highest pair wins the hand.
A flush is a hand with all five cards of the same suit. If two or more players have a flush, the one with the highest ranked card wins the hand. If two or more players have the same highest ranked card they compare their next highest ranked card and so on until one player has a card of higher rank than the other players.
A straight is five cards in sequential order but not all of the same suit. For the purposes of a straight an ace can be used as the card above a king or below a two. An example of a straight is 10, 9, 8, 7, and 6 with at least two different suits. If two or more players have a straight the one with the highest card in their straight is the winner.
- Three of a Kind
Three of a kind is three cards of the same rank. If you have the 8 of diamonds, 8 of clubs, and 8 of spades you have three of a kind of 8's. If two players have the same three of a kind their next highest card decides the winner. If two players have different three of a kind hands the one with the highest ranked three of a kind is the winner. If a player has a pair in their hole cards and the board makes them a three of a kid hand it's called a set. If the board has two matching cards and you match them with one of your cards it's called trips.
- Two Pair
Two pair is two cards of the same rank and another two cards of the same rank that aren't the same rank as the first pair. If you have a 7 of spades and a 7 of hearts and an 8 of hearts and an 8 of diamonds you have two pair. If two or more players have two pair the player with the highest ranked pair is the winner.
A pair of cards is two cards of the same rank. Two aces or two threes both count as a pair. If two or more players have a pair the player with the highest ranked pair is the winner. If two players have the same ranked pair the player with the next highest ranked card wins.
- High Card
If no players have a pair or better the player with the highest ranked card is declared the winner. If they have the same highest ranked card their next highest ranked cards are compared. This continues until one player has a higher ranked card than their opponent. If all five cards are the same rank the pot is split.
How to Play
Texas holdem games are available in ring games and tournaments, but the same basic rules govern how to play both types of games. If you follow the step by step details below you'll be able to play in any type of Texas holdem game.
If you join a ring game in progress the dealer and blind positions will be set from the previous hand. Depending on the house rules you may have to wait for the big blind to come around to where you're seated before you can start playing. Some places let you post a bet equal to the big blind to start playing right away.
If you're seated at the beginning of a tournament or when a ring game starts the dealer shuffles the cards and then deals one card face up to each player 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 places the small blind and the next player to the left places the big blind. Then the person dealing the cards deals two cards to each player at the table, one at a time starting with the small blind and going to the left, finishing once the button player has received her second card.
At this time the first player to the left of the big blind folds, calls the big blind, or raises. Play continues to the left with each player either calling the current bet or blind if no one has raised, folding, or raising. Play continues until each player has called the last bet or folded. In a limit game all bets and raises are the amount of the smaller limit on this round and the next betting round.
If no one raises the small blind can call the half bet, called completing the bet, and the big blind has the choice to check if the pot hasn't been raised, or fold.
After all of the betting action has been completed on the first round of betting the dealer burns the card on top of the deck and then turns the next three cards face up in the center of the table. These three cards are the first of the five community cards and called the flop.
Each player uses their two hole cards in combination with the five board cards to make their best possible five card hand. You can use both of your hole cards with three of the community cards, one of your hole cards with four of the community cards, or all five of the community cards and neither of your hole cards.
After the flop the first person to the left of the dealer button remaining in the hand can check or bet. In a limit game the bet must be the smaller limit amount. In a no limit game the bet can be any amount up to and including the amount of chips the player has in front of them.
Play continues to the left. Each player may check if no bet has been made, call if a bet has been made, bet if a bet hasn;t been made, or raise if a bet has been made. Play continues to the left until each player has checked or each player has called the most recent bet or folded.
The dealer burns the top card and deals the next card face up with the other community cards. This is called the turn. In limit Texas holdem all bets on the turn and river are at the higher limit.
After the turn card is dealt the first player to the left of the dealer button remaining in the hand either checks or bets. Play continues to the left like it did on the flop with each player checking, calling, betting, or raising depending on what has happened before on this betting round.
When all of the betting has been completed on the turn the dealer burns a final card and places the fifth and final community card face up. A betting round identical to the one on the turn is completed. After the river betting round all of the remaining players turn their cards over and the player with the best hand wins the pot. If more than one player has the exact same winning hand the pot is split between the players with the tied best hand.
After the dealer gives the pot to the winning player the dealer button is passed one place to the left and the blinds move one place to the left. Once the two blinds pay their forced bets the next hand starts.
It;s one thing to be able to play Texas holdem, but it;s another thing to be able to do it without losing all of your money quickly. If you want to not only play your first Texas holdem game but want to have a decent chance to break even here;s a few tips to help you get started.
You should know that winning Texas holdem players have been playing and studying for years in most cases. While you can learn a few thing that can help you be competitive quickly, this represents a small part of strategy. If you want to learn more or become competitive faster you need to check out our strategy section.
- Play at the smallest limits available. This keeps your initial investment as low as possible and will keep you from losing too much as you make mistakes while you're learning.
- Play at the limit Texas holdem tables at first instead of the no limit tables. While you can still lose money quickly, a single mistake usually won't cost you your entire stack like it can at the no limit tables.
- If you can find tables with other new or inexperienced players it can give you the best chance to win.
- Learn about pot odds and start using them to make decisions at the table. We have an extensive page on them so you can quickly learn more.
- At the most basic level you need to focus on only playing with your best starting hands. When you start with a better hand than your opponents you'll end up with a better hand more often than they will. Most players play too many hands, so focus on playing fewer hands and remain patient.
- Don't bluff. If you watch poker on television you see many players bluffing. As you're learning how to play forget about bluffing. When you have a good hand bet and raise and when you have a poor hand check and fold. You can worry about bluffing once you become a better player.
- A full house is a monster hand and rarely loses in a Texas holdem game. Flushes are the next most powerful hand, followed by three of a kind. When you have one of these three hands you'll usually win the pot. Many pots are won with a high pair or a two pair hand, but both of these hands are vulnerable to better hands.
- You can practice playing online at the free money tables, but the play is so bad it's difficult to get better from a strategy standpoint. You still need to try to play using the best strategy but until you start playing for real money it can be hard to see if your decisions are right or not.
- Instead of playing at the free money tables take a seat at the micro limit tables. Many online sites have limit Texas holdem tables as low as .05 /.10. Even though you're only playing with nickels and dimes the play is much more realistic at these levels and you can work on improving your game.
- Always focus on playing the best game possible. Even if you're playing for free or small stakes treat each game and hand like it's for thousands of dollars. If you want to be the best player possible you need to concentrate every time you play poker.
- The best position at the table is the dealer button. You get to see how the other players play the hand before you have to play. The blinds and under the gun are the worst positions. Play fewer hands from the poor positions and more hands from the best positions.
- Always pay attention while playing Texas holdem. Watch the other players even when you fold your hand. See if you can figure out which ones are good and which ones aren't. You can often learn things about other players by watching that you can use to make more money against them in the future.
How to Get Started
The quickest way to get started is by signing up for an online poker room. Your options depend a great deal on where you live. If you live in the United States you'll only find a few poker rooms available, unless you live in one of the states with specific laws allowing online play. If you live in the UK or many other places around the world you'll have more options.
Once you find a poker room sign up for a free account and head over to the cashier area. Make a deposit and claim a bonus if the poker room is offering a sign up bonus. Most bonuses aren't placed in your account right away. You have to play a certain amount of real money hands before the bonus is released, usually in small increments of $10 or so.
To make a deposit you can use a credit card, a bank wire, or one of the popular online wallet accounts, depending on where you live. The cashier area will have additional details about the methods available to players where you live.
If you just want to play for free you don't have to make a deposit, but you should still sign up for a place that lets you play for real money. This way all you have to do is make a deposit to switch from play money to real money play.
If you want to play at a local casino or poker room walk in and find the registration desk in the poker area. Tell them which game you'd like to play, your name, and ask them where to buy chips. Most poker rooms want you to buy chips at the cage, but a few let you buy them at the table.
Most rooms have a list of available games, but if they don't ask what the lowest Texas holdem limit game is they're currently spreading. If they have a seat available they'll point you in the right direction and if not they'll put you on the list and call for you when a seat opens up.
Once you get seated simply follow the directions of the dealer. When the big blind comes around to you place your bet in front of you and get ready to start playing. If the dealer asks if you want to play or wait for your big blind you can do whatever you prefer. If you decide to play slide an amount equal to the big blind out. Some rooms let you start playing right away without placing a bet on your first hand.
Don't worry about not knowing these things.
No one knows the house rules the first time they play, and they vary from room to room. If you play online the software takes care of everything so all you have to do is click the button when the software asks about the blinds.
The main thing to keep in mind is that everyone was a beginning Texas holdem player at one point. If you don't know something simply ask. Casino and poker room personnel are there to help you and most poker players are friendly enough to help new players. If you run into a grumpy player just ignore them and ask someone else.
Even the most seasoned pros make mistakes, so don't worry about the ones you're going to make. Simply understanding that it's not the end of the world if you do something wrong can make your experience more enjoyable. You'll see players with years of experience play out of turn, forget to do something like place the blinds, or get lost in thought. Just correct your mistake and move onto the next hand.
Many new players are afraid they'll do something that makes them look stupid or foolish at the table. They try to hide the fact that they're new to the game from the other players.
While you can do whatever you feel is best, have you considered just telling the other players that you're new to the game? Almost universally, poker players are happy to have new players at their table. New players usually make mistakes, which are good for the other players, so most players go out of their way to make newbies feel welcome.
If you have questions about something ask the dealer. She's there to run the game smoothly, and part of that job is helping the players.
Another option for your first time playing is going to a local poker room with someone you know who is an experienced player. Your friend can help you get signed up for a table, buy chips, and get started.
Of course if you want to play online you'll be operating behind a screen name so no one will know who you are, but you can start playing at the free money tables so even if you make mistakes it won't cost you more than your time.