How to Play Texas Holdem
Texas holdem is currently the most popular form of poker played around the world. In the 2000's it exploded in popularity and remains wildly popular today.
The most popular form of poker before Texas holdem surpassed it was seven card stud, but sometime in the 1970's or 1980's Texas holdem became king.
Because it's so popular many players just assume everyone knows how to play. It seems like you can turn on the television and watch a tournament almost any time, but what about all of the people who want to learn how to play but are afraid to sit down in a real money game at first or are afraid of making a mistake?
This page is written for you if you fit either of these descriptions or simply want to make sure you understand everything before playing. We've written this guide so you can quickly learn how to play Texas holdem even if you've never played poker before.
The first section includes general poker rules and the next section has a complete set of Texas holdem rules. Then each of the main parts of a hand of Texas holdem poker is described in detail.
General Poker Rules
Before you learn how to play Texas holdem you need to understand the basic rules of poker. The basic poker rules include information about the deck of playing cards and the rank of hands.
Most poker games, including Texas holdem, use a standard 52 card deck of playing cards. Each deck of cards has four suits with each suit containing 13 cards. The suits are:
The ranks of cards in each suit from highest to lowest are:
The ace can also be used as a low card, equal to 1, below a 2 for straight purposes.
Some poker games use one or more jokers, but Texas holdem doesn't so they aren't included in the information on this page.
Here's a list of possible poker hands from high to low. When you determine which player has the best hand look at their best five cards and start from the top of the list and work down. The hand you get to first that's held by a player is the winning hand.
- Royal Flush
A royal flush is five cards, all of the same suit, which forms a straight starting with an ace high. The ace of clubs, king of clubs, queen of clubs, jack of clubs, and ten of clubs is one of the four possible royal flushes. The ace, king, queen, jack, ten or hearts is another, and of spades is another, and finally in diamonds is another.
- Straight Flush
A straight flush is five cards, all of the same suit, which also have five cards in sequential order. The only difference between a royal flush and a straight flush is a straight flush is king high or lower. The king of spades, queen of spades, jack of spades, ten of spades, and nine of spades is a straight flush. The six of clubs, five of clubs, four of clubs, three of clubs, and two of clubs is also a straight flush.
- Four of a Kind
When you have four cards, all of the same rank, you have four of a kind. The eight of spades, eight of hearts, eight of diamonds, and eight of clubs forms a four of a kind in eights.
- Full House
A full house is three cards of the same rank and two other cards of the same rank that aren't the same rank as the three of a kind. Three kings and two sevens is a full house.
When you have a flush you have five cards of the same suit. It doesn't matter which five cards you have, as long as they're all five hearts, or all spades, or all diamonds, or all clubs.
A straight is five cards in sequential order that aren't all of the same suit. Remember the ace may be played as above the king or below the two. So both an ace, king, queen, jack, ten and a five, four, three, two, ace are straights. You can't play what is sometimes called around the world, though. This means you can't play a hand like a king, ace, two, three, four as a straight.
- Three of a Kind
Three of a kind is any three cards of the same rank. The ace of spades, the ace of clubs, and ace of hearts is three of a kind. The suits don't matter when looking at a three of a kind.
- Two Pair
Two pair is two cards of the same rank and two other cards of the same rank that aren't the same rank as the first two cars. Two aces and two sixes form two pairs.
- One Pair
One pair is two cards of the same rank. Two threes is a pair or two kings is a pair.
- High Card
When you don't have any of the other hands listed above you have a high card hand. The highest card in your hand is your high card. If you have an ace you have an ace high hand. If the highest card you have is a nine, you have a nine high hand.
If two or more players tie for the best hand you break ties using the following rules.
- When two or more players have the exact same five card hand they tie and split the pot. For example, two players each have a pair of sevens, a pair of twos, and an ace.
- If two or more players have the same best one card, two cards, three cards, or four cards hand, the winner is the player with the next highest card not being used for the one two, three, or four card hand. For example, if two players each have a pair of aces and the next highest card in one player's hand is a jack and in the other player's hand, it's a seven, the player with the jack wins. This is called a kicker.
- When two players have a flush the player with the highest card in their flush is the winner. If they each have the same highest card the next highest card is compared, until one player has a higher card.
- If two players have a straight the player with the highest card in their straight wins.
- When two players each have a full house, the player with the higher three of a kind wins. If the three of a kind is the same in both hands the player with the best pair wins. For example, a hand with three queens and two sixes beats a hand with three tens and two aces.
Texas Holdem Rules
Now that you know how poker works, in general, it's time to dive into the specific rules for Texas holdem. In this section, you'll learn about the different types of Texas holdem and what happens in each part of a hand.
Texas holdem is offered in variations based on betting limits and also based on the format.
The three betting variations include:
- Pot Limit
- No limit
And the format variations include:
- Ring Game
- Multi Table Tournament
- Single Table Tournament
- Heads Up
All of the formats can be offered in any of the betting variations. You can play limit ring games or tournaments and no limit heads up games, single table tournaments, multi-table tournaments, and ring games. Basically, you can attach any of the betting variations to any of the formats.
In a no limit game players can bet or raise any amount up to their entire stack. In a pot limit game players may bet or raise any amount up to and including the size of the current pot. When you play in a limit game all bets and raises are restricted to a set amount based on the limits.
A limit game has two amounts. The smaller amount is the betting limit on the first two betting rounds and the higher amount is the betting limit on the last two betting rounds.
In a $30 / $60 limit Texas holdem game, the first two betting rounds use bets and raises of $30 and the last two betting rounds use bets and raises of $60.
Each Texas holdem game also has a pair of forced bets called blinds. Blinds are set by the house in no limit and pot limit games and set based on the limits in a limit game.
The big blind is the same size as the smaller betting limit in a limit game and the small blind is half the big blind. This is the most common setup, but you can find a few games with blinds that are the same or in another strange configuration. Occasionally a pot limit or no limit game has both blinds post the same amount.
Pot limit play is the least popular of the three Texas holdem variants so you may never play but if you do there's a unique rule dealing with the size of bets that you need to be aware of.
When you make a bet or raise you can bet as much as is in the pot. So if the pot has $100 in it, you can bet up to and including $100. But if an opponent bets first and you decide to raise the amount you can raise is different than you might think.
If the pot has $100 in it and an opponent bets $20 and you want to raise you can place a bet of $160 total. The way it works is you use $20 to call the bet, making the pot size $140, and then you can raise up to and including another $140. It's important that you understand how this works, though because you can't say you call a raise. You have to announce your intention to raise and move all of your chips for the raise forward at one time.
A Texas holdem ring game is one where players come and go and once it's started it doesn't have to end as long as players want to play and a dealer is available. Most poker rooms close or, at least, have tables close, but some online poker rooms can have the same table open for months or longer if players keep joining when others leave.
In a ring game, you can buy more chips or leave whenever you want.
If you're playing in a tournament you post a buy in and receive chips. When you run out of chips you're eliminated from the tournament. In some tournaments if you run out of chips early you can pay an additional fee and buy more chips. These are called rebuy tournaments. In rebuy tournaments, you can only buy back in for a limited time.
The only difference between a single table and multi table tournaments are the size of the field of entrants. A single table tournament has 10 entrants or less and a multi-table tournament can have thousands of entrants.
The number of entrants who win prizes and the amount of the payouts are listed with each tournament and you should make sure you completely understand them and the other rules before entering a tournament.
Occasionally you may be forced to place ante best later in tournaments. These are bets placed be each player at the table before each hand. In many ways, these are like blinds. If a Texas holdem tournament has antes in the later rounds it'll be listed in the tournament information when you sign up.
The last thing you should know before learning more is that most Texas holdem games have a minimum betting limit. This is usually equal to the big blind. You also have to raise at least the size of the last bet when you raise. So the minimum bet will be equal to the big blind unless it's posted differently in an un-raised pot, and in a situation where you're making a raise you have to raise at least as much as the last bet.
So if the bet was $50 and you want to raise, you have to raise at least $50 more. A minimum raise in this situation would be $50, making a total bet of $100. This is $50 for the call and another $50 for the raise.
We've already mentioned blinds briefly, but here's a little more information about how they're assigned at the beginning of each ring game or tournament.
Usually, the dealer shuffles the cards and deals one card face up to each player at the table. The highest card is awarded the dealer position or dealer button. This player acts last on each round of play for the hand except the first round. The small blind is posted by the person to the immediate left of the dealer button and the big blind is to the immediate left of the small blind.
The person who deals the cards and the person with the dealer button aren't the same in poker rooms and casinos. They can be the same person in private or home games that don't have a designated dealer.
For the rest of the parts of a Texas holdem hand, the play is the same whether you're playing in a tournament or in a ring game.
At the end of each hand or at the beginning of each hand the dealer button is passed one place to the left and both blinds move one place to the left. The players in the blinds place their blind bets and the dealer starts dealing one card at a time face down to the first player to the left of the dealer button and continues dealing to the left until each player has two face down cards.
These are called pocket cards or hole cards.
These hole cards are used in combination with the community cards, discussed in the next section, to form the player's best five card hand. The community cards consist of five cards, so players can use both of their hole cards and three community cards, one of their hole cards and four community cards, or none of their hole cards and all five of the community cards to form a five card hand.
Once each player has two hole cards the player to the immediate left of the big blind folds, calls the big blind, or raises. To call the big blind simply say that you call and slide chips forward in the same amount as the big blind. If the big blind is $20 slide $20 worth of chips forward.
If you want to raise state that you raise and the amount you're raising. The maximum amount of the raise is based on the variation of Texas holdem you're currently playing. This was discussed earlier in the variations section.
After each player acts the next player to the left must fold, call the current bet, or raise.
When play comes around to the small blind she can fold, call the difference between the current bet and her blind, or raise. If the small blind is $10 and the current bet is $40 she only has to place another $30 into the pot to call.
If the pot hasn't been raised the big blind can check or raise when it's her turn. By checking you get to see the flop for free in an un-raised pot.
Play continues until every player has folded or called the last bet or raise. If you fold simply slide your cards to the dealer face own. Until you fold protect your cards at all times. Many players place a chip or other small item on top of their hole cards. This shows that they want to remain in the hand and the dealer shouldn't attempt to get their cards.
Once the before the hand parts are completed the dealer places the flop in the center of the table. The dealer burns the top card in the deck by placing it in a discard pile, and then deals the next three cards face up in the center of the table.
These are the first three of the five cards that will make up the community or board cards at the end of the hand. As mentioned above, the community cards are used by each player in combination with their hole cards to form the best possible five-card poker hand.
After the flop cards have been dealt the first remaining player to the left of the dealer button is the first player to act. She may check or bet. Play continues to the left with each player remaining in the hand checking if no one has made a bet, calling the current bet, raising, or folding. Play continues until each player has folded or called the last bet or raise.
In limit Texas holdem the bets before the flop and on the flop round are at the lower betting limit. The next two rounds, the turn, and river, are completed using the higher betting limit.
Once the flop betting round is completed the dealer burns the top card of the deck again and then deals one card face up in the center of the table beside the flop cards. This is the fourth of five total community cards.
The first remaining player to the left of the dealer button acts first, by checking or betting. Play continues to the left. Each player may check if no one has made a bet, call a current bet, and fold if a bet has been made, or raise a current bet.
Once each player has called the last bet the dealer starts the river round.
Just like the turn, at the beginning of the river, the dealer burns the top card of the deck and places a single card face up in the center of the table. This is the fifth and final community card.
At this time, the first player remaining in the hand to the left of the dealer button starts the action. She may check or bet. Play continues to the left just like it did on the turn with each player checking if able, calling, raising, or folding.
Once each remaining player has called the latest bet it's time for the showdown.
If all of the players check on the flop, turn, or river play moves on to the next round. No one has to make a wager on a betting round.
After all of the betting rounds have been completed each of the remaining players show their cards so the pot can be awarded to the player with the best hand. If no one made a bet on the river the first player to the left of the dealer button is the first to show her cards. Each remaining player to the left then either shows her hand if it beats the current high hand or folds.
You don't have to show your cards if you fold, but if you make a mistake you can't be awarded the pot unless you show your cards.
If a bet was made on the river the player who called the bet can wait for the original bettor to show their cards first before revealing her cards.
Never take your hands off your cards if you think you have the winning hand until the dealer gives you the chips from the pot. Also, never take another player's word for the strength of his hand. Look at the hand yourself before throwing your cards away.
After the best hand has been determined by the dealer she gives the chips to the winning player, collects all of the cards, makes sure the dealer button has been moved and the blinds have been placed, shuffles the cards and gets ready to start the next hand.
Now that you have a complete guide on how to play Texas holdem the next step is learning more about how to be a good Texas holdem player. We have a complete strategy section to help you become a winning player.
Make sure you read the starting hands page and the low limits page to get started. Once you master those two areas continue to the pot odds page and then add the rest of the poker strategy section.
Before you finish with the strategy section you should be able to play at a breakeven level or better. With a little practice and time, you should be able to start winning on a regular basis