How to play Texas Hold’em Poker
How to play Texas Hold’em Poker
Estimated reading time 5 minutes
Texas Hold’em is a flop-style poker game that originated in Texas in the early 20th century. It is now one of the most popular forms of poker worldwide. In this format, a standard deck of 52 cards is used and each player is dealt two cards face-down (called ‘hole’ or ‘pocket’ cards) which only they can view, in addition to five community cards laid face-up on the table. Hands are won by the best five-card combination formed by the hole and community cards. Keep reading to find out more.
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There are four key actions a player can take during any one hand:
- Fold: forfeit your hand and all bets made (if any).
- Check: stay in the hand without betting, having already matched previous bets (if any).
- Call: to match a bet.
- Raise: to increase the amount of the bet, forcing your opponents to call or fold.
Hold’em poker typically uses blind bets, which are compulsory contributions to a hand’s prize pool (known as the ‘pot’). These consist of a small blind and a big blind.
As the dealer button (used to represent the player in the dealer position) moves clockwise around the table after each hand, the small blind is played by the person to the left of the dealer. It is usually worth half the amount of the big blind, which is put up by the player to the small blind’s left. These obligatory bets are made before each round begins. Antes (forced bets by all players) may be used in addition to the blinds.
The first true round of betting starts once all players have been dealt their two hole cards and the blinds have been put forward. This round is called ‘pre-flop’ betting. Here, the players have the choice to fold, call or raise. Betting starts with the player to the left of the player who placed the big blind, and moves in a clockwise direction. In all later rounds, betting begins with the player on the dealer’s left (the player who put forward the small blind). So, in order to continue playing the ‘pre-flop’ round, players need to at least match the amount of the big blind. The next round can proceed once all players have matched any bets, or chosen to forfeit their hand.
The flop – the first three community cards revealed – is then dealt and the second phase of betting can begin. Once that full round of betting has been complete, the turn is dealt (the fourth card drawn), another round of betting occurs and then the river, the fifth and final community card, is drawn, followed by one final round of betting.
If there are at least two players remaining at the conclusion of betting, the hand enters a showdown. Rather than pistols at forty paces, this is when the contestants reveal their cards to determine the winner. If there is a tie due to two or more players having exactly equal hands, then the pot is split evenly between them. If all but one player folds, the last man standing wins the pot without having to show his cards.
Note: If playing a tournament and only two players remain (all other player have lost all their chips and been eliminated), unique ‘heads up’ rules are put in place and the blinds are made slightly differently. The person with the dealer button plays the small blind, while his or her opponent plays the big blind. The dealer will act first before the flop is dealt, and then after the flop and for the rest of the round, the dealer will act last. The dealer button then swaps to the other player.
There are three common varieties of Texas Hold’em: Limit Hold’em, Pot-Limit Hold’em, and No-Limit Hold’em:
- In Limit Hold’em, all bets and raises in the first two rounds must be the same size as the big blind – this is called the small bet. In the final two rounds, this amount doubles and becomes the big bet.
- In Pot-Limit Hold’em, players cannot bet or raise more than the size of the pot. For example, if the hand is worth $250, that is the maximum bet a player can make at that time.
- No-Limit Hold’em does more or less what it says on the tin. Players can put up as many chips as they have during their turn when betting, even their whole stack – this is called going all in. No-Limit Hold’em is often played at high stakes with expensive buy-ins, as seen in top-tier poker tournaments.
As mentioned, hands are determined by finding the strongest five-card combination from the total seven – two hole cards plus five community cards – at a player’s disposal. The ranking of hands is determined by the numerical value of the cards, with the suit values playing no part (ex: an Ace of Spades is worth the same as an Ace of Hearts). The only time suits come in to play is for a flush hand, which is by nature a hand of five cards of the same suit.
The types of poker hands are ranked below, from weakest to strongest:
- High card – the single card of greatest value in a player’s hand.
- One pair (two of a kind) – two cards of the same value.
- Two pair – two sets of separate pairs (ex: Q, Q and 3, 3)
- Three of a kind – three cards of the same value.
- Straight – a consecutive run of five cards by value (ex: 5, 6, 7, 8, 9)
- Flush – five cards of the same suit, regardless of order and value (ex: 4, 6, 9, 10, A, all in the suit of Hearts.
- Full house – a three of a kind combined with a separate pair (ex: J, J, J, 8, 8 is called ‘Jacks full of Eights’).
- Four of a kind – four cards of the same value.
- Straight flush – a consecutive run of five cards by value, all in the same suit. This includes the ultimate poker hand, the one which cannot be beaten; a Royal Flush (10, J, Q, K, A, all of the same suit).
‘Kickers’ are a key factor in Texas Hold’em. These are cards that act as a kind of tie breaker when players share a hand – a frequent occurrence, given there are five community cards on the table. For example, if your hand is Q, Q, J, J, 7, the Seven acts as the kicker. If another player has Queens and Jacks with a higher kicker (ex: Q, Q, J, J, A), then you lose; but if their kicker is lower than Seven, you win. If both players were to have a flush, then whoever has the highest card wins the hand. If the highest value cards are the same, the pot in split.
Perhaps more than any other form of poker, this game places a premium on knowing when to hold’em and when to fold’em. Whereas in Five-Card Draw you can alter your hand by discarding and drawing, in Texas Hold’em you are at the mercy of the dealer – and your opponents, of course.
Because of this, the nature of the game – and the players’ decision making – from hand to hand, is influenced hugely by betting, and the size of the pot. Experienced players use risk-reward thinking to determine whether a pot is sweet enough to, say, warrant getting dragged in to a big-money bet on a weak hand, and bluffing their way to a win. Hence, Texas Hold’em is often dubbed ‘the thinking man’s card game.’
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