So, you want to know how to play Texas Hold ‘Em? Don’t worry – we were all there at some stage. We’ve put this guide together to help someone with minimal poker knowledge (or even none at all) get started with the game. Texas Hold ‘Em is by far the easiest form of poker for a beginner to learn, so we recommend trying Texas Hold ‘Em before attempting the other poker variations. Other games are much harder to master, as they involve far more odds calculations and card counting to become proficient.
You can get fairly good at texas hold ‘em quite quickly, with a bit of studying the game – however to truly master the game it takes years and thousands of hands played. Online poker is a great way to practice your game – you can even play on free tables until you’re comfortable with putting your hard earned cash on the line, at which point games start at lower stakes than you will find in any real “brick and mortar” casino.
So how do I play Texas Hold ‘Em?
A typical game of Texas Hold ‘Em starts with the dealer shuffling a standard deck of 52 cards. (i.e. no jokers or additional cards added). Before the cards are dealt, the players put in an ante if there is one, and what’s known as the blinds. The ante is money put into the pot by everyone before anyone sees their cards, by all players, and is common in later stages of a tournament. The blinds are bets put into the pot before anyone sees a card by the 2 players left of the current dealer. Whilst online and in a casino you typically have the dealing done for you, the dealer position moves around the table clockwise – this determines who pays the blinds for the current hand, and the order in which people bet. The player directly left of the current dealer puts in the small blind, and the player left of the small blind puts in the big blind. The size of the small and big blind depend on the game you are playing.
Once the blinds and antes are in, every player is dealt 2 cards face down. These are known as the pocket or hole cards. Only you are dealt these cards, it is best practice not to look at them until the betting comes round to you – in order to avoid giving away any additional information to the players you are up against. Once these two cards have been dealt, betting begins. The person to the left of the big blind starts, and decides whether they want to bet, call or fold. If they call, they simply put in the same amount that the big blind had to put in, if they raise, they must raise at least 1x the big blind. So for example, if the big blind was 50, to make a bet you must bet at least 100. You could not bet 70, or 80. You can raise more than the big blind though, so a bet of 110 would be perfectly valid, because it is more than 1x the big blind on top. If the person chooses to fold, they put their cards into the middle and are out of the current hand.
Once the first person has bet, you move round clockwise to the next player, who again chooses if they want to bet, call or fold. If they choose to bet, they must raise the bet by at least 1x the previous bet. So for example if the big blind was 50, and the person left of the big blind bet 100, the next person can either call, and put 100 in, bet at least 200, or fold. If you fold you lose any money you have potentially put into the pot prior to your turn.
You work your way around the table – the blinds have already put some money into the pot, which can count towards their current bet. So for example if you were the small blind, and put in 25, whilst the big blind was 50 – if it went all around the table without anyone betting, you would only need to put 25 more in to call. The same goes if there was a raise, if it was raised to 100, and you had 25 chips in blind, you would only need to put 75 more in to call.
Once everyone has finished the first round of betting, i.e. everyone has either called the bet or folded, and there’s no further raises, play continues. Three cards are dealt face-up onto the middle of the table. These three cards are commonly known as the flop. At this stage another round of betting occurs, much like the first round but without any blinds. The first person to act is the person nearest to the direct left of the dealer. They choose whether to check, bet or fold. If the person chooses to bet, then they must bet at least the big blind. So if the small and big blind were 25 and 50 respectively, to bet you must bet at least 50. A check is much like a call, except you do not have to put any chips in – a check effectively says “I don’t want to bet.” You can only check if there has not been any bet before you, if someone bets before you, you must either call their bet or raise.
After this round of betting, a fourth card is dealt, known commonly as the turn. Another round of betting then occurs in the same manner as the round after the flop. Once all the bets are in, a fifth card is dealt, called the river. This is the final card to be dealt. Another round of betting occurs, and the players reveal their cards. The player with the best hand wins the entire pot. If there are more than 1 identical winning hands, then the pot is split between the winning players. You can choose before showing your cards not to show them, if you think you have lost – as a way of not giving away additional information to the players you are up against, however there are varying rules on whether you can choose not to show your cards or not depending on where you play, and the type of game you are playing.
So right, I know how to play now, but how do I know when to bet or if my hand is good?
Well – this is what makes up virtually the entirety of the strategy behind poker. There are many different poker strategies applied in lots of different ways, in most situations it is hard to determine a best way to play or bet – it depends on hundreds of factors including how the players on your table play, how strong your hand is, the odds of your hand improving, any tells you may have picked up on your competition, etc.
A texas hold ‘em hand combines your pocket cards with the cards in the middle of the table, also known as the community cards. Your hand consists of the best hand possible from a combination of 5 of these cards. So, for example if you were dealt Ah Kh, and the community cards were Qh 10h Kc Jc 4h – there are several possible hands you could make. The best of these hands is the flush, so Ah Kh Qh 10h 4h. You cannot use more than 5 cards to make up your hand – so you wouldn’t therefore have a flush AND a pair of kings and a straight – just the flush.
We have put a list together below of all the different poker hands you can have, in their order from best to worst. When two people have the same type of hand, the best version of it wins. So for example if you have a flush and the highest card in your flush is a 10, but your opponent has a flush and they have the ace, then your opponent wins. If you had three of a kind aces, and your opponent had three of a kind queens, you win, etc.
|Royal flush – this is a straight flush where your highest card is an ace.|
|Straight flush – this is 5 cards running one after the other, where all the cards are the same suit.|
|Four of a kind – this is when you have 4 of one card, in various suits.|
|Full house – this is when you have 3 of one card, and 2 of another. So both a pair and three of a kind.|
|Flush – this is when you have 5 cards which are all the same suit|
|Straight – this is when you have 5 running cards, of various suits|
|Three of a kind – this is when you have three of the same card, of various suits.|
|Two pair – this is when you have two different pairs|
|Pair – This is when you have two cards that are the same.|
|High card – this is when you do not make any of the above hands, at which point the highest card you have is your hand. Ace is highest, 2 is lowest.|
So now you know how to play Texas Hold ‘Em – and the various hands you can get. There’s a whole lot more to learn when it comes to poker strategy – but this is a good place to start! Practice getting to know the hands and how to play, then you can move on to reading some more advanced articles on poker strategy. We recommend reading “A beginner’s introduction to NL Texas Hold ‘Em Strategy” next, once you have played a few hands and fully understand the rules. If you have issues understanding any of the terminology used, check out our poker terminology guide (some of the terms are confusing at best!)
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