Texas hold'em is the most popular of all poker variations and currently the "industry standard" when it comes to poker events. All of the top tournaments around the world are played in a variation of this game, whether it be the World Series of Poker, the World Poker Tour, the European Poker Tour, and many more.
While the game is very simple and often takes just a short briefing to learn, the number of possible game situations is so vast that, when playing at a high level, the game can become complex. Thus the renowned expression: "It takes a moment to learn, but a lifetime to master."
When playing the game for the first time, you will be confronted with some of the basic rules which are explained below. In its most basic description, the game is played with a 52-card deck, each player receives two hole cards to begin the hand, and then there are four rounds of betting: preflop, flop, turn and river. Combined with the five community cards on the board, each player must produce his or her best five-card hand in order to determine the winner of the pot. Play moves clockwise around the table, starting with action to the left of the dealer (or button).
The button determines which player at the table is the acting dealer, as most card games use a stationary dealer to pitch out the cards and control the action. In many home games, though, each player takes a turn dealing a hand and this rotates clockwise around the table. In Texas hold'em, the player on button, or last active player closest to the button, receives last action on all post-flop streets of play.
While you often won't have to worry about who the dealer is in live brick-and-mortar casinos or in online card rooms, a small tip for home games is to find the most skillful dealer in the game, offer him or her a beer or a small tip to have them deal the game while the button keeps track of which player is the "dealer."
The button then serves a few purposes throughout the hand. First, it will dictate who the first players are to begin the wagering by having to place the blinds. Second, it determines where the dealing of the cards will begin. The player to the immediate left of the dealer button in the small blind, receives the first card and then the dealer pitches cards around the table in a clockwise motion from player to player until each has received two starting cards. Third, the button keeps order of players' acting position in the hand. On all post-flop streets, the player on the button, or closest to the right of the button, acts last for all betting rounds.
In Texas hold'em, the blinds are the most common practice of forced bets, the small blind and the big blind. The player directly to the left of the button posts the small blind, and the player to his or her direct left posts the big blind. The small blind is generally half the amount of the big blind, although this stipulation varies from room to room and can also be dependent of the game being played.
Before every new round, two players at the table are obligated to post these blinds in order to begin the wagering. Without these blinds, the game would be very boring because no one would be required to put any money into the pot.
In cash games, the blinds will always stay the same for a given limit of which the game is being played. For example, in a $1/$2 game of no-limit Texas hold'em, the blinds will always remain as $1 for the small blind and $2 for the big blind.
In tournaments, the blinds increase at regular intervals. As the number of players keeps decreasing and the stacks of the remaining players keep getting bigger, it is a imperative that the blinds keep increasing throughout a tournament in order to keep driving the action in order to eliminate players en route to producing an eventual winner.
The Aim of the Game
Winning! Everyone sits down to play poker with the goal of winning. No one wants to lose, but in order to come out ahead, you need to be holding the best combination of cards in order to beat your opponent(s).
As briefly mentioned above, every player receives two cards face down in Texas hold'em, called hole cards. Every player keeps these cards concealed until the end of all of the betting rounds, which is called the showdown. Texas hold'em is a game of community cards, where five cards are displayed in the middle of the table to be used in conjunction with a player's two hole cards in order to make the best five-card holding.
There are four betting rounds in Texas hold'em: preflop (after the hole cards are dealt), flop (three community cards are dealt face up in the middle of the table), turn (one more community card is dealt in the middle of the table), and river (the fifth and last community card is dealt in the middle of the table). The flop, turn and river can also be referred to as "streets" of play.
Once all five cards are down, players are to take these in conjunction with his or her two hole cards and produce the best five-card hand. This can be done using both of your hole cards in combination with three community cards, one hole card in combination with four community cards, or no hole cards and playing all five community cards as one's hand. The last of these three options is referred to as "playing the board."
The player with the best combination of cards wins the pot, which is the sum of all bets that have been placed during that hand.
First Betting Round
The first round of betting takes place right after all hole cards have been dealt to each player. The first player to act is the player to the left of the big blind. This position is often called "under the gun," and this player has three options:
Call: match the amount of the big blind
Raise: increase the bet within the specific limits of the game
Fold: throw one's hand away
If a player chooses to fold, he or she is no longer eligible to win the current hand and pot.
The amount a player can raise to depends on the game that is being played, but most commonly must be at least twice the big blind. Below are the three variations of limits used when playing Texas hold'em:
Limit: you can only raise by the amount of the big blind, or small limit
Pot-limit: you can raise anywhere from double the big blind to a maximum of the pot size (the total bets that have been placed at that time)
No-limit: you can raise anywhere from double the big blind to any amount you want up to the maximum that your chip stack allows, where betting all of your chips is referred to as "all in"
The players who follow have the same three options: call, raise or fold. In the case of raising, the minimum allotted amount for a raise must be equal to the original raise amount. For example, let's say the big blind in a game is $10 and the first player to act raises to $40 in a game of no-limit Texas hold'em. The second player to act has the option to call for $40, fold and no longer play the hand, or raise to $70 as the first raise amount was $30 (the difference between the wager placed and the original big blind).
Second Betting Round
After the first preflop betting round has been completed, the second betting round takes place on the flop after the first three community cards have been dealt. A single card is burned (discarded) off the top of the deck before each street to ensure game security. Following the completion of the preflop betting action, the dealer would burn one card and place it to the side face down, then deal the next three cards as the flop (first three community cards) face-up in the middle of the table.
In this betting round, and all that follow from now on, action starts with the first active player to the left of the button. Along with the options to bet, call, fold and raise, a player now has the option to check if no betting action has occurred prior. A check simply means to pass the action to the next player in the hand.
Third Betting Round
Once again, the dealer burns a card before dealing the turn (the fourth community). Like the flop, the turn is dealt face-up following all betting action on the flop. Once this has been completed, another round of betting occurs, similar to that on the previous street of play. Again, players have the option to options to check, bet, call, fold or raise depending on the prior action.
Final Betting Round
The fifth community card, called the river, is dealt face-up following all betting action on the turn after the dealer burns a final time. Once this has been completed, another round of betting occurs, similar to that on the previous street of play. Again players have the option to options to bet, call, fold, raise and check. After all betting action has been completed, the remaining players in the hand with hole cards now expose their holdings to determine a winner. This is called the showdown.
If, after the final round of betting after the river, there are two or more people left in the pot, all players must show their best five-card hand. This is called the "showdown." The player with the strongest hand using any combination of their two hole cards and the five community cards will win the pot.
The ranking of hands is as follows (highest to lowest): Royal flush, straight flush, four of a kind, full house, flush, straight, three of a kind, two pair, single pair and high card.
After the showdown, all cards are collected by the dealer, the dealer is rotated (blinds subsequently move with it), and then the cards are shuffled and dealt for another hand.