How to Play Texas Hold’em – Master the Rules
What is Texas Hold’em?
Texas Hold’em is the most popular form of poker today. The game is played worldwide and if you watch poker on TV, 99% of the time you are watching Texas Hold’em poker. The poker world was dominated by 5-card draw and then 7-card stud for over 100 years. Sometime during the early 1900s, poker players in the state of Texas conceived the rules of Texas Hold’em. Road gamblers began traveling the state and spreading the game until it reached Las Vegas casinos in the 1960s. The World Series of Poker began in 1970, with the main event being a Texas Hold’em tournament. While the first World Series drew a modest seven players, the Main Event in 2019 (for example) had a whopping 8,569 players which is second only to the 2006 Main Event which hosted 8,773. Today, Texas Hold’em is found in nearly every poker room in the world and is by far the most popular poker variant.
Texas Hold’em Poker Terms
Before we get into the rules of Texas Hold’em poker, let’s define some key terms that are integral to understanding the rules of the game.
Bet: To make a wager on the hand.
Check: To decide not to bet when it is your turn, passing the action on to the next player.
Call: To match the previous wager.
Raise: To increase the previous wager by at least doubling it. If someone bets $10, the minimum raise is $20.
Fold: To forfeit your hand by returning your cards to the dealer, thus ending the hand for you.
Board: The five face-up community cards that any player can use to make their best five-card hand.
Hole Cards: The two face-down cards that only each individual player can use to make their best five-card hand.
The Flop: The first three community cards. These three cards are dealt at once after the first betting round.
The Turn: The fourth community card dealt after the flop betting round.
The River: The fifth and final community card dealt after the turn betting round.
Showdown: This occurs when all betting rounds are complete, and players must show their hands in turn to win the pot.
The Pot: The total amount of money that has been bet by all players in the hand.
All-In: When a player bets all the chips they have in play.
The Nuts: The best possible hand given the board. If the board is A-A-K-5-9, the nuts is having AA as your hole cards for four of a kind.
Basic Rules of Texas Hold’em
The goal of Texas Hold’em poker is to make the best five-card hand using any combination of your two face-down cards and the five face-up community cards. The community cards can be used by all players in the hand. Texas Hold’em rules use the standard hand rankings as follows from highest to lowest: royal flush, straight flush, four of a kind, full house, flush, straight, three of a kind, two pair, one pair, high card. There are no wild cards or suit trumps, so the ace of spades is the same as the ace of diamonds for any non-flush hands. The game requires one 52-card deck and poker chips or cash to wager.
There are four betting rounds where players make wagers on their hands. The hand can be won in two ways. First, when all betting rounds are complete, the players show their hands and the highest-ranking hand wins. The other way to win is when all players except for one have folded. When this occurs, the last remaining player wins the pot.
There are two primary* ways to play Texas Hold’em: Limit and No-Limit. Limit Texas Hold’em rules have structured amounts you can bet. For example, in a $5/$10 limit game, the blinds are $5 and $10, so the first player to act can either fold, call $10, or raise to $20. If a player raises to $20, the next player can fold, call, or raise to $30. In No-Limit Texas Hold’em, players can bet any amount they have on the table at any given time. No-Limit Texas Hold’em is a table stakes game, meaning you can only bet what you have in play at the beginning of the hand. So, if a player has $100 on the table when the cards are dealt, they cannot add more money until the hand is over.
A Texas Hold’em rule, and a rule of any table stakes game, is you cannot take money off the table and keep playing. If you started with $200 and win $300, all $500 must remain in play until you are done for the session or give up your seat to take a significant break (usually at least 30 minutes at most casinos).
*Note that technically Texas Hold’em can also be played Pot Limit, where the maximum bet is equal to the size of the pot, but this is exceedingly rare.
Texas Hold’em Rules: Preflop
Before any cards are dealt, the two players to the left of the dealer post the small and big blinds. Blinds are forced bets that occur before anyone has received their cards. The smallest game in a casino poker room is usually $1/$2 Texas Hold’em, so the small and big blinds are $1 and $2. If you are playing with friends, the deck should move one player to the left after each hand, so the dealer switches off. If you are playing in a casino, there will be one dealer, but there is a dealer button that will move to the left after each hand to signify the dealer position. This way the forced blind bets rotate after each hand.
Once the blinds are posted, the dealer gives each player two hole cards face-down, dealing one card at a time starting with the small blind and dealing clockwise. Once all players have received their hole cards the first round of betting begins. This round of betting is known as “preflop”. Betting starts with the player to the left of the big blind, also known as “under the gun” or “UTG”. Under the gun has three options: call, fold, or raise. Once the UTG player has acted, the action moves to the player on their left. Since the big blind is a posted bet, there is no checking during preflop betting. All players must either call, fold, or raise. The action continues until the last bet has been called or folded to by all players.
The only scenario where there is a check preflop is if no player raises the big blind and at least one player calls. In this scenario, the big blind player has the option to either check, thus completing the betting round, or raise, reopening the action to the player on their left. If two or more players remain after the last bet has been matched, or all players except one have folded, the betting round is over.
Texas Hold’em Rules: The Flop
With the preflop betting round complete, the dealer must then “burn” a card (deal one card face-down in the middle of the table) and then deal the flop. Once the flop (the first three community cards) has been dealt, there is another betting round. The action begins with the player to the left of the dealer. This player can either check, thus passing the action, or bet. While folding is not against the rules of Texas Hold’em poker, there is no reason to fold if nobody has bet, so it is better to check. The action continues around the table until all players have acted. Once a bet has been placed, the remaining players can call, fold, or raise. The round concludes when the last bet has been called by all remaining players or they all fold except one.
Texas Hold’em Rules: The Turn
The turn is played the same as the flop, except this time the dealer burns one card and deals the turn card face-up. Another round of betting ensues.
Texas Hold’em Rules: The River
The river is the final betting round. The dealer again burns one card and deals the final community card face-up, and there is a round of betting. If two or more players remain after the river betting round, the players are now at showdown. The rules of Texas Hold’em define who must show first based on the river betting round. The last player to initiate a bet or raise on the river is the first to show. Please note, calling a bet is not initiating it, so if your opponent bets and you call, your opponent must show first. If you are “heads-up” at showdown, meaning only two players remain, and your opponent shows a better hand first, you have no obligation to show your cards. Once the winning hand has been shown, the other players remaining can simply fold their cards.
Players can use any combination of their hole cards and the board to make the best possible five-card hand. So, players can use both hole cards and three board cards, one hole card and four board cards, or no hole cards and all five board cards. If your best hand uses no hole cards, this is known as “playing the board,” which means you cannot win the pot outright, as your opponent can also play the board if their hole cards do not improve their hand. In the event both players have the same five-card hand, the pot is split evenly between them. This is known as a “chopped pot”.
After the hands have been shown and the pot has been awarded, the dealer button or deck is passed to the left and the next hand begins with the blinds being posted.
Texas Hold’em Rules: Positions
Standard rules of Texas Hold’em limit the game to a maximum of 10 players, but most casinos limit the games to 9-handed. The action is determined by your position. The positions in order are as follows:
- Small Blind (SB)
- Big Blind (BB)
- Under the Gun (UTG)
- Under the Gun +1 (UTG1)
- Middle Position (MP or UTG2)
- Lowjack (LJ)
- Hijack (HJ)
- Cut-Off (CO)
- Button (BTN)
In a 10-handed game, you would add another MP/UTG position (MP2 or UTG3), and in a 7-handed game, you would remove the MP/UTG2. As discussed, preflop action begins with the UTG player, and the action on all other streets begins with the SB or the first remaining player on their left. Texas Hold’em poker rules clearly define the order in which action occurs as it can affect the game. Later positions are more valuable as you see more players act and have more information before you make your decision.
By acting out of turn (betting as the BTN when action is on the LJ) you are giving the earlier players more information and sacrificing the advantage of having a later position. Besides sacrificing advantage, your bet doesn’t stand until the player(s) before you act. If you bet $20 but it was a different player’s turn, they can decide to check and your $20 bet stands. If they decide to bet $15, you can either call or raise it to $30+. This can slow the game down and hurt your advantage, so pay close attention to the action and when in doubt, ask the dealer whose turn it is to act.
Texas Hold’em Rules: Betting
Besides betting in turn, there are a few key rules to note about betting. Many poker tables have a line on the felt in an oval around the table which is used as the betting line. To place a bet, simply take the full amount of chips you wish to bet and place them just over the betting line.
The first rule of betting is “do not splash the pot”. Splashing the pot is when you throw your chips directly into the pot instead of just over the line. This is against the rules, as the dealer cannot count your bet, and it could make things more difficult if there is a raise.
The second rule is to place your entire bet over the line in one motion. If you want to bet $80, you must move all $80 worth of chips over the line in one motion. Putting out part of your bet, then trying to add more is known as a “string bet” and likely only the initial amount you put out will stand.
Next, verbally announcing your bet is binding. If you announce a bet of $50 but you only put $45 worth of chips over the line, you must put the missing $5 chip out as well.
Finally, if you put one chip over the line after someone else has bet, this is a call no matter the denomination of the chip. So, if someone bets $6 and you place one $25 chip over the line, it is just a call. The reason for this is so the dealer can make change for your larger chips if you would like it. If you wish to raise using one chip, you can either state the amount as you bet it or simply say “raise” when you put the chip over the line.
Texas Hold’em Rules: Collusion and Influencing Action
Texas Hold’em poker rules clearly state that colluding or working with another player to your benefit is strictly forbidden. Egregious acts of collusion can get you banned from card rooms. While very few players are actively colluding with other players, some seemingly innocent things may be perceived as collusion.
First, never ask another player, or spectator, what you should do. There is a saying “one player per hand” so asking for advice is prohibited. Second, do not talk about a hand while the action is still live. If you and the player next to you have both folded, you cannot discuss the ongoing hand. Telling your neighbor what you folded or reacting to the flop in any way can give the remaining players information as to what your cards may have been. This information can influence their decision-making and is against the rules of Texas Hold’em, and any other game. Of course, you are allowed to discuss a hand after all action is complete.
Finally, do not expose your hole cards until showdown. Even if you are on the river and the only remaining player has gone all in, it is best to keep your hole cards face down until you’ve made a decision. Some card rooms would allow it in this specific scenario, as it can’t technically influence action, but it is best never to show a hand until all betting rounds are complete.
How to Win at Texas Hold’em
The rules of Texas Hold’em poker are simple, but knowing the rules is just the tip of the iceberg. If you want to win at Texas Hold’em, you will need to deploy a winning strategy. Luck plays a role in this game, but it is only significant in the short run. While you may have two unlucky sessions in a row, leaving you in the red two buy-ins, that luck will not have an impact after 20 or 30 sessions. Research has shown the tipping point is around 1,500 hands (about 60-70 hours in a casino poker room). It is possible to be unlucky for long periods of time, but usually, when you hit the 60-70 hour mark skill is the driving factor in your results. Since skill will outweigh luck in the long run, it is important to play a winning strategy.
Choosing your starting hands carefully is incredibly important in Texas Hold’em poker. Professionals will tell you it is wise to fold around 80% of your hands preflop. You can find preflop charts online that will tell you what hands you can play from what positions and these are great tools to start with. Earlier positions have tighter ranges since you will be making decisions before your opponents.
Since you will need to decide to bet or check with minimal information, it is important to play strong hands that can make the nuts. As you get in later positions like the cutoff or button, you can play more hands as you have more information. These later positions are when you can open (or raise) small pairs like 22 or “suited connectors” like 67 suited. These hands can lead to a big payday when you have a good flop, but it is best not to play these marginal hands from an early position as you will be acting before your opponents. Finding preflop charts for the different positions is a great way to start, as you will see tendencies in the charts as you become more familiar with them.
You can’t lose if all the other players fold, and the players won’t fold unless you bet. Aggression plays a key factor in Texas Hold’em, especially when you are playing no-limit. When you are selective in your starting hands, you can be more aggressive during post-flop play. While blind aggression can be a disadvantage, you should look for good boards to represent strength, even if you have a bad hand. If you are playing selective and mainly showing strong hands like big pairs and strong suited aces, you can start to bluff on boards that have those high cards.
Let’s say you raise 67 suited from the cutoff and only the big blind calls. If the flop is AQ9 and the big blind checks, you can start to be aggressive and bet this even though you have a weak hand. By betting in these scenarios, you can get your opponents to fold better hands and win the pot. On the contrary, if you play a lot of hands and players notice, aggression can hurt you since they may be more likely to call with medium-strength hands. Aggression can lead to big wins when you are also coupling it with good hand selection.
How to Improve Your Texas Hold’em Results
Thanks to professionals sharing their insights with poker books and via poker training sites, there is a wealth of information for getting better at Texas Hold’em. Now that you know the rules, you should gain as much information as possible from reading about, watching, and playing the game. You can glean professional tips via the aforementioned books or training sites, watch a multitude of live Hold’em cash games and tournaments on YouTube, and get to your local card room to start playing and gaining knowledge.
No matter how much you learn, it is important to get to a card table so you can implement the strategies you are learning. Plenty of people play poker, so you can find a group of friends to play with to practice or jump right into your local casino games. No matter how you get in the game, make sure you are employing your winning strategy.