How To Play Texas Hold’em

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Have you ever felt confused about the exact rules of the world’s most popular poker game, No-Limit Hold’em? Have arguments ever broken out in your home game over what beats what and who acts first on each street?

Worry no more! In this guide to the rules of No-Limit Hold’em, we’ll discuss the following.

The Positions

Each position at the poker table has a name. They are critical since they determine the order players will act on each betting round. (More on this later).

Take a look at the following diagram of a poker table:

Image Legend
UTG = Under-the-Gun
UTG+1 = Under-the-Gun +1
UTG+2 = Under-the-Gun +2
MP = Middle Position
LJ = LoJack
HJ = Hijack
CO = Cutoff
BTN = Button
SB = Small Blind
BB – Big Blind

The most important and profitable position at the table is the button. The location is marked with a physical disc-like object called a button (named after the position).
All the other positions at the table are based on their relative position to the button. To keep the game fair, the button position moves around the table clockwise after the end of every hand.

Traditionally, the player on the button deals the card. In casino games, there is usually a designated dealer.

In home games, it often ends up being the player, who is good at dealing, deals the cards.

Check out 888poker’s ultimate poker positions guide.

Blinds and Antes

Before the dealing starts, players in the small blind and big blind positions must post a fixed number of chips. They place this forced bet into the centre of the table to get the pot started.

These payments are the small blind and big blind (named after the positions that pay them). In many games, the big blind is twice the size of the small blind. But the amounts can vary from casino to casino.

Some poker games make use of extra payments known as antes. Unlike blinds, every player at the table must post their antes before each hand. Antes are especially common in the later rounds of poker tournaments.

The term posting describes placing these mandatory payments into the pot.

For example - “Don’t forget to post your small blind”.

Preflop

Each player receives two cards known as hole cards. Players must keep these personal cards secret until the end of the hand.

A round of betting (known as the preflop betting round) takes place.

Players may choose from the following betting options on each betting round.

  • Bet - Make the first bet on the current betting round.
  • Check - Pass the action to the next player (only allowed if there has been no bet so far).
  • Call - Match an existing bet to continue with the hand.
  • Fold - Give up on the hand when not wanting to match the existing bet.
  • Raise - Increase the size of the current bet. Other plays must now call raise or fold.

Postflop

Three other betting rounds fall under the umbrella term postflop (meaning ‘after the flop’).

  1. Flop - Before any betting occurs, three community cards are dealt face-up in the middle of the table. The term flop refers to the name of the betting round and the community cards themselves. Once the cards are dealt, a round of betting takes place.
  2. Turn - A fourth community card is dealt face up in the centre of the table. The term turn refers to the name of the betting round and the fourth community card itself. Once the turn card is dealt, another round of betting takes place.
  3. River - A final community card is dealt face up in the middle of the table. The term river refers to the name of the betting round and the last community card itself. Once the river card is dealt, a final round of betting takes place.

Post-turn Action

Once all players have had their chance to act post-flop, the next card to be dealt is called the Turn. This round of betting has the same rules and options as the previous ones – players can check, bet, call (if there's a bet), raise (if there's a bet) or fold. Hopefully, you will “turn” one of the hands ranked highly on the chart in Step 2, and are on the way to winning a monster pot.

Newbie Tip: The Turn is where your hand is either made or very far behind. You don't always want to be chasing that river card to win.

Showdown

After the betting action on the river is complete, players reach showdown. Any players remaining in the hand reveal the value of their hole cards. The strongest hand wins the pot.

It’s quite common for there to be no showdown since all but one of the players have already folded.

There are, hence, two ways to win a pot in poker -

  1. Have the best hand at showdown.
  2. Get all our opponents to fold before reaching showdown.

In the scenario where two players have the same winning hand at showdown, the pot is split evenly.

Order of the Action

The betting rounds order rests on the positions of each player at the table.

The action begins with the player to the immediate left of the button. Action moves around the table in a clockwise direction.

  • Acting first in poker is a disadvantage. We call that being out of position.
  • Acting last (known as being in position) is an advantage. We get to see what our opponents do before we need to make a decision.

On the preflop betting round, the small blind and big blind's first action is to post their forced bets. The real action starts with the player to the left of the big blind. The UTG position can call, fold, or raise.

On postflop betting rounds, there are no blinds to post. So, the small blind always makes a betting decision first. (Assuming he is still in the hand and hasn’t already folded).

Making Hands

Hands in Hold’em are made with a combination of our hole cards and the community cards. While every player shares the community cards, the hole cards are different.

Players can create hands of different strengths using their own hole cards.

We have seven available cards to make a 5-card hand by the river in Hold’em - (2 hole cards + 5 community cards).

Players may use any combination of hole cards and community cards. So, it’s possible to use both hole cards, one, or even none when constructing a 5-card hand.

Check out the hand rankings guide to learn what beats what or download this poker hands chart in PDF format.

But here is the quick breakdown, from worst to best.

  • High Card
  • One Pair
  • Two Pair
  • Three of a Kind
  • Straight
  • Flush
  • Full House
  • Four of a Kind
  • Straight Flush
  • Royal Flush

Here are a couple of examples to see how reading hole cards in connection with the community cards works.

Hand Example 1
Hole Cards: As5s
Board: KsTs5d4h3s

Hand -> Ace-high Flush. We use our two hole cards and three from the board to make the following 5-card hand:
As Ks Ts 5s 3s

Hand Example 2
Hole Cards: Ac5d
Board: AsTh4c4s2d

Hand -> Two pair, Aces and Fours with Ten Kicker. This time we just used one of our hole cards and four from the board to make the following 5-card hand:
As Ac 4c 4s Th

Hand Example 3
Hole Cards: 2s2s
Board: ThJcQsKsAd

Hand -> Straight, Ace-high. Notice that our hole cards are irrelevant her. We use the five community cards to make a straight. Our opponents also have access to the same community cards. So, they will also have the same straight.

We are guaranteed to chop (split the pot due to a tie) with any remaining players.

Betting Structures

There are rules in poker on how much a player can bet or raise at any given moment.

The three main betting structures are as follows -

  • Fixed Limit - Betting and raising occurs in fixed increments.
  • Pot Limit - Betting and raising can be any size but not larger than the current pot.
  • No Limit - Players can bet or raise any amount (so long as they have enough in their chipstack to cover it).

Texas Hold’em is now most commonly played with a no-limit betting structure. This fact may partly explain its popularity.

It’s exciting to know that all the chips could go into the pot at any moment.

Cash vs Tournaments

Poker is played in two main formats, cash games and tournaments.

Here is a quick breakdown of each -

Cash Games - Players may join or leave the game at any time. In a casino, they can exchange their chips at the cashier for the equivalent cash value. (Note, cash games are also sometimes referred to as “ring games”.)

Tournaments - Players buy in at the beginning of the event and only leave once they run out of chips. Players are awarded cash prizes based on their position in the tournament when they get knocked out.

Getting Started

We shouldn’t jump into a real money game just because we have read the rules. But it’s possible to play poker for free without risking any cash.

For example, there are play-money games at the 888poker online site.

We can also find freeroll Tournaments. These offer players the chance to win real money prizes without investing any cash.

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