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Often called the “Cadillac of Poker,” Texas Hold ’em is the most popular poker game in the world. Suppose you walk into a casino or a poker room. In that case, chances are the only poker game running is Texas Hold ’em – or at least the majority of the tables will be running it. Even online poker is dominated by Texas Hold ’em, with most games on all poker sites being Hold ’em games.
If you’re getting into poker or haven’t played for a long time, Texas Hold ’em is the game you should be learning. Not only are you guaranteed to get a game almost everywhere you go, but it’s also a lot of fun! In this next section, we’ll explain the rules of Texas Hold ’em in full so that you can sit down at the table with confidence.
For those of you who are vaguely familiar with the rules of Texas Hold ’em, here’s a quick run-through. Don’t worry; if you’re completely new, we’ll go through a detailed explanation of what’s going on after:
Before the game begins, you must decide who starts as the button. The button is a rotating position in poker, often denoted by a small plastic chip that moves one player to the left after every hand. In a home game, you may decide this amongst yourselves, but in a casino environment, the dealer will deal each player a card face up, and the player with the highest card is the button. In the event of a tie, the suits are counted, with spades being the best, then hearts, then diamonds, then clubs.
Once the button has been decided, the two players to the left of the button must post the small and big blind; the small blind being the player directly to the left of the button and the big blind being the player two to the left. These are forced bets that happen at the start of every hand before the cards are dealt as a way to create action.
The size of the blinds will depend on the stakes you are playing and the format of the game. In some games, all players are also required to post an ante, a number of chips equal to a small portion of the big blind. This is common in poker tournaments.
After the blinds and antes have been posted, the cards are dealt. Each player is dealt one card at a time face down, starting the player in the small blind (the direct left of the button). The cards are dealt clockwise around the table until each player has two cards. Once every player has two cards, the betting round can begin.
There are four betting rounds in Texas Hold ’em, the first being preflop, then the flop, then the turn, then finally the river. Preflop is slightly different from the others in terms of the actions you can take but the flop, turn, and river betting rounds all work in exactly the same way. Let’s take a closer look at these betting rounds.
The preflop betting round starts with the player directly to the left of the big blind, often called the Under the Gun player, and moves clockwise around the table. Each player has three betting actions preflop:
The only alternative action a player can make is checking when they are in the big blind and no raise was made preflop. The preflop betting round is completed when a player checks in the big blind. The two other ways for the preflop betting round to end are; when there is only one player remaining in the hand, or when the amount of the last bet is matched by all remaining players.
Let’s look at a couple of examples of a preflop betting round in a $1/$2 cash game:
In this example, we had a call (also known as a limp when preflop and matching the big blind) from the player in the HJ, a raise from the player on the BTN, a re-raise from the player in the BB, a fold from the HJ and a call from the BTN. A couple of important things to note, this is the preflop betting round ending due to the last bet being matched by all remaining players. Also, the raise made by the BB ($14 over $8) is the minimum raise the BB could make – the HJ raised $6 from $2 to $8, so the raise size of the BB had to be at least equal to that, which it was.
Here’s another example from a $1/$2 cash game:
Here we see an example of the preflop betting round ending because only one player remains. The SB was the last player to make a raise, and all of the remaining players folded, meaning that the SB wins the pot.
After the pre-flop betting round is complete, the first three community cards are dealt face-up in the middle of the table, called the flop. Before these cards are dealt, the card on top of the deck is dealt face down and off to the side. This is called the “burn” card, and it is done to prevent players from knowing what card is next if they have marked the cards.
After the flop is dealt, the betting round starts with the player to the immediate left of the button. The betting action moves clockwise around the table. Postflop, players have the same options as they did preflop with one additional action, called a “check,” where they do not wager any additional chips. Next, the betting action moves to the player on their left. A player can only check if no bets or raises have been made. If every player remaining in the hand checks, the betting round is complete.
The first player to wager chips in a post-flop betting round is considered to be “betting” rather than “raising.” If a player wishes to make a bet, the bet must be at least equal to the size of the big blind. The flop betting round ends when there is only one player remaining or if the amount of the last bet has been matched by all remaining players; this is the same for all post-flop betting rounds.
Here’s an example of a postflop betting round from a $2/5 cash game:
The betting round has ended because the last bet (the $25 bet from Player 3) was matched by Player 2 – the only remaining player in the hand. It’s also important to note that the $5 made by Player 2 was the minimum amount they could bet as it was equal to the size of the big blind.
When the flop betting round is complete, the dealer takes the card from the top of the deck and places it next to the flop burn card before dealing the fourth community card face up in the middle of the table; this is called the turn. The dealer will “burn” a card before dealing any community cards for that round. Once the turn has been dealt, the turn betting round begins.
The rules for the turn betting round are exactly the same as that on the flop. The action starts to the left of the button, and players have the option to check, bet, call, or fold. The betting round also ends the same way, with either one player remaining or the last bet being matched by all remaining players.
Once the turn betting round begins, the dealer “burns” the card on the top of the deck and places the fifth and final community card face up in the middle of the table, called the river. After the river card has been dealt, the final betting round begins.
The action works the same as the flop and turn, with all four options still available to the players and the betting round ending in the same way. However, as this is the last round of betting, no more cards will be dealt once the betting round is over. Instead, if more than one player remains in the hand, the players reach a “showdown.”
When two or more players remain in the hand after the river betting round, a winner must be determined to see who claims the pot. The players show down their hands to do this, and the player with the best five-card hand combination is the winner and claims the pot. In the event of a tie, the pot is split evenly between all players who hold the same hand ranking.
While it speeds the game up for all players to turn their hand face up when the river betting round is complete, players are reluctant to show their opponents information unless absolutely necessary. Therefore, the player who made the last aggressive action is obligated to show their hand first.
The other player(s) can either turn their hand over if they can beat it or muck their hand (another word for fold) without having to show it if they’re beaten. On the other hand, suppose there is no aggressive action on the river. In that case, the player to the left of the button is usually the player who has to show first, though this is at the discretion of the casino.
There are ten different hand rankings in Texas Hold ’em, and we’ve listed them below in descending order from best to worst:
You can see that even with the hand rankings that don’t require all five cards (three of a kind, one pair, etc.), five cards are still listed. This is because, in Texas Hold ’em, all hands are made up of exactly five cards. If two players have the same hand ranking, the side cards determine a winner, with higher side cards deciding the winner.
For example, if one Player A has AcKs and Player B has AsJc on a board of Ah9s7h5c3c then both players have the same hand ranking – one pair of aces; however they have different five-card hands. Player A has AcAhKs9s7h, whereas Player B has AsAhJc9s7h. Due to the fact Player A has the higher side cards, they have the best five-card hand and win the pot.
Hands like 6-card straights do not exist in Texas Hold’em as all hands must be made up of exactly five cards. Here is a common example of a hand that often gets decided wrong in home games:
Two players are remaining in a hand by the river. The community cards are TcJhQsKcAh, Player A has 9c9s, Player B has AcKs – who wins the hand? Some people say that Player A wins the hand as they have a 9 in their hand, which gives them a longer straight than Player A.
However, this is not the case. Both players have the five-card hand TcJhQsKcAh, so the pot is split evenly. If there is an odd chip left when splitting a pot, it goes to the player to the left of the button.
When making a five-card hand, you can use any combination of cards from the board and your hand. In the example above, both players used all five cards from the board, but you can choose to use one from the board, one from your hand, three from the board, and two from your hand. At showdown, to claim a pot, you must show both your hole cards. Even if you are only using one of them to make your five-card hand, both cards must be shown to claim the pot.
There are three different betting limits available in Texas Hold ’em, depending on the type of game played: No Limit, Pot Limit, and Limit. No-Limit Hold ’em is by far the most popular of the three games and is the game that you have seen on TV and at the casino.
In No Limit, there are very few rules to what you can bet/raise at any time. The only rules are that any raise must be at least equal to the size of the last bet/raise, and the minimum amount you can bet postflop is equal to that of one big blind. Other than that, players are free to bet any amount they wish at any time, up to and including all of their chips. This feeling of jeopardy – that your stack could be at risk at any moment – makes No-Limit Hold ’em such a popular game.
Another less popular format of Hold ’em is Pot-Limit Hold ’em. In this game, the maximum a player is allowed to bet or raise at any one time is the size of the pot. For more information on how to calculate the size of the pot when playing Pot-Limit Hold ’em, check out our betting page, where we go into much more detail on the subject. The same rules regarding raise sizes and minimum postflop bet sizes are the same as No-Limit Hold ’em.
Finally, we come to Limit Hold ’em. A very popular game back in the day, its popularity has since waned compared to No Limit and Pot-Limit Hold ’em. In this game, the betting and raising limits are fixed and divided into small and big bets. The first two streets (preflop and the flop) use the small betting limits, and the last two streets use the big betting limits.
For example, in a $2/$4 Limit Hold ’em cash game, the blinds are $1/$2, and players can bet and raise in increments of $2 preflop and on the flop. When players reach the turn, the betting limits double, and players can bet and raise in increments of $4. Most Limit Hold ’em games have a cap at four bets per street, though this is at the discretion of the casino.
There are two main poker formats that you can play, cash games and tournaments. Each game has its own rules that players must follow when buying into the game. Let’s take a look at those two formats in detail.
In cash games, the chips you use to play the game have a cash value, and you must purchase those chips before you enter the game. Almost all cash games have a minimum and maximum buy-in limit that you must be between.
It’s common to see a minimum buy-in of around 40-50bb and a maximum buy-in of around 250bb for live casinos. On online poker sites, things are a big different, where the average minimum buy-in is around 30-40bb, and the maximum buy-in is 100bb. Some live casinos will play a “match stack” or “half stack rule”, where players are allowed to buy in with the same stack or half the stack as the person with the most chips at the table.
However, your chosen casino or poker site may vary, so make sure you know the limits before you sit down to play. Players are free to top up to the table maximum at any time during a cash game, but they are not allowed to go above this. Going above the table maximum is called “Going North,” and it is against the rules of the casino.
Players are also not allowed to take chips off the table unless they’re leaving the game. This is called “Going South,” and is not only against the rules, but it’s a fast way of making enemies at the table! If you’re leaving, you must take all of your chips with you when you go, and you cannot buy back into that table for anything less than the amount you left with. This is to prevent people from “skimming” chips off their stack and pocketing their profits.
You are also free to buy back into a cash game if you lose all of your chips. There are no restrictions on the number of times you can buy back in – if you still have cash, you can play!
Tournaments, however, are a lot more restrictive in their buy-in rules. There is a set entry fee for tournaments that everyone must buy-in for, and players are given a set number of tournament chips to play with. These tournament chips don’t have a cash value and cannot be taken off the table at any time.
There is often a set period of time when players can register for a tournament after it has begun. This is called the late registration period. Players can enter the tournament for the same buy-in and the same number of chips, but the blinds and antes will be higher than they were at the start. Once this late registration period has ended, you can no longer buy into the tournament.
There are three main formats of tournament poker, each with a different rule regarding buying back in once you lose all of your chips:
While we’ve looked at the common rules you use in Texas Hold’em every time you play, there are some rarely used rules in place for uncommon events that you may see at the table. If something strange has happened in your game and you don’t know what the rule should be, this is the section for you.
Sometimes, cards are accidentally exposed when they shouldn’t be. Given the number of players at the table and the potential levels of inebriation amongst those players, it’s hardly a surprise! But what should you do when it happens? We’ve listed each possible occurrence of a card being exposed at the table and what the rule is when it happens.
Another issue you may come across is extra cards are dealt, either extra cards in the deck or extra cards that are dealt at the table. This can happen preflop or postflop, and there are certain rules that must be followed when it happens.
If you like the sound of poker and want to try it out for yourself, one of the best ways to play is to play online poker. It’s the same game that we’ve outlined, but played on a computer rather than with real cards and chips. There are plenty of great poker sites out there where you can play for real money, such as Bovada, Party Poker, 888 Poker, and many more!
Signing up for an online poker site is easy, and you can often be up and running in a couple of minutes. We’ve created a handy guide that will help you through the process.
Once you’ve created your account, you’ll need to deposit funds if you want to play for real money. Luckily, depositing money onto an online poker site is just as easy as signing up, and we’ve got another handy guide to help you through the process.
Your deposit will often be available instantly, so you don’t have to wait around to start playing.
There are lots of great games to play online, with many sites having hundreds of Texas Hold’em cash games and tournaments. Some sites even have other variants of poker, such as Omaha, Short Deck, Stud, and more! If you want to learn how to play those games, check out our other articles on the rules of poker.
Texas Hold ’em is one of those “easy to learn, hard to master” games; people spend their whole lives playing this game and still don’t fully master it – but they have a lot of fun trying! So whether you’re playing for pennies with your friends around the kitchen table or playing for millions at the WSOP, Texas Hold ’em is great fun to play and a game worth learning.
Jackpot! You’ve flopped a winning hand! This article has surely added some extra chips to your stack. Tune in for more valuable insights and pro-level strategies!
Looks like you’ve been dealt a bad beat. We’ll shuffle the deck and try again.
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The deck is shuffled between every hand of poker.
In single draw, there are two betting rounds, the pre-draw betting round and the post-draw betting round. In triple draw, there are four betting rounds, one pre-draw betting round, and three post-draw betting rounds.
In 5 Card Draw, you are given five cards face down at the start of the hand. During each draw, you can discard any number of cards from your hand and be given new ones from the deck
Blinds are forced bets put in by the two players to the direct left of the button before the hand begins. These bets create action and give the players something to fight for.
Typically, 5 Card Draw is played with a maximum of eight players, though there are technically enough cards in the deck to accommodate ten players. Therefore, the most common game size for 5 Card Draw is six players.
The hand rankings in poker are as follows in descending order from strongest to weakest:
A string raise is when a player raises in more than one motion. For example, if you put $50 worth of chips over the betting line, then go back to your stack and bring another $50 worth of chips over the betting line, this is a string raise. When this happens, only the first betting action will count, meaning in this example, the bet will stand at $50.
Splashing the pot is when you place your chips directly into the pot when making a bet or raise. Splashing is not allowed in any game as it makes it hard to tell exactly how much a player has bet/raised or whether the right amount of chips has been added for a call.
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