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.

Overview

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:

Players draw cards to decide who starts as the button with the highest card winning. The two players to the left of the button post the small and big blind before the cards are dealt. The dealer then deals the cards one at a time, starting with the SB and moving clockwise around the table.

Once the cards are dealt, the preflop betting action starts with the player directly to the left of the BB and moves clockwise around the table. Players have the option to fold, call, or raise – any raise a player makes must be at least equal to the amount of the previous bet/raise. The preflop betting round ends if there is only one player remaining or if all remaining players have matched the last bet.

After the preflop betting round is over, the flop is dealt, and there is another round of betting. Postflop, the players have the option to check as well as bet, call, and fold. Any bet a player makes must be at least equal to the size of the big blind, and any raise must be at least equal to the amount of the previous bet/raise. The betting round is complete when only one player remains or if all remaining players have matched the last bet.

Next, the turn is dealt, and there is another betting round. The rules are exactly the same as they were on the flop. Finally, the river card is dealt, and there is a final betting round. If more than one player remains after the final round of betting, the cards are turned face up, and the player with the best five-card hand wins the pot. In the event of a tie, the pot is split evenly between all players who hold the same hand.

If you’re completely unfamiliar with poker, you may be wondering what all that meant, but don’t worry – we’re here to give you a detailed explanation of how to play Texas Hold ’em, starting from the ground up.

Start of Game

Man playing Texas Hold 'em poker at Casino, he is holding two cards

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.

Betting Rounds

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.

Piles of chips and Texas Hold 'em poker cards on the table at the Casino

Preflop 

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:

  • Fold – The player does not put any additional money into the pot, but they surrender their hand.
  • Call – The player matches the amount of the previous bet. If no player has raised before the player has acted, then the player matches the amount of the big blind.
  • Raise – The player increases the bet. The raise size must be equal to the size of the big blind or the last raise.

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:

  • Player 1 (UTG) – Fold
  • Player 2 (HJ) – Call $2
  • Player 3 (CO) – Fold
  • Player 4 (BTN) – Raise $8
  • Player 5 (SB) – Fold
  • Player 6 (BB) – Raise $14
  • Player 2 (HJ) – Fold
  • Player 4 (BTN) – Call $6

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:

  • Player 1 (UTG) – Fold
  • Player 2 (HJ) – Fold
  • Player 3 (CO) – Fold
  • Player 4 (BTN) – Raise $8
  • Player 5 (SB) – Raise $30
  • Player 6 (BB) – Fold
  • Player 4 (BTN) – Fold

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.

Flop

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:

  • Player 1 (SB) – Check
  • Player 2 (BB) – Bet $5
  • Player 3 (BTN) – Raise $25
  • Player 1 (SB) – Fold
  • Player 2 (BB) – Call

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.

Turn

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. 

River

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.”

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:

  • Royal Flush – The cards T, J, Q, K, and A, all of the same suit. (AhKhQhJhTh)
  • Straight Flush – Any five cards in order, all of the same suit (5c6c7c8c9c)
  • 4 of a Kind – Four cards of the same rank (AcAdAhAsKc)
  • Full House – Three cards of the same rank with two other cards of the same rank (QcQhQs9s9h)
  • Flush – Any five cards of the same suit (QhTh7h5h2h)
  • Straight – Five cards in order but of different suits (3c4s5h6h7c)
  • Three of a kind – Three cards of the same rank (JhJcJs9c2c)
  • Two pair – Two sets of two different cards of the same rank (AcAsKcKh7s)
  • One pair – Two cards of the same rank (JcJhAc9s6h)
  • High card – No cards of the same rank (AcJh8s6c4h)

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.

Betting Limits

Successful guy poker player taking a large stack of chips to his bank, winning at the casino gaming table having royal flush cards combination. Gambling tournament winner

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.

Poker Movie Tropes Debunked

Many of us get into poker by watching the game in a film/tv show and thinking, “Wow, that game looks so cool! I want to learn how to play” – perhaps that’s why you’re reading this article! However, certain things happen in Hollywood poker games that would get you laughed out of the room in a casino. So to save you the embarrassment, we’ve debunked Hollywood’s most common poker tropes:

Sprinkling the chips into the pot to call or raise

Placing your chips directly onto the pile of chips representing the pot is a big no-no in live poker; this is called splashing the pot and is against the rules. You’ll likely be warned for your first indiscretion and could face penalties if you continue to do it. The reason it’s against the rules is that when you place the chips directly into the pot, it can be hard to tell whether the correct amount has been put in, which allows the more unscrupulous players to cheat by putting in less than they should. Best be safe, place the chips directly in front of you, and let the dealer move them into the middle.

Putting out a stack of chips to bet, then going back and adding to it

You must either make a bet in one motion or declare the bet before you put the chips in when you’re making a bet. You’re not allowed to place a stack of chips in the middle, see how your opponent reacts, and then add to the bet if you think you haven’t bet enough. You’re allowed to do this only if you state the amount you’d like to bet/raise beforehand; as long as you do that, you can put out the chips however you please. 

“I call your $100… and raise you $500!”

This is one of the most common things you’ll see in poker movies, especially older ones, but it will not fly at a casino. All verbal actions are binding, so as soon as you say, “I call your $100,” you’ve declared your action, and you cannot then decide to raise. If you would like to raise, you must say “raise” if you’re going to say anything.

“Oh, you have a straight? I only have two pair… a pair of aces, and another pair of aces!”

At the end of the movie, the hero and the villain get into a big pot to decide the match; the villain has a very strong hand, and the hero looks like they’re beaten… until they turn over an even stronger hand and win the pot! While this makes for great drama in a movie, it’s a fast way to being invited outside for “a talk” in real life. Pretending you have a weak hand and making your opponent think they’ve won the hand before showing them the winner is called slow-rolling, and it is extremely poor etiquette. However, this only applies once players have reached a showdown and there is no more betting action; it’s perfectly fine to try and trick your opponent into thinking you have the worst hand if the betting action is still alive.

Summary

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.

Texas Hold'em Rules FAQs