What Is Texas Hold'em Poker?
Although the exact origins of Texas Hold’em are obscured by the mists of time, the Texas Legislature dates its invention to the early 1900s. The game arrived in Vegas in the 1960s, gracing the tables of casinos like The California Club and The Golden Nugget. Texas Hold’em started to gain real traction in the early 1970s, after gambling entrepreneurs Benny and Jack Binion bought the rights to the Gambling Fraternity Convention and changed its name to the World Series of Poker (WSOP). Texas Hold’em has served as the tournament’s main event ever since.
The game enjoyed a surge in popularity in the UK in the late 1990s, when hidden cameras showed players’ private cards for the first time, and enjoyed a similar boost in the US in 2003 when the World Poker Tour also adopted cameras and the underdog Chris Moneymaker won the World Series. The aptly named player made headlines for not only being a novice but also for securing his place in the finals through an online satellite tournament.
Texas Hold'em Rules
Putting it in simple terms, winning a game of Texas Hold’em is about creating the best possible hand from seven available cards – two that are yours alone, and five that are shared by all players at the table. Learning how to play Texas Hold’em poker is all about getting used to the various rounds, and developing a sense of when you should bet and, equally importantly, when you should quit.
Unlike other popular variations, such as Seven-Card Stud, Texas Hold’em requires you to make decisions based on your own, hole cards and an array of community cards that are there for all to see. We’ll get into the nitty-gritty of the game in a moment, but it’s worth noting that players searching for ‘Texas Hold’em how to play’ will discover several different variations of the game.
Limit Texas Hold’em
With this variation, players bet in predetermined increments. In a £5/£10 game, for example, players bet in increments of £5 in the first two betting rounds, and £10 increments in the last two rounds. Players can place up to four bets per round: a bet, raise, re-raise and final raise.
Pot Limit Texas Hold’em
The minimum bet is the same size as the big blind in Pot Limit games. The maximum raise is equal to the number of chips in the pot. There is no cap on the number of times players can raise in Pot Limit Texas Hold’em.
No Limit Texas Hold’em
In No Limit Hold’em games, the minimum bet is equal to the big blind, and players can raise as high as their funds allow, with no cap on the number of raises. Players who can’t match a bet can still call but, in doing so, go all in. Subsequent bets placed by remaining players go into a side pot that all-in players cannot win. This action allows players who can afford it to carry on betting but prevents others from being forced out of the game due to a lack of chips.
Mixed Texas Hold’em
Mixed poker games switch between rounds of Limit and No Limit Hold’em. Each betting round follows the rules for the game in play.
Most online poker games and tournaments have a minimum buy-in to join the table. In Limit games, the buy-in is usually at least 10x the big blind. A £2/£4 game, for example, has a buy-in of £40. In No Limit and Pot Limit poker games, the buy-in is typically 40x the big blind. Players start the game with the same number of chips, though some games allow rebuys and add-ons during play.
Understanding How the Game Works
The best way to understand the rules of Texas Hold’em is to go through how a typical game plays out.
When you play poker in a private setting, players take turns dealing the cards. In casinos and tournaments, things work differently. In each round, a player is symbolically designated the ‘dealer’, and that position is marked by a token known as the button. Being ‘on the button’ means you’ll be the last to bet in the betting rounds after the community cards are dealt. This brings an advantage as you’ll see how the other players have reacted before you have to make your play. The dealer button moves one position left after each game, giving all players a chance to sit in what is widely considered the most profitable seat in poker. It should be made clear that this is a symbolic role, casinos will have a croupier who deals all hands.
Before players receive any cards, two players make mandatory bets called the small and big blinds, these forced bets create the starting pot for the game. The player to the left of the dealer posts the small blind, and the next player to the left posts the big blind – which is usually twice the size of the small blind. In limit games, the blinds determine the maximum amount by which players can raise their bets.
Player Betting Options
Before we explore the betting rounds, let’s check out the options available to players on their turn.
- Bet – To match the blinds
- Fold – To throw your hand in if you don’t feel it’s strong enough to continue with. Any bets you have already placed will remain in the pot.
- Raise – To place a bet greater than the amount wagered by the previous player.
- Call – To place a bet equal to the amount wagered by the previous player.
- Check – To defer a bet until later in the round. This is only possible after the community cards have been dealt and no bets have been placed before your turn in the round. Checking players must call, raise, or fold later on if another player raises the bet.
First Betting Round: Pre-Flop
After players post the blinds, all players receive a starting hand of two ‘hole cards’ dealt face down. When all players have their starting hand, the first betting round starts. The first player up in this Pre-Flop round is the player sitting to the left of the big blind. As the big blind is equal to the minimum bet, players taking part in the first betting round can only call, raise, or fold. Players take their turn clockwise until the action reaches the player who posted the big blind. Once all the players have either folded or matched the amount in play, the pre-flop round ends.
Second Betting Round: The Flop
The Flop involves three community cards being dealt cards face up in the middle of the table and comes immediately after the first betting round. The remaining players entering this second round of betting place their bets based on the quality of the hand they can create with their two hole cards and the three flop cards, as well as the possible extra cards that may be dealt in subsequent rounds. Betting options are similar to the first round, though all players can now check, assuming another player hasn’t raised.
Third Betting Round: The Turn
The Turn or ‘Fourth Street’ comes next. A fourth card is dealt and added face-up next to the three cards from the flop. Players then enter the third round of betting, which proceeds in much the same fashion as previous rounds.
Fourth Betting Round: The River
The River or ‘Fifth Street’ sees the arrival of the fifth community card. This final community card is dealt face up and completes the line-up of cards that players can use to construct their best possible hand. The post-river betting round is the final round of betting and continues until all players fold, call, or go all in.
A poker showdown can arrive just as soon as only two players remain, but if that doesn’t happen by the time the fourth round of betting ends, the showdown arrives regardless. Each player uses their two hole cards and five community cards to create the best possible five-card poker hand. Players can use any combination of their seven available cards in their final hand, though the best possible result for players using the five community cards is a tie. Players who reach a showdown reveal their hole cards and the best poker hand wins.
Ties and Kicker
If two or more players share the best five-card hand, the game is a tie and players share the pot equally. Odd chips go to the player who posted the small blind.
Players don’t have to have a five-card hand to win, two pairs or three of a kind can win just as easily. If more than one player holds the same best hand using fewer than five cards, the game may be decided using a kicker, which in Texas Hold’em refers to the unmatched hole card in each hand.
Let’s say the hands revealed in the showdown are A9 and A8. The community cards are AA754. This means both players have three Aces. However, the player with the A9 hand wins, as their overall hand would be AAA97, compared to the other player’s AAA87. If the kicker cards are lower in value than the community cards that make up the best hand for both players, it ends in a tie.
Poker Hand Rankings
If you don’t win a game of poker by forcing all your opponents to fold, then you’ll need to have the best hand when it comes to the showdown. Here are the top Texas Hold’em poker hands, in descending order of value.
- Royal Flush: Ace, King, Queen, Jack, and 10 in the same suit.
- Straight Flush: Any five cards of the same suit in sequence
- Four of a Kind: Four cards of equal rank
- Full House: Three cards of equal rank and two cards of another rank
- Flush: Five cards of the same suit, not in sequence
- Straight: Five cards in a sequence, consisting of more than one suit
- Three of a Kind: Three cards of equal rank
- Two Pair: Two pairs of equal rank cards
- One Pair: A pair of equal rank cards
- High Card: Your highest-ranking card of any suit, used when a player has no other hands