What Is Texas Hold'em Poker?
Texas Hold’em is by far the most popular of all poker variations. All of the marquee tournaments around the world (including those played at the World Series of Poker, the World Poker Tour, the European Poker Tour, and elsewhere) feature the no-limit variation of this game. In fact, Texas hold’em is so popular some who aren’t familiar with poker don’t realize there are other ways to play the game.
Learning how to play Texas hold’em poker is not that difficult, but don’t let the simplicity of the game mislead you. The number of possible game situations is so vast that the game can be very complex, when playing at a high level. That’s the inspiration for the famous saying about Texas hold’em that “it takes a moment to learn, but a lifetime to master.”
When playing the game for the first time, you will want to be familiar with the basic rules for Texas hold’em that are explained below.
Texas Hold'em Rules
In Texas hold’em players are trying to make the best five-card poker hand.
Each player is dealt two cards face down (the “hole cards”), then over the course of subsequent rounds five more cards are dealt face up in the middle of the table. These are called the “community cards” because each player uses them to make a five-card poker hand.
Players construct their five-card hands using the best available five cards out of the seven total cards.
Play moves clockwise around the table, starting with action to the left of the dealer button. The button is a round disc that sits in front of a player and is rotated one seat to the left every hand.
The first two players sitting to the left of the button are required to post a small blind and a big blind to initiate the betting.
Before every new hand, two players at the table are obligated to post small and big blinds. These are forced bets that begin the wagering. Without these blinds, the game would be very boring because no one would be required to put any money into the pot. Players could just wait around until they are dealt pocket aces and only play them. The blinds, however, ensure there will be “action” on every hand.
In tournaments, the blinds are raised at regular intervals. As the number of players keeps decreasing and the stacks of the remaining players keep getting bigger, it is a necessity that the blinds keep increasing throughout a tournament.
The player directly to the left of the button posts the small blind, and the player to their left posts the big blind. The small blind is half the amount of the big blind.
First Betting Round: Preflop
The first round of betting takes place right after each player has been dealt two hole cards. The first player to act is the player to the left of the big blind.This player has three options:
- Call: match the big blind.
- Raise: increase the bet.
- Fold: throw the hand away.
The amount a player can raise must be at least twice the big blind, and the maximum raise can be all of the chips a player has in his or her stack (an “all-in” bet).
After the first player acts, play proceeds in a clockwise fashion around the table with each player also having the same three options — to call, to raise, or fold. Once the last bet is called and the action is “closed,” the preflop round is over and play moves on to the “flop.”
Second Betting Round: The Flop
In this betting round, the action starts with the first active player to the left of the button. Along with the options to bet, call, fold, or raise, a player now has the option to “check” if no betting action has occurred beforehand. A check simply means to pass the action to the next player in the hand.
Third Betting Round: The Turn
Final Betting Round: The River
The fifth community card, called the river, is dealt face up following all betting action on the turn. Once this has been completed, another round of betting occurs. Once more the remaining players have the option to options to check, bet, call, fold, or raise.
After all betting action has been completed, the remaining players in the hand with hole cards now expose their holdings to determine a winner. This is called the showdown.
The remaining players open their hole cards, and with the assistance of the dealer, a winning hand is determined. The player with the best combination of five cards wins the pot according to traditional poker hand rankings.
Remember, players construct their hands by choosing the five best cards from the seven available (their two hole cards and the five community cards).
For example, if the board is showing 9♣5♠K♦3♠A♥, a player with the two hole cards A♦9♠ would have two pair (aces and nines), and would lose to a player who has 9♦9♥ for three of a kind (three nines).
Learning to play hold’em poker begins with understanding how hands are dealt and the order of play as described above. Of course, learning Texas hold’em rules is just the beginning, as the next step is to learn strategy which involves understanding what constitutes good starting hand selection, the odds and probabilities associated with the game, the significance of position and getting to act last during those postflop betting rounds, and many other aspects of the game.