How do you play Texas Hold’em? According to conventional poker rankings, players in Texas Hold’em are trying to build the best five-card poker hand. In this respect, hold’em is not unlike other five-card draw poker games. However, in Texas Hold’em, the way players build their hands is a little different than in draw poker. Every player is dealt two face down cards in hold’em (the “hole cards”), then five more cards are gradually dealt face up in the middle of the table over the course of subsequent rounds. Such face-up cards are referred to as “group cards” because they are used by each player to make a five-card poker hand. In three steps, the five group cards are distributed. The first three group cards are called the “flop.” Then only one card is distributed, called the “turn.” Finally, the “river” is distributed, the fifth and final group card.
Using the best five cards available out of the seven total cards (the two hole cards and the five group cards), players build their five-card poker hands. Using all hole cards in combination with three group cards, one hole card in combination with four group cards or no hole cards, and all five group cards, whatever works to make the best hand with five cards. However you can win the pot without having to reveal any cards if the betting causes all but one player to fold. For that reason, to win the pot, players do not always have to hold the best card. It’s always likely a player can “bluff” and get others to fold better hands. If, after the last group card is dealt, two or more players make it all the way to the showdown and all betting is complete, then the only way to win the pot is to have the highest-ranking five-card poker hand. Let’s get into the details of Texas hold’em and see how the betting works.
Play moves around the table clockwise, beginning with the action to the left of the dealer button. The button is a round disc which sits in front of a player and each hand is rotated one seat to the left. The player with the dealer button does not necessarily hand out the cards while playing in casinos and poker rooms (the poker room employs someone to do that). However, in home games with friends, the person with the button generally controls the deck. Generally, to begin the betting, the first two players sitting to the immediate left of the button are expected to post a small blind and a big blind. Action takes place on several rounds from there: preflop, flop, turn and river (explained further below). The button establishes the player is the acting dealer at the table. The player on the button, or last active player nearest to the button, receives final action on all postflop play in Texas Hold’em.
Whilst the dealer button decides which players are expected to post the small and large blinds, it also specifies where the card dealing starts. In the small blind, the player to the immediate left of the dealer button receives the first card and then the dealer pitches cards around the table in a clockwise motion from player to player until two starting cards have been obtained by each player.
As mentioned, two players at the table are obliged to post small and big blinds before any new hand. These are forced bets which start the wagering process. Without these blinds, no one would necessarily have to put any money into the pot and the game would be very boring. The blinds ensure that on every hand there will be some “action.” In competitions, at regular intervals, the blinds are lifted. As the number of players continue to decrease and the remaining players’ stacks continue to rise, it is a requirement that the blinds continue to increase in a tournament. However, blinds still remain the same in cash games. The player posts the small blind directly to the left of the button, and the player posts the big blind directly to his or her left. Generally, the small blind is half the sum of the big blind, but this stipulation varies from game to game and may also depend on the rules being played. For instance, the small blind is $1 in a “$1/$2” game of Texas Hold’em, and the big blind is $2.
Right after each player has been dealt two hole cards, the first round of betting takes place. The first player to act is the player sitting to the left of the big blind player, a position referred to as “under the gun” since the player must act first. There are three choices this player has:
- Call: match the amount of the big blind
- Raise: increase the bet within the limits of the game
- Fold: Throw away a hand
He or she is no longer entitled to win the current hand if the player wishes to fold.
The sum that can be raised by a player depends on the game being played. The minimum opening raise is often at least twice the big blind, commonly in a game of no-limit Texas Hold’em, and the maximum raise should be all the chips a player has in his or her stack (an “all-in” bet). In hold’em poker, there are more betting combinations. An increase is always exactly double the big blind in a fixed-limit hold’em (or just “limit hold’em).” Players can bet anywhere from the sum of the big blind (the minimum bet allowed) up to the total sum in the current pot in the pot-limit hold’em (played much less frequently than the other variations). Play continues around the table in a clockwise manner after the first player (‘under the gun’) acts, with each player still having the same three options-to call, raise, or fold. The preflop round is not over until the last bet is called and the action is “closed,” and play goes on to the “flop.”
The first three group cards are issued after the first preflop betting round has been completed, and a second betting round follows, containing only players who have not already folded. Action begins with the first active player to the left of the button in this betting round (and subsequent ones). Along with betting, calling, folding, or raising options, a player now has the option to “check” if no betting action has taken place beforehand. A check simply means moving the action in your hand to the next player. Again, betting continues until the last bet or raise (which closes the action) is called. It may also happen that each player actually decides not to bet around the table and checks, which also ends the betting round.
Following all betting activity on the flop, the fourth group card, called the turn, is distributed face up. Another round of betting takes place after this has been done, similar to that on the previous round of play. Once again, players have the option to check, bet, call or fold.
Following all betting activity on the turn the fifth group card, called the river, is distributed face up. Another round of betting happens after this has been done, similar to what took place in the previous round of play. Once again, the remaining players have the option to check, bet, call or fold. The remaining players in the hand with hole cards now reveal their holdings to decide a winner after all betting activity has been completed.
The remaining players show their hole cards, and with the assistance of the dealer a winning hand is determined.