Texas Hold'em

Last updated: January 20th, 2015

Learning Poker: The Ultimate Guide to the Rules of Texas Hold'em

If you're new to poker, chances are you've come across a game of Texas Hold'em at some point, even if you're not entirely familiar with it. Texas Hold'em is one of the most popular types of poker in the world, and for good reason—it's relatively simple to understand, it serves as a great introduction to poker hands, and it's very fast. Beginner players are best starting off with a game of Texas Hold'em before advancing to more challenging games, as this game can help you to understand the fundamentals of poker. Here is your ultimate guide to what goes on in a game of Texas Hold'em poker.

Before Play Occurs: Posting Blinds and Initial Bets

Before the game begins, players must raise a pot (potential winnings that are initially entered into play). This is done by way of posting blinds. Upon sitting down at the table, the two players immediately left of the dealer must post blind bets (bets that are placed before any cards are dealt). The player immediately left of the dealer contributes the small blind, and the next player contributes the large blind, with the large blind being twice the sum of the small blind. If a player has insufficient chips for a blind, he must go all-in on the blind. Players must still post blinds even if there are only two players remaining, with the dealer posting the large blind. After posting blinds, every player will receive two pocket cards (also known as hole cards). A pocket card is a card that is dealt to a specific player. You do not reveal your pocket cards to other players until the showdown at the end of the round. Once all the pocket cards have been dealt, the player to the left of the large blind starts the betting. The betting then proceeds clockwise. Betting rules vary slightly depending on whether the game is limit or no-limit. In limit games, all bets made in the first two rounds of betting (the initial bet and the flop bet) must match the large blind. Bets made in the two subsequent rounds (on the turn or the river) must be twice the large blind. In no-limit games, there is no such stipulation—players do not need to match the blind. Rather, players who choose to raise the stakes must make a raise that is at least the size of the last bet or raise. In a pot-limit game, the maximum permitted raise is equal to the value of the pot at the time of the raise. The first better has the option of calling, raising or folding. In calling, he matches the large blind with his own bet. In raising, he raises the bet. In folding, he quits the round. Players may call, raise, or fold anytime it is their turn to bet. When it is once again time for the large blind to bet, that player can "check" or decide to keep the bet where it is, if nobody else wants to raise the bet. If another player raises, the player who set the large blind can raise, fold, or call. Once everyone has contributed equal bets and no players want to raise, the game proceeds to the Flop.

Hands, Community Cards, and Hole Cards: How to Combine Your Cards

In Texas Hold'em, there are several different types of cards, and these cards are grouped into two major categories: community cards and hole cards. Community cards are cards that any and all players may use to create a five-card hand. Hole cards are cards that belong to a specific player, and only that player can use those cards. When the initial betting is over and gameplay begins, the dealer will place three community cards on the table in what is called the Flop. Players will use their two hole cards in combination with the three community cards to strategize and estimate the best hand they will most likely be able to create. For example, if a player's two hole cards are a 9 of clubs and a 7 of clubs, and the flop consists of a jack of clubs, a 4 of hearts and an 8 of clubs, the player may be able to get a straight flush (five cards of the same suit that are all in order). A straight flush is a very strong hand in most poker games. After the flop, players participate in a round of betting. The player who contributed the small blind is the first to bet in this round. The game proceeds once all bets have reached an equal amount.

The Turn and the River: Shaking Things Up

Following the flop and the subsequent round of betting, the dealer will place a fourth community card on the table. This card is called the Turn. After the Turn is placed, another round of betting occurs. Once the bets are even, the dealer places the fifth and final community card—the River. One final round of betting occurs after the River, and then, players have seven available cards (five community cards plus two pocket cards) from which to create a five-card hand. The Turn and the River are considered significant community cards in that they can alter how a game proceeds. A player who was going for a particular hand after the flop may discover that the Turn and the River aren't the cards they needed to complete that hand. Here is how the Turn and the River work with the previous example: A player has the hole cards 9 of clubs and 7 of clubs, and the flop consists of a jack of clubs, a 4 of hearts and an 8 of clubs. This player could possibly get a straight flush, depending on how the Turn and the River go. If either the Turn or the River is a 10 of clubs, the player has a straight flush (7-8-9-10-jack of clubs, that is, five cards in a row and all in the same suit). If, however, the Turn is a 6 of hearts and the River is a 6 of spades, the player is unable to complete the straight flush. Another player with different pocket cards may be able to make a winning hand, such as a Full House (three cards of one number and two cards of a different number, such as three 6's and two 8's).

Texas Hold'em Hands: From Strongest to Weakest

In Texas Hold'em, there are a variety of hands that a player can create using the available cards. They range in strength from very weak (two pairs) to very strong (royal flush). The strongest hand in Texas Hold'em poker is the royal flush, also called the ace-high straight flush. A royal flush consists of an ace, king, queen, jack, and 10 of the same suit. It is possible to get any of four different types of royal flush, corresponding to each suit in a standard deck of cards. The royal flush is also one of the rarest hands in Texas Hold'em. Iowa State University mathematician Jeff Duda estimates the probability of getting a royal flush to be less than one one-thousandth of one percent. After a royal flush, the ranking of hands in Texas Hold'em goes as follows, in order of descending strength: straight flush (any five cards that are in exact sequence), four of a kind, full house (three-of-a-kind and a pair), flush (five cards of the same suit), straight (five cards in exact sequence that are of different suits), three of a kind (three eights, or three Jacks, et cetera), two pair, one pair, high card (the highest card in a hand of unrelated cards). So in Texas Hold'em, a straight beats three of a kind, but a flush beats a straight.

The Showdown: Ties and Kickers

After the River card is dealt and players place their final bets, the Showdown occurs. Any players who have not yet folded may participate in this final round. This is the part of the game where players reveal their cards to each other to determine who has the highest hand. Players may use either, both, or none of their pocket cards in conjunction with the community cards to create the strongest possible five-card hand. Players who play a hand using only the community cards are "playing the board.” As any of the other players may also play the board, a player who does so will be forced to split the pot if the community cards create a winning hand. If two players tie for the strongest hand (for instance, two flushes), they share the pot. Any earnings that cannot be evenly divided are given to the highest-scoring players who are closest to the dealer's left. If two players are able to create an almost identical hand due to the fact that they have one pocket card in common, the second pocket card acts as a "kicker"—an additional card that is not part of a formal poker hand, but rather serves as a ranking card. For example, if the community cards are an ace, a king, a 6, a 5, and a 4, and one player has an ace and an 8 while the other player has an ace and a 7, the player holding the 8 would win. However, kickers do not always alter the outcome. If both players form the same complete hand using one pocket card and four community cards, then the kickers become irrelevant. Kickers only change the outcome when they are in play. If one player clearly has a stronger hand than any of the other players, that player takes the pot and adds it to his holdings. The round is over, and a new round can begin. In a new round, the dealer, small blind, and large blind move one position clockwise, so the person who dealt the first round will become the small blind, while the person who was the small blind will become the large blind. The second round then proceeds in a clockwise fashion, starting with the player to the left of the large blind. There is no specifically defined "win condition" in Texas Hold'em poker. Rather, gameplay can continue until players either run out of betting chips or decide to end the game. Texas Hold'em is a great poker game for beginners. In fact, as one of the most common forms of poker available, it is the game of choice for most people when they first start playing poker. This is because it is relatively easy to understand and it is very fast. If you're looking to break into poker, Texas Hold'em is a great game for learning the ropes—just try a hand or two, and you'll see why.


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