How To Play Texas Hold’em: The Rules

Dean McHugh
3 July 2023
148 Views
how-to-play-texas-holdem

Texas Hold’em has become the world’s most popular card game. It is revered for its fast-paced gameplay, exciting and high-stake outcomes, and reputation for being a “beatable” form of gambling. Your success in Texas Hold’em poker is only partially down to the luck of the draw, and your skill will determine how much money you lose or make over time.

There are now a plethora of online gambling sites and brick-and-mortar casinos that regularly run Texas Hold’em tournaments. Their offerings range from penny buy tournaments, which will cost just 1p, to games that charge hundreds or thousands of pounds for entry. However, before you commit your hard-earned cash to the poker table, it is important that you fully understand the rules so that you don’t get caught out. This article helps with a guide to playing the game, the rules you must follow, and the basic strategy to consider.

Overview of Texas Hold’Em

Texas Hold’em is a game that is very easy to play for the first time but nearly impossible to master. That’s why it keeps gamblers coming back to it. The basic premise is to use the cards in your hand and 3 of the five cards that are dealt face up into the board to get the best five cards possible. Whoever has the best hand at the end of the game wins. It is important to remember that these five cards can be made up of any combination, including two of your cards and three community cards, one of your cards and four community cards, or all community cards.

However, this is just one of the ways to win at Texas Hold’em. You can also use your strategic guile to try and get all of the other players to fold before the end of the hand, allowing you to take whatever is in the pot once you are the last player standing. Betting big when you think your opponents are weak is a great way to build a healthier bankroll.

A Step-By-Step Guide to Texas Hold’em

We begin by showing you a step-by-step guide to playing the game so that you understand how a hand in Texas Hold’em will play. Don’t worry about what the rankings are of each different hand, as we will explain this in a later section.

1. Take Your Position and Pay Your Blinds

When you sit at a Texas Hold’em table, your position is crucial for how you will play the hand. All the positions are defined by the dealer, also known as the button. Then from their left, we have the small blind and big blind. These players are required to put money into the pot before they look at their hands. No other player will need to place a blind.

The blind amount will be set before the hand and usually rises gradually over the course of the tournament. The big blind must pay the full blind amount, while the small blind will have to hand over just half that amount.

2. Deal and Play the Pre-Flop

Next, the players will take part in the pre-flop. The dealer will hand two cards face down to each player. They will look down at them and will then have to choose how to bet based on the cards that they have. Remember, aces are high and are, therefore, the best card in the game to have during the pre-flop. Great hands in the pre-flop include pairs and high-valued cards with the same suit.

Having looked at their cards, players will start to bet. It begins with the player to the left of the big blind, known as the under-the-gun player (UTG). They must call (match/bet the same amount) the big blind bet, fold (meaning they end their participation in the hand) or can raise. They will only be able to raise by a multiple of what has been bet before. For example, if the big blind is 100 chips, they can only raise 100, 200, 300 chips, etc. but not 50 chips.

The betting then cycles back to the big blind, who can then check (meaning they bet no more) if nobody has raised, or they can call the last raise or raise it themselves.

If there are players left when it reaches the big blind, then the game continues into the flop. However, if only one player hasn’t folded, they will collect all of the chips that are in the pot.

3. Flop

After the pre-flop, cards start being played in the middle. These “community cards” are applied to everyone’s hand to make up their final hand. In the flop, the dealer plays down three cards. Betting then follows the same pattern as before, starting with the UTG and ending with the big blind.

As before, if just one player is left after the betting, then they access the full pot. However, if there are still players remaining, the game moves on to the turn.

4. Turn

As we move past the flop, we come to the turn. In this stage of the hand, one more “community card” is added to the board. Now, all players will have six cards to look at, but they must try to make a good hand with just five of the cards.

Having looked at their cards, the players follow the same betting pattern as before and move onto the river if more than one player remains.

5. River

The river is the most exciting stage of a poker hand as it is where the players work if their final hand is any good. In this stage, the 5th and final “community card” is placed on the board. Players must complete the final round of betting. Once that is complete, and if more than one player remains, you will move on to the “showdown.”

6. Showdown

The showdown is the point where you will find out who has won the hand. All the remaining players show their hands. Whichever player has the best hand gets to take the whole pot. If there is a draw, the players will share in the winnings.

7. Next Hand

Once the hand is complete, the game continues into the next hand. All of the roles will move one space to the left, so now the UTG player will be the big blind, the big blind will become the small blind, and the small blind will become the button. The next hand then proceeds as before.

Hand Rankings

Having an encyclopaedic knowledge of how the game works is entirely pointless if you don’t properly understand which hands are good to have. This section ranks all of the different hands, so you know what will make you likely to win. We start with the lowest ranking and end with the highest ranking.

High Card

The worst hand is a high card. This is where you don’t have anything, and you have to give your highest card. However, you can still win if you have a high-value card like an ace or king and nobody else has anything.

One Pair

One pair is the first hand where you have something. For one pair, you will need to have two cards in your five-card hand, which are the same number, but of course, different suits.
The probability of this happening is 42.3%. This means that in any given hand, another player is likely to have a pair as well, so it isn’t worth betting high unless your pair has a high value, such as a pair of kings, aces, or queens.

Two Pairs

The next best hand is two pair which is a substantially better hand than one pair. With two pairs, you will have two sets of two cards that are the same number. For example, you may have two kings and two fours. This leaves just one extra card.

The probability of you getting two pairs is 4.75%, so in most cases, this will be good enough to win.

Three of a Kind

Another great hand is three of a kind. In this hand, you will have three cards that are the same, such as three nines. Your other two cards will not be the same.

This is a fantastic hand with a probability of just 2.1%. You are highly unlikely to lose with this hand.

Straight

The next best hand is a straight. With a straight, your five cards will have five consecutive numbers, which are not the same suit. Therefore, the best straight is ten, jack, queen, king, and ace. It is important to remember that poker straights are not cyclical. Even though you can also have a straight that is ace, one, two, three, four, you cannot have a straight that is king, ace, one, two, three.

A straight is another good hand with a probability of 0.4%.

Flush

Now we are getting into the kind of hand you might only see once in a game. The first is a flush which is where you have five cards that have the same suit, such as five diamonds. These do not have to be in any particular order. However, if two players have a flush, the one with the highest card will win.

A flush has an incredibly low probability of just 0.2%

Full House

A full house combines three of a kind with a pair. For example, you may have three nines and a pair of kings. This hand is another once-in-a-game hand, with a probability of just 0.14%.

Four of a Kind

The third-best hand is one that most players will only see a couple of times in their life. A four-of-a-kind is where you have four cards that are the same. Also known as “quads,” this hand could be four aces and one extra card. The probability of this hand happening is 0.024% or 4164:1.

Straight Flush

The remaining two hands are once-in-a-lifetime hands that most players will only see once. The straight flush combines a straight and a flush. It has five consecutive cards, all with the same suit. The probability of this occurring is 0.0014% or 72192:1

Royal Flush

A royal flush is the best hand in Texas Hold’em poker and is so rare that many players go their whole careers having never seen one! It is the same as a straight flush, but all the cards are royal. For example, it could be the ten, jack, queen, king, and ace of hearts. This hand will never lose with a probability of 0.00015% or 649739:1

Basic Strategy and Technique

Poker strategy is a hugely complex area. To truly master the game, there are heavy tomes to read to understand the nuances of every hand situation. However, as a beginner player, you need to be aware of some more basic techniques which will allow you to get the better of your opponents. This section introduces you to each of these strategies and where and how you can deploy them.

Bluffing

Texas Hold’em is so exciting because nobody knows what hand everyone else has, so players can pretend that they have a better hand than others. This is the basic premise of bluffing, whereby you bet as if you had a good hand when you actually have a poor hand. A successful bluff happens when you persuade all the other players to fold, allowing you to take the full pot.

There are multiple factors to consider before you attempt to make a bluff. It needs to be backed by a weak set of community cards. If there are a lot of royal cards in play already, it is likely that some of the other players will have good hands that they are unlikely to fold.

You also need to consider everyone else’s stack sizes. If you have the smallest stack, it will be difficult to bet enough to persuade the other players to fold. Meanwhile, if you have the biggest stack, you can bully players with a smaller stack size into playing overly cautiously and folding a lot.

Finally, there is no single way to bluff. Techniques include betting aggressively pre-flop and then continuing to back the hand as it progresses through the stages of the game. Alternatively, you may massively over-bet the pot during a particular point to give the impression that a great card for you has just been played into the community cards.

Over Betting

A key technique for a lot of bluffs is overbetting. In this strategy, you will bet a substantial amount of chips into the pot, drastically increasing its size and demanding that the other players commit heavily to the hand.

The purpose of this strategy is to intimidate. Players may not want to commit such a large proportion of their chips into the game, so it will force them to take a step back and fold on a hand that they would normally want to carry into the showdown.

Overbetting is, therefore, a great way for you to win and avoid a showdown when you are not sure that you have the best hand.

Looking for “Tells” and Calling Bluffs

If you can bluff, then so can your competitors. You need to be aware of when other players might be bluffing. Matching or raising their bet is known as calling a bluff and will force the other player to fold or reveal their weak hand.

To call a bluff, you need to spot the “tells” that indicate a bluff may be present. This is much easier when playing in person because players may display their nervousness with their body language. This might include nervous behaviour like fidgeting or trying to mask their nervousness with overconfidence.

Spotting a bluff can be harder when you are playing poker online because you won’t be able to see your competitors and spot their physical “tells.” However, you can try to spot patterns in their play that show that they are deviating from how they bet when they have a genuinely good hand. You can also try to analyse how they have played during the hand and spot actions that don’t make logical sense. For example, if they were playing cautiously in a hand and then suddenly bet big on the river or turn for no apparent reason, this may indicate a bluff.

Value Betting

Value betting is the polar opposite of bluffing and overbetting. Instead of trying to eliminate players when they would normally stay in the hand, with value betting, you are aiming to persuade players with weak hands to keep playing. This is done by making modest bets to gradually increase the value of the pot.

Value betting is crucial because there is no point in making a huge bet when you have an amazing hand, as it will simply force the other players to fold. This will make you win before the showdown, but the pot will be nowhere near as big as it could have been. Value betting allows you to reach the showdown and win a larger pot from players with weak hands.

Check Raise

Check-raising is a fantastic strategy that you can use to extract the most value possible from a hand. When you know another player further around the board has a decent hand, but you believe your hand is better, you can initially check. Then wait for them to raise and for the bet to come back to you. Now, instead of calling or folding as you would normally respond to a raise, you will raise the bet further yourself.

The purpose of this strategy is to force the other player to overcommit or fold. They will likely feel that they are in too deep and will be reluctant to fold, allowing you to win big at the showdown.

The risk of this strategy is that if the other player doesn’t raise and the round of betting ends. If this happens, you will lose a great opportunity to increase the pot size when you have a strong hand. You can never know for sure if another player will raise, so stay aware of this before you decide to check-raise.

Showing Hands

It is common in in-person poker to be asked to show your hand by another player after everyone else has folded. A player might want to know if you were bluffing or genuinely had a good hand. Polite players may instinctively show their hand, but you must be careful. Showing your hand will allow the other players to see how you behave when you have cards of a certain strength, helping them to predict your hand better at later stages of the game.

As a general rule, you should not show your hand to avoid this problem. However, obliging can help you to build a good relationship with the other players on your table. Make sure you seriously consider the consequences and weigh them up with any potential benefits before you show your hand.

Positioning

Your position on the table will change the way you play the hand. As an early position player such as the UTG, you will not have any information on what the other player’s hands might be. It can be challenging to make properly informed decisions, so start cautiously unless you have an excellent hand.

The polar opposite is late positions, such as the button/dealer and blind positions. These positions will have the most information about what the other player’s hands are, which opens up opportunities for more strategic play. This is a great place to use bluffs and exploit your opponent’s weaknesses to eliminate them from the hand.

Meanwhile, players in the middle position should aim for a play style somewhere in between these two extremes.

Other Texas Hold’em Rules

Now you have enough knowledge of the basic gameplay to get started. However, there are some additional rules which will apply in certain situations. You need to be aware that they might be in place so that you are prepared.

Breaks

Long in-person and online tournaments will have breaks built into the structure so players don’t lose concentration. This gives you a chance to get refreshments or go to the toilet. It is important that you use these breaks wisely so you can come back to the tournament ready to concentrate hard.

The frequency and length of breaks are entirely up to the tournament organisers. Pay close attention to the guidelines, so you know when a break might be coming up.

Action and Time Limits

Some tournaments set a time limit on how long each player’s action can take. These limits are intended to keep play moving in the tournament. The length of these time limits depends on the rules set by the tournament organiser. Penalties for taking too long can include being forced to fold your hand or being charged a chip penalty.

However, in some cases, you may want to push as close to the time limit as possible. If you are nearing the bubble (the point where prize money can be won), you might want to slow down the play if you are running low on chips, hoping that players on other tables will be knocked out before you.

Hand-for Hand Play

Most tournaments will have hand-for-hand play when they are very close to the bubble. Under this rule, used to stop players from wasting time, all tables must finish a hand before all tables move on to the next one.

Final Table Deal Making

If you are lucky enough to reach the final table, you may realise that it is quite hard to end the game. If there are two players left with a similar amount of chips, it is exceedingly difficult for either player to be knocked out.

To challenge this problem, some tournaments allow final table deal-making. Players are allowed to make a deal for how the remaining prize pot should be separated between the players. If the players agree, then the tournament is ended, and the prize money is divided as has been agreed.

You should think carefully before conducting final table deal-making. If you have the strongest position or believe you are a better player than your opponent, it would be foolish to conduct final table deal-making as you would miss out on the jackpot for winning. However, not making a deal could cost you a lot of money if you don’t end up winning the tournament.

Tournament Etiquette

Poker is a highly competitive game, and it can get tense when big money is involved. However, if you are playing in person, you must show sportsmanlike behaviour. This means avoiding disrupting hands, not talking about what you think other players might have, and not trying to look at other players’ hands. Furthermore, if you win a hand, try not to celebrate too much.

Abiding by this sportsmanlike behaviour will help everyone at your table to have a highly enjoyable experience and will ensure that you do not find yourself in trouble with other players and the casino.

Responsible Gambling

The final rule is one that you impose on yourself. Poker is gambling, and it, therefore, can be addictive. It is up to you to gamble responsibly so that your gaming is enjoyable and controlled and won’t have harmful mental or financial health implications.

If you recognise any of these signs of problem gambling, it is essential you carry out responsible gambling measures such as self-exclusion:

  • Increasing your bet sizes.
  • Difficulty stopping gambling.
  • Neglecting your responsibilities.
  • Coming into financial problems.
  • Declining mental health.
  • Withdrawal from your social life.
  • Chasing losses.
  • Borrowing or stealing money for gambling.
  • Lying to others about your gambling.

Texas Hold’em Poker is a fantastic game, enjoyed by many and gambling should always be fun. However, if you feel like you need help to gamble responsibly, you can find out more information on our blog.

Glossary

All that is left for this guide to Texas Hold’em poker is to leave you with a glossary so you can understand any key terms which might be said at your table. This will also pay dividends if you get really interested in poker and want to read more about the game to become a better player.

  • Action: betting, raising, or folding during a hand.
  • All-In: betting all of your remaining chips during a hand. You will be eliminated if you lose.
  • Ante: a small forced bet at the start of a hand, usually substantially smaller than the big blind.
  • Board: another word for the community cards in the middle.
  • Bubble: the players who last long enough in a tournament to be “in the money” and will win a prize at the end.
  • Heads-Up: a situation where just two players remain in the hand, as everyone else has folded.
  • Limp: calling with the minimum amount to stay in the hand.
  • Nuts: the best possible hand that you could have given the situation.
  • Pot: the chips that players have wagered already during the hand.
  • Pot Odds: the ratio between the pot size and the amount it would cost you to call.
  • Straddle: an optional blind bet placed by the UTG player.
  • Tilt: when a player becomes frustrated by bad hands and starts making poor decisions.
  • Walk: when a hand folds to a single player, and they win the remaining pot without having to show their hand.

Getting Started with Texas Hold’em

Now that you have finished reading this article, you can get started with your Texas Hold’em journey, developing into a player capable of outsmarting your opponents. As with anything, the best way to get better is to practise and analyse your mistakes in detail. This could include playing games that don’t use real money or getting involved with penny-buy tournaments.

As you begin playing Texas Hold’em, it is also important that you find the right online platform to play on for your unique needs. Look for the range of tournaments they host, their promotions, and if they have a VIP program before you commit your hard-earned cash to the game.

Author Dean McHugh

I am a full-time Sports Betting & Casino Content Writer based in the UK. I have years of knowledge, covering a broad range of different sports. If I don’t know about it, it's not worth knowing! My favourite sports are Football, Tennis, Golf, Snooker, Cricket, Boxing and MMA. As you can tell...I love sports! I have a passion for the Casino and iGaming industry, I have worked in and around it for the best part of 20 years.