Over the last decade or so, poker has become a worldwide phenomenon. With the success of the World Series of Poker, anyone and everyone seems to be trying their hand at winning big. The most popular version of the game thus far is played with Texas Holdem rules. Pretty much at any casino or card room you can find this game being played, and it’s a staple of at home poker nights. Why Texas Holdem? Because it’s super easy to learn, but difficult to master. Today we’ll go over the basic rules and strategies of this game so you can go from a complete newbie to someone who at least knows what they’re doing. While the information in this article won’t turn you into the next WSOP champ, it should at least help you get started.
To be more specific, we’ll go over the ins and outs of Texas Holdem as well as give you some basic advice on what to do in certain situations or how to compose yourself during a game. The strategies listed here are not trade secrets, which means that anyone can learn them, so be aware of that.
For this article, we’ll stick to live Texas Holdem games. These rules and strategies will work both at a casino or card room as well as at home with your fellow poker buddies. To help you improve, we do suggest that you try out some of these tips online while playing for free, so you can put them to use without risking your bankroll. Once you feel confident, then you can play for real money and see how you do.
Without further ado, let’s get to it, shall we?
The way that Texas Holdem works is that each player is dealt two cards, and then they bet to see who has the highest hand. There are up to four rounds of betting, and after each round, new cards are revealed. To better explain this, we’ll go through a single game, step by step. Refer to our Glossary of Terms at the end of the article if you are confused by anything you see.
In order to understand how players are attempting to win in the following examples, you must be familiar with the concept of a winning hand. With Texas Holdem rules, poker hands must be made up of five cards. Certain combinations of cards create a winning hand, and these are ranked in order of likelihood – a simple pair ranking near the bottom, while four-of-a-kind sits near the top. For the full list of hands, see our guide here.
In Texas Holdem, each player is dealt two ‘hole’ cards, face down. At various stages of the round, five ‘communal’ cards are dealt to the table. Players are betting on the likelihood that the best five-card hand they can make, between their hole cards and the communal cards, is stronger than anyone else’s. The skill in Texas Holdem is centered around understanding the likelihood of hands coming up and betting at the right time. The luck comes from the unknown – sometimes the last card dealt can be a killer blow that turns a weak hand into a sure-fire winner. Understanding how likely it is for a hand to come together is the basis of playing Texas Holdem, so let’s take a look at how it works:
We have seven players seated around a table. Chest Rockwell acts as the dealer and deals the cards. The dealer is determined by the button, which will move to the left after each hand. In a private game with friends, everyone will act as a dealer. In a professional setting, there will be one dealer, but the button will still move to determine how the cards are dealt and who is the small and big blind.
The player called emici (to the left of Chest Rockwell) is the small blind in this round, and Mannsi is the big blind (to the left of emici). The blinds are the two players to the left of the button, and there is always a small and big blind. These bets perform the function of an ante, although in many online tournaments and “sit ‘n go” matches, antes are placed as well. In this example, the small blind is 30 tournament chips, and the big blind is 60. Typically, the big will be twice as much as the small.
Once the blinds are bet and everyone has his cards, the first round of betting will commence. For anyone who isn’t the big blind, he must call, which means that he has to match at least the big blind. If a player doesn’t match the blind, then he folds his cards and is out of that round. For this example, you can see in the picture who has called and who has folded. No one has raised (although they could have if they wanted).
The following three cards are dealt. These are communal, which means that they can be used in conjunction with a player’s hole cards to form a hand. This action is called the flop. In live games, at home, or in casinos, a card is dealt face down before the flop. This is called the burn card and is included to prevent players from cheating with ‘marked cards’. Since you can’t mark cards online, most software does not show the burn cards being dealt.
Once the flop is dealt, then all the players will start betting, beginning with the person to the left of the button. In this example, it will be Mannsi. This is the first opportunity in the game that players have to put together a hand stronger than a pair. However, these cards are communal, so players must be aware of the hands that others are trying to achieve with them. Our own RupertJ, playing this hand, has Q♦5♦ as hole cards, and can combine them with the communal cards at this stage to create a pair of fives. He should be wary, however, that Mannsi has bet with a 5, 7 and 8 on the table – the makings of a straight.
Mannsi bet 60 chips, the minimum amount allowed (which is almost always the same size as the big blind). Both RJ and Chest Rockwell decided to stay in, by calling – betting the same amount of chips. Since the bets are all even after going round the table, the next stage of the game begins.
After the flop, the dealer will burn one card and place one more on the board, which is called the turn. Now we will have another round of betting. Another 5 is dealt – good news for RJ as his hand is strengthened. His Three-of-a-kind will beat any pair or two-pair combination the other players may have had, and the straight is no nearer completion. Let’s see what happens in the betting round.
Mannsi bets the minimum again. RJ calls and Chest Rockwell feels his hand is not strong enough to risk any more chips over. The bets are even, so the chips go into the pot and the game continues.
After the turn, we come to the last card on the board. The dealer will again burn a card and place one more card down. This is called the River, and after this, there will be no more cards dealt. Once the river is dealt, another round of betting starts.
This deal is bad news for RJ – four, five, seven and eight on the table means that if Mannsi is holding a six, he will have a straight. Since Mannsi has been betting at every opportunity after the flop, it is likely that he does.
Mannsi has placed a medium sized bet. At this stage it is likely he holds the straight and is confident of a win. It is possible however, that he is bluffing, and wants to scare RJ off by making him think he holds the six. RJ has matched it, however, hoping to call Mannsi’s bluff. This means the game progresses to its final stage, the showdown.
If two or more players are left after the last round of betting, then we enter what’s called the showdown. The last player who made a bet or raise must show their hand to the table. In clockwise order around the table players will then either show their hand or ‘muck’ it (pass it back to the dealer face down). The player that shows the strongest hand wins the pot. Let’s see how our example game turned out:
As we had deduced earlier, Mannsi had been holding a six, and hoping for the straight. Luckily for him, it came in on the river and he scored a good-sized win of around 1300 tournament chips. You can see from the picture that RJ chose to ‘muck’ his cards, meaning no one at the table sees what they were. This allows players to conceal their strategies, which is a vital tool both online and face-to-face.
Now that you know the basics, let’s look at some possible hands and see what you would do.
Your Hand: 5♦8♦
Do you: Bet or Fold?
Your Hand: T♣9♥
Do you: Bet or Fold?
Your Hand: K♦T♥
Do you: Bet or Fold?
Now, these examples don’t take a lot of things into account, like the number of players on the table, the amount of your bank, and how other people have been betting, but there are some basic guidelines that you should follow which will let you know what to do.
A fish would either bet, in hope of a flush, or fold, seeing nothing concrete in his hand.
A shark would know that his odds of a flush are low, and since the cards themselves are low, it’s probably not worth going past the turn. If the turn is a diamond, excellent. Otherwise, it’s better to fold.
A fish will bet his pair of tens no matter what since it’s the highest pair on the board.
A shark will also bet the pair of tens, but will watch for anyone betting on the deuces, since a three of a kind could sink him. If he thinks someone has the other deuce, he’ll fold. Otherwise, it’ll be a showdown.
A fish will realize that he has a straight and bet accordingly.
A shark will notice that there are four spades on the board, and yet he has none. Even though he has a straight, someone else could easily have a flush. If he thinks someone does, then he’ll fold.
Since it’s impossible to give examples for every kind of poker hand, let’s go over some basic gameplay strategies that work when playing with Texas Holdem rules.
There are certain circumstances in which you want to raise, such as:
- If you have the best hand on the table
- Wanting to find out how the other players react to a raise
- If you have a made hand (don’t need any more cards)
- As a bluff to force opponents to make a move or fold
While going all in is a bold move, you shouldn’t do it unless you either have a small stack or a hand that just can’t lose. Alternatively, if you’ve been playing conservatively and want to bluff your way out of a hand, going all-in can do that.
Since calling means matching another person’s raise, you don’t want to do it unless you have a reason. The main reasons to call are:
- To hide how good your hand is
- To close the action (if you’re on the button) and remove potential reraises
- If you have a pretty good hand but not necessarily the best
- To keep yourself in the game if you think you’ll either bluff or draw a good card
Not everyone can pick up on a player’s tell, but if you pay attention, you can usually find out something that they don’t want you to know. See how they raise or call, and how they bet. Pay particular attention to how they react when someone calls or reraises them, as that’s when they’ll have to either showdown or fold.
Finally, look for repetitive motions, such as playing with chips, tapping on the table, or touching his or her face. A change in a player’s motion is a good indicator that something is up.
While these strategies are great for beginners, they are not a golden set of rules. Feel free to adapt them to each game, and always remember these things:
- Pay attention to the players, not the cards
- Try to switch up your betting strategy to keep other players guessing
- Play conservatively at first, even if it means folding a good hand. That way you can better observe how the other people play
- Whatever move you make, make sure that you have a reason behind it (beyond just “I felt like it”). For example, are you trying to test another player? See what they have? Force someone to fold? If you have a clear objective with each action you take, then you can track how successful you are each time
- It’s far better to win a bunch of small pots than try to get that one big pot
Texas Holdem Rules – Glossary of Terms
- Hole Cards: your first two cards
- Blind: a forced bet, which is either small or big
- Call: to match someone else’s bet
- Raise: to increase the bet
- Check: to move the action without betting
- The Board: the communal cards on the table
- Flop: the first three cards on the board
- Turn: the fourth card on the board
- River: the fifth (final) card on the board
- Fold: to surrender your hand
- Muck: all cards that are not in play (either burned, folded, or discarded)
- Fish: new player
- Shark: experienced player
- Showdown: when two or more players show hands to see who wins
- Button: the chip that represents the position of the dealer
Overall, Texas Holdem is a pretty simple game that doesn’t take long to figure out. The most important thing about the game is to pay attention at all times. While that’s not to say that you can’t play for fun, it means that if you play to win, you have to be on point the whole time. Even if you’re not in a hand, watch how the other players act and react to each other so you can better prepare yourself if you need to bluff against them later on.
An excellent way to practice your skills is through online poker, although that will not help you pick out player tells. Speaking of tells, check out our article about distinguishing tells from players here. We hope you enjoyed our introduction to the Texas Holdem rules for poker and wish you luck and success at the tables!