Texas Hold’em Basics
The aim of a round of Texas Hold’em is to use your hole card, i.e. the cards dealt to you that the others can’t see, together with the community cards, which are those dealt to the entire table, to make the best possible five-card poker hand.
Each player is dealt two face down cards, the hole cards. Over the course of the betting rounds five more cards are dealt face up to the centre of the table, these are the community cards. Players then use their hole cards with the community cards to build a hand.
The first three community cards are known as the Flop, the fourth card is the Turn, and the fifth card is the River. These terms are important to know in order to understand how a round progresses.
If during the course of a round the betting causes all but one player to fold, then that player wins the pot without having to reveal any cards. Therefore, players don’t necessarily have to have the best hand to win. If two or more players make it to the end of the round, known as a showdown, then the highest-ranking hand will win the pot.
How to Play Texas Hold’em
Play goes clockwise around the table. Traditionally one player is given a small disc, called a button, which designates them as dealer, and this moves one seat to the left with every hand.
The first two players sitting to the immediate left of the button need to place a small blind and a big blind to start the betting. These bets are compulsory to ensure that there is some money in the pot for each round. The small blind is normally half of the value of the big blind, but this may vary from game to game. An example would be a $1/$2 Texas Hold’em game, with a small blind of $1 and a big blind of $2. From there, the betting happens at predefined moments known as streets, the Preflop, Flop, Turn and River.
The player to the immediate left of the dealer, who placed the small blind, will receive the first card and the dealer then deals clockwise around the table until each player has their two hole cards.
As noted, the first betting round is called the Preflop. It takes place once players have received their two hole cards. The first player to bet has three options, Call, which means they place a bet equal to the big blind, Raise, which increases the bet beyond the big blind, or Fold, which discards the hand.
Depending on the game, there are a few rules governing how much a player can raise. In no-limit games, the minimum opening raise must be at least twice the big blind and the maximum can be all the chips a player has. In a fixed-limit game, the raise is always twice the big blind. In a pot-limit game, the upper limit is the amount currently in the pot.
Play then goes around the table clockwise with each player having the same three options. When the last player has finished, the Preflop stage ends and the game goes onto the flop. The first three community cards are dealt and the second betting round begins. It starts with the first active player to the left of the button and all players that have not folded can take part.
If no betting action has occurred in the round yet, then there is now a fourth option available to players, check, which simply passes the action to the next player.
The next round is the Turn. The fourth community card is dealt and the betting takes place in the same way. Finally, the fifth community card is dealt, the River, and the betting action follows the same pattern.
At the end of the River, any players left in the round must show their hole cards to determine the winner. This is known as the showdown and the player with the best hand wins the pot.
Texas Hold’em Bonus Hand Ranking
While the rules of the game are easy enough, understanding the hand rankings is essential, as you need to make sure that you know what you are holding. The game uses the standard official poker hands, which from strongest to weakest are as follows:
- Royal Flush – This is the strongest hand possible and it contains the cards 10, J, Q, K and A all from the same suit.
- Straight Flush – This is five cards in numerical order from the same suit; for example, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 of Hearts.
- Four of a Kind – This is a hand that contains four cards of same value, such as 7 Diamonds, 7 Clubs, 7 Spades, 7 Hearts.
- Full House – This is a hand that consists of three of a kind together with a pair, for example, three 2s and two 9s, the suit is irrelevant.
- Flush – This is a hand of five cards all from the same suit, for example, 3, 5, 7, 8 and 10 of Diamonds.
- Straight – This is five cards in numerical order, the suit is not important. For example, 3 Hearts, 4 Spades, 5 Diamonds, 6 Clubs, and 7 Hearts.
- Three of a Kind – This is three cards of the same value and two unrelated cards. For example, 5 Hearts, 5 Clubs, 5 Diamonds, 6 Spades and Jack Hearts.
- Two Pair – This is a hand that contains two individual pairs of cards and one unrelated card. For example, 5 Spades, 5 Hearts, 7 Diamonds, 7 Spades, 3 Hearts.
- Pair – This is a hand that contains two matching cards and three unrelated cards. For example, Ace Spades, Ace Clubs, 5 Diamonds, 7 Clubs, 9 Hearts.
- High Card – If a hand does not contain any of the above, then it is judged according to the highest value card in it.
Texas Hold’em Strategy
A large part of Texas Hold’em is practice. You need to become good at spotting what potential hands you hold. An equally important part is being able to read the other players at the table, and this is obviously a very complicated area.
However, what you can definitely do to begin with is find free games to play. You could practice with friends or find free games online. It is the best way to become familiar with the game and how it works, and to practice reading the table fast enough to make decisions at the right time.
You will also need to adopt different strategies depending on whether you are playing in a cash game or in a tournament, and a huge amount has been written about this. However, you should be aware of a few basic things. To begin with, always consider carefully whether a hand is worth playing. Many beginner players will bet on too many hands and waste money that way. If you are selective, then you may play less, but you will be able to be more aggressive when you do play.
Another important tip is to try to keep your emotions out of the game. Only play when you are in the right mood and if you lose a few hands in a row, try not to let it get to you. The clearer your head, the better you will play. Similarly, if you hit a winning streak, don’t get carried away and start placing enormous bets.
Part of the enjoyment of Texas Hold’em comes from the ability to bluff. However, you have to be careful not to do it too much. It may be a bit extreme to say that you should only play when you are holding a hand, but it is not a bad place to start from. As you become a better player, you can begin to take more risks with bluffing. Similarly, you need to learn that the option to fold should be used. Even if you are holding a hand, sometimes the best option is just to fold.
People will spend years learning to master Texas Hold’em and there is no shortcut to winning a World Series of Poker bracelet. However, you should now understand the basic rules, you can get started playing with friends and online, and with a bit of luck and practice, you will hopefully soon be winning hand after hand.