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How to Play Texas Hold’em

Poker Face Cards Poker Chip
Imagine how exciting it is to drag a pot and suddenly not have to worry about paying rent next month. Maybe you have been dying to plan a vacation but need the extra spending money. Sounds like it is a good time to start learning Texas hold’em, so you can start making money like so many other people have.

Whether you are going all in with the best hand or bluffing with the worst hand, it’s all part of no limit Texas hold’em. It’s the most popular version of poker; it’s the game you see being played on ESPN for millions of dollars.

This page is specifically designed to break down the rules of NL hold’em in its most simple form so you can understand how a poker hand plays out and what it takes to win.

We will transition into ideas like what it means when a player “3-bets preflop” or who has to show first when a river bet is called. Anything and everything you would want to know about the rules of the game can be found below thanks to our poker experts.

This guide wasn’t designed to give you strategies on how to play, although we have that here if you are interested in learning tips and advice. This specific article was written to get you comfortable and confident that you are going to be able to play and win.

We understand that playing poker at the online casinos can be intimidating to players with little to no experience. The easiest way to explain the rules of no limit Texas hold’em is to simply go in order. Let’s break down how a hand will play out, and you will feel like a veteran of the game in no time.

How a Hand Is Played

Whether you are playing in a casino in Las Vegas or on one of the top online gambling sites, the objective of the game remains the same. The goal is to win hands. You can do that by either making the best five-card hand or by making your opponent fold a better hand, which is known as bluffing. As we get into a how a hand plays out, you are going to need to be aware of which hands beat other hands.

The hand ranking chart below explains this, starting with the highest ranked hand at the top, the infamous Royal Flush.

Name of HandDefinitionExample
Royal FlushTen, Jack, Queen, King, and Ace, all the same suit10h-Jh-Qh-Kh-Ah
Straight FlushFive cards in sequential order, all the same suit5c-6c-7c-8c-9c
Four of a KindFour cards of the same rank8c-8d-8h-8s-3h
Full HouseThree cards of one rank, two cards of another rank2d-2h-2s-3c-3s
FlushFive cards of the same suit4s-6s-7s-9s-Qs
StraightFive cards in sequential order7d-8c-9c-10h-Js
Three of a KindThree cards of the same rank5c-5d-5s-8d-Kh
Two PairTwo sets of two cards of the same rankJc-Js-Qd-Qh-3s
PairTwo cards of the same rank4c-4h-5d-8s-9s
High CardFive cards of different rank and different suit3d-5c-8s-9h-Kc

**c=clubs, d=diamonds, h=hearts, s=spades.

**J=Jack, Q=Queen, K=King, A=Ace.

Now that you know which hands beat the others, let’s jump into the discussion of how a hand is going to play out, starting with the setup of the table. When you play cash games, sites will give you the option to play against one opponent (head-to-head), “6-max” (maximum of 6 players), or full-ring, which is up to 9 players.

A tournament will almost always feature 9-10 players unless otherwise noted, as players fill in the empty seats as other people get knocked out.

Regardless of how many players are competing at the table, a hand is going to start like this:

Poker CardsPreflop

The dealer will deal each player two cards known as the “hole cards,” face down. Don’t worry about the cards being visible on the screen when playing online. No other players can see your two hole cards. What happens next is known as the preflop action.

You are going to have the option of choosing whether or not you want to continue in the hand, but be prepared to commit more money if you want to see the community cards.

Let’s use a $1/$2 no limit cash game as an example.

Unless you are the small blind ($1) or the big blind ($2), you haven’t been forced to commit any chips into the pot yet. If you are first to act or nobody has opened with a raise, you will have 3 options:

  • Fold – You can simply fold your two cards, putting no money into the pot and ending the hand.
  • Call – You can call $2 and proceed to see the flop, assuming another player behind you doesn’t raise.
  • Raise – You can raise to as little as $4, and all the way up to all of your chips.

The order of who acts is simple. We will get to the explanations of all the different positions on the table in a section below, so bear with the terminology for now. The player to the left of the big blind is the first player to act. After he or she has decided on one of the three options listed above, the player on his or her left is next.

These actions are repeated in that clockwise fashion until everyone has had a chance to either fold their cards or call the existing amount that is out there.

Sometimes, the pot can be raised or even re-raised before the action ever arrives on you. Regardless of what happens preflop, when it is your turn you must either match the current amount or raise yourself in order to advance in the hand. If you don’t like your hand and do not want to put in any additional money, just fold and wait for the next hand.

Once the field is narrowed down to the players that committed enough chips to see the flop, off we go!

Poker CardsFlop

The dealer will spread three community cards face-up. These three cards are for all the players to use to combine with their two hole cards in order to make the best five-card hand possible.

Starting with the small blind, or player who is closest to the left of the button, the action goes around. The first player now has the option of either checking or betting.

Checking simply means passing the action to the next player. You are neither folding nor betting, but merely allowing the next player to decide how much the bet will be in order to see the fourth community card.

Betting means that you are betting a number of chips, thus determining the price the other players will have to play in order to see the next card. If your two hole cards did not connect with the flop or you do not wish to call whatever bet is in front of you, you may fold your cards and be done with the hand.

Once the players have either checked around or called a bet, the fourth card is revealed.

Poker CardsTurn Card

“Burn and turn,” as they say. Once the fourth card is dealt, the same action as the previous street (the flop) ensues. Players either check or bet, and have the option to fold when they do want to risk any additional chips.

Whichever players are remaining after this round of betting are off to the fifth and final card!

Poker CardsRiver Card

The fifth community card is known as the river, or “Fifth Street.” This is the final card, and it also represents the final round of betting. Similar to the flop and the turn, the player closest to the left of the dealer button leads off the action by either checking or betting.

The difference on this street is that there will be no more cards and no more betting once this round is completed. This is your final chance to either get value from your hand or try and bluff out your opponent.

If you are betting on the river and nobody calls your bet, you are deemed the winner and awarded the pot. If a player calls your river bet, you (the original bettor) are required to show your hand first. In the scenario where a bet is made and called on the river, the player with the best five-card hand drags the pot.

Now that you are starting to get the gist of how a poker hand plays out in no limit Texas hold’em, you are going to want to be familiar with the different positions on the table. We briefly touched on how important knowing and understanding these positions is, as you will learn in any strategy guide you come across.

Let’s go over the positions so you feel comfortable and educated next time you start a poker session.

Positions on the Table

As you start to play no limit Texas hold’em and get into the strategies, you will learn more and more how vital position becomes. Where you are positioned on the table determines the order in which you will act on each street.

Let’s examine what we are talking about by defining each of the primary positions. Now you will know what it means when you hear someone say they “defended their big blind” or “re-raised from the cutoff.”

Poker CardsButton

The button is the most prized position at the table. Not only do you not have to post a forced blind – which you will read about below – but you will be the last player to act on each street. This is significant because it means you get to react to what the other players do first, before having to make a decision about how you want to proceed.

The button rotates clockwise at the end of each hand, making sure each player at the table is acting as “the button” an even amount of times. Better players end up playing a higher percentage of hands from the button than from any other position on the table. This is solely because of how valuable it is to be able to make decisions after seeing how your opponents respond and act.

Poker CardsSmall Blind

The small blind is the player to the left of the button. This player will post a fixed amount of money out on the table before the dealer deals any cards. When you hear a game referred to as “$5/$10 no limit,” the first number ($5) is considered the small blind.

Besides putting in half the amount of the big blind, the small blind is the player who will act first after the flop, turn, and river. For the same reasons that the button is the best position, the small blind is often considered the worst position to play a hand from post flop.

This is purely because each player in the hand will be able to react and make a decision after learning what your decision was. The one advantage to this is that by being the first player allowed to bet on each street, you can “lead out” and apply max pressure whenever you feel like it makes sense.

Poker CardsBig Blind

To the left of the small blind sits the big blind. This player is responsible for posting the fixed amount of money that it costs to see a flop, permitted that there is no additional raise. In a $1/$2 NL game, the $2 player is known as the big blind.

If no player opts to raise preflop, the big blind has the option to check. That means he or she will now see the flop without wagering any further chips. However, if no player has raised by the time the action lands on the big blind player, that player most certainly has the option to “raise it up” just like their opposing players did before them.

As the button rotates to the left, both the small and big blinds do as well. For example, no player will be the big blind in back-to-back hands.

Poker CardsOther Positions

Clearly, the three positions above are the most common positions people talk about. Don’t let that mistake you into thinking they are the three most important, as all of the positions provide value in one way or another.

In order to be completely comfortable in a poker session, you will want to have a good grasp on the positions below, that way you avoid any confusion at the table.

Under the Gun (UTG)

When you hear poker players use the words “under the gun” or UTG, here’s what it means.

It is the player to the immediate left of the big blind. This is the player who will be the first player to act after the initial two hole cards have been dealt out. They refer to the position as “under the gun” because once everyone receives their two hole cards, the action is on that player. He or she sets the tone for how the preflop action will begin.

UTG +1

UTG +1 is the player sitting directly to the left of the “under the gun” player. Poker players will use this term when explaining hand histories to fellow players. For example:

“I opened JJ from UTG +1 and got two calls.” Don’t be overwhelmed. All this means is that this player was dealt pocket jacks and the first player to act folded. The player then raised with his pair of jacks and two opponents called his raise.

Cutoff

The player in the cutoff position is the player sitting immediately to the right of the button. While the player “on the button” will be the last to make decisions on each street, the “cutoff” will be the second-to-last player to act.

This is a nice position to play hands from as you will be acting after each player (besides the button) throughout the hand.

Hi-Jack

The player sitting in the “hi-jack” position is the player directly to the right of the cutoff. Only the cut-off and the button will act after the hi-jack on each betting street.

We understand the terminology might seem confusing at first, but there is nothing to worry about. These positions will become second-nature to you after just a couple of sessions. Don’t be overwhelmed. When you play Texas hold’em online, the button and blinds automatically rotate. Just play your cards to the best of your ability and let the online software do its job!

The Betting Action

The beauty of no limit Texas hold’em is that you can wager all of your chips at any point in the hand. By now you know about checking, betting, and folding. Those are the most basic and common ways to proceed through a hand. However, no limit Texas hold’em is a wild and crazy game, and you will see other bets made.

Poker Cards3-Bet and 4-Bet

When you start playing NL Texas hold’em, you will see more aggressive betting, such as “3-betting” and “4-betting.” This is just a fancy way of talking about re-raising.

Say you are playing $1/$2 NL and you open for a raise preflop to $10. If a player then re-raises to $30, that player is “3-betting to $30.” That’s really all that means.

A 4-bet would just be one more raise. Let’s look at the example above. You raised to $10 and a player “3-bet” to $30. Now say the next player decides to re-raise again and make it $100. That player is now “4-betting to $100.” When the action folds back to you, you can fold, call $90, or even put in a 5-bet and perhaps go all-in!

Q & A

Before we close things out, we wanted to mention a couple questions that frequently get asked. Despite being a fairly straightforward game to learn, there are terms and scenarios you will encounter during a poker session, and you will want to understand what’s going on.

What does “bluffing” and “value betting” really mean?

Don’t get caught up with these terms without knowing what their true meanings are. Here is exactly what a “bluff” and a “value bet” accomplish.

Bluffing- Betting an amount that forces your opponent to fold a better holding than you.

Example- After the turn card, you have a pair of 7s with an ace kicker. You go all in and your opponent folds a pair of 9s. You just “bluffed” your opponent by making him or her fold a better hand.

Value Betting- Betting and getting called by a worse hand.

Example- After the river, you are holding a “Queen-high flush” and bet $200. Your opponent calls with a smaller flush and you scoop the pot. You just made $200 by value betting.

I heard someone say, “The bubble burst, I’m ITM.” What does that mean?

ITM stands for “In the Money.” This term is used when playing a poker tournament. Generally, somewhere between 10-15% of the field will get paid out. Say there are 100 players in the tournament and the structure says that the top 10 players get paid.

When there are 11 players remaining, this is known as the “bubble.” This is because the player who is knocked out next receives nothing, while the remaining 10 players cash in the tournament. Try not to be the “bubble-boy” or “bubble-girl” when you are on the bubble. Finishing “in the money” is a much better result.

Summarizing

Texas hold’em is an exciting game to play, especially when playing it in its purest form – no  limit. The ability to wager all of your chips at any point in the hand means you have to be on your toes at all times. There are a lot of intricacies that go into to being a successful player. The first step to turning a profit is having a full understanding of the rules of the game, and how hands play out.

Our site has plenty of material covering different areas of Texas hold’em. From strategy guides to the differences between online vs live, and cash games vs tournaments, you can find all of that on our poker hub page.

Our goal was to provide you with an organized rules catalog that you could use as your foundation for becoming a winning player.

You should have a good grip on what the setup of a poker table is like and how a hand will play out. “You can’t run without learning how to crawl first.” That is why we explained what preflop, flop, turn, and river mean and displayed a hand ranking chart to show you where hands rank from top to bottom.

By understanding the different positions on the table, you will be fully aware of where raises and calls are coming from, and the order in which the action will play out on each street of betting. Being aware of the 3-bets and 4-bets is significant as you will want to take notice of which players seem to be re-raising repeatedly and which players seem to only call or fold.

The point is, the first phase to mastering no limit Texas hold’em is learning the basics. Hopefully this page provided you the confidence you need moving forward to start crushing the online sites!