As one of the most famous and well-loved variants of five-card poker, you can find Texas Hold’em online and in casinos around the world. However, if you want to mingle with the best, you might need to learn how to play beyond the Hold’em basics. So to help get you off on the right foot – or should we say hand – here’s our beginner’s guide on how to play Texas Hold’em poker.
Texas Hold’em Poker Fundamentals
To fully understand how to play Texas Hold’em, we need to start breaking the elements down into pieces. Once you know what all of the pieces are, you can stick them together to feel comfortable in every poker game you play.
Before we get into the detail, here are some of the most important facts of the game:
- Texas Hold’em online poker is a community card game
- Everyone starts with two cards, known as hole cards
- Once players have their cards, five community cards are dealt in three stages
- Players may use two, one, or none of their cards along with the community cards to make the best hand
Texas Hold’em Community Cards
While poker exists in different variants, formats, and styles, Texas Hold’em is a poker game that uses community cards.
Community-card poker variants use cards dealt in the middle of the table. Everyone at the table can use these cards, in conjunction with their own, to make a five-card poker hand. The fact everyone can use them is why they’re known as community cards.
Just so you’re aware are two other types of game variants commonly found at our recommended online poker sites, but these don’t apply to Texas Hold’em:
- Draw poker – variants in this category don’t involve community cards. Instead, each player is dealt a certain number of cards that only they can see. After assessing your cards, you can exchange as many or as few as you like and draw new ones.
- Stud poker – a selection of cards are dealt over a series of betting rounds. The initial cards are dealt face-down so only you can see them. Other cards are dealt face-up, so everyone can see them. The final card is dealt face-down. This combination of face-up and face-down cards allows you to make decisions based on your cards and those you can see.
Hand Rankings in Texas Hold’em
The hand rankings for Texas Hold’em are the same as most other popular five-card variants. Each player at the table receives two cards, but you can make hands at showdown in one of three ways:
- You combine both of your cards with three community cards
- You combine one of your cards with four community cards
- You use all five community cards (also known as ‘playing the board’, which all players can also do)
Showdowns aren’t a necessary part of poker when bluffing comes into play, as you can make other players fold before the end. In a showdown, Texas Hold’em poker hand rankings determine the winner. For more detailed information, we recommend checking out our page of poker cheat sheets for hand rankings.
Hold’em Poker Hands Ranked Best to Worst
Texas Hold’em Hand
A straight from 10 to Ace with all cards of a matching suit
10♦ J♦ Q♦ K♦ A♦
A straight with cards of a matching suit
5♥ 6♥ 7♥ 8♥ 9♥
Four of a Kind
Four cards of the same value
A♦ A♥ A♠ A♣ X
One pair and one set
K♦ K♥ 4♦ 4♠ 4♣
Any five cards of the same suit
5♣ 9♣ 10♣ K♣ J♣
Five cards in sequential order, but without matching suits
2♣ 3♦ 4♥ 5♥ 6♠
Set (or Three of a Kind)
Three cards of the same value
A♦ A♥ A♠ X X
A pair plus another different pair
A♠ A♥ 6♣ 6♠ X
Pair (or Two of a Kind)
Two cards of the same value
J♣ J♠ X X X
A hand with no other value than that of its highest card
K♣ J♠ 2♣ 8♥ 6♠
Texas Hold’em Betting Structures
Now you know Texas Hold’em poker is a community-card game. You also know that players receive two hole cards that they can combine with community cards in order to make a ranked hand. The next thing to look at is betting structures. There are three structures that govern how to bet in Texas Hold’em poker.
What is Limit Texas Hold’em?
In Limit Hold’em, bets and/or raises are limited to the size of the big blind. For example:
- The blinds are $1 (small blind) and $2 (big blind)
- You can bet $2
The same principle applies to raising a bet. For example:
- If someone bets $2, you can raise $2
- This means you’re committing $4 to the pot ($2 + $2 = $4)
Raises are usually capped in Limit Hold’em games to one bet and three raises per round.
What is Pot Limit Texas Hold’em?
In Pot Limit Hold’em, bets and/or raises are limited to the size of the pot in this betting structure. For example:
- There’s $10 in the pot and no one has placed a bet before you
- This means the maximum amount you can bet is $10
However, let’s say there’s $10 in the pot and someone bets $3. In this situation, the amount you can raise is $19.
You calculate your raise by:
- Taking the pot $10 + the bet $3 + the $3 you need to call the bet = $16.
- Add an extra $3 for making a call and you get $19 ($10+$3+$3+$3)
- So, in this situation, the raise size is $19
A simple way to calculate your bet/raise size in Pot Limit Hold’em is to multiply the bet size by three, then add that number to the pot.
What is No Limit Texas Hold’em?
In No Limit Hold’em, you can bet and/or raise as much as you like. The only limit on the amount you can bet or raise is the number of chips in your stack. So, as long as you meet the minimum bet/raise amount, you can put in all of your chips.
Table Positions in Hold’em
To learn how to play Texas Hold’em, the final piece of the puzzle you need to know is table position. Tournaments and cash games are typically played on one of three tables types:
- Full-ring – a poker table with nine seats is known as a full-ring game.
- Six-max – as the name suggests, these tables have room for six players.
- Heads-up – there are two spots at the table, so it’s you vs. one other player.
Regardless of how many players are sitting at the table, there will always be a big blind, a small blind, and a dealer button.
Texas Hold’em Blinds
A ‘blind’ is another word for a forced bet that moves in a clockwise direction around the table after each hand is complete. There is a big blind and a small blind in every game of Hold’em.
The reason for having blinds is so people can’t sit and wait for the best starting hands in Texas Hold’em without contributing to the pot.
- The small blind is directly to the left of the dealer and is 50% of the big blind
- The big blind position is to the left of the small blind
For example, if you’re in a cash game at one of our recommended online poker sites with blinds listed at $1/$2, the big blind is $2 and the small blind is $1.
You might also hear the word ‘ante’ when talking about blinds – this is a bet that all players put in the pot each round, regardless of table position. It’s not always a requirement, but some Hold’em games might include ante betting. Blinds are a type of ante.
For every new hand, there is a nominated dealer. While you don’t have to deal cards when you play online poker, the dealer position is still noted by something called a button:
- The dealer button is located directly to the right of the small blind
- The button moves clockwise around the table after each hand is completed
The player with the button always takes the last action post-flop. Why is acting last an advantage? Because you get the most information – you’ve seen what everyone else has done in the round.
Poker strategies can vary based on the number of players at a table and your position in relation to the blinds. We won’t delve too deeply into the specifics of positional play in poker yet, other than to say the closer you are to the button, the more hands you can (or should) play.
How to Play Texas Hold’em Online
If you feel like you’re ready to learn how to play Texas Hold’em poker online, the first thing you need to do is find somewhere to play. You can do this by reading our reviews of the best US online poker sites. Once you’ve found a site or two you like, tap our secure sign-up links and enter any necessary promo codes to create your account and claim welcome bonuses.
The second decision you need to make is whether you want to try cash games or tournaments. Both require different skills and strategies but the dynamics of Hold’em are pretty much the same in either format. When you’ve chosen the way you want to play, pick a table and pull up a seat.
Step-by-Step Guide to Playing Hold’em
If you’re playing online, a game of Texas Hold’em should generally play out like this:
- Two players put in the big and small blinds.
- After the two players have posted their blinds, everyone receives two cards – only the players can see their own cards, known as hole cards.
- Play starts with the player directly to the left of the big blind. This player can fold, call the minimum bet, or raise. There is another move called ‘check‘ which means to place no bet and pass, but stay in the game. You cannot check if any player before you has called or raised a bet.
- Once the first player has made a move, play moves clockwise round to the big blind.
- Three community cards, known as the flop, are dealt in the middle of the table if at least two players make it past the first betting round. This is known as the pre-flop betting round. If at least two players meet the minimum bet on the flop, another betting round takes place.
- The next betting round sees a fourth community card dealt. This card is known as the turn. If at least two players meet the minimum bet on the turn, a final betting round takes place.
- The final betting round sees a fifth community card dealt. This card is known as the river.
- A showdown occurs if two or more players meet the minimum bet at this stage. A showdown requires everyone left in the hand to reveal their cards.
- The winner of Hold’em has the highest-ranked hand. The player who wins the hand scoops the pot, which means they take all the money wagered over the betting rounds.
Note: a player can win the pot at any point in the hand if everyone else folds. For example, a player can win the pot on the flop if they bet and no one wants to at least call the minimum bet.
How Do Betting Rounds End in Texas Hold’em?
According to the rules of poker, a betting round in can end in one of two ways:
- Everyone folds except one player
- At least two players meet the minimum bet
The minimum bet changes if people raise during the round. So, if someone calls the current minimum but someone after them raises, play moves around the table until it reaches the player who previously called. This player then has the option to:
- Call the new minimum bet
- Raise the bet (which will set a new minimum bet)
- Fold their hand
After two or more players have called the minimum bet, play can proceed to the next round.
Hold’em Poker Tips and Strategies
Now you know how to play Texas Hold’em, it’s important to understand that playing and winning are two different things. While advanced poker strategies are beyond the scope of this guide to Texas Hold’em, we can leave you with three top Hold’em tips to get you started.
Play Your Starting Hands Wisely
There’s a saying in poker that goes: if a hand isn’t good enough to raise, it’s not good enough to call with. For example, if you’re looking down at 7-6 as your hole cards and don’t feel like it’s a good time to raise, then you should probably fold.
Sticking to this idea will help you avoid potentially tricky spots – in theory, you’ll have a better chance at making strong hands post-flop. Indeed, the skill of poker isn’t starting with the best hand, it’s ending with the best hand. Therefore, if you choose wisely whether to play on with starting hands, you’ll give yourself a better chance of finishing strongly.
Consider Your Table Position
Poker is a game of incomplete information because you don’t get to see your opponent’s cards. This means you need to use other pieces of information to make educated guesses about your opponents. For example, you might think about the action that occured before someone makes a move, to try and spot a pattern in their behavior.
The later you are to act – a later position on the table – the more information you can gather. This means the best position at the table is really the dealer button. Based on this, you can afford to play more hands when you’re on or close to the button because you’ve got more information to work with.
Conversely, if you’re in an early position – in other words,. far away from the button – you should only play the strongest starting hands in Texas Hold’em.
Manage Your Bankroll Well
Bankroll management is a fundamental poker skill that every Texas Hold’em player needs to master. Managing your bankroll means not betting more than you can afford to lose. Specifically, if the buy-in for a cash game or tournament represents more than 5% of your bankroll, it’s too expensive.
In fact, if you’re playing poker online, the games are usually tougher to beat than their casino-based counterparts. In these situations, you might want to have even stricter bankroll requirements for yourself.