Texas Hold'em is undoubtedly the most exhilarating and most influential innovation to happen to poker in, well, maybe forever.
Introduced to the poker world at large in the late 1960s by Doyle Brunson and the famed Texas road gamblers, Texas Hold'em has literally re-shaped poker as we knew it and helped create a poker boom still reverberating around the globe today.
Why has Texas Holdem become the de facto poker game of choice for millions of poker players? And why is it still the benchmark for poker glory at the World Series of Poker?
That's easy. It's incredibly fun. And packed with multi-level strategy that draws on equal parts brains, nerves and complex psychology. It's also, importantly, not very hard to learn!
As the old saying goes, "Texas Hold'em: it takes 2 minutes to learn and a lifetime to master." We can help you with the "master" part over in our poker strategy section; here we'll stick to the 2-minute part and introduce you to the official Texas Hold'em rules below.
How to Play Texas Hold'em
Texas Holdem is a community card game in which each player at the table is dealt two "hole" cards face down. Each player then uses those two hole cards in combination with five communal board cards to make the best possible five-card poker hand.
You can win a Texas Hold'em hand by:
- Having everyone else fold before the hand is over
- Having the best 5-card poker hand at showdown
And that's essentially it. Texas Hold'em can be played in either cash game or tournament format (with dozens of variations) and with stakes from as small as 1c/2c all the way up to $500/$1,000 and above.
Tournaments offers buy ins from entirely free up to $1 million (eg. The Big One for One Drop at the World Series of Poker). Most poker tournaments online run with buy-ins of $1-30 with 10-15% of the tournament field making the money and getting paid a return on their buy-in.
Texas Hold'em rules can be broken up into a few essential categories:
- Texas Hold'em Rules - The Button & the Blinds
- Texas Hold'em Rules - The Deal
- Texas Hold'em Rules - The First Betting Round
- Texas Hold'em Rules - The Flop, Turn & River
- Texas Hold'em Rules - The Showdown
- Texas Hold'em Rules - Tournaments
Texas Holdem Rules - The Button & the Blinds
A Texas Hold'em cash game is played at a single poker table with anywhere from 2-10 players. In a poker home game, the role of dealer usually passes from player to player with each hand, rotating to the left.
If the game is played online or in a live casino, a designated dealer will deal all of the cards for every round.
Where the deal starts is important, however, as the position of the players in relation to the dealer determines when they act in the hand. The player with the dealer button is the player who gets to act last in every hand. That gives them very important information as to the other players' holdings.
While the dealer spot is fixed in a live game, a dealer "button" is used to represent the dealer spot and is passed to the left with every hand.
The blinds, meanwhile, are two "forced" bets that are put into the pot before every hand. These are usually in simple increments like 1c/2c or $1/$2. The "small blind" is the player immediately to the left of the dealer and puts in the smaller bet before each hand starts.
The "big blind" is the player to the left of the dealer and puts in the bigger bet before each hand starts. This ensures each pot has some money in it for every hand.
As the dealer button moves on to the next player after every hand, so too do the blinds. That means once every orbit around the table each player will at least put in one small blind and one big blind into play.
In some Texas Holdem games (and in the later rounds of tournament play) an "ante" is put in place to further bump up the value of the pot before the hand begins. Each player pays the ante into the pot before then hand is dealt.
Texas Holdem Rules - The Deal
Once all players have been properly seated at the table and the blinds and/or antes have been paid into the pot, the deal begins. Each player will receive one card face down, in sequences starting with the player to the left of the dealer, then followed up by a second card in sequence to each player.
These are the player's "hole" cards. A player can use both hole cards, one hole cards or none of their hole cards when comprising their final 5-card poker hand.
The hole cards can be used in any combination with the 5 communal cards on the board to make up the highest ranked poker hand possible. If the highest hand possible is made up of all 5 cards on the communal board, it is called "playing the board."
Texas Holdem Rules - The First Betting Round
Texas Holdem is played in three different betting formats:
In short, No-Limit means a player can bet the entire amount of their chips at any time. In Fixed Limit they may only bet a specified maximum amount in relation to the value of the blinds. In pot-limit the maximum bet is the current size of the pot.
For more detail on the different rules for Texas Holdem betting structures, see out articles here:
Texas Holdem games you've seen on TV, and most Texas Holde'm games in general these days, as played as No-Limit games. That means a player can go "all in" at any point in the hand. This makes for very exciting TV and the spectacular outbursts you've likely seen during the World Series of Poker on ESPN.
Once the betting structure has been determined for each game, Texas Holdem is played with a small and a big blind -- two forced bets that are posted before the cards are dealt.
Once the blinds are posted each player is dealt two cards face down. When each player has their hole cards, it's time for the first betting round.
Starting with the player to the left of the big blind (called "Under the Gun"), players in sequence either fold, "call" the amount of the big blind (ie match the size of the big blind) or bet/raise.
In order to continue in a hand each player has to match the amount of the maximum bet (or equivalent). For example if the blinds are $1/$2 and someone raises the bet in their turn to $10, each player, including any players who have already acted in the hand, can now match that $10 in total or raise the bet even further.
The minimum bet in a Texas Hold'em game is equal to either twice the amount of the big blind (if no one has yet to raise) or twice the amount of the previous bet or raise.
Texas Holdem Rules - The Flop, Turn & River
When all the remaining players have contributed an equal amount to the pot, the next rounds of cards - in this case called "the flop" is dealt.The dealer will "burn" one card - that is deal it face down out of play, and then deal the next three cards off the top of the deck face up in the center of the table.
These are "community cards, which mean that all players can use them to make up their best possible five-card poker hand. If you need a reminder of how poker hands are ranked in Texas Hold'em, you'll fine the official hand rankings below under The Showdown header
Once the flop has been dealt a second round of betting occurs in the same manner as the previous round, except this time it starts with the player directly to the left of the dealer (if he or she is still in the hand).
That means if the big blind is still in the hand he or she will bet first after the flop, followed by the small blind (if still in) and then the player who bet first in the first round (if still in) and so on.
This is obviously quite important as it changes which player has the final say in the hand. For this round and each subsequent betting round, the player on the button (or player closest to the button still in the hand) will act last.
Once all bets have again been equalized a fourth communal card, known as "the turn" is dealt. The dealer burns the first card off the top of the dec again and deals the next card onto the table as the turn card.
After the turn is dealt another round of betting follows in the same manner as the flop round with the player still in the hand closest to the left of the dealer beginning the action. The player on the button again will act last.
After all bets have been matched again a fifth and final card, called 'the river" is dealt face up on the board. The card on top of the deck is again dealt face down out of play (burned) before the next card from the top is placed on the table.
Once the river is dealt a fifth betting round begins in the same format as the two rounds before it.
An Important Note on All Ins
As mentioned, if playing Texas Hold'em in No-Limit format any player can push all of their chips into the middle at any point in a hand. As most players tend to have an unequal amount of chips in their stacks, once a player goes all in it is considered the "effective" stack for the hand.
That means the maximum bet that can be played vs. that player is the amount of the total stack all in. so for example if a player has $200 in chips and goes all in, if another player with a bigger stack also declares All In later they will only be risking $200 vs. that player. Other players with larger stacks can also then call the All In and a side pot for the amount over $200 between the larger stacks will be created.
Texas Holdem Rules - The Showdown
Once the final betting round takes place. If more than one player is still in the hand after the betting is finished there is a "showdown." The player that made the last bet or raise reveals his/her cards first; if all players check the first player after the dealer shows the cards first.
The remaining players then reveal their hands clockwise. Players that don't want to (or can't) compete for the pot can choose to fold (muck) their hands unseen.
Again, a player can choose to use none, one or both of their hole cards together with the board cards to make their best hand. He/she can also "play the board" - use all the five community cards to create a five-card hand.
The pot is won by the player with the best 5-card poker hand. If two or more players have the same hand, the pot is split between them. Here are the official poker hand rankings for Texas Hold'em:
- Royal Flush (A, K, Q, J, 10 all of same suit)
- Straight Flush. (5 cards in sequence all in same suit - eg 7h-8h-9h-Th-Jh)
- Four of a Kind. (All four cards of same rank)
- Full House. (3 cards of one rank alongside 2 cards of another - eg. 6h-6s-6d-8d-8c)
- Flush (All 5 cards or one suit, any rank)
- Straight (A sequence of 5 cards of rank, any suit - eg, 2h-3d-4c-5s-6c)
- Three of a kind (3 cards or any one rank, two unmatched cards)
- Two pair (Two different pairs plus one unmatched card)
- One pair (One pair of equal rank, 3 unmatched cards)
- High Card (all unmatched cards ranked by the highest single card)
Some common confusion about Texas Hold'em hand rankings:
Flush vs Flush -- The highest single card of the flush determines its overall ranking. Meaning any flush with an Ace in it is the higher flush. Even if the other flush has "more" high-value cards in it, the single highest card of the flush determines the winner. Eg. A-6-4-3-2 beats K-Q-J-8-5
Two Pair vs Two Pair -- The highest single pair determines the winner, not the cumulative value of the two pairs together. Eg. AA-44 beats KK-QQ.
Full House vs. Full House -- The highest three-of-a-kind determines the higher full house. Eg. K-K-K-9-9 beats Q-Q-Q-J-J.
- A Flush always beats a Straight
- 3-of-a-Kind always beats Two Pair
- Suits do not determine ranks in Texas Holdem
- Straights do not "wrap around" - meaning J-Q-K-A-2 is NOT a straight but A-2-3-4-5 is (ace can be low end of straight)
Texas Hold'em Rules - Tournaments
If you've only ever played Texas Hold'em cash games but you'd like to give Texas Hold'em tournaments a try, don't be intimidated. The Texas Holdem rules themselves don't change drastically.
But there are some alteration to play that definitely change your optimal strategy approach. Here we'll give you just a quick overview of some of the basic differences between Texas Hold'em cash games and tournaments.
MTTs vs. Sit & Gos
Texas Hold'em tournaments can come in dozens of formats but the two basic ones are:
- MTT - Multi-Table Tournaments
- Sit & Go - Single table tournaments (usually) that begin when all players are seated
A multi-table tournament, as you might expect, has multiple tables of players. All players pay a buy-in plus fees that secures entry to the tournament and a pre-determined starting stack of chips.
The final player left with chips at the end is the winner. Typically 10-15% of the prize pool is set aside to reward the top finishers on a sliding scale with the winner (and the other top 3-5 players getting the biggest share).
A Sit & Go (SnG) is usually a single-table tournament with anywhere from 3-10 players. Each player pays the same buy-in to play and is given an equal starting stack. The last player left usually wins all the money (or the Top 3 players are paid).
SnGs play at very low $ levels online and start up virtually every few minutes. SnGs can also run in Jackpot format (the prize pool is randomly multiplied before the event begins) or Turbo formats (extra fast blinds).
Beware the Rising Blinds
Another major difference between cash games and tournaments are the rising blinds. In a cash game the blinds for the table are static and remain set throughout play. There is a minimum and maximum buy in for the table and if you lose your stack you can buy in to the table again for any amount between those two figures.
In a poker tournament, the blinds will increase on set intervals to force the action. A standard level time for a poker tournament is around 30-45 minutes. The blind structure for the tournament is posted beforehand so you'll know exactly when the blinds will increase and by how much. This ensures the action and means you can't just sit and wait for big hands to play or you will "blind out" of the tournament.
Dozens of Texas Hold'em Tournament Formats
While the game begin played at the table is always Texas Hold'em (and follows its basic rules), there are literally dozens of different types of Texas Holdem tournaments you can play from Re-Buy and Re-Entry tournaments to Freezeouts, Bounty, Heads-up, etc so be sure to check which type you're playing before you sign up.
The tournament director will provide a list of all the unique rules to the tournament beforehand for all players to see.
Play Texas Holdem Free Online
While a poker home game is a great way to be introduced to the rules of Texas Hold'em, the best way to improve your Texas Hold'em skills is to play in free Texas Holdem games online.
Virtually every poker site offers free-to-play, "play money" poker games where you can try out the games and get used to the software before investing any money yourself. You can even win real money paying in free Texas Hold'em games to give your beginner bankroll a boost.
To see our list of the poker sites with the best free Texas Hold'em cash game and tournament options, see our page below.
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