Texas Hold'em (more commonly referred to as simply 'Hold'em') is the most popular form of poker played today. While discussing how to play the game of Hold'em, most players maintain the cliché, 'It takes a minute to learn and a lifetime to master.'
Terms you need to know
- Blind - A forced bet placed by the two players to the left of the dealer button before any cards are dealt. This is done to ensure action on the hand.
- Small Blind - This term is used to refer to both the bet and the table position. The small blind is posted by the person to the immediate left of the button. The small blind is half of the minimum bet, usually rounded to the nearest dollar (or other unit of currency).
- Big Blind - This term is used to refer to both the bet and the table position. The big blind is the same as the minimum bet.
- The first three cards turned face up on the board.
- The act of placing the flop cards on the table
Below is a terminology section for any other terms that may not be understood.
Order of Play
Between each hand a marker, called the dealer button, moves clockwise around the table. The button represents the dealer. In an informal setting where one individual is not dedicated to dealing, such as a home game, the button is sometimes not used as the deal rotates around the table, in the same way as in other card games.
- The player to the immediate left of the dealer button posts the small blind.
- The player to the immediate left of the small blind posts the big blind.
- The dealer distributes two cards, one card at a time, to each player starting with the small blind and moving clockwise.
- The first person to act is the person to the immediate left of the big blind. This player looks at their cards and decides if they wish to call, raise or fold.
- Play continues around the table clockwise until all players have acted upon the same options and all players who have not folded have called the latest raise (if a raise occurred).
- The dealer burns one card and turns up three cards in the middle of the table, this is called the flop.
- Another round of betting occurs, this time starting with the player to the immediate left of the dealer button (the small blind). This person may choose to bet, check or fold.
- Play continues around the table with the same conditions as before the flop.
- The dealer burns one card and shows the 'turn card.'
- Another round of betting occurs, just as after the flop.
- The dealer burns one card and shows the 'river card.'
- A final round of betting occurs, just as after the turn.
- The person with the best five card poker hand wins. If the best hand is made entirely of the cards turned face up by the dealer, the pot is split among the remaining players.
- The dealer button moves one position to the left and the process starts over.
If at any time during the hand every player except one folds their cards, the hand stops and the remaining player wins the entire pot. If this happens, the dealer button moves one position to the left and the process repeats itself.
Also, it should be noted that many gambling establishments will put a limit, or 'cap', on the number of time a bet can be raised per round. This 'cap' is usually three or four raises per round. Some allow an unlimited number of raises if there are only two players remaining in a hand.
Limit, Pot-Limit and No-Limit
A limit poker game will be said to be £2/£4, £3/£6, £4/£8, £5/£10 etc. In a £2/£4 limit game the blinds are £1 and £2. In the first two rounds of betting, the bet and raise increments are £2. In the final two rounds the increments are £4.
Pot-limit is the least common form of hold'em. In a £5/£10 pot-limit game, the blinds are £5 and £10. The minimum bet is £10 during all rounds of betting. The maximum size of a bet or raise is the amount of money in the pot, including all bets and raises in the current round of betting. Readers should not worry much about the specifics of pot-limit, as rarely will it be seen if at all.
In a £5/£10 no-limit game, the blinds are £5 and £10. The minimum bet is £10 during all rounds of betting. There is no maximum size of bet or raise.
Most gambling establishments will require a minimum amount for the player to buy-in with. This means a player must exchange their money for minimum number/amount of chips in order to be allowed to sit at the table. These minimums are typically not enough for the average player, so it is recommended to purchase more chips.
Examples of good and bad starting hands
If your face-down (aka hole or pocket) cards are of the same rank, you have a pocket pair or a wired pair. Obviously the higher the rank, the more powerful your hand is. Aces are the strongest and twos are the weakest of the pocket pairs.
An ace with any face card (jack or higher), is a strong hand. The higher in rank the non-ace cards is, the better. An Ace with a king is stronger than an ace with a queen, unless another queen appers on the board. If they are of the same suit, they are slightly stronger, as a flush is now possible as well as pairing a relatively high-ranking card.
While many people will play them aggressively, an ace with a low-ranking card is a mediocre hand at best, statistically speaking. If they are suited they are slightly more powerful, as a flush is more likely. Many people will play an ace with a suited low-ranking card, as it is possible to draw a straight, a flush or even a straight flush.
Cards of consecutive rank (a king and a queen) are decent, as you can draw a straight. If they are suited, then you can draw a flush or a straight flush. Obviously, the higher the rank of the cards, the better they are.
Statistically, the worst possible hand you can have in the hole is seven and a two off-suit. Those cards and pretty much anything else are cards that should be folded unless you want to gamble or bluff. Bluffing requires skill in reading your opponents to know when they're bluffing and hiding any nervous ticks you display when lying - which is what bluffing is: although you should play these cards if you are the big blind and nobody raised. Since your blind is already committed to the pot it costs you nothing more to see the flop, and you may get three of a kind, two pair or a full house. This is possible, but rare.
Example of play in a limit game
This is an example of how the game is played. It's possible these exact hands with these exact actions could occur, but this combination of starting hands is very unlikely. Also, the betting and raising in this example hand is not the most realistic, either. This example is just that, an example. It is intended to show how the order of play is applied.
Ranking and description of final hands will not be discussed here, as there is a listing in the poker entry.
Andrew, Betty, Carl, Denise, Eric and Fay are playing £2/£4 limit game in a casino. They are sitting at the table in the order listed.
Andrew is 'on the button' which makes Betty the Small Blind (£1) and Carl the Big Blind (£2). The dealer distributes two cards, one at a time, to each player, starting with Betty and rotating clockwise.
Denise, being the first to act for this round of betting, looks at her cards and sees an ace and a king of the same suit. Given the strength of this starting hand, she decides to raise. She announces the word 'raise' and places £4 worth of chips in front of her (far enough away to not be confused with the chips she has in reserve).
Eric looks at his cards and see two threes. He decides that, while low in rank, pocket pairs can be strong at times and that £4 is not too steep a price to pay to see the flop. He calls, placing £4 in the pot.
Fay looks at her cards and sees a seven and a two of varying suits. She folds her hand and continues to watch the action.
Andrew looks at his cards and sees two kings - a very powerful hand - and raises, making it £6 to continue.
Betty, in the small blind, already has £1 committed to the pot, but her cards are too weak, at a nine and a three, to risk more money, so she folds.
Carl, in the big blind, already has £2 committed to the pot and has a decent hand - two tens - so he calls by placing £4 more in front of himself.
Denise calls as it's only £2 more and her hand is still powerful. Eric does the same.
The dealer pulls all of the chips to the centre of the table, burns one card and turns up the flop cards. The flop is ace, king and ten - all of different suits. This gives Carl three-of-a-kind tens, Denise two pair (aces and kings), whereas Eric still has one pair (his threes) and Andrew has three-of-a-kind kings.
The action would start on Betty, but since she folded pre-flop the action goes to Carl. Carl's three of a kind is a strong hand, so he bets £2.
Denise doesn't know that her two pair is weaker than the others' hands, but her two pair is still strong, so she raises to £4.
Eric folds since all of the cards on the flop were higher-ranked than his and it's likely at least one of the other players has hat least one of those cards in their two hole cards, meaning he's beaten.
Andrew raises, since his three-of-a-kind kings are a strong hand. He does not know if someone else is holding pocket aces (for three of a kind) or a queen and a jack (for a straight). Either of those two hands beats his, but his hand is still very stong and a raise is the correct move. In turn, Carl and Denise call Andrew's raise.
The dealer gathers the chips from that round of betting, adding them to the pot. She then burns one more card and turns up fourth street - a seven, which helps nobody's hand.
Carl bets £4 on his three-of-a-kind tens, Denise raises to £8 and Andrew raises to £12. Carl calls by placing £8 more in the pot and Denise calls as well by placing £4 more in the pot.
The dealer gathers the chips again, then burns another card and puts the river card on the board - another ace. At this point, all of the players have a full house. Carl has tens full of aces, Denise has aces full of kings and Andrew has kings full of aces. Denise's hand is the most powerful.
Carl bets £4, Denise raises to £8 and Andrew calls £8, as does Carl.
Since Denise was called, she must show her cards: she turns over her ace king displaying aces full of kings. The other players muck their cards (admit defeat and not show their cards) and the dealer collects Denise's cards while pushing the pot to Denise.
- Being your turn to act ('Action is on you').
- Getting someone to call your bet/raise or raise you back.
- Having all of your chips wagered.
- In no-limit, the act of betting or raising all of your chips at once ('I'm all in').
- Bet - The first wager in a round of betting.
- Board - The face-up cards in the middle of the table for all players to use to make a five-card poker hand.
- Burn - Taking the top card of the remainder of the deck and adding it to the Muck.
- Button - A marker that rotates around the table each hand to represent the dealer.
- Call - To match a bet or raise. This is required to participate further in the current hand if someone has bet or raised.
- Check - Passing on the oppurtunity to bet, but retaining your cards. This is not an option if someone at the table has bet or raised.
- Chips - Sometimes called checks. Round coin-like representations of money usually made of clay or a clay/plastic polymer. Different colours represent different amounts. Traditionally, white = £1, red = £5, blue = £10, green = £25 and black = £100. Many casinos do not adhere to these traditions, but the values assigned to the chips are clearly marked on the face. There are higher-valued chips, but this author does not have the cash reserves to closely inspect them.
- Dealer - The person who manages the cards and the chips that are wagered at the table.
- Fifth Street - See River.
- Fold - To drop out of play for the remainder of the hand. Giving your cards to the dealer.
- Fourth Street - See Turn.
- Hole Cards - The cards dealt face-down to each player.
- Kicker - The card to be used to break a tie.
- Mechanic - Someone skilled at manipulating cards or chips in order to allow themselves to cheat. Players should be alert when playing in an informal 'back room' setting, or a mechanic may get the better of them.
- Muck - The inactive cards at the table.
- Off-Suit - Cards of varying suits.
- Overcard - A card higher in rank than another.
- Paint - A face card (jack or higher).
- Pass - See Fold.
- Pocket - See Hole Cards.
- Pot - The money or chips that have been wagered during the current hand.
- Rainbow - A flop where all three cards are a different suit.
- Raise - After a bet, you can raise the amount of money required for players to participate further in the current hand.
- River - The fifth and final card turned face-up on the Board.
- Set - Three of a kind.
- Suited - Cards of the same suit (Hearts, Diamonds, Clubs or Spades).
- Throw Away - usually done at the end of a hand if someone shows a hand stronger than yours.
- Trips - See Set.
- Turn - The fourth card turned face up on the Board.
- Undercard - A card lower in rank than another.
- Wired Pair - Hole cards that are paired.