How to play Texas Hold’em

Jon Pill
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Last updated: September 9, 2022 10:43 am EDT

What is Texas Hold’em poker?

Texas Hold’em is the best-known and most popular form of poker. The WSOP Main Event is a no-limit Texas Hold’em tournament, as are all the WPT TV final tables. Doyle Brunson went so far as to dub Texas Hold’em “the Cadillac” of poker in his book Super/System. With so much popularity surrounding the game, it’s no wonder that players the world over are interested in learning how to play the game.

In Texas Hold’em, each player gets two cards (their “hole cards”). The table gets five community cards. All active players share the community cards, starting with the flop (three cards), then the turn, and then the river. At showdown, each player makes the best five-card poker hand they can from any combination of their hole cards and the community cards.

As with all poker games, rounds of betting break up the sequence of play. Betting rounds are where strategic decisions are made.

Why do they call it Texas Hold’em?

The origins of the name “Texas Holdem” are obscure.

Popular folklore has the game created in the early 20th Century, by Blondie Forbes, a road gambler.

The state of Texas claims that Robston, Texas is the game’s birthplace. But the most likely story is simply that the game became associated with Texas due to its popularity with Texas road gamblers. Regardless of where the game got its name, let’s go over some Texas Hold’em rules.

What are the rules for Texas Hold’em?

Texas Hold’em can be played by between two to twenty-two players. Though a more typical game range would be from six to ten players. 

“Heads-up” Hold’em games (1-v-1 games) have also become increasingly popular since the early 00s.

In Texas Hold’em, players receive two hole cards face down, then five community cards face up. Players can use any combination of board and hole cards to make the best five-card hand they can.

The general populace tends to view “table stakes” as standard for Texas Hold’em. Also known as “no-limit,” table-stakes indicate that players can bet, raise, and lose anything up to the number of chips (which represent real money) they have in front of them on the table.

In practice, both fixed-limit and — to a lesser degree — pot-limit games are common variants in most places.

Learning how to play Texas Hold’em

If playing live, players usually draw cards for their seats, and for the dealer button. In online poker, the software will automate this for you.

A hand of Texas Hold’em begins with the player left of the button beginning the first round of betting. They post a forced bet called the small blind. Then the next player to the left of the small blind posts the big blind (usually this is twice the big blind, but it can vary).

Players post antes at this point, which is the minimum bet for playing a round, if the game includes antes.

The dealer then gives each player a starting hand two cards face down. Players can look at their cards from this point on, but may not show them to other players.

A betting round begins, starting to the left of the big blind. Players can either “call” the big blind (i.e. put in chips equal to the big blind), they can “raise” the bet (increasing the stakes), or they can “fold” (in which case they relinquish their hand).

If the pot is unraised, the big blind has the option to raise their “bet” when the action reaches them or to “check” (which is to pass without folding). Once everyone left in has folded or matched the largest bet, the game progresses.

The dealer burns a card, and deals out three community cards face up in the middle of the table (this is the “flop”). A second betting round begins with the first player from the left of the dealer. As there are no blinds, all players may have the additional option to “check,” providing no player has made a bet before them in that round.

The dealer then burns and turns the fourth community card face up (the “turn”).

The remaining players partake in another betting round. If playing with fixed limits, this is the round where the bet increases.

The dealer burns and turns the fifth card, which is the final community card (the “river”). The final round of betting takes place.

After the final round of betting is finished, the remaining players show down their cards. This starts with the last player to make a bet or raise that round. Or from the left of the dealer if there was no betting.

At showdown, players can use any five of the seven available cards (two hole cards, and five community cards) to make the highest hand and win the pot. After the winning hand, the dealer button then moves one space to the left, and the next hand begins.

What is the best strategy for Texas Hold’em?

Playing Texas Hold’em can be an equally fun and a winning endeavour. However, to make it a winning one, you need to have more than a working knowledge of the game. You need a strategy.

Winning Hold’em poker players implement various levels of strategy, and those levels increase in difficulty over time.

A basic winning strategy can put a player firmly in a spot to win. That strategy will involve the understanding of position in poker, bet sizing, opponents, and hand strength. Beyond that understanding, you must figure out the best ways you can use those pieces of the game to be a winning player. That is the strategy part of your game.

While poker strategy has many layers, there are some basic poker rules that will kickstart your strategy development as you keep improving your game. That is, if you choose to take it to another level, of course.

Understand player positions

Position is one of the most underestimated keys to poker success. 

There are several categories of positions:

  • Early positions: small blind, big blind, and under the gun (UTG)
  • Middle positions: UTG +1, hijack (position to the right of the cutoff), and others in between
  • Late positions: cutoff (position to the right of the dealer button) and button (dealer button)

Late positions are the best in Texas Hold’em. 

Late position players can see more cards in the case of chasing a draw. It provides more opportunities to bluff and be creative with bet sizing. When you are last to act on third street, fourth street, and fifth street, you have the most control over the pot. You’re able to see the other actions before deciding to fold, check, or raise.

Poker is a game of information. And playing more hands from late position gives you the most information upon which to place your bet, bluff, and generally control the betting action.

Focus on the other players

When you are comfortable with position plays, you can focus your energy on your opponents. They will give away information, from their bet sizing to their mindset, with every move they make throughout the game.

When playing from late position, as previously mentioned, you are able to watch all of the action on the three main streets to gather information before making your own move. You see the folds, limps, calls, and raises by early and middle position players. 

Not only do those moves lead to you and your control of the hand and the pot to a great extent, those actions also provide insight into your opponents. 

What are they thinking in various spots? What is their betting style? Are they in a good or bad mood? Are they willing to gamble it up and go all-in, or are they afraid to lose their chips? How much money are they winning or losing?

These factors don’t often figure into game theory-oriented strategy, but they should play a role in every player’s game. You can adjust your strategy according to live tells and reads.

Avoid limping

In a home game, limped pots can be fun. But when you play poker in a room with more seasoned players and for consequential money, limping is not a great strategy.

One of the first lessons in most poker courses involves avoiding limping into pots. Most poker coaches teach that you should raise or fold when entering a pre-flop pot. Simply calling the big blind gives everyone still left to bet the chance to limp in as well. And the more people who see a flop, the better the chance that someone will make a better hand than you.

If you do hit a great flop, it is easier for all of your opponents to fold to any bet. They got into the hand for the cost of a big blind. This means that even the best hand may not deliver any action for you.

A limped pot also gives you no indication of what the other players may be holding. A bet makes them choose to stick with a strong hand by calling or even raising, or they will fold a marginal or bad hand.

There are occasions in which others have limped pre-flop, and it doesn’t hurt to limp behind with a marginal hand. You will see a flop for a minimal contribution to the pot. However, if the table tends to limp too often, your best play is to raise often.

Betting sizing strategies

It is very important to use strategy when deciding how much to bet or raise. Bet sizing is an important part of controlling your own chip stacks and keeping the pot under control.

Pre-flop betting is usually standard, without much fluctuation. A standard pre-flop bet is 2.5x or 3x the big blind. Of course, if other players are regularly opening higher, that should be adjusted to match the table style. That average bet should be adjusted somewhat due to hand strength – or what you want players to believe about your hand strength – but the goal is to keep it rather simple.

Bets after the flop and then the turn and river demand some creativity. If you present a continuation bet after the flop, it should be at least half the size of the pot and possibly up to three-quarters of the pot.

Raises after the flop and bets/raises after the turn and river can change. Those bets and raises consider the other players’ bets and raises, their propensity to call, and their likely hand ranges. You are betting and raising here for value and to prompt your opponents to call or fold. 

Folding strategies

Some players take the fold option for granted. They underestimate its importance in good poker strategy.

Some of this decision-making comes down to studying opening hand charts. By looking at almost any such chart, you will see that you should actually fold more hands than play in any position.

It is natural for some players to want to get into as many hands as possible. It’s the “can’t win if you don’t play” mentality. Those players are tempted to limp into as many pots as possible and always defend their blinds. But more often than not, they will not only fail to make a good hand on the flop, they will then face tough decisions by players who sense weakness.

Defending the big blind is always a consideration. However, the small blind should not be over-defended. It is okay to fold the small blind.

Folding poker hands is not a weakness unless you rarely play anything at all. Folding is actually a necessary part of strategy. Knowing when to fold is an important skill.

Learn to calculate pot odds

Pot odds are a very important part of strategic poker play. Some players immediately disregard pot odds because they claim that they are not good at math. 

The truth about pot odds is that they require a relatively simple calculation. And once you practice it in a few cash game sessions or in tournament play, it will become second nature.

Pot odds are the contrast between the size of the pot and the bet at hand. The goal is to figure out if you have the right odds to make a bet, call, or raise.

For simplicity’s sake, let’s say there is $100 in the pot, and you are considering calling a $50 bet from another player. When you take the 100 and divide it by the 50, you get two. That is two times your bet or 2-1 odds to call. 

To use pot odds in action, you should also know your odds of hitting the hand you want. For example:

  • You hold two hearts in your hand and there are two hearts on the flop.
  • With 52 cards in the deck, deduct your two hole cards and the three on the flop, which leaves 47 cards left with your flush cards in it.
  • You’ve seen four hearts so far, which means there should be nine hearts left in the deck.
  • If you take 47 minus nine, you get 38. And the resulting ratio is 38/10. Reducing that down to a simple fraction puts it at about 3.8/1. 

The 2-1 odds are better than the 3.7-1 odds of hitting your draw. That means there is value in the pot.

There is a much simpler way of working out approximate odds – just multiply your outs by two to hit on the turn, or by four to hit on the turn or the river.

With nine hearts to hit in the example above, your odds to hit on the turn are around 18% and 36% to hit on the turn or the river.

What’s the Difference Between Texas Hold’em and poker?

Texas Hold’em is just one of many kinds of poker.

Poker is a term for a group of vying-games (i.e. raise or fold games) that use a shared set of rules for betting and the same standard set of hand rankings.

Texas Hold’em is a specific kind of poker. It uses two hold cards and five community cards which distinguishes it from other flop games, like Omaha Hold’em which uses four hole cards (and where you have to use exactly two).

Having community cards is what makes Texas Hold’em a flop game, and distinguishes it from the other two categories of poker games: stud games and draw games, where cards are not shared between players.

Texas Hold’em rules are most similar to the other poker variants: Omaha Holdem and seven-card stud.

Where to Play Texas Hold’em Online

Thanks to the enormous popularity of Texas Hold’em, almost all online poker websites and offline poker rooms offer a Texas Hold’em option.

They also tend to offer a wide variety of stakes. Although, you may have to go to one of the major sites for high-stakes games. All sites will offer low to mid-stakes players plenty of options. This is true regardless of whether they play cash games or tournaments.

If you want to play a mix of games that will include Texas Hold’em, look for H.O.R.S.E., H.O.E., or H.O. tables. The “H” in these abbreviations stands for Texas Hold’em (usually limit Hold’em) unless specified otherwise. Additionally, “eight-game mix” tables usually include rounds of both limit and no-limit Hold’em in their lineup.

How to play Texas Hold’em FAQs

Is there a basic strategy for Texas Hold’em?  

There are so many ways to play Texas Hold’em poker. However, a good basic strategy for beginners is to play fewer hands than you think you need to, and be aggressive with those hands that you do play. This can scare weaker players and can narrow the field, giving you a better chance of winning the pot. As you get more experienced, you can refine your Texas Hold’em strategy and try different things to maximize your chances of winning. 

How to play Texas Hold’em online for free?  

You can play Texas Hold’em for free at various websites. Replay Poker is a great option for new players, as is PlayWPT. The WSOP site also offers free poker options. If you’re a beginner poker player, it always makes sense to play some free games of Texas Hold’em so you can familiarize yourself with the gameplay before placing real-money bets. 

Can I play Texas Hold’em online for real money?  

Yes, you can play Texas Hold’em online for real money. However, online poker is only currently legal in specific states in the United States, namely Nevada, Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Michigan. So, if you live outside of these states, you can’t legally play poker online for real money. 

Is there a free Texas Hold’em app? 

Yes, there are several free Texas Hold’em apps available on iOS and Android. One of the best is Zynga Poker, which is widely regarded as one of the best free poker apps for beginners. You can even synchronize Zynga with your Facebook account to easily play poker with your friends online. 

Can you make money playing Texas Hold’em online? 

There’s no doubt that you can make money online while playing Texas Hold’em. Poker is a game of skill and the more experienced you become, the better chances you have of making money. If you’re a beginner player, practice with free poker games first, before signing up for an account at a real money poker site. 

Featured image source: Flickr