Texas Hold’em Explained
You may be wondering if you need a cowboy hat and leather boots with spurs to play Texas Hold’em. The good news is that you don’t. In fact, you don’t have to wear anything at all when playing this incredibly popular game online (just be careful with that fondue). If you would prefer to play poker games in casinos or dedicated landbased poker rooms, however, then you should probably consider wearing more than just your birthday suit. Attire aside, the world-famous poker game of Texas Hold’em is open to one and all. As the most famous game of its type, it is simply synonymous with the word “poker.”
Hold’em contains elements of skill and luck, with players required to find the best combination of cards with the help of the two starting cards (hole cards) which are dealt to them. This immensely popular game is also renowned for being a test of players’ will, restraint and psychological nous. In Texas Hold’em, the prizes can be astronomical in the most prestigious tournaments out there. If you have designs on getting your hands on these riches, you must first learn how to play the game.
Texas Hold’em Background
Texas hold ’em is the most popular version of poker which is played around the world. There is simply no underestimating its global appeal, which is evidenced in the fact that it is played in pretty much every country on the planet. Texas Hold’em’s popularity grew exponentially with televised poker tournaments and the advent of the internet, as more and more players had access to competitions and tournaments from the comfort of their home.
The main event of the World Series of Poker (WSP) is played under the no-limit rules of Texas Hold’em, which also features as the main game in the World Poker Tour (WPT). Naturally, there are players among us who want to know where this thrilling poker game originated. Unfortunately, that is unclear, but here is what we do know:
A Short History of the Game
No one is quite sure how, where, or when the game was created. According to poker historians, the first known incarnation of the game was played in Robstown, Texas, at the turn of the 20th century. From here, some claim that there are records proving that the game was played in Dallas, Texas, in 1925.
These days, Texas hold’em is huge in the casinos and poker rooms of Las Vegas. It is widely believed that the game was brought to the nation’s gambling capital by a group of Texan gamblers, including Poker Hall of Famers Crandell Addington, Doyle Brunson, and Amarillo Slim. Not long after, Addington composed a brief history of no-limit Texas Hold’em for Brunson’s Super System 2. All three men would have a massive hand in changing the way poker is played and are considered legends of the game, not just Texas Hold’em.
Texas Hold’em: The Basics
If you have never played Texas Hold’em before, you will need to learn the rules. Alternatively, if you like giving money away there are many charities that would be interested in hearing from you. Additionally, if you like being the poker version of the guy during Call of Duty that can only jump up and run into walls before being shot, knock yourself out. The rules of the game are essential for any player, regardless of how awesome you are (and yes, you are pretty awesome).
In Hold’em, all players will receive two hole cards from the dealer which no other players should see. From here, the dealer will place up to five community cards face up on the table, to form the board. All players will use the community cards to build the best hand they can possible, potentially creating pairs, threes, flushes, straights or other strong combinations. All in all, a player will have up to seven cards in total to put together the best five-card hand they can.
Different Types of Texas Hold’em
There are four commonly played versions of Texas Hold’em. Each variation will differ from one another and come with their own betting limits. When playing Texas Hold’em for the first time – or any time, for that matter – you should always check the version you are playing.
- Limit Texas Hold’em: Each round will come with agreed betting limits which must be met and cannot be exceeded.
- No Limit Texas Hold’em: Exactly what it says on the tin. Players are not restricted by any limits, which means they can pretty much bet what they wish.
- Pot Limit Texas Hold’em: Players are free to bet as much as they like, capped at the size of the pot.
- Mixed Texas Hold’em: This game is a combination of Limit and No Limit Texas Hold’em, where betting limits change from round to round.
The Best Starting Hands
In Texas Hold’em, you want the best possible start you can get. There is no strategy to do this so you will be relying on luck (crossing your fingers, rubbing a horseshoe, or wearing your lucky socks) to get the best hole cards possible.
The best starting hands you can hope for are as follows:
- AA (Pocket Aces)
- KK (Pocket Kings)
- QQ (Pocket Queens)
- A/K – Suited
- JJ (Pocket Jacks)
- 10/10 (Pocket Tens)
- A/Q – Suited
- A/K – Not Suited
- A/J – Suited
- K/Q – Suited
The Best Winning Hands
Knowing the best winning hands in Hold’em is important, right? Wouldn’t you agree that you should know what to aim for and that by knowing the best hands you can play better? Good. In that case, we have illustrated examples of the strongest ranking hands in Texas Hold’em:
Royal Flush – The best hand you can put together in poker. Ten, Jack, Queen, King, Ace all of the same suit.
Straight Flush – Five cards in a consecutive run which are all in the same suit. For example – 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 of hearts.
Four of a Kind – Four of the same cards in each of the four suits. For example – Four 9’s.
Full House – A pair plus three of a kind. For example – Q, Q, Q, J, J.
Flush – Five cards in the same suit but not in any particular order. For example – 5, 6, 9, Q, A clubs.
Straight – Five cards in a consecutive run but not of the same suit. For example – 7, 8, 9, 10, J (mixed suits).
Three of a Kind – Three cards of the same cards in one hand. For example – 2, 2, 2, J, K.
Two Pair – Two pairings of the same card in one hand. For example – Q, Q, 5, 5, A.
One Pair – Two of the same cards in one hand. For example – 7, 7, J, 4, 5.
High Card – No matching cards which do not run in a particular order. For example – K, J, 5, 8, 6.
Texas Hold’em Glossary
When playing Texas Hold’em for the first time, you will likely hear a few words and phrases which are new to you. Much like knowing the best hands, or the strongest cards to look out for, knowing the right lingo can help you understand the game much better. These terms will also help novices clearly understand many of the explanations and examples in this guide.
Below, you will find common Texas Hold’em terms and their definitions:
Anchor: The last position of a player before the dealer.
Ante: The minimum amount a player needs to contribute to a pot before cards are dealt. These are not to be confused with blinds.
Baby: A low ranking card.
Blank: Any community card which does not affect a player’s hand.
Bluff: Giving a false impression that you hold a stronger hand than you actually do.
Board: The cards which are on the table and form what is known as “the board.”
Burning a Card: The discarding of the first card from the top of the deck before a dealer lays down the community cards.
Buy-In: The minimum amount a player needs to enter a game or a tournament.
Catch: A catch occurs when a player makes the hand they intended to draw.
Community Cards: The cards which are used to form the board. These are used by all players to make winning hands with their hole cards.
Dealer Button: The disc or symbol used to identify a dealer.
Drawing to a Hand: This term is used to describe a player who stays in a round in the hope that they will eventually make their hand.
Flop: The first three of five potential community cards which players will use to make their hands.
Free Card: A card dealt on the turn or river where all players checked and did not bet.
Hand: A player’s combination of cards, which includes hole cards and a number of the community cards.
Hole Cards: The first two cards dealt face-down to all players at the start of a game. Also known as pocket cards.
House: The casino, poker room, website, or host of a game.
Kicker: The final undeclared card in a hand.
Limit Game: A variant of Texas Hold ‘em where players are limited in what they can bet.
Live Blind: When the player who posted the big blind still has the option of raising when it is his or her turn.
Muck: A “muck” is when a player discards their hand without showing it to the table.
No-Limit Game: A variant of Texas Hold ‘em where players are not limited to what they can bet.
Nuts: The strongest hand according to the cards dealt.
Out: A card which makes a winning hand.
Off Suit: Two cards of varying suits.
Pocket Cards: Another term for hole cards, which are the two cards initially dealt to each player.
Post a Blind: The mandatory amount that must be placed by a player (a small or a big blind).
Pot: The amount of money players compete for (the winnings).
Pot Limit: A variant of Texas Hold ‘em where players are limited to betting the same amount as the pot.
Rags: Undesirable cards.
Rake: The amount the house takes.
River Card: The fifth and final community card.
Semi-Bluff: A type of bluff on a hand that has potential.
Showdown: The final part of a game where all remaining players show their hands to determine the winner.
Slow Playing (Sandbagging): When a player refrains from aggressive playing despite having a strong hand.
Stack: A player’s amount of chips or cash.
Straddle: A third blind which is optional. When required, this is posted by the player sat three positions to the left of the dealer, and is twice the amount of the big blind.
Playing Texas Hold’Em
Learning how to walk before you run is the golden rule when playing any game for real money. If this is not in your nature, then at least put stabilizer wheels on your bike before you pedal. You might think you can just guess your way through a game of Texas Hold’em, relying on “Lady Luck” to see you through, but this strategy is in the same vein as washing your car with a chainsaw.
Below, we have illustrated what you can expect in a standard game of Hold’em. According to the game you play, there may be different types of betting requirements. If you are playing Limit, No Limit, or Pot Hold’em, then refer to the specific rules before you buy in. This key information is bound to help you on your Texas Hold’em journey:
Preparing to Play
In hold’em, you will need at least two players present to play the game (preferably human – your cat or dog is unlikely to be interested enough). Players can cut the deck to determine who the dealer will be for the first game, with this role being assigned to the next player to the left of the dealer following the round. When players are all at the table and are ready, the game can begin.
Your options, once it comes to your turn, are to either ‘fold’, ‘check’, ‘bet’, ‘call’ or ‘raise,’ depending on what options are available. In other words, the players who have acted prior to your turn will determine what you can do. If no players have made a bet, you can either check (make no bet but stay in the game) or bet.
If any other player has bet, then your options are to either fold, call or raise. When you call, you will be matching the previous bet. To raise, you are matching that bet and adding more into the bargain.
Blinds and the First Deal
The player located to the left of the dealer will post the small blind. The player left to them will post the big blind (blinds are the first mandatory bets). The big blind is usually double the amount of the small blind. This may or may not change according to the type of game you play, so always make sure this is the case before you buy in. You should always check if there are ante bets involved if you join a game.
Once blinds have been posted, all players will receive their two hole cards from the dealer. Betting will run clockwise around the table, beginning with the player located to the immediate left of the big blind.
Once you have seen your hole cards, you have the option to call (bet the amount of the big blind) or fold. As mentioned above, the first player to the left of the big blind will either call, raise, or fold. The game will continue around the table in a clockwise fashion. Once all remaining players have bet the same amount, the game will move on (without the players who have folded).
This is when the dealer places the first three of the five community cards down on the table (the board). These three cards are what you – and every player at the table – will use with their hole cards to make the strongest hand possible. The player sat immediately to the left of the dealer will proceed with betting. The options players have will be the same as in pre-flop.
The turn is the next round of betting. This is when the dealer places the fourth community card face-up on the board. Players will then continue to bet, either checking, raising, or folding, as in previous rounds. The player sat immediately to the left of the dealer will proceed with betting, once more.
The river is when the fifth and final community card is dealt. Players will then continue to bet for the final time, with the same options (checking, raising, or folding) applying to players, as in the previous rounds. Once more, the player sat immediately to the left of the dealer will proceed with betting, once more.
This is the final stage of the game, where all remaining players will show their cards to one another. The last person to bet or raise shows their cards. In the event where there was no bet, then the player sat to the immediate left of the dealer will show their cards.
As you will have probably guessed, the player with the strongest five-card hand will be declared the winner, taking the pot. If there are two or more players with the same hands – or hands which are as strong – the pot is divided. As all suits are the same in Texas hold’em, which means that they are not used to determine an absolute winner.
Texas Hold’em Strategy
As you get to grips with the basics and have a few wins under your belt, you will invariably want to up your understanding of Texas Hold’em. Luckily for you, this game should be able to accommodate. Before you work on your strategy, it is of paramount importance to understand each and every area of hold’em to focus your attention on. Texas hold’em is a game where you will be competing against other players, so understanding the psychological aspect is crucial. You will also be playing against yourself, in the figurative sense that you will need to control your impulses and refrain from getting too emotional!
Then, of course, there are other things to consider, like how you behave when interacting with other players. Put another way, do you have a particular personality which is discernible to your opponents? Are you a bluffing/semi-bluffing extraordinaire? Or are you a cagier, cautious player? This is important to understand if you have plans on graduating from novice to absolute destroyer! Then, of course, there are the things which cannot be changed. The best five-card hand, the cards involved, and an understanding of how vital the table position can be to a player.
Texas Hold’em Position
Table position is one of the most underappreciated and overlooked aspects of Texas Hold’em to novice players. There is no doubt that the dealer is the strongest position in a game. Why? Well, for a start, they will bet last. This gives the dealer the advantage of knowing all other players’ bets before they act, which can help them make the smartest move.
However, you could argue that the player sat to the immediate right of the player has an advantage over the dealer. This player is the last but one to act, right before the dealer. If they are adept at reading the game, they can potentially raise their bet and eliminate the dealer from the game, taking the position the dealer occupies. Can you see how important positioning is yet? It may sound very Machiavellian, but this is poker and no prisoners are taken.
The Frequency of Wins Over the Size of Wins
One of the most important things to keep in mind when playing hold’em is that going for smaller, more frequent wins is a better approach than irregular, big wins. While the more players at a table might mean bigger spoils, you will need to play them out to stand the best chance of winning. You should keep things tight in the early rounds and develop the knack for feeling out the other players if possible. Keep your eyes peeled for any nuances or giveaways.
Once the number of players reduces, you should have a little bit of a feel for the table. You can then isolate the bluffers or those who are inexperienced and turn them over when you get stronger hands, increasing your aggression and adding a little variety to how you play. This is the basic psychological aspect of playing Texas Hold’em.
Making the Right Plays
Knowing when to act and when not to act is an important part of this game. This is something which can only be learned through practice but there is no harm whatsoever in understanding the theory. In fact, it will help you get there quicker. When deciding whether to call, raise, or go all in, you should be basing your decision on more than just hot-blooded impulse.
Knowing When to Raise
Seasoned players don’t just raise to win, as this tactic can also be used to intimidate other players and fish for their reactions. However, if you are confident that you have the best hand on the table, raise. If you already have a strong hand before the turn or the river, this could shoot down other players and push them into folding.
Conversely, if you can test the waters and not pay a heavy price for it, you can raise as a bluff. This is another way to suss out how conservative or ballsy other players are. It is a risk, but like anything under the definition of that term, there is usually a nice reward for being brave enough to try it. If you suspect that other players have strong hands, raising can often give you an idea if you are on the right track or not.
Knowing When to Call
This isn’t bingo! Announcing that you have what you believe to be the winning hand is not going to win you the game. It will likely have the opposite effect in leading to all other players on the table folding faster than you can touch your nose.
The only thing to do when you have a strong hand is to keep it to yourself until you can make it work for you. As we touched on bluffing above, consider this move as the absolute inversion of the bluff. Think of it as a reverse bluff.
Calling when you have a strong hand can give your opponents a false sense of security which keeps them betting. It also works the other way around: by calling with a weak hand but staying in the game, players may suspect that you have a stronger hand if you want to bluff.
Going All In
Throwing all your chips on the table is a risky move. In fact, the act of going all in has been the foundation of a number of analogies used in everyday life. Few of these are synonymous with a well-thought-out decision.
However, this does not have to be the case when playing Texas hold’em. In fact, if you have given the impression that you are a tight and conservative player throughout your time at the table, you may very well convince the other players that even a weak hand is dangerous. When you have a strong hand which you believe will better that of your opponents, by all means, go all in!
There are a number of reasons why Texas hold’em is considered the king of poker games. It has become the go-to game for budding poker players from New York to New Delhi over the last couple of decades. Strongly spurred on by televised poker tournaments and the evolution of the internet, even those who had never been interested in card games got involved. Thousands of casinos and poker sites put on millions of games every year, with huge amounts in prizes up for grabs.
Perhaps the most important factor driving players to Texas hold’em is how easy the game is to learn. Well, the basics are, anyway. Experienced players enjoy the psychological aspects of the game, where psyching out opponents and getting the better of everyone on the table is a beautiful rush.
Texas hold’em is simply a game which is perfect for almost any occasion. Novice poker players are attracted to just how much fun it can be, given how easily the rules can be learned. Whether you plan to play a few casual hands on a Friday night with work colleagues or to go head to head with the very best in the most prestigious poker tournaments in the world, everyone must start from scratch. If it is the latter, you better get your chips together and join a table!