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A guide to playing Texas Hold’em Poker

Texas Hold’em is the most popular poker game in the world. It is played in the World Series of Poker and in brick-and-mortar casinos and online poker casinos around the world. Many newcomers, however, are intimidated by Texas Hold’em. With its esoteric vocabulary and its multiple betting rounds, it seems “difficult.”

In fact, learning how to play Texas Hold’em Poker is not at all difficult. The key is to break it down into manageable steps and then take it nice and easy as you proceed to learn the game and the vocabulary step by step. So let’s get started.

Getting Started: The Cards and the Players

Texas Hold’em is played with two to ten players at the poker table. It is played with a standard deck of 52 cards, no Jokers.

One player is designated as the dealer. He is often called the Button because he hold the dealer button. After each hand, the button moves clockwise to the next player, so everyone at the table eventually becomes the dealer. But note that the “dealer” does not actually deal. The actual dealing of the cards is done by a professional dealer—an employee of the casino—or, in the case of an online poker site, by a computer. Nevertheless, the player with the button is considered the dealer for purposes of the Texas Hold’em game.

The player to the left of the button is the Small Blind, and the player to the left of the Small Blind is the Big Blind. These players must place their first bets on the table before they even see their cards; in other words, they make “blind” bets. The small blind is usually half the big blind—for example, $1/$2 blinds—and is determined in advance by the rules of the game.

The Hole Cards and the First Betting Round

Once everybody is ready, all the players are seated, and the blind bets have been placed on the table, the Texas Hold’em poker game begins with the deal of two cards, face down, to each player. These two cards are the hole cards, also known as pocket cards, and can be seen by nobody else but the player himself.

After the players have examined their hole cards, the first betting round—known as the Pre-Flop—begins with the player to the dealer’s left. This player is called Under The Gun, and he must take one of the following actions:

  • Fold: lay down his cards and drop out until the next hand.
  • Call: make a bet equal to the Big Blind and remain in the game.
  • Raise: make a bet that is bigger than the Big Blind.

The play continues in a clockwise direction around the poker table. Note that if a player raises, then subsequent players who want to call must match the raised bet, not the Big Blind bet. Or, rather than call, subsequent players may re-raise, and the re-raised bet becomes the standard that must be matched.

When the play comes around to the Big Blind, if there has been no raise, he may choose to Check. This allows him to remain in the game without wagering any additional chips.

The play may revolve around the table multiple times until all players have either folded or wagered identical amounts.

The Flop and the Second Betting Round

Three cards are now dealt face up to the middle of the table. These three cards are community cards that belong to all of the players they are known collectively as the Flop.

After the Flop has been dealt, the second betting round begins. Action in this second betting round, and in all subsequent rounds, begins with the Small Blind. (Unlike the first betting round that started with Under The Gun.) The Small Blind may:

  • Fold: Concede defeat, forfeiting the hand and forfeiting anything he has wagered up to this point.
  • Check: Remain in the game without betting anything.
  • Bet: Place some chips as a wager that subsequent players must match or raise to remain in the game.

Play proceeds clockwise around the table. A players may check if no bet has yet been placed; and after a bet he may call, raise, or re-raise. The betting round continues until all players have either folded or wagered identical amounts.

The Turn and the Third Betting Round

A fourth community card, known as the Turn, is dealt to the center of the table. The action commences with the Small Blind—or, if the Small Blind has folded, with the first active player to the left of the Dealer—and proceeds along the same lines as the second betting round.

The River and the Fourth Betting Round

The fifth and final community card is called the River and it is followed by a fourth and final betting round.

The Showdown

At this point in the Texas Hold’em poker game, all the cards have been dealt, all the bets have been made, and all that’s left is the climax of the game: determining the winner.

If all the players except one have folded, then the last man (or woman) standing wins the pot. If more than one player remains, then the winner is determined by a Showdown, in which the players show their cards and the best five-card hand wins the game.

Note that each player has seven cards available: two hole cards plus five community cards. Thus, he can create his final five-card hand with a combination of:

  • 2 hole cards and 3 community cards, or
  • 1 hole card and 4 community cards, or
  • 0 hole cards and 5 community cards.

Whichever combination yields the highest-ranking poker hand is the one that will be used.

How to Play Texas Hold’em Well

Now that you have learned how to play Texas Hold’em, the next challenge is to learn how to play Texas Hold’em well. This is not so easy. It requires strategy, intelligence, patience, psychological insight, and practice, practice, and more practice. But the rewards are well worth the effort, so why not get started today? Start with free tournaments and, when you feel ready, you can risk real money in very low-stakes games to gain experience and enter a lifetime of playing and enjoying the wonderful game of Texas Hold’em Poker.