The reason this poker game took off and remains so popular is twofold: it’s easy to learn and follow the action, and it’s the poker game that wins large television audiences with tournaments like the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas and the World Poker Tour.
In this guide, we’ll introduce you to how to play Texas Hold’em in an easily digestible way. We’ll also give some brief Texas Hold’em tips so you can understand the basics and then go and practice risk-free at a play money destination like Replay Poker.
First off, you must learn the poker hand rankings. The game is played over a succession of hands, the winners of which are determined by the poker hand-ranking list. You have your own two private cards in Texas Hold’em (called hole cards) and share up to five community cards with the other players. Your task is to use any combination of your cards and the community cards to make the strongest-ranked, five-card poker hand.
Here’s the hand-rankings list, from the best poker hand to the lowest. You might like to keep this handy for reference when you start playing.
You can win a poker hand in one of two ways. Firstly, you might get to the end of the hand with at least one other player, in which case there’s a showdown. Now, both players’ hole cards are turned over, and the highest poker hand from the ranking list wins.
Secondly, you can win a poker hand if every other player elects to fold and you’re the last man or woman standing. Perhaps you made a strong bet, and the others believed you had a good hand, so decided to throw their cards away and not risk any more chips. In this case, you collect the pot and don’t even have to show the others what you held.
Of course, how to win at Texas Hold’em over the course of a long game or tournament involves some sound strategies over many hands, but let’s start with the basics.
If you’re playing online poker, most of the mechanics of the game are taken care of for you. The software deals the cards, counts the bets and prompts the action, making it much easier than if you were playing at home with friends. It’s the ideal way to learn how to play Texas Hold’em.
For the purpose of this exercise, let’s assume you’re playing online. After choosing your game in the lobby, you will find yourself seated at a table with your opponents – there may be up to nine of you on a full table, or up to six on a smaller, six-handed table. You can also play “heads-up” against just one other opponent.
If you were playing against friends, you would take it in turns to be the dealer, and it’s the same online. Even though the software deals the hands, someone is still nominated as the dealer and gets the dealer button (often a disc with the letter D on it).
The first person on the dealer’s left is the small blind and next along is the big blind. These positions are important because they must pay forced bets before the cards are dealt, meaning there are always some chips in the middle to play for. It forces the action. After every hand, the dealer button and the blinds move one place to the left.
So, what about how to deal Texas Hold’em? The dealer (the software in our case) gives every player two hole cards, face down so only they can see them. This is called pre-flop, and there is a round of betting, beginning with the first player to the left of the blinds (the blinds are considered to have made their bet already).
On the strength of the private starting cards, this first player can elect to remain in the hand by calling the same amount as the big blind or by raising an incremental amount. Alternatively, the player can fold and sit out the rest of the hand.
The action moves around the table in a clockwise fashion with each player, in turn, choosing to call the previous bet, raise or fold. When it gets around to the small and big blind, if they want to call the previous bet, they need only top up their existing blind bets to the required amount. This round of action continues until everyone who wants to remain in the hand has matched the highest bet.
Now, the dealer will place three cards face-up in the middle of the table. This is called the flop, and all remaining players can use these three community cards, along with their own two hole cards to make a five-card poker hand. On the strength of this, there is a second round of betting, starting with the first remaining player to the left of the dealer.
Should more than one player remain after everyone has acted, another card is placed face-up in the middle of the table, called the turn. A further round of betting ensues as remaining players strengthen their poker hand or hope to hit a final card that will help them make a good hand.
Again, if more than one player survives, a final card, called the river, is dealt face-up in the middle of the table. A concluding round of betting takes place, followed by the showdown to decide a winner if more than one player remains.
At showdown, the strongest poker hand wins. Even if two players have hit two pair, the highest of the two pairs wins. If both players have the same two pair, the deciding factor is who has the highest fifth card. In rare circumstances, both players are deemed to have the same hand, and they split the pot. Higher straights and flushes beat lower straights and flushes. Aces can be high or low.
If you’ve got this far, you’re now able to tell anyone who asks how to win at Texas Hold’em.
There are different game formats you can play. There are tournaments, where everyone enters with the same number of chips, and the last player standing wins. In tournaments, the blinds steadily increase at set levels so that the stakes rise and short-stacked players become at risk and potentially eliminated.
Or you can try ring games, where you sit down with a capped amount of chips and simply play the same blind level in relation to that cap. You can play for as long or as short as you like – you can simply get up and leave at any point. You may have more chips than you started with (consider that a win!), or you may have fewer. Perhaps you lost them all and bought back in again.
In its no-limit form, Texas Hold’em is an action-packed game, which adds to its popularity. That’s because, as the name suggests, there is no upper limit to the amount you can bet at any stage – you can go “all in”. Now, if you are called by another player, you can no longer influence the action, you must see how the cards fall and hope you have the best hand at the end of it!
For those who like things a little more relaxed, there is fixed limit Texas Hold’em to try, where you can only bet incremental raises equivalent to the small and big blind. If, for example, you play 2-4 fixed, the betting pre-flop and on the flop can only increase by 2 each time, but by 4 on the turn and the river. Pots can still get large, but you won’t be able to shove all-in at any time (unless you’ve run out of the required chips). Players tend to play more hands because in the early rounds of betting they might only have to put in 2 chips to see a flop with, say, 10 in the pot already. If someone asked you how do you play Texas Hold’em, this might be an easy variant for you to explain.
The third variant of betting is called pot limit, but this has a complicated betting structure, and it’s best to leave it until you’re more experienced.
We’ve written a handy five-step guide on how to play poker. This is well worth a read because it includes five key tips to getting your poker-playing career off to the best start. Once you understand the five steps, you can begin layering more complicated strategies on top.
Here’s a brief summary, so you can get started right away:
The beauty of poker is that you don’t have to play for real money. You can use play money chips at places like Replay Poker – it’s the ideal online poker site to learn how to play Texas Hold’em poker without risking a cent.