How to play Texas Holdem

Texas Hold’em Poker is the most popular variation of the poker game and can be picked up very quickly. The best way to understand the game is to get playing. You can play for free at each of the best online poker sites in play-money games. Alternatively, visit our no deposit poker bonus page to find out which poker sites give you free money just for signing up.

Alongside practicing playing poker, the following guide on how to play Texas Holdem poker will help you understand the game:

The Dealer

When you join a poker table you will be assigned a position on the table. The player that is the dealer will usually be identified with a “D”.

The dealer position it the most advantageous position in a game of Texas Hold’em Poker because they are last to act in each round of betting. Being the last to act enables them to gain information from the plays made by other players.

All other positions on the table are defined relative to the dealer.

The blinds

The player to the left of the dealer is in the small blind position, and the player two positions left of the dealer is in the big blind position. The players in the small and big blind positions are required to pay a certain amount into the pot (the place where all money/bets will be located on the table) before they see their hands. The purpose of the blinds is to encourage players to bet (in order to win what is in the pot).

Generally, the big blind will always be twice the value of the small blind. You will see that most online poker ‘cash games’, will be defined by the value of the small and big blinds, as this will determine the amount of money that you must bring to the table in order to play:

PokerStars Bonus

It can be seen from the screenshot above that the dealer is assigned the dealer chip (shown as “D”). The player to the left of the dealer is in the small blind (“SB”) position and is required to pay $5 before the cards are dealt. The player to the left of the small blind is in the big blind (“BB”) position and is required to pay $10 before the hand is dealt. As a result of the blinds, this table is defined as a $5/$10 cash game.

Pre-flop

The “flop” is where the cards are dealt into the middle of the poker table. However, before the flop (“pre-flop”) you will will be dealt two cards (the “pocket cards”). Each player will then decide whether to play their cards. The first player to take action will be the player to the left of the big blind (or 3 players to the left of the dealer). The order of play will then move round the table in a clockwise motion.

The list below shows you the 10 best “pocket cards” in descending order:

  1. Pocket Aces (Ace, Ace)
  2. Pocket Kings (King, King)
  3. Pocket Queens (Queen, Queen)
  4. Ace-King Suited (Ace, King)
  5. Pocket Jacks (Jack, Jack)
  6. Ace Queen Suited (Ace, Queen)
  7. King Queen Suited (King, Queen)
  8. Ace King Unsuited (Ace, King)
  9. Ace Jack Suited (Ace, Jack)
  10. Pocket Tens (Ten, Ten)

The worst ‘pocket cards’ you could start with would be 2, 7 unsuited.

PokerStars pre flop screenshot

Your play options if you are not the big blind and no-one makes a raise

If you are not the big blind position, and no-one on the table makes a raise before it is your turn, you could make the following plays:

  • Bet the same amount as the big blind (“call”);
  • Raise (make a bet higher than the big blind), or;
  • Fold (choose not to make a bet, and sit out the rest of the round).

Your play options if your the big blind and no one raises

If you are the big blind, and all other players fold then you would win the hand and that round of poker would be over. This also means you would win the pot (which would consist of the small blind and the big blind, or in the screenshot above, about $7).

If you are the big blind position, and at least one player calls the big blind (but does not make a raise), you would have the opportunity to ‘check’ (in addition to folding your hand and making a bet). A ‘check’ play is when the player does not put any more money in the pot. If you are in the big blind position and ‘check’ the hand, the next stage of the round, the “flop”, will begin.

Your play options if someone raises on the big blind (whether you are in the big blind position or not)

If you are any position on the table (including in the big blind position), and another player before you makes a raise on the big blind, you will have the option of making the following plays:

  • Meet the raise (call)
  • Re-raise (bet even more into the pot than the player who made the raise)
  • Fold (put your cards down and sit out the rest of the round)

If no players meet the raise (and subsequently fold), the player who made the raise will win the pot (all the money that has been bet) and the round of poker will end.

To continue to the flop one or more players have put an equal value into the pot (whether it be the amount of the big blind or higher).

The flop

After all pre-flop bets have been made, the dealer will deal ‘the flop’. ‘The flop’ consists of three cards that are dealt into the middle of the table. Each player will then compare ‘the flop’ to their two pocket cards.

In poker you can use a total of 5 cards (from the 2 “pocket cards” that your receive pre-flop, and the 5 cards that are placed in the centre of the table) to create your hand. After the flop has been dealt there are a total of 5 cards that you can use to play (3 in the middle and your 2 “pocket cards”. However another two cards will also be dealt into the middle of the table (if the round goes that far).

At this point, it is worth considering the best “hand” that you can have in poker. Check out our Poker Hand Rankings page to see the top poker hands.

Each player will then take their turn to play. As with the pre-flop stage, play will go round in a clockwise motion. However, after the flop has been dealt, it is the player in the small blind position (or nearest to the left of them), that will be the first to play.

If you are still in the round, before a bet has been made by another player you could make the following plays at the flop stage:

  • Check (stay in the hand, but do not put any money into the pot)
  • Bet (put some money into the pot)
  • Fold (Note: if no-one has made a bet you should not fold as you may still get through to the next round of betting by checking)

If you are still in the round, but a player has made a bet, you could make the following plays:

  • Call (put the value of the other players bet into the pot i.e. meet their bet)
  • Fold (put the cards down, because you think the other player has a better hand than you, and sit out until the cards are dealt in the next round)
  • Re-raise (bet a higher value bet than the other players bet)

If you make a bet (or re-raise), and all other players fold, you will win the pot, and that round of poker will end. The round will continue so long as one or more players have put an equal value into the pot, or if two or more players have checked their hand.

The flop in poker

From the above screenshot, it can be seen that the flop has been dealt. The flop is the three cards which have been dealt into the middle of the table. In this case the flop consists of the 6 of Spades, the King of Diamonds and the 8 of Clubs.

After the flop has been dealt, the player to the left of the dealer is first to play. The order of play then moves round the table in a clockwise motion. In this example, Player 1, in the small blind position, checked his hand. Player 2, in the big blind position, made a bet of 80. Player 3, then folded his hand. Player 4 was not in the round (as he folded pre-flop).

It is then your turn to play. As you are the dealer in this example you are the last to play. The cards we have in our hand are the 8 of spades and the 6 of diamonds. As indicated earlier you can use 5 cards to make your best hand. In this instance, using our pocket cards and the flop cards, our best hand is respectable two pair of eights and sixes, with a high card King.

As a player has already raised, you have the following options: (1) fold, (2) call 80, or (3) raise. These options are shown by the buttons in the bottom right of the screenshot.

To try demonstrate a full round of poker we have just decided to just call the 80 (the raise made by player 2), with the hope that we could take this round of poker to the next stage, ‘The Turn’.

The turn

So long as two or more players are still in the game, the turn will be dealt. This is the fourth card dealt into the middle of the table. This means that players now have 6 cards to use to make up their best hand of 5 cards.

Again, like at ‘the flop’ stage, the player in the small blind position (or the player closest to the left of them) will be the first to play. The round will then progress in the same way that was described within ‘the flop’ section above, with all players having the same options of available plays.

The round will only continue to the final stage, the showdown, if two or more players have put an equal value of chips into the pot, or if two or more players have checked their hand.

The turn in poker

As can be seen from the screenshot, a fourth card, the 10 of diamonds, has now also been dealt into the middle of the table.

Again, Player 1, in the small blind position, is the first player to play. As with the flop stage, Player 1 checked their hand. Player 2, who is in the big blind position, has made a bet of 84. Players 3 and 4 are no longer in the round (they folded on earlier rounds). Subsequently, it is now your turn to play.

The card that has been dealt, the 10 of diamonds, does not improve your hand. Your best hand, of the five cards available, is still the two pair of eights and sixes with a high card King.

You have the following play options in this situation: (1) you can fold, (2) you can call Player 2’s bet of 84, or (3) you can make a raise on Player 2’s bet. These play options are indicated through the buttons in the bottom right of this screenshot.

In order to try to take this round of poker into its final stage, the showdown, we have called player 2’s bet.

The river

This is the final stage in a round of poker. It is where the fifth and final card is dealt into the middle of the table. The same rules and options of play are available to players at this stage as within ‘the flop’ and ‘the turn’ stages.

The difference with the river round is that someone has to win the round at this stage. Therefore, if two or more players have put an equal value into the pot, or if two or more players check their hand, each players’ cards will be shown to the table and the player with the best hand will win the pot.

After the river is over, the next round of poker will then begin..

The River or Showdown in Poker

As can be seen from the screenshot above, a fifth card, the 9 of diamonds, has been dealt into the middle of the table.

As with the previous rounds, Player 1, in the small blind position, is the first player to play. This player checked his hand. Player 2, in the big blind position, again made a bet (this time of 153). Player 3 and player 4 are no longer in the round. Therefore it it now your turn to play.

The card that has been dealt, the 9 of diamonds, again, does not improve your hand. Your best hand, of the 5 cards available, is still a 2 pair of eights and sixes with a high card King.

In this river stage of the round, we have the following play options: (1) fold, (2) call, or (3) raise (as indicated by the buttons in the bottom right of this screenshot).

For continuity purposes, I again called player 2’s bet of 153. Player 1 also called player 2’s bet. As two or more players made the same bet into the pot all player’s cards that were still in the hand were shown. This is called a “showdown” in poker.

From the hands shown, it can be seen that player 1 had the best hand of the three, a straight from 6 to 10. You (the dealer) had the second best hand of two pairs, eights and sixes. Player 2 had the worst hand, consisting of a pair of kings.

Therefore player 1 wins the round and the pot, and the next round of poker begins. From review of what happened with this round of poker, it can be seen that we had the strongest hand after the “flop” and after the “turn”. However, because we simply called the other players bets and did not re-raise, we did not force the other players to fold. As a result of this, player 1 luckily hit a straight on the “river” card. We would need to learn from this mistake going forward to improve our game!

For the next round of poker, as play moves in a clockwise motion, player 1 will become the dealer, player 2 will become the small blind and player 3 will become the big blind.

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