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An ace and king of hearts are shown in no-limit Texas hold'em.

Texas Hold’em is one of the most popular card games in the world and an online sensation. Since the early 2000s, Hold’em has taken on a life of its own, rising to become the poker game of choice for millions, thanks to its “simple to learn, hard to master” structure as well as its TV coverage and the iconic World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. Before you jump in to play for yourself, here’s a quick rundown of everything you need to know so that you can start stacking people.

How a Hand of Texas Hold'em Works

Texas Hold’em can be played as a Limit or No-Limit game, depending on the specific game rules. The term "limit" suggests whether a cap on betting exists. No-Limit Hold'em, with no cap on betting besides "all in", is the most popular way to play. 

  • Bigger Pots: No-Limit is vastly more popular thanks to its propensity to create massive pots and huge swings in action. That’s why the WSOP Main Event is always decided in No-Limit Hold’em.
  • 5 Community Cards: In Hold’em players are dealt just two cards face down. They will use those cards along with five community cards — which anyone can use — to create their best possible poker hand.
  • 4 Betting Rounds: Of course along the way there are a series of betting rounds so that players can place bets to make their opponents fold without even getting to see the five possible community cards.
  • More Skill Involved: What makes Hold’em so popular vs older poker games like Five-Card Draw is that it’s much easier to get an idea of what someone else is holding thanks to the community cards. In other words, it’s far more interesting as a spectator.

Here’s a breakdown of how an actual hand plays out:

Starting a New Hand

The game starts with posting the blinds, which are two forced bets to get the pot started. The two players immediately to the left of the dealer must chip in a big blind and a small blind, respectively. The big blind is generally twice the small blind amount.

Because the dealer function rotates around all players at the table in a clockwise direction, every player in the game will eventually be required to pitch in for both blinds, ensuring everyone is subject to the same rules.

Once the blinds have been posted, each player is dealt two cards face down.

Pre-Flop

 

It’s now time for the first round of betting. The player to the direct left of the dealer is the first player to act and action continues clockwise from there. Generally, poker players can do one of four things when the action is on them:

  • Check (Stand pat but stay in the hand)
  • Call (Put enough chips to call an opponent’s bet)
  • Bet/Raise (Force other players to commit more chips to play)
  • Fold (Throw your hand away)

Players will be somewhat more limited depending on the actions of the players in front of them.

Action will eventually go all the way around to the small blind and the big blind. If everyone has simply called, the small blind has the option of “completing,” which means he puts in half a big blind to take part in the hand. The small blind also has the option of folding and losing half as much as the big blind. The small blind also has the option of raising or calling a bet.

Meanwhile, the big blind is always forced to play so there’s no point folding unless there’s a bet in front of them. Conversely the big blind also has the option of betting.

When the first round of betting is complete, it’s time for the community cards to be dealt.

The Flop

 

Three cards are dealt face up, known as “The Flop.” These are what are called community cards and will be used by all the players in the hand to make a five-card poker hand.

This time around action begins on the player on the direct left of the dealer and continues clockwise until ending on the dealer. As with all betting rounds, players have the opportunity to check, call, bet, raise or fold on the flop.

The flop is one of the most important stages of a hand because it adds three cards to the mix and can drastically alter players’ starting hands.

The Turn

 

“The Turn” comes next, a fourth card dealt face up on its own, before another round of betting commences. Players are fairly committed at this point as there is only one more round of betting to come.

The River

 

Then “The River” completes the set, a fifth card dealt face up, revealing the complete board of community cards.

Players have the chance to bet for a final time before all those still in play need to show their cards. This is called the showdown. The person who can make the best five-card poker hand ultimately scoops the pot. On rare occasions, players will chop the pot if they have the same hand value.

Summary

Hold’em is a simple game in essence, but one that presents a challenging series of dilemmas for its players. While the rules are straightforward, especially after playing a couple of hands, strategy and tactics can take a lifetime to truly master.

Especially when there are no limits in play, the amount of money on the table can quickly get serious, and players with what are generally medium to strong hands often do fold early for fear of losing a bigger pot. It is in the interplay of understanding both the game and the betting side of Texas Hold’em that makes it such an engaging, tense, and altogether challenging way to play poker.

Of course, the first thing you need to do when learning the game of poker is to learn the hand rankings, which are as follows:

 

Tournament Poker vs Cash Game Poker

There are two major formats for Hold’em: tournaments and cash games. 

  • Ring Games: Playing for Cash: The oldest one is cash games (or ring games) where players are given a number of chips that represent cold hard cash at the table.
  • Cash Out Anytime: Players can buy in for as much as they want (although there’s a min and a max amount generally) and you can “cash out” the chips in front of you and leave at any point.
  • Buy More Chips Anytime: If a player loses all their chips, they can simply pay more money and get more chips. No one is ever forced to leave the game (provided they still have cash) and that’s what makes it a great choice for home games.
  • Tournaments: A Single Winner: Meanwhile, tournament poker is a newer variant that was pioneered by players at the World Series of Poker who wanted a way to define a single overall winner.
  • Chips: A Way to Keep Score: In tournament poker (which was originally known as freezeout poker), players pay a certain amount of money to get a defined number of tournament chips.
  • Freezeout Rules: Tournament chips have no cash value and once you’ve lost your last chip, you are out of the tournament. As the field dwindles players will eventually make it into the money (usually the top 10-20% of the field) with first place paying out a huge amount.

Finally, in online poker, there is something called a Sit and Go event, which is really just an extremely small tournament that begins when there are enough players. Sit & Go’s generally range from two to 45 players and take only a fraction of the time to complete.

Quick Guide to Poker Terms

Poker has a rich history in the backrooms of bars across America and the globe and it’s developed a diverse vocabulary of terms to describe the various actions at the table.

Fortunately, you don’t need to know the vast majority of those terms to be a good poker player. There are a few basic terms that you should be familiar with, however.

  • Check: Standing pat. Not risking any more chips but continuing in a hand.
  • Call: Matching whatever your opponent committed to the pot and no more.
  • Bet: Committing more of your chips to a pot and forcing your opponents to call, raise or fold. Betting takes away other players’ ability to simply check. In No-Limit a player can bet all their chips if they want.
  • Raise: When you are facing a bet from another opponent, you also have the option of increasing the stakes even higher by raising. At this stage players also have the option of re-raising, which can lead to huge pots.
  • Fold: Throwing your hand away.
  • Flop: The first three community cards.
  • Turn: The fourth community card.
  • River: The fifth community card.
  • Dealer: The player with the dealer button in front of them. They are the very last player to act after the flop, which is generally an advantage.
  • Small blind: The player on the direct left of the dealer and a forced half-bet.
  • Big blind: The second player to the left of the dealer and a forced full-bet.
  • Showdown: The time at the end of a hand where all players must reveal their holdings.
  • All-in: Committing the last of your chips to a pot. At this point, your decision-making process is over. Your opponents can call or fold.

Outs for Specific Draws

Many times in No-Limit Hold'em, players must calculate their odds of winning with specific draws. Whether yuo have a flush draw, a straight draw, overcards, or some combination of the three, it pays to know exactly how many theoretically winning cards remain in the deck. In poker, the theoretical winning cards remaining in the deck are called "outs".

Here is a table listing the number of winning cards associated with the common draws you'll hold in poker. 

SPECIFIC HAND NUMBER OF OUTS
Flush Draw with Two Overcards 15 Outs
A Straight Flush Draw 15 Outs
Flush Draw with One Overcard 12 Outs
Flush Draw 9 Outs
Open-Ended Straight Draw 8 Outs
Two Overcards 6 Outs
Gut-Shot Straight Draw 4 Outs


Texas Holdem Strategy Tips: Specific Hands in Flop Play

Whole books exist to give players Texas Hold'em strategy advice. Online poker training schools also exist for those who want advanced poker coaching. In this space, we focus on a few specific hands in flop play that new players find tricky. 

Texas Hold'em Strategy with Non-Vulnerable Monsters

Non-Vulnerable Monsters are premium hands that almost always win: a four-of-a-kind, nut full house, nut flush, and nut straight. 

  • Your main concern is getting a maximum pay-off.
  • Build the pot with small bets and raises. If you bet 30% to 50% of the pot, many players will either call or raise with draws and other weaker hands.
  • If you take action to build the pot, leave room for opponents to bluff. 

Poker Strategy with Vulnerable Monsters 

Vulnerable monsters are hands that win most of the time but still hold some vulnerability. Often, these are big hands that can be beaten with equal hands with a higher card: a low full house, non-nut flush, and non-nut straight. 

  • It's can be profitable to play these hands one or two ways. One, slow-play this hand until the turn, then bet if the turn card leaves you with a great hand. 
  • Two, jam it on the flop. Make a big bet on the flop. If you do, be prepared to back the hand with your whole chip stack.
  • Slow-playing in this situation lets you see whether a blank hits on the turn before committing your chips. The disadvantage of this strategy is you risk letting people out-draw you. 
  • Also, betting action dries up late if your opponent has only one card to hit a draw. 

Strategy Playing with Sets: Trips Using a Pocket Pair

Flopping a set when you hold a pocket pair can be tricky, especially if the board is highly coordinated with 2 to 3 cards that have flush or straight potential. 

  • If the board is highly coordinated, make a stand to shut out people quickly. Almost any card on the turn can be a scare card, so overbet the pot. Even 200% to 300% is not a bad play, because you still have a one-third chance of improving to a full house. 
  • If the board is uncoordinated, you can slow-play by calling or betting modestly. This works best if some cards are in the playing zone. 
  • Since it's a big hand, you want to leave room for players to bluff if the chances of being out-drawn aren't great. Consider your opponent's tendencies when leaving room for bluffs. 

Top Two Pair or Top & Bottom Pair

If you pair both hole cards, the strategy will be similar to flopping a set. You want to push players out of the pot if a board has a lot of draw possibilities and slow-play the hand if it doesn't.

  • Use modest bets or calls if the board isn't that highly coordinated.
  • If it is highly coordinated, overbet the pot to punish those holding draws. This is especially true if you have several opponents.
  • If you have a weak ace, make sure AK and AQ pay to chase their hands. 

Strategy when Flopping Bottom Two Pair

If you flop a pair of lower-ranked cards, the hand still has vulnerabilities. For instance, if you hold flop two pairs holding a 9-8 and the third card is a face card, many outs exist that could still beat your hand. 

  • Protect this hand by betting and raising, as it's still vulnerable to being out-drawn. This is especially true if a flush draw exists. 
  • If the board pairs on the turn and you didn't make a full house, you'll be in particular danger. This situation could also give someone a set, so be cautious in this situation. 
     

No Limit Texas Holdem FAQ

What does "no limit" mean in Texas Holdem Poker?

"No limit" means that a player can go all-in during any of the game's four betting phases. That is, a player can risk their entire stack of chips with any bet. If you raise the bet, you must factor into that decision the fact that your opponent might go all-in. If you have the bigger chip stack, then the bet is the amount of the other player's chip stack. If the opponent has the bigger chip stack, then the bet is the amount of your chip stack. In that case, you risk all your chips and could bust out of the game or tournament by calling. 

No-limit Texas Holdem is the most popular form of poker. The no-limit betting rule adds more risk to every bet, which more players prefer. The adrenaline rush of going all-in and surviving is huge. On the other hand, Limit Texas Hold'em is seen as a game of tactical caution and patience. 
 

Is No-Limit Hold’em easy to learn?

The core concepts are simple. You’ll basically want to memorize poker hand rankings and get accustomed to the relative strength of hands. Of course you can spend a lifetime mastering the game.
 

Do I have to use both my cards?

No. You can use just one (to complete a flush or a straight, for instance). You can actually just play all five cards on the community board but you’ll be just splitting the pot with other players in a best-case scenario. There are other variants of poker where you must use both your hole cards, such as Pot-Limit Omaha.
 

Can I just practice online and not lose any money?

Yes. Online poker is fantastic for learning the game and nearly every online poker site offers a play money version.
 

Can I wait for good cards?

Yes but it’s not always the best strategy. Really strong hands like pocket aces only come around approximately once in 250 hands so you’re going to want to mix it up with some less powerful hands.
 

Do people make money playing poker?

Yes. Poker is one of the few games in a casino where you aren’t competing against the house, you’re competing against other players on a level playing field. That goes for online as well. If you’re significantly more skilled than the other players, then there is a good chance you’ll make money. It’s still possible to get unlucky in the short term, however.
 

Is bluffing a huge part of poker?

It’s a significant part of the game but not as much as you might think. Movies and TV shows tend to emphasize bluffing but you could make an argument that math and basic deduction skills are much more important.
 

What’s a good number of people to play Hold’em with?

You can play Hold’em with just two people although that’s called heads-up and it plays slightly different than regular Hold’em. Most players prefer playing with a total of six to eight players.
 

What are winning poker strategies?

That’s a very broad question as there are almost limitless resources available online for improving as a poker player but here are some of the most basic tips to get you started:

  • Don’t play every hand.
  • Try to call less and bet more.
  • Don’t get too attached to hands, even strong ones.
  • Watch your opponents. Try to keep track of how aggressive or passive they are.
  • Play online until you feel comfortable with the rules.
  • Don’t worry about losing a hand or a session. Try to focus on the long term.
     

What is the difference between No Limit Texas Holdem and Limit Texas Holdem?

No-Limit Texas Hold'em is a form of poker where the rules don't limit how much you can bet. At any time, you can go all-in -- that is, bet your entire chip stack. If your chip stack exceeds that of your opponent's chip stack, you'll only risk the amount to cover their bet. If your chip stack is smaller, you risk all your chips. A player can't bet more than the lower chip stack of the two, meaning you can't push players out of the hand simply by betting more than they have. Otherwise, there are no limiting factors.

Limit Texas Hold'em can be played in one of two ways: Fixed Limit Hold'em or Pot-Limit Hold'em. Fixed Limit Hold'em is just that -- it has a fixed bet limit than can't be exceeded at any time during the hand. Pot-Limit Hold'em sets the limit according to the size of the pot. Your bet can't exceed the current size of the pot, which means the bet limit grows as the hand continues. 
 

How do you play no limits in Texas Holdem?

You play No-Limit Hold'em, abbreviated to NLHE on many online poker sites. Players can enjoy No-Limit Texas Hold'em in tournaments, sit and go events, and cash games online. To play, visit an online cardroom's homepage and select either Tournaments, Cash Games, or SNGs. Once on the page, pick the NHLE event at the bet level you prefer. You'll be playing Texas Holdem for no limit within minutes. 

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