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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 It Works

Texas Hold’em can be played as a Limit or No-Limit game, depending on the specific game rules. This relates to the presence or otherwise of a cap on betting.

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.

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.

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.

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:


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.


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 just half a 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’s 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 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.


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 there is something called a Sit & Go, 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.

Common Hold’em Questions

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.

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