Texas Holdem Rules

Texas Holdem is a simple game to learn: You can begin playing five minutes after someone has explained the game to you. However, mastering it takes a lifetime. Fortunately, because the game is so simple to learn, you will often find yourself opposing players who think an understanding of the rules is enough to compete. It isn't, but it is where we'll begin.

The game can be played by two to ten players, with nine being the most commonly dealt full game. Assume for purposes of discussion, the following situation:

  • A professional dealer is distributing cards but not playing. (It is possible to play the game at home with the players taking turns dealing the cards)
  • There are nine players in the game
  • The stakes are $10-20 (where all bets and raises are in the $10 increments for the first two betting rounds and in $20 increments for the final two betting rounds).

The game beings by the dealer giving each player one card. The person who received the highest card receives the button.

When the button's position has been established, the dealer collects the single cards, shuffles again, and now deals two cards (called the hole cards) to each player.

Before play begins, the first two players to the left of the button must post the blinds. Blinds serve a purpose similar to antes in stud games: They put something into the pot for the other players to shoot at.

Without some starting money in the pot, there would be little or no incentive to enter a hand without the best possible starting cards. Why risk being the first player in when your bet can't win anything? It only sits out there as a target.

Using blinds eliminates this problem. The first player to the button's left posts a small blind and the second player posts the large, or big blind.

With blinds in place, the player sitting three seats to the button's left is the first to act. He is already facing a bet: The person sitting in the big blind had "bet" $10. The third player can call the $10, decide that his hand is too weak and fold, or decide that he likes his hand and wants to raise another $10.

Each player, in a clockwise rotational order, faces the same decision. If the third player has folded or called, the next player faces a $10 bet. If the third player has raised, it is now "$20 to go," and later players must decide if they want to call $20, fold, or raise to $30. Once the action increase to a higher dollar figure because of a raise, it stays that high; by raising to $20, the third player has eliminated the fourth player's opportunity to participate at the $10 level.

Let's assume that the third player has raised $20 and that the fifth and ninth players call (the ninth player, the button, gets to last in the betting rounds after the first one.) In the first round only, the action (opportunity to bet) comes back past the button to the blinds, who now must decide what they want to do with their hands.

The small blind already has increased in the pot $5. If he wants to call, he has to put an additional $15 in. The big blind already invested $10 in the pot. If he wants to call, he has to put an additional $10 in. Each of these players also has an option to raise.

(If no one had raised, that is, if we'd changed the example so that there had only been callers to this point, the small blind would have had to put another $5 in to call or $15 to raise. Assuming no raise, the big blind could have checked or raised. Normally, a player cannot raise his own bet, and theoretically, the big blind is the person who made the first $10 bet. However, because the big blind has no option about betting that first $10, he is given the option to raise if no one else does.)

Let us suppose that the small blind decides to fold and the big blind decides to call. The pot has $85 in it: $20 from players three, five, nine, and two (the big blind), and $5 from player one (the small blind, who is no longer in the hand).

With betting on the first round complete, the dealer now burns a card (disposes of it face down, so that if it had been marked, no one could have benefited from seeing it) and then deals the next three cards simultaneously face up in the center of the table. These three community cards are called the flop and like all board cards, they belong to all players equally.

Because player two is the first player to the button's left still in the hand, he acts first after the flop. He can check or bet. If he checks, the next player's options are the same. Let's assume that players two and three check, but player five bets. His bet must be $10. Let's assume that player nine calls, but that players two and three fold. The pot is now $105 and we have two players left.

With a second round of betting complete, the dealer now burns another card and then deals a fourth community card face up. This card is commonly called the turn or fourth street. Player five has the option to check or bet $20 (hence the game’s $10-20 nomenclature: $10 bets for the first two rounds, $20 bets for the final two rounds).

Let's assume that player five checks, but player nine bets $20. Now player five (a tricky one) raises to $40. Player five is said to have check-raised player nine.

Let's assume that player nine calls the check-raise. Another $80 has gone into the pot, which now totals $185. The dealer burns one more card and deals a fifth and final community card face up. This card is commonly called the river or fifth street.

At this point, the players have received all the cards they are going to receive. As they ponder their final bets, they see what their best five-card hand is. They are allowed to use any combination of the two cards in their hand and the five on the board. This means they choose to use zero, one, or two of their hole cards.

Why would a player choose not to use his hole cards? Suppose, for example that a player started off with a very fine hand, K(heart)-K(diamond). Two kings, no matter what color, comprise the second-best starting hand in texas holdem and are usually bet quite aggressively.

If the final community board is J(spade)-10(spade)-5(spade)-3(spade)-2(spade), though, there is a spade flush on the board and neither of the two red kings is going to improve on that. If instead of two red kings, the player had owned the K(spade)-K(diamond), he would play one of his kings so that he would have a king-high flush instead of the jack-high flush that was owned by everyone in the game. If the final board was indeed a spade flush, and neither player had a spade, both players would be playing the community board as their hands, and the pot would be split.

Let's suppose that player five, who has already shown strength by check-raising, realizes his chances of trapping player nine for a second check-raise aren't good. He goes ahead and bets out. If player nine doesn't call, player five never has to show his hand; he simply collects the pot. If player nine calls, each player turns his hand face up, and the best hand wins the pot.

Why might player nine consider folding, and yielding his chances to collect $205 if his hand was best, after staying involved in the hand for so long? Suppose, for example, player nine had held 7-8 and had been encouraged by a flop of 5-6-K (giving him an open-ended straight draw), but failed to connect on his draw when the final two board cards were Q-J. In that situation, player nine would be silly to call another $20 with only eight-high in his hand-especially with three cards on board (the jack, queen, and king) that are frequently held in good starting hands.

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