Get Started with the Rules of Texas Hold ‘Em Poker

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The popular single-table poker game Texas Hold ‘Em is played with a standard 52-card deck and by between two and 10 players. There are several possible variations to the rules, but this introduction gives a good outline of the basic principles and a simple guide to getting started.

There may be a croupier to act as dealer, but often the players take turns as rotating dealers. The dealer is marked by a button placed on the table in front of them. The deck is shuffled before play begins, and cards are dealt from the top of the deck.

Each hand involves several rounds of betting and cards dealt in several stages. To begin, each player gets two cards. These are their pocket cards, and they can be used only by the player holding them. One round of betting follows when the hole cards are dealt.

The dealer will also deal community or table cards. These are placed face-up on the middle of the table and can be used by any player as part of their hand.

The community cards are dealt in three stages with a round of betting after each stage. The first stage deals three table cards and is called the flop. The second and third stages are one card each and are known as the turn and the river, respectively.

By the last round of betting, each player will have two pocket cards and five community cards from which to form their best five-card poker hand. The ranking of hands is a separate topic that won’t be dealt with here but should be studied carefully.

The Blinds

Two forced bets start the betting, one twice the size of the other. The players have not yet been dealt any cards, so they are said to be betting blind. For this reason, these two bets are called blinds. Players take turns as the small and big blinds, starting with the two players seated immediately to the dealer’s left and again marked with buttons on the table. These blind bets ensure that there is something in the pot to play for.

The size of the blinds relates to the size of the stakes for the game, generally with each player buying in to join the game at 100 times the amount of the big blind. That means to join a game with blinds of 10¢ and 20¢, a player would need to have at least $20 to play with. Poker is sometimes played no-limits, but in many cases, the size of the stake will also determine the maximum size of bets, including the blinds.

With the blind bets in the pot, the dealer deals to their left and clockwise around the table, giving each player a single card at a time until each player at the table has two cards. These two cards are called their hole or pocket cards.

The First Round of Betting

The first full round of betting begins. First to bet is the player seated immediately to the left of the big blind, and betting moves clockwise around the table. The first player to bet can fold, which means withdrawing from that hand; call, by placing a bet that matches the big blind; or raise, by placing a bet that is double the size of the big blind.

Subsequent players have the same betting options, but if another player has already raised, then a call by a subsequent player must match that raised amount and not just the initial big blind. To raise, the subsequent player must add another bet to the already raised amount, that is, increase it by the amount of the big blind. This means that if the big blind is 20¢, the first raise is a 40¢ bet, the second raise is 60¢, and so on.

This round of betting continues until each player, including the small and big blinds, has had an opportunity to bet. The amounts placed by the blinds as their blind bets can count toward any amount they need to wager in order to stay in the game. For example, if the small blind had put 10¢ in the pot as a blind bet but wanted to call an existing raised bet of 60¢, they would only have to add 50¢ to their bet. Similarly, if no raise had been made and the big blind wanted to call, they would not have to add anything as they have already bet the required amount. Such a call by the big blind is referred to as a check.

The Flop

With the first round of betting complete, the dealer will discard one card, placing it face down on the table. This is known as burning the card. The dealer then places three cards face up in the center of the table. These three cards are called the flop, and they are table or community cards. Community cards can be used by any player, along with their two pocket cards, to form their best five-card hand.

The second round of betting begins with the first player to the dealer’s left who still has a hand in play. In this round, each player can check or bet. As long as no bet has yet been made in the round, calling is essentially free, and so, as with the big blind in the first round of bets, it is referred to as checking. This is the case until someone makes a bet. Any subsequent players in the round must then call by matching the bet made, raise that existing bet, or fold.

The Turn

Once the second round of betting is finished, the dealer again burns one card by placing it face down on the table. They then place one card face up in the center of the table, beside the three flop cards. This fourth community card is known as the turn, and it, too, can be used by any player as part of their best five-card hand.

In this third round of betting, the limits are usually doubled. That is, if the big blind was 20¢ and subsequent raises had therefore been increasing in increments of 20¢ in the first two rounds of bets, that increment is increased at the turn to 40¢.

Betting on the turn begins with the first player to the dealer’s left who is still in play. Betting in this round follows a similar pattern to that after the flop. Players can check unless a bet has been made, in which case they must call, raise or fold.

The River

As soon as the third round of betting is complete, the dealer burns another card and deals one more community card face up beside the others. This fifth table card is referred to as the river. Each player now has seven cards in play, that is, their two pocket or hole cards and the five table cards.

A fourth and final round of betting takes place. This round follows the same pattern as betting at the turn and usually with the same limits.

The Showdown

If more than one player survives after the final round of betting, those surviving players show their pocket cards, beginning with the last player to bet on the river. If no bet was placed on the river, then the sequence instead begins to the dealer’s left and moves clockwise around the table. A losing player may concede the hand and discard their cards without showing them.

The player with the best five-card hand selected from their two hole cards and the five community cards is the winner of the pot. If there is a tie, the pot is split evenly between the winning hands.

Playing the Game

With four rounds of betting, there are plenty of chances to bluff and second-guess. This is what makes Texas Hold ‘Em so appealing to skilled players, but the simplicity of the basic rules of the game means it remains accessible for novices.

There are many variations on the rules of Texas Hold ‘Em. It can be played with or without betting limits, for example. Sometimes, as in what is called heads-up play, the order of betting and dealing differs.

There are also tactical nuances, such as how betting is affected by the player’s position in the order of bets. For example, the first person to bet in each round, a position known as under the gun, will often bet conservatively.

Learning these variations and exploring the complexity of the game is part of the fun of Texas Hold ‘Em, and the best way to learn the game is to play it.

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