How to play
Driven by the popularity of televised poker, Texas Hold’em (more commonly, ‘Hold’em’) has become the world’s most popular poker game, both in live casinos and online at PokerStars. We’ll go into more detail below, but here are the key points you need to know:
- Every player is dealt two cards, for their eyes only
- The dealer spreads five cards – three at once, then another, then another – which can be used by all players to make their best possible five-card hand
- Before and after each card(s) is revealed, players take turns to bet. To stay in the hand and see the next card, all players must have put the same amount of chips in the pot as each other
- The best poker hand wins the pot
It’s a simple game to learn, yet has the potential to be played with a seemingly infinite variety of strategies, tactics and nuance.
The Rules of Texas Hold’em
Before you begin playing Hold’em, you’ll want to learn the rules. In Hold’em, each player is dealt two private cards (known as ‘hole cards’) that belong to them alone. Five community cards are dealt face-up, to form the ‘board’. All players in the game use these shared community cards in conjunction with their own hole cards to each make their best possible five-card poker hand. In Hold’em, a player may use any combination of the seven cards available to make the best possible five-card poker hand, using zero, one or two of their private hole cards. To view the rankings of poker hands, visit the poker hand ranks page.
The four major variations of Hold’em are distinguished from each other by their betting limits:
- Limit Texas Hold’em: There is a pre-determined betting limit on each round of betting.
- No Limit Texas Hold’em: A player can bet any amount, up to all of their chips.
- Pot Limit Texas Hold’em: A player can bet any amount, up to the size of the pot.
- Mixed Texas Hold’em: The game switches between rounds of Limit Texas Hold’em and No Limit Texas Hold’em.
Each of these Hold’em variations are available to play on PokerStars for free (play money) or for real money.
How to Play Texas Hold’em
In Hold’em, a marker called ‘the button’ or ‘the dealer button’ indicates which player is the nominal dealer for the current game. Before the game begins, the player immediately clockwise from the button posts the “small blind”, the first forced bet. The player immediately clockwise from the small blind posts the “big blind”, which is typically twice the size of the small blind, but the blinds can vary depending on the stakes and betting structure being played.
In Limit games, the big blind is the same as the small bet, and the small blind is typically half the size of the big blind but may be larger depending on the stakes. For example, in a $2/$4 Limit game the small blind is $1 and the big blind is $2. In a $15/$30 Limit game, the small blind is $10 and the big blind is $15.
In Pot Limit and No Limit games, the games are referred to by the size of their blinds (for example, a $1/$2 Hold’em game has a small blind of $1 and a big blind of $2).
Depending on the exact structure of the game, each player may also be required to post an ‘ante’ (another type of forced bet, usually smaller than either blind, posted by all players at the table) into the pot.
Now, each player receives his or her two hole cards. Betting action proceeds clockwise around the table, starting with the player ‘under the gun’ (immediately clockwise from the big blind).
Player Betting Options
In Hold’em, as with other forms of poker, the available actions are ‘fold’, ‘check’, ‘bet’, ‘call’ or ‘raise’. Exactly which options are available depends on the action taken by the previous players. If nobody has yet made a bet, then a player may either check (decline to bet, but keep their cards) or bet. If a player has bet, then subsequent players can fold, call or raise. To call is to match the amount the previous player has bet. To raise is to not only match the previous bet, but to also increase it.
After seeing his or her hole cards, each player now has the option to play his or her hand by calling or raising the big blind. The action begins to the left of the big blind, which is considered a ‘live’ bet on this round. That player has the option to fold, call or raise. For example, if the big blind was $2, it would cost $2 to call, or at least $4 to raise. Action then proceeds clockwise around the table.
Note: The betting structure varies with different variations of the game. Explanations of the betting action in Limit Hold’em, No Limit Hold’em, and Pot Limit Hold’em can be found below.
Betting continues on each betting round until all active players (who have not folded) have placed equal bets in the pot.
Now, three cards are dealt face-up on the board. This is known as ‘the flop’. In Hold’em, the three cards on the flop are community cards, available to all players still in the hand. Betting on the flop begins with the active player immediately clockwise from the button. The betting options are similar to pre-flop, however if nobody has previously bet, players may opt to check, passing the action to the next active player clockwise.
When the betting action is completed for the flop round, the ‘turn’ is dealt face-up on the board. The turn is the fourth community card in Hold’em (and is sometimes also called ‘Fourth Street’). Another round of betting ensues, beginning with the active player immediately clockwise from the button.
When betting action is completed for the turn round, the ‘river’ or ‘Fifth Street’ is dealt face-up on the board. The river is the fifth and final community card in a Hold’em game. Betting again begins with the active player immediately clockwise from the button, and the same betting rules apply as they do for the flop and turn, as explained above.
If there is more than one remaining player when the final betting round is complete, the last person to bet or raise shows their cards, unless there was no bet on the final round in which case the player immediately clockwise from the button shows their cards first. The player with the best five-card poker hand wins the pot. In the event of identical hands, the pot will be equally divided between the players with the best hands. Hold’em rules state that all suits are equal.
After the pot is awarded, a new hand of Hold’em is ready to be played. The button now moves clockwise to the next player, blinds and antes are once again posted, and new hands are dealt to each player.
Limit, No Limit, Pot Limit and Mixed Texas Hold’em
Hold’em rules remain the same for Limit, No Limit and Pot Limit poker games, with a few exceptions:
- Limit Texas Hold’em
Betting in Limit Hold’em is in pre-determined, structured amounts. Pre-flop and on the flop, all bets and raises are of the same amount as the big blind. On the turn and the river, the size of all bets and raises doubles. In Limit Hold’em, up to four bets are allowed per player during each betting round. This includes a (1) bet, (2) raise, (3) re-raise, and (4) cap (final raise).
- No Limit Texas Hold’em
The minimum bet in No Limit Hold’em is the same as the size of the big blind, but players can always bet as much more as they want, up to all of their chips.Minimum raise: In No Limit Hold’em, the raise amount must be at least as much as the previous bet or raise in the same round. As an example, if the first player to act bets $5 then the second player must raise a minimum of $5 (total bet of $10).
Maximum raise: The size of your stack (your chips on the table).
In No Limit Hold’em, there is no ‘cap’ on the number of raises allowed.
- Pot Limit Texas Hold’em
The minimum bet in Pot Limit Hold’em is the same as the size of the big blind, but players can always bet up to the size of the pot.Minimum raise: The raise amount must be at least as much as the previous bet or raise in the same round. As an example, if the first player to act bets $5 then the second player must raise a minimum of $5 (total bet of $10).
Maximum raise: The size of the pot, which is defined as the total of the active pot plus all bets on the table plus the amount the active player must first call before raising.
Example: If the size of the pot is $100, and there is no previous action on a particular betting round, a player may bet a maximum of $100. After that bet, the action moves to the next player clockwise. That player can either fold, call $100, or raise any amount between the minimum ($100 more) and the maximum. The maximum bet in this case is $400 – the raiser would first call $100, bringing the pot size to $300, and then raise $300 more, making a total bet of $400.
In Pot Limit Hold’em, there is no ‘cap’ on the number of raises allowed.
- Mixed Texas Hold’em
In Mixed Hold’em, the game switches between rounds of Limit Hold’em and No Limit Hold’em. The blinds are typically increased when the game switches from No Limit to Limit, to ensure some consistency in the average pot size in each game. The betting rules on each round follow the rules for that game, as described above.