How to Play Texas Hold'em

The object of Hold’em is to accumulate money. As in any variation of poker, money is obtained by winning the pot — all the bets made during the course of a hand. There are two ways to win the pot:

• Be the last remaining player — During the play of a hand, players will fold and forfeit their interest in the pot. You win if you are the last remaining player.

• Have the highest ranking hand — If more than one player remains after the last round of betting, there is a showdown. All remaining players show the contents of their hands. If you have the highest-ranking hand, you win the pot.

At the beginning of a hand, each player is dealt two cards face down— their pocket cards. During play of the hand, a total of five additional cards are exposed in the center of the table in three stages, creating the board. Each stage of dealing has a different name, and before each stage is a round of betting. There is a fourth and final round of betting after the last card.

The flop — the first three exposed cards.

The turn — the fourth card.

The river — the fifth and last card.

In Hold’em, cards on the board are community cards — they are used by all the players in forming their hands. Your hand is the best five-card combination possible using your two pocket cards and any of the five community cards. If the best five-card hand consists of the five cards on the board, that is your hand. Your pockets cards only matter if one or both of them improve what is on the board.

The recognized five-card combinations are summarized next in order of rank (the highest-ranked hand, which is the least likely to occur, is listed first). To reinforce the concept of pocket cards and community cards, a sample hand is shown for each hand ranking. Pocket cards are on the left, and the complementing community cards follow each description. Learn to spot patterns in the formation of hands. The use of community cards creates possibilities for hands in Hold’em that players of seven-card stud don’t think about. For example, in contrast to stud, it is possible for two Hold’em players each to have three cards of the same rank. However, it is impossible for two Hold’em players to have flushes in different suits. These new possibilities and new limitations are discussed.

STRAIGHT FLUSH — five sequentially ordered cards of the same suit. The value of the highest card determines the value of the straight flush. The highest-ranking hand possible, a royal flush, is A, K, Q, J, 10 (all of the same suit). 

FOUR OF A KIND — four cards of the same rank, such as four 9’s or four Aces. In Hold’em, at least one pair must appear on the board for someone to have four of kind. For example: if you are dealt two 9’s, the other two 9’s must appear on the board for you to have four 9’s. You can also have four 9’s if three 9’s appear on the board and you hold the remaining 9. If two pairs are on the board, it is possible for two players to have four of a kind. In this case, the rank of the cards forming the hand determines the rank of the hand (four 9’s beat four 8’s). If all four 9’s appear on the board, then all players have four 9’s as their hand. To win the hand in this circumstance, one of your pocket cards must be higher than anyone else’s pocket card and higher than the fifth card on the board. This illustrates an important concept in Hold’em — the kicker. A kicker is a pocket card that is not part of the combination but decides ties. If the fifth card on the board is higher than anyone’s kicker, all players have the exactly the same hand and the pot is split. 

FULL HOUSE —A full house is three of one kind and two of another. For someone to have a full house, at least a pair must appear on the board. There are several card combinations that allow you to have a full house. One is to have a pair of pocket cards that match one card on the board and an unrelated pair also appears. A full house also occurs with two unmatched pocket cards when one matches a pair on the board and the other matches one of the other board cards. For example, you have a two 4’s as pocket cards and the board has 10, 10, 4, J, A. (you have 4’s full with 10’s). Notice that in this case, you could lose to someone holding 10, A. They would have 10’s full with aces. That person could lose to someone with a pair of jacks who would have jacks full with 10’s. When multiple players have full houses, the person with highest three of a kind wins. The pair only comes into play when players have the same three of a kind. Given this board, a person holding A, 10 beats a player hold 10, J. Each player has 10’s full, so the pairs play and the aces beat the jacks. A less common way to have a full house is when three of kind appears on the board and you hold a pair in the pocket. Again, if two or more people hold a pair in the pocket, the highest pair wins.

FLUSH — five cards of the same suit. In Hold’em, at least three suited cards must appear on the board for someone to have a flush. Note that since only five cards appear on the board, it is not possible for two players in the same hand to have flushes in different suits. All flushes will be of the same suit and again, the highest card wins. For example: if three hearts appear on the board, a person holding A, 2 of hearts beats someone holding K, Q of hearts. If four hearts appear on the board a person holding an A of hearts, and a 2 of a different suit beats someone holding any other pair of hearts, since only one card is needed to complete the flush and their one card is the A of hearts. Having an Ace high flush is referred to as having the nut flush. Of course, if the board showed 3, 4, 5, 6 of hearts someone holding a 2 of hearts beats someone holding an Ace since the 2 completes a straight flush.

STRAIGHT — five cards of differing suits in sequential order. The higher the rank of the top card, the higher the straight. The highest possible straight is an Ace high straight (A, K, Q, J, 10) . The lowest possible straight is A, 2, 3, 4, 5 and is often referred to as a bicycle or wheel. At least three of the cards in the straight must come from the board. 

THREE OF A KIND — three cards of the same rank, also referred to as trips or a set. You have trips if a pocket pair matches one of the cards on the board, or if one of your pocket cards matches a pair on the board, or if three of kind appears on the board. Note that more than one player can hold three of the same kind. If a pair of aces is on the board, you hold one ace and an opponent holds the other ace, you both have three aces. If three of a kind appears on the board, all players have at least three of a kind.

TWO PAIR — two cards of one rank in combination with two cards of a different rank. This is a very common hand in Hold’em and illustrates a concept discussed earlier — the kicker. Suppose the board shows K, K, 3, 7, 5. You hold J, 3 and another player holds a 10, 3. Both of you have two pair, K’s and 3’s but you win, since your J kicker beats his 10 kicker. As mentioned before, it is possible for the top kicker to appear on the board, in which case the pot is split. Suppose for the same pocket cards the board showed, K, K, 3, 7, A. Both of you have K’s and 3’s with an ace kicker. Your J does not get to play and the pot is split. When comparing hands with two pair, the top pair determines who wins. Which brings us to another important concept in Hold’em — the overcard. Suppose you have K, Q in the pocket and the board comes up K, 3, 3, 5, A. The ace on the board is an overcard to your king. Your hand is two pair, kings and threes but you lose to anyone holding a single ace in the pocket, since they also have two pair (Aces and threes).

ONE PAIR — two cards of the same rank. If you have two pocket cards of the same rank, you have one pair. If two cards of the same rank appear on the board, everyone has at least one pair. Any card you hold that matches at least one card on the board gives you one pair.

HIGH CARD — If none of the combinations described can be formed, the high card wins at showdown. If players share the same high card, the second highest card plays and so on. 

SPLIT POTS - Suits are not ranked in poker. If two or more players have the same five card hand at showdown, the money is split between them.

A hand of Texas Hold’em has four rounds of betting. In a limit game (the most common form of Hold’em), the first two betting rounds are set at an arbitrary limit (such as $5), and the last two betting rounds are at twice the limit of the early rounds. All bets and raises must be in increments of the limit. Hold’em games are referred to by their limits. In a $5-10 limit game, the betting increments in the first two rounds are $5, and in the last two rounds $10. The flowchart on page 10 shows the four betting rounds and the possible decisions in each round.

Before any cards are dealt, two designated players must place blind bets to seed the pot. The player selected as the small blind must bet about half the smaller limit. Then the player to the immediate left of the small blind, designated as the big blind, must bet the full amount of the smaller limit. In a typical $5-10 game, the small blind bet is $2 and the big blind bet is $5. After each hand, the blind positions shifts by one seat.

Round 1:
After the Deal - The first round of betting occurs after all players are dealt their pocket cards. Betting begins with the player to the immediate left of the big blind, who must call, meaning match the big blind bet in order to stay in the game. Betting proceeds to the left. To stay in the game, each player must call the current bet. All players, including the blinds, have the option of raising when it is their turn. Raises, which are a match and increase of the previous bet, are in increment of the big blind bet (if $5 is the blind bet, then all raises are in increments of $5). Usually, raises are capped at three: if three raises have been made, no further raising is allowed. When play reaches the small blind, that player must make up the difference between the small and big blind bets plus any raises to stay in the game. The big blind player has the option to raise (if the cap has not been reached) after all the other players have acted.

Round 2:
After the Flop - After betting on the pocket cards is complete, the dealer exposes the first three community cards (the flop) on the table. In a $5-10 game, bets and raises after the flop are again in $5 increments. Betting starts with the small blind and continues to the left. The small blind may either bet or check (pass on making a bet). Because each player has the option of checking, it is possible for everyone to check after the flop, which will result in no additional money going into the pot. If a player checks and later on someone bets, that player gets another turn to call the bet or even raise. Raising after checking is a play referred to as a check-raise. Once a bet is made, all players must at least call the bet to stay in the game, and raising is an option. To stay in the game, a player must call all bets and raises, which results in all remaining players contributing equally to the pot.

Round 3:
After the Turn - After betting on the flop, a fourth card (the turn) is exposed on the board. Play again starts with the small blind who either checks or bets. As play proceeds to the left the increments for bets and raises are double. In a $5-$10 game, bets are $10 after the turn card and raises are in increments of $10.

Round 4: 
At the River - After the third round of betting, the fifth card (the river card) is exposed. There is a final round of betting at the same level as the turn card. If more than one player remains after the fourth round of betting, there is a showdown. The player with the highest-ranking hand wins the pot.

Hold’em has a small number of starting hands.- Only 169 unique starting hands exist since many of the initial two-card combinations are equivalent. All suits are considered equal so hands such as AJ and A J are same, and likewise suited combinations such as A J, A J are also the same hand.

Hold’em is a fixed position game - Position refers to the order in which players act in a round of betting. During a Hold’em hand your position does not change. The small blind always acts first, the big blind second, the player to the left of the blinds next and so on. In stud games position changes as the cards are dealt since the player with the highest exposed cards acts first. Position is important because in all forms of poker it is advantageous to act last in a round of betting. Your position at the start of a hand of Hold’em stays the same for all four rounds of betting, conferring either a permanent advantage or disadvantage.

In Hold’em it is possible to have the nuts - The nuts is the highest possible hand that can be formed with a given set of community cards. For example, if you hold K K and the board has K 10 7 5 2 , you can bet and raise to the maximum, knowing that you cannot be beat. No straights or flushes can be formed from this board, and without a pair neither can a full house or four of a kind. Your three kings are the nuts. Suppose instead with the same hand K K the board has A A K 7 3. Even though you have a much higher hand than in the previous situation, (kings full with aces), you can be beat. Someone holding A K wins with aces full, but that is not the nuts. In this case, the nuts is A A.

Winner takes all - In Hold’em, the highest ranking hand wins the pot. It is not a split-pot game like some variations of poker. Split pots in Hold’em only occur if two or more players have identical high hands at the showdown.

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