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Playing Texas Hold 'em

📄 Contents

  1. Learning the Basics of Limit, Pot–Limit, and No-Limit Hold ’em
  2. Assessing Your Table Position and Starting Hand
  3. Making Smart Choices Through Each Round of Play
  4. Summary
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This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

In this chapter:

  • Learn the basics of Limit, Pot-Limit, and No-Limit Texas Hold ’em

  • Learn to evaluate your table position and starting hand

  • Understand dealer position and blind bets

  • Learn strategies for evaluating and betting your hand through each round of play

Texas Hold ’Em has become the world’s most popular poker game in large part because television has introduced the game to a whole new audience through shows such as ESPN’s World Series of Poker, Travel Channel’s World Poker Tour, and Bravo’s Celebrity Poker Showdown. No doubt that the clever addition of lipstick cams, or tiny cameras placed under poker tables to reveal a player’s two-card starting hand, has helped make Texas Hold ’em more exciting than ever to watch, and easier than ever to follow and understand. For the first time, poker fans have an insider’s look at players’ starting hands, and can watch the drama unfold as players try to outwit and outmaneuver each other on their way to winning prize pools that might be in the millions. Because of Hold ’em’s newfound television audience, many fans are eager to make the leap from merely watching Hold ’em to playing Hold ’em online, in a home game, or even in a casino. This chapter covers the fundamental information you need to be able to "hold ’em or fold ’em" just like you see on TV.

To begin this chapter, you first learn the simple differences between the betting structures of Limit, Pot–Limit, and No-Limit Hold ’em. Next, you learn about how the basic game of Hold ’em is dealt—including how to post blind bets and the importance of being in the dealer position, also known as being on the button. This chapter also covers each betting round of the game, as well as the critical concepts of leveraging your table position and evaluating your starting hand. At the end of the chapter I include an easy way to roughly calculate the chance of making a hand by counting your outs or the number of cards left in the deck that will improve your hand. Being able to count outs in Hold ’em helps you make better decisions about which hands to play and which hands to fold, thus increasing your likelihood of winning more pots.

Learning the Basics of Limit, Pot–Limit, and No-Limit Hold ’em

Texas Hold ’em, or just Hold ’em, as it is known, can be played with anywhere from 2 to as many as 22 players but most casinos and online poker rooms seat between 9 and 10 players to a table. Hold ’Em is a Flop game, where three community cards (shared by all players) are dealt, or flopped, face up in the middle of the table. Players are also dealt two hole or pocket cards, which only they see. During two more rounds of play, two additional community cards are flopped. Players win by forming the best five-card poker hand using their two hole cards and three of the community cards. This chapter focuses on the three most common betting structures of the game, Limit Hold ’em, Pot-Limit Hold ’em, and No-Limit Hold ’em.

Texas Hold ’em is most often played with structured betting limits where the bets and raises are set at fixed dollar amounts, such as $2 and $4, $3 and $6, or $4 and $8, usually expressed with a "/" between. The first two rounds of betting and raises are exactly the smaller dollar amount of the agreed-upon bet limits, and the last two rounds of betting and raises are exactly the larger dollar amount. In casinos and online, you can find structured limit Hold ’em games in many denominations, ranging from those already mentioned to $5/$10, $10/$20, $15/$30 and on up to highs such as $100/$200, $300/$600, and even $5,000/$10,000!

In Pot-Limit Hold ’em, the minimum bet is a small fixed amount (such as $2 or $5) and the maximum bet is up to whatever is currently in the pot.

In No-Limit Hold ’em the minimum bet is also a small fixed amount, but the maximum bet is any amount of chips or money a player has in front of him at the beginning of the hand. Some poker players believe that No-Limit Hold ’em is the most challenging betting structure because a player can, at any time, push his entire stack of chips into the pot and declare "all-in." At a minimum, opponents must then match the amount (whatever it is) in order to keep playing the hand.

Understanding Dealer Position

In Hold ’Em, the dealer position is used to keep track of who bets first. One player is designated as the dealer in each Hold ’Em hand, although this player might or might not actually deal the cards; casinos, for example, use professional dealers. A small button or disk is used to identify the dealer position; it moves clockwise around the table each time a new hand is dealt. If you are the player currently in the dealer position, you are said to be on the button.

Posting Blind Bets

Unlike Stud games that use an ante, Flop games such as Texas Hold ’em are played with blind bets, or bets made by players before they have seen their cards. Some games use three blind bets to increase the betting action; however, two blind bets are most common. Blind bets are posted by the two players immediately to the left of the dealer position. Here’s how blind bets are determined:

  • The small blind bet is almost always half the big blind bet. So, for example, if the table limits are $2/$4 and the big blind is $2, the small blind bet is $1.

  • The big blind bet amount is almost always the low end of the table’s structured betting limit. For example, if the table betting limits are $2/$4, the big blind bet is $2. If the limits are $100/$200, the big blind is $100.

Figure 3.1 shows a typical nine player $2/$4 Texas Hold ’em Table on Full Tilt Poker. The player habs is on the button, and the two players to his immediate left have posted the small blind and big blind bets, respectively.

Figure 3.1

Figure 3.1 In this $2/$4 Texas Hold game, you can see the button that marks the dealer position (the small circle marked D) and the two players who have posted small and big blind bets.

The following table lists some sample table stakes and the small blind and big blind bets that would apply to those stakes.

Table Stakes

Small Blind Amount

Big Blind Amount

























Playing the Starting Hand Round

Before the Flop, and after the two players to the left of the button post their blind bets, every player is dealt a starting hand of two face-down cards, called hole or pocket cards. The player to the left of the big blind is the first player to act on the starting hand. This player is known as being under the gun, and has these options:

  • Bet or raise—Because blind bets are already on the table, this player cannot simply check (pass play on to the next player without betting). She must match or raise the bet on the table. A raise is an amount equal to the bet. So, if the table stakes are $2/$4, the player must match the big blind bet of $2 and add another $2 for the raise. Most games allow a maximum of three raises per betting round before raising is capped or stopped.

  • Fold or muck her hand—If the player does not like her cards and would prefer not to play the hand, she can simply fold her cards and have no further claim or obligation to the pot.

The play moves around the table until all players except the small and big blind players have had a chance to act on their first two cards. When play comes to the small blind player, she has these options:

  • Complete her small blind bet to a full bet and play the hand. For example, on a $2/$4 table, the small blind is $1. In order for the small blind player to play this hand, she has to add another $1 to her existing bet to complete the bet to a full bet of $2.

  • Raise the pot by completing her small blind bet to a full bet and adding another full bet for the raise. For example, on a $2/$4 table, the small blind player is in the hand for $1. If she wants to raise, she would bet an additional $1 to complete her original bet to $2 and add another $2 to account for the raise, making a total bet of $4.

  • Fold her hand and surrender her small blind bet.

After the small blind player has acted, play comes to the big blind player. Because this player has already made a complete bet in the blind, he has these options:

  • Check his hand because he is already in the hand having made a full bet on the blind

  • Raise the pot by making an additional full bet

  • Call a raise if another player acting before him has raised the pot

Playing the Flop

After every player around the table has had a chance to act on their starting hand, the next round of play—called the Flop—begins. The dealer burns a card, or takes it off the top of the deck and puts it aside and then flops three community cards on the board (the table). These three community cards now become part of everyone’s hands.

Betting action starts with the first player to the left of the player on the button and moves clockwise around the table. Players can choose to check their hands and pass the betting option to the next player. After a player does make a bet, checking is no longer permitted and all subsequent players must match the bet, make a raise, or fold their hands.

Playing Fourth Street, or the Turn

After all players still contesting the pot have had a chance to act on the Flop, the dealer then burns another card and turns a fourth card face up on the board. This card is known as the Turn or Fourth Street. Betting action again starts with the first player still in the hand to the left of the dealer button and moves around the table. However, on this round (and the final round), the minimum bet doubles in size; so in a $2/$4 game, the minimum bet on Fourth Street is $4. After a bet has been made, players must match the bet, make a raise, or fold their hands.

Playing the River

After all remaining players have acted on Fourth Street, the dealer burns another card and deals the last card face up, known as the River card or Fifth Street. Players now see all the cards that will be dealt in this hand, and they must make the best five-card hand out of the seven cards dealt (the five community cards on the board and their two pocket cards). The final round of betting begins the same way as previous betting rounds, with the first remaining player to the left of the dealer button checking the hand or making a bet. All subsequent players still vying for the pot must also check, bet, raise, or fold their hands.

After the betting round is complete, if more than one player is still vying for the pot, all active players complete a showdown and turn over their cards. The player with the highest poker hand made by using any combination of the five community cards and two pocket cards wins the pot.

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