How to Play
The aim of Texas Hold ‘Em is to win as many chips as possible by winning ‘the pot’ (the collection of chips that other players bet). The pot is won by either having the strongest card hand, built using the two cards in your actual hand and the community cards on the table, or bluffing opponents out of (or into) the game by making them think you’ve got a stronger (or weaker) hand. The person who manages to finish with the entire pot, i.e. everything that has been wagered by other players (and the winner) throughout the game, is deemed to have won the game of Texas Hold ‘Em.
Texas Hold ‘Em is played by between usually 2 and 10 players, ideally around a table (physical or virtual). Players take it in turn to deal the cards, with a ‘dealer button’ (small disc that says ‘dealer’) moving clockwise around the circle and showing whose turn it is. In many games of Texas Hold ‘Em, you’ll also see ‘blinds’, too – small tokens which also travel around the table clockwise and in front of the dealer button.
Once the cards have been shuffled sufficiently, the dealer will go clockwise around the circle twice until each player (including the dealer) has two cards in front of them. Each player can look at their own cards, but should prevent other players from seeing their hand. Once everyone has two cards (known as hole cards) and has had a look at them, betting can commence.
Texas Hold ‘Em uses a betting order, so the person to the left of the dealer usually bets first, followed by everyone else in a clockwise direction. If any player feels like their hand is worth playing, they can opt to check, keeping them in the game and effectively betting zero to proceed to the next part of the game.
Depending on how confident the player is with their hand, they can choose to ‘raise’ by betting more than what’s currently on the table. Other players can ‘call’ and match this bet to continue playing, or conversely they can simply ‘fold’ and withdraw from the round, forfeiting the chips they have already wagered.
The winning hand
Here are the possible winning hands in a game of Texas Hold ‘Em, ranked in strength order:
- Royal flush – A,K,Q,J,10 all in the same suit
- Straight flush – five cards in a sequence, all of the same suit
- Four of a kind – four cards of the same rank, i.e. four aces
- Full house – one three of a kind and one pair
- Flush – five cards of the same suit, not in a sequence
- Straight – five cards in a sequence, but not in the same suit
- Three of a kind – three cards of the same rank, i.e. thee jacks
- Two pair – two different pairs, i.e. two threes and two fours
- Pair – two cards of the same rank, i.e. two queens
- High card – when no hand can be made from the hands above, then the hand with the highest card in it wins.
It’s worth noting that if two players have, for example, a pair, the higher pair wins. The same applies to other Texas Hold ‘Em hands if two or more players have the same hand.
If no winner can be determined, then the pot may end up being split between the remaining players.
As mentioned, players can choose to bluff their way through the game, even if they don’t have a good hand (or they do have a good hand, and want to lure other players into betting that they don’t!). Bluffing adds a whole other element to Texas Hold ‘Em, and the best players will be able to convince others that what they’re holding in their hand is worth betting against / folding against. This can be done by using body language, speaking directly with players or by using certain betting patterns to try and convince others that their hand is different to what it actually is.
If a player is trying to bluff their way to a win with a weak hand or genuinely has a good hand that could end up being a winner, then they could end up giving the game away by displaying a tell. This could be something as deliberate as a smile, all the way to something subtle like a widening of the pupils or a barely noticeable twitch. Tells play a big factor around the table, but are all but eliminated in online poker.
Now that you’ve got the basics, it’s time to give Texas Hold ‘Em a try! Remember that you don’t need to bet every round, and to learn your strongest hands before wagering.