If you have turned on a television and seen poker being played over the last 15 years, you are watching people play Texas Hold’em. This is the most common form of poker by far around the world, and with thousands of tournaments held every year in land-based casinos, and tens of thousands more online, it certainly doesn’t appear that the game is going anywhere.

If you have always wanted to play Texas Hold’em but haven’t for one reason or another, there is no better time to start than now! The concepts of the game are very easy to pick up, and while you could spend your entire life learning strategy, you only need the basics to start enjoying the game. We are going to use this page to give you the absolute basics of Texas Hold’em so you can feel comfortable playing at home with friends, online or in a casino.

The Basics of Texas Hold’em

The game of Texas Hold’em, as you can probably guess, originated in the state of Texas. The cattle ranches of that state featured a lot of poker playing back in the day, but games like draw poker used so many cards they could only be played with a handful of players. Wanting to get more dead money into the games, the idea of creating a game where everyone used the same cards to create hands was developed, and the end result was Texas Hold’em.

Let’s start with the cards themselves. Texas Hold’em is a game that uses the full 52 cards standard deck of cards, with no joker or wild cards. The game is typically played with up to ten players at a table, although you could add a couple more players if you wanted. The game is played with players trying to make the best 5-card hand. For the absolute beginners or those who need a refresher, let’s look at the hand rankings for poker (from highest to lowest):

  • Royal Flush: The Ace, King, Queen, Jack and Ten of one suit
  • Straight Flush: Any 5 cards in order of the same suit
  • Four of a Kind: 4 cards of the same number
  • Full House: Three cards of the same number along with a matching pair of a different number
  • Flush: any 5 cards of the same suit
  • Straight: Any 5 cards in numerical order, regardless of suit
  • Three of a Kind: Any three matching cards
  • Two Pair: Two sets of two matching cards
  • One Pair: A matching two cards of the same number
  • High Card: A hand that has five cards that do not match in any above combination

Every poker hand ends up in one of the above combinations, so when you are playing Texas Hold’em, you are looking to make the best hand you can with your cards.

Ok, let’s look at the gameplay now. To start, everyone has chips in front of them. The dealer switches spot every hand (a way to combat cheating in the old days), but if you only want to have one player dealing the cards, then the “dealer” is represented by an oversized chip. To the left of the dealer, two players are forced to make bets, called the “Blinds” as they are being made without seeing cards.

If there were no forced bets, then the game could go on for hours with no one making any plays. Once the players have placed their bets (the big blind is double the small blind amounts), then two cards are dealt face-down to every player at the table. These are called the “hole cards” and are not exposed to the table until the end of a hand.

Once everyone has their cards the betting action begins. Starting with the player to the left of the Big Blind, players have choices – they can “call” the bet (matching the amount of the bet in front of them), “Raise” (increase the size of the bet), or “fold” (do not bet and discard the hand). We won’t go into the hand rankings and strategies on this page, as we have many more detailed pages to help you with the intricacies of the game.

After all, players have made their choices and all the bets on the table match, the remaining players get to see some more cards. The dealer places 3 cards face-up in the middle of the table, called the “Flop.” These community cards can be used by every player in combination with their hole cards to create their hands. Once the flop is dealt, another betting round begins, starting with the player to the direct left of the dealer button. After all the betting is completed in this round, a fourth card, known as the “turn” or “4th street” is placed in the center of the table. Again, another round of betting occurs between the players left at the table (if someone bets and everyone folds their hands then the hand is over at that point).

A 5th community card is then dealt, known as the “river” or “5th street”. One more round of betting occurs, and if there is more than one person left in the hand at that point, then players reveal their hole cards to determine the winner. If there is a tie, the chips are split between the players holding the winning hands. After the hand is paid, the cards are shuffled, the dealer button moves one spot to the left, blinds are entered, and a new hand is dealt.

See, it’s easy to play, right? Now, those are the absolute basics of the game, but the great news for you is that there are some places you can play online for free or for very small amounts. We recommend that you play for at least a few pennies, as the quality of play in the free games is not indicative of how Texas Hold’em is truly played. We have compiled a list of some of our favorite online poker sites that all offer Texas Hold’em games that are great for novice players. Don’t worry, there are also games for those of you who are a little more advanced, but we have focused this list on the sites we feel give new players the best opportunity to learn the game without having to outlay too much money. Give the game try and then come back to learn some more intermediate and advanced strategy from our team of poker experts!