If you’ve flipped on the TV anytime in the last decade, from ESPN to the Travel Channel and all points between, chances are you’ve seen tables of twenty-somethings tangling over thousand dollar pots playing the game of Texas Hold’em. While the pros plying their trade on the small screen can make the game seem pretty complicated, agonizing over intense decisions and computing complex calculations under their breath, in reality Texas Hold’em is among the easiest forms of poker for beginners to learn. If the mere mention of flops and flushes leaves you befuddled, and you don’t know the big blind from the button, this handy guide to playing the game of Texas Hold’em poker will have you check-raising and calling down in no time.
The first step in learning any new game should always be acquainting yourself with the vernacular used by experienced players. Take note of the terms found in the following glossary of Texas Hold’em poker terms, because every hand you eventually play will include these key colloquialisms.
Now that you know the language of Texas Hold’em, following the actual action of the game should be a cinch. As the man once said, Texas Hold’em only takes a minute to learn, but a lifetime to master, and truer words have never been spoken. In that spirit, let’s spend the next minute or so walking through a hand of Hold’em together, learning how the game is played before we spend our lives trying to master it.
Whether sitting at a casino or at home playing your favorite online poker room, the landscape of a Texas Hold’em game remains the same: Up to 10 players sitting around a table exchanging chips on a rotating basis. When you take your seat you will purchase a stack of chips in conjuncture with the table stakes you are playing, with a pair of hole cards coming your way almost immediately after. Each player then squeezes their hole cards and takes a peek, committing the hand to memory before capping the cards with a protector. For this example, let’s say you look down to find the K♠ Q♠. Leaving the strategy of hand values for another discussion, sufficed to say this hand is one you would like to play. In this case, you next decision will be to simply call the big blind bet, which acts as the minimum bet throughout the hand, or to raise the stakes. In a typical $1-$2 No-Limit Texas Hold’em game, you should probably toss in at least $8 smackers to push other player’s off their hands while still getting one or two suckers to bite.
After you have placed your bet, the action proceeds in a clockwise motion around the table, with each player either folding, calling, or raising the last bet. When the action reaches the player on the big blind, and they make their choice, the preflop phase of the hand is finished and the dealer will burn a card before revealing the flop. If a raise has been made, however, and nobody elects to make the call, the raiser earns the pot right then and there and everyone moves on to the next hand.
The flop breathes a bit of life into every hand of Texas Hold’em, as every player still holding cards now has a wealth of possibilities at their disposal. For our running example, let’s imagine the flop falls with the K♥, the 10♠, and the 3♠. By matching the King-Queen you have as hole cards with the three cards on the flop, you form a pair of Kings with a strong Queen kicker. Upon further study you also notice that the two spades on board combined with your spades in the hole give you four cards to a possible flush. With a fairly strong hand already made, and the possibility of drawing to an even better flush, you will likely continue with this type of hand, but the decision to check, call, raise, or even check-raise, and the ramifications of each choice, give the game its trademark complexity.
After betting on the flop is completed, the action will repeat itself, but this time only one card (the turn) will be dealt. Again, this additional piece of information will compel each player’s next action, as they will either decide to bet their hand, release it to the muck, or forge onward with a bluff. For the sake of our fictional hand, if another spade falls on the turn you have made a king-high flush and are nearly sure to have the winner. On the other hand, if a blank comes off and you are left with your original pair of Kings, it may be time to consider a retreat in the face of strong resistance. The strategic betting to take place on fourth street is considered pivotal to many Texas Hold’em aficionados, because with just one card to come, most marginal hands can be bullied by big bluffs. Needless to say, the turn is a point where many players get burned by advanced maneuvers and sophisticated moves.
The final card used to complete your hand is the river, and as the name implies, this is where you will sink or swim. Obstinate opponents who held onto bottom pair can improve miraculously on the river, and the majority of grumbling about suckouts occurs on this card. When betting on the river has come to a close, the players remaining in the hand head to the showdown and turn their cards over to see who’s best. For imagination’s sake, let’s say the final board reads K♥–10♠–3♠–J♦–A♥ with two spades in our example hand. In this instance, you have missed your flopped flush draw, but with Broadway cards on the turn and river your Queen has materialized into an unbeatable nut straight. Going all-in would certainly be advisable in this spot, as nothing your opponent may hold can beat your cards.While the flop and the turn are certainly crucial streets in Texas Hold’em, draws are missed or made, and destiny is delivered on fifth street.
When the decisive showdown arrives, there are often minor disputes over who has to show their cards, and whom they must show to. Simply put, the player whose river bet has been called must turn their hand over, regardless of whether or not they are the winner. When a player’s final wager is called, their hand is effectively called out and they must reveal their hole cards to the table. However, when the action is checked down on the river, the first hand turned over typically determines if subsequent hands will be shown. If a player shows down the nuts, their opponents will usually opt to muck their cards, rather than surrender valuable information to an observant enemy. Lastly, during the showdown you should always turn over both of your hole cards, even when only one is being used to form your final hand. The edict of “show one, show all” is supreme in the realm of Texas Hold’em showdowns, so respect tradition and show them if you’ve got them.