You've probably heard the phrase Texas hold'em before. Even if you don't know what it means, exactly, you know it's related to gambling. You may even know that it's a poker game. Texas hold'em experienced a boom of popularity in the late 90s and early 2000s that put the game at the forefront of the gambling industry. Texas hold'em wasn't just an American phenomenon - the whole globe is now obsessed with this once-obscure poker variant.
We can think of plenty of reasons why a person might want a crash course in Texas hold'em. Texas hold'em is becoming a popular game for game nights, office parties, and family get-togethers. Where once you could count on a game of Spades or dominoes, you're likely to find people interested in dealing out a few rounds of Texas hold'em. If you're looking to learn the basics of how to play the game, and gain some confidence in your ability at the same time, this page was designed for you.
Included here is an FAQ and glossary, for total newcomers to poker and hold'em. Then we discuss the way the game is played. Our final two sections cover game strategy and additional reading we suggest for people who want to dig deeper into the world's favorite poker game.
What is Texas' hold'em? It's a poker variant that exploded in popularity in the late 90s thanks to television and the rise of online poker play.
Texas hold'em is a type of poker game. Poker is a broad term that doesn't really refer to a specific game - instead, poker is a game category. You can create totally new versions of poker by changing rules in small ways. We call these different types of games "variants." Don't be confused by the jargon - it's really just a fancy way of saying that Texas hold'em is a type of poker.
Texas hold'em involves several stylized rounds of play. It's also a head-to-head game in which players compete against one another. The house is not involved in the game, beyond hosting the game, and raking hands or charging commission or a flat fee for its operation. Texas hold'em is also a game of skill with a small element of luck. There's science to back this up; this isn't just our pet theory. At the highest levels of play, only about 12% of Texas hold'em games are won by the player with the best hand.
The name Texas hold'em refers to two things. First, we know this is a hold'em game. That means something very specific. Hold'em games involve holding the cards you're dealt, which you can't trade in for new cards, as in other poker game styles. Think of these games as those in which you have to use all (or a significant number of) the cards you're dealt in order to win. Hold'em games also involve the use of community cards, cards common to all players in the game.
The signifier Texas is a nod to the game's history. Invented and perfected in the Lone Star State, Texas hold'em now has a tight grip on the entire poker-playing world. The other common hold'em game also acknowledges its roots - called Omaha hold'em, its rules are similar to Texas hold'em, but different enough to warrant a unique name. If all this stuff is a bit confusing to you, don't worry - we go over it all in great detail on the rest of the page.
Playing Texas hold'em isn't illegal anywhere, as far as we know. Betting on Texas hold'em is very much illegal in some US states. In states like Arkansas, Utah, and Texas, playing a few rounds of poker for pennies in the privacy of your home is probably illegal. Having said that, America is also home to Las Vegas and Atlantic City, to say nothing of the Gulf Coast and the state of Oklahoma, all places with plentiful legal poker options.
It isn't accurate to say that Texas hold'em is illegal; it isn't even accurate to say that betting on Texas hold'em is illegal, because it isn't illegal across the board. If you have legitimate questions about the legality of any gambling game in your state, contact a local lawyer familiar with gaming law.
We can think of two big reasons why Texas hold'em is so popular - it's better than the alternative, and it got a huge boost from TV viewership.
Before Texas hold'em, the world's most-popular poker game was 7 Card Stud. Compared to that game, Texas hold'em is a work of art. First of all, only eight players could play 7 Card Stud at a time, which means not every player can make it to the river. It's a flawed game in that respect, and in a few others. 7 Card Stud is a very slow game, about 1/4th the speed of Texas hold'em. We're talking maybe 4 or 5 hands per hour at the highest levels of play, compared to maybe 18 or 20 for Texas hold'em.
When TV broadcasters got interested in Texas hold'em, they realized that it's the perfect game for television. Hands are much easier to see in Texas hold'em, with its smaller number of cards. That also means that hand analysis and commentary, sports-style, is possible. Texas hold'em isn't just faster and more visually interesting than 7 Card Stud, it make for better mass broadcasting. Just in time for communication innovations like Netflix and YouTube, Texas hold'em found a home in front of the cameras in a way that no other poker game has. As soon as you see those pinhole cameras revealing the player's cards, you're hooked.
Texas hold'em is a complex game. Before you read the rest of this page, and before you do your own research on the game, you'll need to know some Texas hold'em jargon. We've included layman's terms-style definitions for 52 pieces of game slang that you need to know before you play.
This section outlines how a round of Texas hold'em works. Texas hold'em has a stylized set of rules governing how the game moves from beginning to end. You need to be familiar with the way each round works before you place a real-money bet on the game.
Before we get into a detailed description of each stage of play, we thought it would be nice to give you a general overview of how the round moves. Texas hold'em starts with antes - two players have forced antes of a fixed size, called the small blind and the big blind. Every player receives two cards, dealt face-down. The goal is to use some combination of these two cards and the five community cards that will eventually be revealed a round at a time to form the best-possible hand.
How are those community cards displayed? The dealer reveals them in three rounds, each of which has a fun nickname. The first reveal is called the flop - it reveals the first, second, and third community cards at the same time. The second reveal flips over the fourth card, and is called the turn. The third reveal is called the river, and it reveals the fifth and final community card. Once all five community cards are revealed, the player with the best hand who hasn't folded wins the pot.
If you're confused - have no fear. We've prepared the Internet's best description of a round of Texas hold'em so that people who don't have much game experience can step up to the table with confidence.
LLet's start by discussing the button.
The button is a special token that determines which player acts as the dealer. In Texas hold'em, the player "on button", meaning the last active player closest to the button, will earn his cards last and make the last decisions. After each round is over, the button moves one player position to the left.
The dealer button also indicates which two players are the first to bet, by placing the responsibility of the small and big blind on them. The player to the left of the dealer button pays the small blind and earns the first card. The player to the small blind's immediate left then pays the big blind. Then the dealer starts passing out cards around the table, clockwise, until each player has two starting cards.
These two blinds are really just forced bets to open the pot. Without blinds, there'd be no money in the pot, and the game would get boring fast. In Texas hold'em tournament, blinds are raised at regular intervals to increase the stakes and speed up play. In most cash games, the blinds remain the same, and Texas hold'em games are categorized by the size of their blinds. You'll often read about $1/$2 poker or $2/$5 poker - these are the amounts of the small and big blinds, respectively.
After the hole cards have been dealt, the first betting round takes place. The first player to act in this betting round is the player to the left of the big blind. This player has three options - he can call (match the amount of the big blind), he can raise (increase the bet within specified limits), or he can fold, tossing his hand away and giving up the right to any winnings for this round.
In limit hold'em, you can only raise by the amount of the big blind. In pot-limit hold'em, the amount a player can raise is controlled by the rules of the game, and you can generally only raise by the amount of the pot size. In no-limit hold'em, you can raise up to the amount of your entire chip stack, which is called "going all-in."
AAll players after the initial player have the same three options - they can call, raise, or fold. If they choose to raise, the minimum amount is a raise equal to the original bet. If that's confusing, think of it this way - let's say you're playing no-limit hold'em. The big blind is $10 and the first player raises to $40. The second player in line to bet has the option to call for $40, fold and abandon the hand, or raise to $70, which is the first raise amount of $30 plus the call amount of $40.
After the first betting round, the dealer shows the first three community cards. Starting with the second betting round, and including every round after, all betting starts with the first active player to the left of the dealer button. Also, players now have the option to check if no betting has occurred before their position. When you check, you're basically just "passing" to the next player over.
The dealer reveals the fourth community card after betting on the flop is finished. Again, we have another round of betting, identical to the second betting round. All players still in the game have the option to bet, call, fold, raise, or check.
After the third betting round ends, the dealer reveals the final community card. We have another round of betting, identical to the two before it. Players still have the same options: to bet, call, fold, raise, or check.
This is an informal name for the final round of Texas hold'em that takes place after all betting action is finished. The showdown takes place between any remaining players who are ready to show their hole cards and reveal their final hand. The showdown determines the round's winner.
Poker strategy is a richly-textured thing, full of nuance and constantly being refined by the world's best players. We could write a million words on Texas hold'em strategy and still barely scratch the surface. Since this page is designed to be a crash course in the game, we thought it wise to stick to four basic pieces of strategic advice that any hold'em player can apply to his game regardless of playing level or experience:
You should raise when:
When you play Texas hold'em, you'll find yourself faced with the same big decision over and over again - to call or to fold? One way to figure out what you should do is to calculate your pot odds and your hand odds. When your pot odds exceed your hands odds, you should call. Pot odds means the amount of money in the pot divided by your call. Hand odds is the odds of you getting the cards you need for a winning hand. The ability to quickly work out if the pot odds you're getting are good or not is critical to advancing in your Texas hold'em abilities. You should only ever make or call a bet if that bet pays off over the long-run. Here's how it works:
Here's an example:
You hold 2 spades. Two more spades appear at the flop. 47 unseen cards remain, and you have nine outs, or nine out of thirteen unseen hearts left in the deck. So by the formula above, we divide 47 by 9 for a total of 5.2. Then we subtract 1, for a total of 4.2. To justify a call, there must be at least 4.2 of your bet units in the pot.
We think this aspect of Texas Hold'em strategy is so important that we geared the entirety of this strategy section toward it. All three of the above tips are basically methods of narrowing the field.
Most new Texas hold'em players think they have to start out by winning a lot of tough pots against a table full of players. While it's true that you'll win more when you compete against a full table, you'll also stand to lose more. Your goal should thus be to force out as many opponents as you can, leaving just a few people to compete against. We suggest that you attempt to win a large number of small pots, rather than a small number of big payouts. Always remember - winning regularly is better than winning big.
TTo narrow the field, you want to keep your play tight in early rounds by being conservative and observing the other players at the table. Eventually, with some practice, you'll notice their patterns, learn when they make big bluffs, and then use that information against them to win their chip stack. The only way to do this is to consistently narrow the field by selecting good hands, playing tight and conservative, and only attacking when you've got the table worked out. By mixing up your play style, you can confuse players into folding or acting against type.
This crash course does a great job of turning a person who knows nothing about poker into a person with the confidence to try their hand at the world's favorite poker variant. But it isn't enough to turn you into a truly powerful Texas hold'em player. For that, you're going to need in-game experience and some time to research the subject on your own.
To that end, we've listed our six favorite books on the game. These resources were prepared by people way smarter than those of us that wrote this crash course. If you're ready to turn your game up to eleven, check these six books out from your local library, and practice the techniques they teach.
At less than 100 pages, this is a petite knockout of a poker book. Sklansky's book was the first commercially-available text that focused on the game of Texas hold'em. At this time, Texas hold'em was an obscure variant played in a few places in the South, and in a few Las Vegas poker rooms. It's remarkable that Sklansky managed to publish an early strategic tome on a book played by a few thousand people. Not only did Hold'em Poker turn hundreds of thousands of people onto the game, it put the WSOP on the map. We'd like to point out that the original 1976 version is based on the old rules which only called for a single blind. If you want to read an updated version, you'll find the 1997 edition more to your liking.
The alternate title to this legendary text is How I Won One Million Dollars Playing Poker. That should tell you something about this book's style. Two-time world champion Doyle Brunson wrote this book in an attempt to earn a bit of money on his burgeoning celebrity status. Super/System is basically Brunson giving away the keys to the kingdom. The cost of this book ($100in 1970s money, or about $600 today) speaks to the value of Brunson's advice. It's a huge book, some 600-pages, with a thick black cover and a real attitude. Arguably the greatest poker book of all time.
Mike Caro has written more about poker in more venues and formats than anyone else alive. If you've never seen one of his speeches or attended a seminar, you have no idea how dynamic this guy is. This text is an update to some of his early writing on things like body language and emotion. The book includes a surprising number of photos and deep analysis of various forms of tells, with expanded sections of game psychology. Okay, so you may not find this useful in the age of online poker, but it's a foundational text that head-to-head poker players still swear by. All told, it's 300+ pages of charts, photos, and heavy analysis that teaches you to analyze your opponents as much as you analyze their cards.
The closest thing to a poker strategy dictionary that we have, Sklanksy's 1994 text is the result of twenty years of work crystallizing his first book on poker into something nearing a philosophy. It's a slim 200 pages long, but it's divided into 25 chapters, all stuffed with the basic strategy tips all players need to learn to compete. If you take poker seriously, you start by reading this book. The Theory of Poker is the high water mark for poker strategy, even twenty years down the line.
Harrington on Hold'em is the best-selling poker book in history, boasting sales north of 300,000 copies. Harrington's book gained some of that traction by appearing at the height of the poker boom, when major sports broadcasters like ESPN and Fox were televising tournaments. Harrington's book also gained some credibility from his status as a poker maverick and an independent thinker. Harrington on Hold'em was co-authored by game theorist and master chess tactician Bill Robertie, lending its strategy even more credence.
Jonathan Little brings together seventeen world-class experts on no-limit hold'em in this new text that seems poised to become one of the most popular books on the game ever written. Subjects covered include tournament strategy, notes on moving up in stakes, extensive notes on poker tells and game psychology, range analysis, and short stack strategies. The inspiration for the book was the amount of help the editor's had over the years from small informal conversations with some of the greats of the game. The goal of the book is to bring those inaccessible water-cooler conversations to the average player. Contributors include Phil Hellmuth, Mike Sexton, Olivier Busquet, Chris Moneymaker, Liv Boeree, and more.
This once-obscure southern-fried poker variant has captured the hearts of the gambling world. Free-to-play versions of the game are virally popular in app form, on smartphones, laptops, and tablets, and embedded in social media applications. Hollywood loves Texas hold'em. You can think of it as the blackjack of our generation, a fascinating contest that rewards skill more than luck.
Whether or not Texas hold'em will be the darling poker variant of the entire world for the next 25 years is unknown. But we know one thing - if you've read the four thousand words on this page and you've made it to the conclusion, congratulations, you're ready to play Texas hold'em. This crash course is designed to turn total newcomers into season poker veterans. You may not be ready to face down the $50/$100 tables at your local casino, but you're certainly ready to start researching and practicing on your own. So go ahead, download that app, practice the game, and build your confidence. You'll be hooked on the world's favorite poker variant in no time.