There are numerous versions of poker available, but the one that has risen to the very top of the heap over the past couple of decades is known as Texas Hold ‘Em. It’s the most popular and most competitive form of poker around and it’s known for being fairly accessible to beginners – though it’s far from being the easiest to learn. Five-card draw holds that distinction and it’s the one that even non-poker-players are familiar with.
Still, Texas Hold ‘Em isn’t difficult by any means, but you do need to know how the game mechanics work before approaching the table.
Here’s a step by step guide on how to play Texas Hold ‘Em.
Step 1: Placing the Blinds
Texas Hold ‘Em is played between fellow players, with each player taking a turn to be the leader after every hand. At the start of a hand, the player to the right of the dealer places a “small blind”, which is usually half of the minimum bet and the player to the right places the actual minimum bet called the “big blind”. Less formal games can also use the traditional “ante up” method where each player enters a minimum bet into the betting pool.
Step 2: Dealing the Opening Hand
The dealer starts by “burning” the top card in their hand (put it aside) and then deals two cards, face down to each player. These cards are dealt in a clockwise direction and players do not show their cards to the other until the final showdown. Upon looking at their cards, players place opening bets according to how good those first two cards are. So, for example, a pair of aces or two subsequent cards of the same suit would call for a much larger bet than two random, disconnected cards.
For this round and for each round of betting you have the following options:
- Place an initial bet if you’re the first one up – ie. sitting next to the dealer on the left.
- Say “check” to refrain from betting.
- “Call” to match the bet that someone else made.
- “Raise” to add more money to the betting pool. In which case, as you go around the table in a clockwise direction, the other players choose to either “call” the new bet or to fold.
- “Fold” if you don’t want to match or increase the bet of the player before you.The cards are then turned into the dealer face down to ensure that the other players can’t use what you have to their advantage.
Step 3: The Flop
Next up, the dealer yet again “burns” the next card and then places three cards face up on the table. This is called, quite strangely, “the flop” and each player can use these three cards to complete a set with the cards in their hands. So, going back to those earlier examples, if you have two aces in your hand and the flop reveals another ace, you will have an ace-high three-of-a-kind; if it reveals three sixes, say, you will have a full house; if the cards have no relation to what you’re holding like a 5, 7 and 8 of mixed suits, you will be left with just a pair of aces.
Bets are then placed again based on this new information with the same options as those in step 2. Some versions of Texas Hold ‘Em allow for the two cards in your hand to be replaced during this round of betting.
Step 4: The Turn Card
After burning yet another card, the dealer then places one more card face up next to the flop and each player can again use this card too to complete their set. At this point, it’s especially prudent to consider how these now-four cards can be used by other players. So, again, if you have a pair of aces and the flop reveals a 2 of hearts, a 4 of hearts, and a 9 of spades, and the turn card is revealed to be a 3 of hearts then other may well use it to create a straight, which will easily beat out your pair of aces.
Another round of betting then occurs with the same options. By now, “the pot” can be quite large, and if you have nothing you’re really going to have to decide whether to fold or raise the ante so much that others will fold instead (the infamous poker “bluff”).
Step 5: The River Card
Once again, after burning the top card. The dealer places one final card face up on the table. This card, called the “river”, is the final card that can be used to create a set. Bets are once again placed according to this final card, with the betting pool now higher than ever. In this round those who had been waiting for that final card to complete that set will probably fold if the river turns out not to be what they were hoping for or, again they may bluff their way through to the final showdown.
Step 6: The Showdown
Cue the Ennio Morricone theme from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, because this is it: the final “showdown”. Those who haven’t folded by this point will now reveal their two cards, starting from the player to the left of the dealer in a clockwise circle. The hands of each player are then compared by looking at those two cards and the five upturned cards on the table and whoever has the highest card combination between the two and the five cards wins the pot.
Players can make any combination of the two cards in his or her hand with the five revealed cards on the table and may disregard the cards not used to make the final set. Players can play using just the upturned cards but all players can do that so it’s mostly a very weak play. In the case of tied hands, the pot is split evenly between the winners.
And that, as they say, is that. Rinse, wash and repeat the six steps and you have a complete game of Texas Hold ‘Em on your hands. There are strategies to keep in mind, of course, but with these six steps in mind, anyone over 18 can partake in a round or twenty of the most popular form of poker on the planet.