Texas Hold'em Rules and Game Play for Online Poker

You've bought all the books – read everything the experts have to say about it – registered your brand-spanking-new online poker account. Unfortunately, getting quick and easy access to key bits of information is lost somewhere in the bottom of that pile of notes at the back of your desk.

Don't panic! We have the solution to your dilemma. This simple list of Texas Hold'em Rules and Game Play will calm even the most anxious online poker player.

Handy Glossary of Terms

You're more than likely familiar with many of the Texas Hold'em poker terms. However, when you're just getting started keeping up with them can be a bit of a challenge. It's a bit like learning a new language.

Fortunately, a lot of poker terminology has been transferred into everyday life. So, some words will be familiar to you already. Here's a handy, snapshot list:

Action: A player's turn to act

Blinds: These are the forced bets made before the cards are dealt.

Buck: A marker to indicate which player is the dealer button. Also commonly used in the sayings,”the buck stops here” and “pass the buck”.

Button: Dealer button. Player on the button is last to act post-flop.

Buy-in: Amount a player stakes at a cash game table or a tournament entry charge.

Call: To match a bet or raise in a hand.

Check: To bet nothing. A player on the big blind can also “check their option”.

Community cards: These are the cards that are dealt face up in the centre of the table and shared by all players.

Fifth Street: Aka the river card. The last card dealt in community card games.

Flop: The first three community cards dealt.

Fourth Street: Aka the turn card. The fourth card dealt in community card games.

Fold: To abandon one's hand and forfeit any money already put in the current pot.

Hole Cards: Cards dealt face-down pre-flop. In Hold'em these are also called “pockets”.

Muck: To fold or discard one's hand without revealing the cards.

Pre-flop: Anything that occurs before the flop is dealt is pre-flop.

Post-flop: Anything that occurs after the flop is dealt is post-flop.

Nuts: The Nuts is the best possible hand at any given moment.

Raise: To raise is to increase the size of the bet required to stay in the pot.

River: The last community card dealt which is also known as fifth street.

Showdown: In Hold'em this is when players reveal their hands to see who's got the Nuts – or the best five cards will suffice.

Street: A street is another word for a betting round such as fourth or fifth street.

Turn: The fourth community card dealt which is also known as fourth street.

Under the Gun: This position is reserved for the player located directly to the left of the big blind and first to act pre-flop.

The Basics

Texas Hold'em is a form of poker that includes the use of community cards. Unlike some other poker genres, the focus is as much on the betting side of the game as the cards being dealt.

In cash games the goal is slightly different than in tournaments, however this guide refers strictly to cash game rules. A Texas Hold'em cash game is played on a single table with as little as two players, up to a maximum of ten.

Here's a bit of trivia: In a live game scenario Texas Hold’em could be played by up to 22 players (44 player cards, 3 burn cards, and 5 community cards) sitting at the same table. However you would need a mighty big table to accommodate everyone. You would also need a dealer who is very adept at accurately throwing cards extremely long distances..

In online poker, Texas Hold'em is usually played on a single table with 9 players. The game centres around amassing as many chips as possible from the other players at the table. This involves many skills relating to betting, reading your opponents and disciplined pre-flop hand selection.

Got the best hand by the time the river card is thrown down? You win – simple.

There are three main sections to the structure of the game of Texas Hold'em. We'll start by listing them and then we'll go into each one in more detail.

  • Table Set up – In online poker this involves buying into a table and knowing the blind level
  • Betting Rounds – Knowing when it's your turn to act, pre and post flop
  • Showdown – How to scoop in your chips and WIN!

Table Set-up

You've made your deposit and located the Texas Hold'em cash game table you want to play at. Now you've go to make sure that the blind levels aren't too high to leave you with no ability to re-buy in.

Keep in mind that there are two blinds in Hold'em - a small blind and a big blind. The player directly to the left of the dealer button is responsible for always paying the small blind.

The big blind is usually double the amount of the small blind and is paid by the player to the left of the small blind.

The size of the blinds will dictate the stakes of the game you're about to get involved in. Normally, players will buy in for 100 times the size of the big blind.

For example, in a game with 10¢/20¢ blinds, you should be prepared to stake $20.00.

Once you've got your seat and are ready to play, it's important to know where the dealer button is. This button determines who is last to act in a hand (post-flop) and how many hands you will have to wait before being allowed to play for the first time.

Another bit of trivia: The dealer button was commonly referred to as the “Buck” in poker in it's early days. Players who did not want to deal were allowed to “pass the buck” or shift responsibility to the next player . “The buck stops here” is a phrase made popular by American President Harry S. Truman. In other words the President is ultimately responsible for their actions and decisions.

The button moves clockwise and at the completion of each hand it passes to the next player. Therefore if you sit down at a 9-man table and the button is directly to your left, you will have to wait five hands to be dealt in on the Big Blind.

But wait just one minute, a pop-up is asking if you want to post or wait. There is a second option to post or pay for a short round. It will cost the same as a full round of blinds or the price of one Big Blind.

Now you’re ready to get started

Betting Rounds

A hand in Texas Hold'em consists at least one and up to four rounds of betting. It ends when all but one player have folded or at completion of the final betting round with several players still left in the hand - whichever comes first.

First Betting Round - Pre-flop

Now that you have your seat and have posted the big blind, you'll be ready to receive your first two hole cards. After all players are dealt their first two cards, the pre-flop betting round can commence.

Starting with the player to the left of the big blind, each person must decide what action to take. This is done in an orderly fashion with each player having to wait their turn. The action moves clockwise back around to the big blind, who is last to act pre-flop.

The first player to act is also referred to as being “under the gun”. This person has three choices:

  1. They can choose to fold and put no money in the pot
  2. They can simply “call the big blind”, which means they must put in an amount equal to the big blind.
  3. Or they can raise – the minimum raise is two times the big blind in a No Limit Hold'em game. (In Fixed Limit Hold'em the maximum raise in this position is 2x the big blind. In Pot Limit games the raise can be more.)

Once the player under-the-gun, or UTG, has completed their action, the next player gets to act. Everyone has the same options as the first player. However if the first player had put in a raise, then any calls would have to include the current raised amount in the pot – and not just the amount of the big blind.

In No Limit Hold 'em (NLHE), players may bet or raise any amount over the minimum raise up to their total chip stack at that table. The minimum raise is equal to the size of the previous bet or raise. Any player wanting to re-raise must raise at least the amount of the previous raise.

For example in NLHE: if the big blind is 20¢, and the first player to act wants to open the pre-flop betting round with a raise they would have to put in a minimum of 40¢ (the big blind + one additional bet). If the next player would like to re-raise, they would put in a minimum of of 60¢ (the previous bet + the amount of the previous raise).

It can get a little confusing, but just remember the amount of the previous raise and double it to make a minimum raise. Any amount you throw in with your re-raise is just icing on the cake.

When all players have acted and the remaining players in the hand have each wagered the same exact amount, the betting round is complete. Both conditions must be met in order to proceed to the next round of betting.

Let's look more closely at a pre-flop betting round in the following example:

First Betting Round – Pre-Flop

There are Nine players at a full-ring NLHE table:

Player 1 - Button

Player 2 - Small blind (10¢)

Player 3 - Big blind (20¢)

Beginning of action in the betting round

Player 4 – Under the Gun (UTG) Calls the big blind (20¢)

Player 5 – Calls (20¢)

Player 5 - Calls (20¢)

Player 6 – folds

Player 7 - Calls (20¢)

Player 8 – folds

Player 9 - folds

Player 1 - Calls (20¢)

Player 2 - Calls (acting as the small blind, this player already has 10¢ in the pot, therefore it's only another 10¢ to make the call)

After Player 2 on the small blind makes the call, every player left in the hand has wagered the same amount. However the player on the big blind has not had the chance to act.

Player 3 - Checks (acting as the big blind, this player already has a full bet of 20¢ in the pot, therefore it costs nothing extra to make the call – also known as checking their option).

As soon as Player 3 has checked their action, the betting round is complete and we can move on to the second round of betting.

End of action in the betting round

Second Betting Round – The Flop

The second betting round starts after the flop is dealt. The flop is made up of three community cards. All players remaining in the hand can use these cards to make the best five card hand possible, by the river.

The game rules for the post-flop betting rounds are exactly the same as pre-flop – with two exceptions. The first to act in this round is the first remaining player to the left of the dealer button.

The second difference is that this player has the extra option to check (in addition to betting) as no previous betting has occurred in this round.

If they choose to bet it will cost a minimum of one big blind in our NLHE 10¢/20¢ game scenario. They also open the door to being raised and re-raised by initiating an opening bet post-flop.

Let's have a closer look at this type of scenario where the action can get a little crazy.

Second Betting Round – Post-Flop

There are Nine players at a full-ring NLHE table:

Player 1 - Button

Player 2 - Small blind (10¢)

Player 3 - Big blind (20¢)

Beginning of action in the post-flop betting round

Player 4 – Bets the minimum (20¢)

Player 5 – Raises the minimum (40¢ - previous bet 20¢ + the amount of a minimum raise 20¢)

Player 6 - Folds

Player 7 - Folds

Player 8 – Folds

Player 9 - Folds

Player 1 - Calls raise (40¢)

Player 2 - Folds

Player 3 - Re-raises (they already have 20¢ in the pot as the big blind). As this is a NLHE game and they are holding Pocket Kings they choose not to put in a minimum raise. Instead they put in a nice hefty raise - making it $1.50 to go.

Player 4 - Folds (their previous bet of 20¢ is now in the pot)

Player 5 - Calls the re-raise (matches the bet of Player 3 for a total of $1.50)

Player 1 – Calls the re-raise (matches the bet of Player 3 for a total of $1.50)

End of action in the betting round

Did you notice how Players 1, 4 and 5 had two chances to act in this betting round? Before Player 3 made their almighty re-raise all players had had at least one chance to act. However, Player 3's re-raise changed the amount each active player had contributed to the pot – by making the bet $1.50 to go.

Once Player 4 folds and Players 1 and 5 make the call, all betting round conditions are met and we can proceed to the third round of betting.

In some instances a player will put in a third raise creating even more action in a betting round. Just remember that as long as each player – remaining in the hand – has contributed the same amount and have had a chance to act in the hand, all is good!

More poker trivia: The four suits in poker are named after the old feudal class system in society. Spades are the Nobility; Hearts represent the Clergy; Diamonds are for the Merchants; and Clubs represent the Peasants.

Third Betting Round –The Turn

The dealing of the turn card signals the start of the third round of betting. The game play in regards to betting, in this round, is exactly the same as the flop round.

By the time the turn card is dealt, a poker player should have a strong indication as to whether or not they have or will have the winning hand at showdown. The chances of making draws are significantly diminished, so you've really got to be wary of how much you're betting, raising or calling on this street.

Many players have found themselves all-in on the turn with nothing but a weak draw – after making a bet that careened a hand out of control.

Fourth Betting Round – The River

A hand will make it to the river if two players or more have survived the previous three rounds of betting. The betting structure in this round is exactly the same as the previous two.

In NLHE games the river bet is often times an all-in bet. If there are no callers, the hand doesn't go to showdown and the all-in player wins the pot. If not, then the cards are turned up and a winner is declared.

Showdown

Hey, you've made it to showdown and you now get to reveal your monster hand and scoop in a massive pot. Not to worry, if you don't have the monster hand you'd hoped for, you can quietly muck it and no one will be the wiser.

In live poker games there is an order to how the hands are turned up, but online it is done automatically. However in both scenarios, if a hand is called on the river it must be shown in order to win the pot.

Evaluating Hands

In Texas Hold'em in order to win a pot you must use five cards to make the best hand possible. These five cards can be any combination of your two hole cards and the five community cards on the board. In fact, you are allowed to “play the board” by using all five community cards to make your hand and none of your hole cards.

The ranking of poker hands is fixed – there are no exceptions. A “Straight” will always beat “Three of a Kind”. Also, only the best five cards can be used to evaluate a winning poker hand.

For example:

Board is: Jc Kc 9h 2d Ts

Player 1 holds Qs Js

Player 2 holds Qh 2d

Both Player 1 and Player 2 have the King-high straight. The fact that Player 1 also has a pair of Jacks is irrelevant. Only the best five cards count towards a winning hand. So, in this scenario, both players will split the money in the pot – equally.

As soon as the winning hand is declared that player receives the money in the pot. The dealer button moves one spot clockwise and the whole process starts over. The blinds are posted and the betting rounds commence - one more time.

Will this be the round that turns a newbie into a Hero poker player? There's only one way to find out - put up your blinds and start playing.

A final bit of trivia: Although the Ace of Spades is considered the highest card in the deck, in Texas Hold'em the suits count for nothing in determining winning poker hands.

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