Unlike most casino games, poker involves competing not against the house, but other players. More importantly, poker is a game of skill as well as luck; someone who truly masters the ins and out of poker can be a long-term winning player.
In this first installment of How to Play Texas Hold’em, we will introduce the poker basics––what it is, the hand rankings, and how betting works.
What Is Texas Hold’em?
Texas Hold’em is the most popular variant of poker; it’s the one you’ve probably played with your friends or seen on TV.
In short, the goal of Texas Hold’em is to make your opponents’ chips your own. You do this by showing down the strongest hand or by making your opponents forfeit their hand somewhere along the way.
In Texas Hold’em, each player is dealt two private cards, called “hole” cards. The table is also dealt a total of five public, or “community” cards.
Each player will use these seven cards (two hole cards and five community cards) to form the best five-card hand they can. This means players can use any combination of hole cards and community cards in their final five-card hand.
Texas Hold’em Hand Rankings
From strongest to weakest:
Straight Flush/Royal Flush: A straight flush is made when a player has five consecutive cards of the same suit (for instance, 3♠4♠5♠6♠7♠). A royal flush is just an ace-high straight flush; for example T♠J♠Q♠K♠A♠. Statistically, a player can expect to get a royal flush only once per 30,939 hands.
Four of a kind: Four cards of any particular denomination. If, for instance, you are dealt 9♠9♥ and 9♣9♦2♦ comes out on the flop, you have “flopped” four of a kind.
Full House: A five-card hand comprising three of a kind and a pair. If your final five-card hand contains Q♠Q♣Q♦T♦T♥, for instance, you have a full house.
Flush: Unlike a straight flush, a flush requires any five cards of the same suit (no need for them to be consecutive). An example of a flush could be a hand like Q♠9♠8♠3♠2♠ or T♦8♦5♦4♦2♦.
Straight: Any five consecutive cards (do not need to be the same suit). For example, Q♠J♣T♦9♦8♥ makes a straight.
Three of a Kind: Three cards of the same denomination. For instance, 9♠9♥9♣7♦2♠ makes three-of-a-kind nines.
Two Pair: Made by having two separate pairs. If you have K♠K♣J♦J♦2♥, for example, you have two pair.
Pair: Two cards of the same denomination. You can make a pair using your hole cards, the community cards, or a combination.
High Card: When no hand is made, the hand with the highest denominated cards wins it. For instance, A♠K♣7♦5♦3♥ (ace-high) beats K♠J♣8♦6♦2♥ (king-high).
In Texas Hold’em it’s common for multiple players to make the same hand, e.g. a pair of tens.
In this case, the player who has the highest “kicker” will win the hand. A kicker is a card that was not used directly in making the pair, but is still used in forming the best five-card hand.
If you have A♠T♣ and another player has K♠T♠, what happens if you both make a pair of tens with the community cards? You would have the better hand, as your ace “kicker” is higher than the king.
How Does Betting Work?
Now that we know what hands we want to make, it’s time to learn how to bet.
In Texas Hold’em, there are four possible rounds of betting.
The first round, termed “preflop,” commences after all the players have been dealt their hole cards – though community cards are yet to be dealt. This round of betting is fully based on the strength of one’s hole cards, as no other information is known.
After the preflop betting round, players who did not fold their hands continue to the flop. The flop is the first three community cards dealt. After this, players have another chance to bet.
After the flop betting round, a fourth community card, known as the “turn” (or Fourth Street), hits the board.
Another round of betting comes after the turn. With this new information, players have another chance to bet on the value of their hands.
The final round of betting comes after the “river” (aka Fifth Street)––the fifth and last community card. Now, with all the cards known, players can make a final bet, hoping to have made the strongest hand and take down the pot.
Betting is, of course, not the only thing poker players can do.
On each of the four rounds of betting, players have the choice to check, bet, call, raise, or fold. If the first action in a round of betting is on Player 1, what are his options?
He can “check,” which would move the action to Player 2, or he can bet. If Player 1 decides to bet $10, what are Player 2’s possible actions? She can fold (forfeiting her hand and the pot); she can call (matching Player 1’s $10 bet) and see another card; or she can raise (upping the stakes on Player 1’s bet to, say, $30).
Rounds of betting like the above will continue until showdown on the river, or until all but the winning player have folded their hands. In either case, the winning player gets to take down the whole pot.