Texas Hold'em Rules

Hold'em poker (a.k.a. ‘Texas Hold'em’) is the most popular poker game around and the one most seen and talked about on television and elsewhere. There are 3 types of Hold'em games:

I. Limit Hold'em - specific betting limit applied to each game and each round
II. Pot Limit Hold'em - players can bet what’s in the pot
III. No Limit Hold'em - players can bet all of their chips at any time

Hold'em poker generally employs what is referred to as a “dealer button” to identify the imaginary dealer of each hand. After each hand, just like in standard poker, the “button” moves clockwise to the next active player. This player will then be considered “dealer” for that hand. As a rule - unless otherwise stated - a single deck of cards is used; 52 cards, excluding the jokers.

1st round

A new game begins with the 1st person sitting at the table as the dealer and the following player—seated to the dealer’s left—putting up what’s referred to as “the small blind.”

***(The small blind is formally equal to ½ of the lower stake at any given table, but this is simply a guideline and not a unbendable rule. What usually happens is that the small blind is rounded down to the nearest whole dollar. So, if you’re playing at a $5/$10 Hold'em table for example, you would expect the small blind to be $2.50. But actually, the small blind would only be $2. Different procedures apply to different tables, so be sure you know what’s expected of you. This ‘rounding down’ concept, however, is very typical in most online poker rooms.)***

The player to the left of the small blind must post “the big blind;” equal to the lower stake limit. In certain situations it’s ok for more than one player to post a big blind in a hand. This can happen if a new player joins a table at which a game is already under way. The new player gets the option of placing a big blind at the start of the next hand or waiting for his or her turn (depending on the movement of the button) to place the big blind in turn.

***(Just as a reminder, all of the blinds in Hold'em poker are considered live bets and the players who post them have the option of checking, calling, raising or folding when the action returns to them.)***

After the blinds have been laid down, the down cards/hole cards are dealt to each active player. In Hold'em, 2 cards are dealt to each of the players, after which the first betting round begins. The player to the left of the player who placed the big blind starts the betting for the round. Each player now has the option to place his or her bets in the 1st round, in which the values are set at the lower limit of the stake structure. For example, in a $10/$20 Hold'em game, the cost of each bet is $10 for the first round. When we say that the bets are limited to $10, it refers to a SINGLE BET. In other words, a regular bet is $10 but a raise would be $20, since it encompasses one additional bet and a call on a player’s previous bet.

Bets can be placed accordingly: 1) betting, 2) calling and 3) raising. Each player also has the alternative to fold if he/she chooses to do so. These options are available to each player depending on the action taken by the player before. The 1st player to act in the 1st round sits to the left of the big blind, and naturally gets the bet, call and raise options before anyone else. Subsequent players have solely the options of call and raise. Remember, calling means betting the same as what the previous player has bet. Raising means raising whatever the bet/call amount of the previous player, and can be calculated based on the value of the previous bet. Every player participating in the hand should place the same bet amount as the previous players (including bets, calls and raises). The betting will continue until all players have placed equal amounts in the pot. There is, however, a limit on the amount and the number of bets a player can place during a single betting round. Check other pages in Rules section for details on this. After the 1st round of betting is over, the 3 community cards—A.K.A., “the flop”—are dealt. All players participating in the hand share these cards.

2nd round:

After the flop and in each subsequent betting round, the first active player to the left of the button, or dealer, is first to act. And just like in the first round, the second round limits the value of bets and raises to the lower limit of the stake structure. In a $10/$20 game, then, each bet is $10 for the second round, and raises are again at $20.

After the bets have been made, the fourth community card is dealt. This one’s known as “the turn.”

3rd round:

The 3rd betting round starts again with the player to the left of the button, but bets and raises are now moved to the upper limit of the stake structure (at a $10/$20 table, $20 would be the upper limit). Following the same pattern, that means that single bets are $20, and raises are $40.

Following the 3rd round of bets, the fifth and final community card - called the “river” - is dealt out.

4th round:

The fourth and final round parallels the 3rd round. The betting structure is at the upper limits, as opposed to the lower limits used in the first two rounds. Again, that means single bets are $20 are a $10/$20 table, and raises are $40.

Various standard rules for Texas Hold’em: A maximum of 4 bets, including one bet and three raises, are allowed for each betting round per player.

The term “cap” describes the final raise in a round, since betting is then “capped” and no player can make another raise. Once capped, players will have the option of calling or folding only. Folding can be done at any stage of the game. The action of folding means that the player is no longer considered as part of the game, and he/she forfeits any and all rights over pots created on the table.

Aside from folding, a player also has the choice of “checking”, which means that the player passes his or her turn without placing a bet. This option is not always available to the player, and depends on the actions taken by the previous player in the hand. The player MUST match the amount of the bets placed by other players for each round in the hand.

Poker is typically played by “table stakes,” which means that only the chips in play at the beginning of each hand can be used throughout the hand. This means that players cannot get additional funds from the cashier while they are in the midst of a game. The table stakes rule has an application called the “all in” rule, which states that a player cannot be forced to forfeit a hand because he or she doesn’t have enough chips to call a bet.

Exceptions:

A player who doesn’t have enough chips to call a bet is declared “all in.” The player is eligible for the portion of the pot up to the point of his final wager. All further action involving other players takes place in a “side pot,” which is unavailable to the player who has already gone all in.

When a player goes all in, the pot currently at the center of the table, which has contributions from that player as well as from the others, is treated as the main pot, and the player has rights over it. After the player goes all-in, however, new bets are placed in a side pot, over which only the contributing players have rights. The all-in player has no rights over the side pot. The side pot is given to the next winning combination (i.e. 2nd place).

The "Showdown"

After the final round of betting, it’s time for the most exciting part of Hold'em poker: a.k.a. “the showdown.” This refers to the action of deciding who the winner of the pot is by displaying cards from all remaining players (though this is optional and players don’t have to show their cards). Five cards are used for deciding the winning hand. The following combination of five cards may be used:

  • Both hole cards and three community cards
  • One hole card and four community cards
  • All five community cards, which is known as “playing the board”

There is a set ranking of cards, which is used for deciding the winning combination. To view the various ranks that are possible, click here. If 2 or more hands have the same ranking, the winner is the one with higher cards (in terms of denomination). For example, a flush with an ace high beats a flush with a king high. If the hands still remain tied, then the highest card not held in common (“the kicker”) determines the winner. The suit order of the cards plays no role in deciding the winning cards. Should poker hands be absolutely identical in ranking, the rules of poker distribute the pot evenly between the two or more winning players. If there is an odd chip, the winning player to the left of the button/dealer receives it.

The rules remain the same as above for both no-limit and pot-limit Texas Hold'em games, but there are a few exceptions:

As mentioned above, in limit Texas Hold'em a maximum of four bets is allowed per player during any betting round. This includes a:

I. bet
II. raise
III. re-raise
IV. cap

But in no-limit and pot-limit Hold'em there are ZERO limits to the number of raises. The only criteria are:

1) you cannot raise yourself (in other words, if a player bets during a betting round, then that player has to be raised by another player in order for him or her to re-raise).
2) If all of the other players in the hand only call or fold, a player does not have the option to raise, because the last raise was made by him or her.

Betting structure for no-limit Texas Hold'em:

Min. raise: The raise amount must be at least as much as the previous bet or raise in the same round. As an example, if the first player to act bets $100, then the second player must raise a minimum of $100 (total bet of $200).

Max. raise: The size of your stack (your chips on the table).

Betting rules for pot-limit Texas Hold'em:

Min. raise: The raise amount must be at least as much as the previous bet or raise in the same round. As an example, if the first player to act bets $100, then the second player must raise a minimum of $100 (total bet of $200).

Max. raise: The size of the pot. The size of the pot is defined as the total of the active pot (which can either be the main pot or the side pot depending on whether anyone has gone “all in”), plus all bets on the table, plus the amount the active player must first call before raising.

As an example, if the active pot is $200 and the first player to act in the round bets $150, and the next player calls $150, the third player has a maximum eligible total bet of $800. The $800 total is made up of the $150 call and $650 raise. The $650 max raise portion is equal to the pot of $200 + first player’s $150 + second player’s $150 + the player’s own call of $150.