How to play Poker
There are dozens of variant ways of playing games of poker, such as Five-card draw, Five-card stud, Seven-card stud, Omaha, Pineapple, and (perhaps the most popular version currently) Texas hold'em. The following describes how to play Texas hold'em poker.
- The descriptions below assume a familiarity with the general game play of poker, and with poker hands. For a general introduction to these topics, see poker, poker hands, poker probability, and poker jargon.
Betting structures 
- See the article on betting for a detailed explanation of betting in these variations of hold 'em.
Hold 'em is normally played using small and big blind bets – forced bets by two players. Antes (forced contributions by all players) may be used in addition to blinds, particularly in later stages of tournament play. A dealer button is used to represent the player in the dealer position; the dealer button rotates clockwise after each hand, changing the position of the dealer and blinds. The small blind is posted by the player to the left of the dealer and is usually equal to half of the big blind. The big blind, posted by the player to the left of the small blind, is equal to the minimum bet. In tournament poker, the blind/ante structure periodically increases as the tournament progresses. (In some cases, the small blind is some other fraction of a small bet; e.g., $10 is a common small blind when the big blind is $15, and still other tables may use two equal blinds. The double-blind structure described above is a commonly used and more recent adoption.)
When only two players remain, special 'head-to-head' or 'heads up' rules are enforced and the blinds are posted differently. In this case, the person with the dealer button posts the small blind, while his/her opponent places the big blind. The dealer acts first before the flop. After the flop, the dealer acts last and continues to do so for the remainder of the hand.
The three most common variations of hold 'em are limit hold 'em, no-limit hold 'em and pot-limit hold 'em. Limit hold 'em has historically been the most popular form of hold 'em found in casino live action games in the United States. In limit hold 'em, bets and raises during the first two rounds of betting (pre-flop and flop) must be equal to the big blind; this amount is called the small bet. In the next two rounds of betting (turn and river), bets and raises must be equal to twice the big blind; this amount is called the big bet. No-limit hold 'em is the form most commonly found in televised tournament poker and is the game played in the main event of the World Series of Poker. In no-limit hold 'em, players may bet or raise any amount over the minimum raise up to all of the chips the player has at the table (called an all-in bet). The minimum raise is equal to the size of the previous bet or raise. If someone wishes to re-raise, they must raise at least the amount of the previous raise. For example, if the big blind is $2 and there is a raise of $6 to a total of $8, a re-raise must be at least $6 more for a total of $14. If a raise or re-raise is all-in and does not equal the size of the previous raise, the initial raiser cannot re-raise again. This only matters of course if there were a call before the re-raise. In pot-limit hold 'em, the maximum raise is the current size of the pot (including the amount needed to call).
Most casinos that offer hold 'em also allow the player to the left of the big blind to post an optional live straddle, usually double the amount of the big blind, which then acts as the big blind. No-limit games may also allow multiple re-straddles, in any amount that would be a legal raise.
Play of the hand 
Play begins with each player being dealt two cards face down, with the player in the small blind receiving the first card and the player in the button seat receiving the last card dealt. (As in most poker games, the deck is a standard 52-card deck containing no jokers.) These cards are the player's hole or pocket cards. These are the only cards each player will receive individually, and they will only (possibly) be revealed at the showdown, making Texas hold 'em a closed poker game.
The hand begins with a "pre-flop" betting round, beginning with the player to the left of the big blind (or the player to the left of the dealer, if no blinds are used) and continuing clockwise. A round of betting continues until every player has folded, put in all of their chips, or matched the amount put in by all other active players. See betting for a detailed account. Note that the blinds are considered "live" in the pre-flop betting round, meaning that they are counted toward the amount that the blind player must contribute. If all players call around to the player in the big blind position, that player may either check or raise.
After the pre-flop betting round, assuming there remain at least two players taking part in the hand, the dealer deals a flop, three face-up community cards. The flop is followed by a second betting round. This and all subsequent betting rounds begin with the player to the dealer's left and continue clockwise.
After the flop betting round ends, a single community card (called the turn or fourth street) is dealt, followed by a third betting round. A final single community card (called the river or fifth street) is then dealt, followed by a fourth betting round and the showdown, if necessary.
In all casinos, the dealer will burn a card before the flop, turn, and river. Because of this burn, players who are betting cannot see the back of the next community card to come. This is done for historical/traditional reasons, to avoid any possibility of a player knowing in advance the next card to be dealt due to it being marked.
The showdown 
If a player bets and all other players fold, then the remaining player is awarded the pot and is not required to show his hole cards. If two or more players remain after the final betting round, a showdown occurs. On the showdown, each player plays the best poker hand they can make from the seven cards comprising his two hole cards and the five community cards. A player may use both of his own two hole cards, only one, or none at all, to form his final five-card hand. If the five community cards form the player's best hand, then the player is said to be playing the board and can only hope to split the pot, because each other player can also use the same five cards to construct the same hand.
If the best hand is shared by more than one player, then the pot is split equally among them, with any extra chips going to the first players after the button in clockwise order. It is common for players to have closely-valued, but not identically ranked hands. Nevertheless, one must be careful in determining the best hand; if the hand involves fewer than five cards, (such as two pair or three of a kind), then kickers are used to settle ties (see the second example below). Note that the card's numerical rank is of sole importance; suit values are irrelevant in Hold'em. The last player to bet is the first player to show their hand.
If the first card dealt is exposed, then this is considered a misdeal. The dealer then retrieves the card, reshuffles the deck, and again cuts the cards. However, if any other hole card is exposed due to a dealer error, the deal continues as usual. After completing the deal, the dealer replaces the exposed card with the top card on the deck, and the exposed card is then used as the burn card. If more than one hole card is exposed, a misdeal is declared by the dealer and the hand is dealt again from the beginning.
Sample showdown 
Here's a sample showdown:
Each player plays the best 5-card hand they can make with the seven cards available. They have
|Bob||Template:CardTemplate:CardTemplate:CardTemplate:CardTemplate:Card||Three fours, with ace, king kickers|
|Ted||Template:CardTemplate:CardTemplate:CardTemplate:CardTemplate:Card||Full house, kings full of fours|
In this case, Ted's Full House is the best hand, with Carol in 2nd, Alice in 3rd and Bob last.
Sample hand 
Here is a sample game involving four players. The players' individual hands will not be revealed until the showdown, to give a better sense of what happens during play:
Compulsory bets: Alice is the dealer. Bob, to Alice's left, posts a small blind of $1, and Carol posts a big blind of $2.
Pre-flop: Alice deals two hole cards face down to each player, beginning with Bob and ending with herself. Ted must act first because he is the first player after the big blind. He cannot check, because the $2 big blind plays as a bet, so he folds. Alice calls the $2. Bob adds an additional $1 to his $1 small blind to call the $2 total. Carol's blind is "live" (see blind), so she has the option to raise here, but she checks instead, ending the first betting round. The pot now contains $6, $2 from each of three players.
Flop: Alice now burns a card and deals the flop of three face-up community cards, Template:Cards. On this round, as on all subsequent rounds, the player on the dealer's left begins the betting. In this case it is Bob, who checks. Carol opens for $2, Ted has already folded and Alice raises another $2 (puts in $4, $2 to match Carol and $2 to raise), making the total bet now facing Bob $4. He calls (puts in $4, $2 to match Carol's initial bet and $2 to match Alice's raise). Carol calls as well, putting in her $2. The pot now contains $18, $6 from the last round and $12 from three players this round.
Turn: Alice now burns another card and deals the turn card face up. It is the Template:Cards. Bob checks, Carol checks, and Alice checks; the turn has been checked around. The pot still contains $18.
River: Alice burns another card and deals the final river card, the Template:Cards, making the final board Template:Cards. Bob bets $4, Carol calls, and Alice folds (Alice's holding was Template:Cards; she was hoping the river card would be a club to make her hand a flush).
Showdown: Bob shows his hand of Template:Cards, so the best five-card hand he can make is Template:Cards, for three nines, with a king-queen kicker. Carol shows her cards of Template:Cards, making her final hand Template:Cards for two pair, kings and nines, with a jack kicker. Bob wins the showdown and the $26 pot.
Kickers and ties 
Because of the presence of community cards in Texas hold 'em, different players' hands can often run very close in value. As a result, it is common for kickers to be used to determine the winning hand and also for two hands (or maybe more) to tie. A kicker is a card which is part of the five-card poker hand, but is not used in determining a hand's rank. For instance, in the hand A-A-A-K-Q, the king and queen are kickers.
The following situation illustrates the importance of breaking ties with kickers and card ranks, as well as the use of the five-card rule. After the turn, the board and players' hole cards are as follows.
|Board (after the turn)
Suppose the final card were the Template:Cards, making the final board Template:Cards. Bob and Carol still each have two pair (queens and eights), but both of them are now entitled to play the final ace as their fifth card, making their hands both two pair, queens and eights, with an ace kicker. Bob's king no longer plays, because the ace on the board plays as the fifth card in both hands, and a hand is only composed of the best five cards. They therefore tie and split the pot. However, had the last card been a jack or lower (except an eight or a queen which would make a full house, or a ten which would give Carol a higher second pair), Bob's king would have stayed in game and he would have won.
- See also: Poker strategy
Most poker authors recommend a tight-aggressive approach to playing Texas hold 'em. This strategy involves playing relatively few hands (tight), but betting and raising often with those that one does play (aggressive). Although this strategy is often recommended, some professional players successfully employ other strategies as well.
Almost all authors agree that where a player sits in the order of play (known as position) is an important element of Texas hold 'em strategy, particularly in no-limit hold'em. Players who act later have more information than players who act earlier. As a result, players typically play fewer hands from early positions than later positions.
Because of the game's level of complexity, it has received some attention from academics. One attempt to develop a quantitative model of a Texas hold'em tournament as an isolated complex system has had some success, although the full consequences for optimal strategies remain to be explored. In addition, groups at the University of Alberta and Carnegie Mellon University are developing poker playing programs utilizing techniques in game theory and artificial intelligence.
Starting hands 
Because there are only two cards dealt to each player, it is easy to characterize all of the starting hands. There are 52 × 51 ÷ 2 = 1,326 distinct possible combinations of two cards from a standard 52-card deck. Because no suit is more powerful than another, many of these can be equated for the analysis of starting-hand strategy. For example, although Template:Cards and Template:Cards are distinct combinations of cards, they are of equal value as starting hands.
Due to this, there are only 169 different hole-card combinations. Thirteen of those combinations are pairs, from deuces to aces. There are 78 ways to have two cards of different rank (12 possible hands containing an ace, 11 possible hands containing a king and no ace, 10 possible hands containing a queen and no ace or king, etc.). Hole cards can both be used in a flush if they are suited, but pairs are never suited, so there would be 13 possible pairs, 78 possible suited non-pairs, and 78 possible unsuited ("off-suit") non-pairs, for a total of 169 possible hands. Suited starting cards are stronger than their unsuited counterparts, although the magnitude of this strength difference in different games is debated.
Because of this limited number of starting hands, most strategy guides involve a detailed discussion of each of these 169 starting hands. This separates hold 'em from other poker games where the number of starting card combinations forces strategy guides to group hands into broad categories. Another result of this small number is the proliferation of colloquial names for individual hands.
Strategic differences in betting structures 
Cash games 
Prior to the invention of poker tournaments, all poker games were played with real money where players bet actual currency (or chips which represented currency). Games which feature wagering actual money on individual hands are still very common and are referred to as "cash games" or "ring games".
The no-limit and fixed-limit cash game versions of hold 'em are strategically very different. Doyle Brunson claims that "the games are so different that there are not many players who rank with the best in both types of hold 'em. Many no-limit players have difficulty gearing down for limit, while limit players often lack the courage and 'feel' necessary to excel at no-limit." Because the size of bets is restricted in limit games, the ability to bluff is somewhat curtailed. Because one is not (usually) risking all of one's chips in limit poker, players are sometimes advised to take more chances.
Lower stakes games also exhibit different properties than higher stakes games. Small stakes games often involve more players in each hand and can vary from extremely passive (little raising and betting) to extremely aggressive (many raises). The difference of small stakes games have resulted in several books dedicated to only those games.
Texas hold 'em is often associated with poker tournaments largely because it is played as the main event in many of the famous tournaments, including the World Series of Poker's Main Event, and is the most common tournament overall. Traditionally, a poker tournament is played with chips that represent a player's stake in the tournament. Standard play allows all entrants to "buy-in" for a fixed amount and all players begin with an equal value of chips. Play proceeds until one player has accumulated all the chips in play or a deal is made among the remaining players to "chop" the remaining prize pool. The money pool is redistributed to the players in relation to the place they finished in the tournament. Only a small percentage of the players receive any money, with the majority receiving nothing. "The percentages are not standardized, but common rules of thumb call for one table" (usually nine players) "to get paid for each 100 entrants," according to poker author Andrew N. S. Glazer, in his book, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Poker. A good rule of thumb is that close to 10% of players will be paid in a tournament. As a result the strategy in poker tournaments can be very different from a cash game.
Proper strategy in tournaments can vary widely depending on the amount of chips one has, the stage of the tournament, the amount of chips others have, and the playing styles of one's opponents. Although some authors still recommend a tight playing style, others recommend looser play (playing more hands) in tournaments than one would otherwise play in cash games. In tournaments the blinds and antes increase regularly, and can become much larger near the end of the tournament. This can force players to play hands that they would not normally play when the blinds were small, which can warrant both more loose and more aggressive play.
Evaluating your hand 
One of the most important things in Texas hold'em is knowing how to evaluate a hand. The strategy of playing each hand can be very different according to the strength of the hand, for example on a strong hand a player might want to try to appear weak in order not to scare off other players with weaker hands and on a weak hand a player might try to bluff other players into folding. There are several ways to evaluate hand strength, two of the most common are counting outs and using calculators.
- Counting outs - this method consists of counting the cards still in the deck, which in combination with the cards the player already has can give the player a potentially winning hand.
Such cards are called "outs", and hand strength can be measured by how many outs are still in the deck (if there are many outs then the probability to get one of them is high and therefore the hand is strong). The following chart determines the probability of hitting outs (bettering the player's hand) based on how many cards are left in the deck and the draw type. Note that a higher number of outs directly corresponds to a high win percentage.
|Outs||One Card %||Two Card %||One Card Odds||Two Card Odds||Draw Type|
|1||2%||4%||46||23||Backdoor Straight or Flush (Requires two cards)|
|2||4%||8%||22||12||Pocket Pair to Set|
|4||9%||17%||10||5||Inside Straight / Two Pair to Full House|
|5||11%||20%||8||4||One Pair to Two Pair or Set|
|6||13%||24%||6.7||3.2||No Pair to Pair / Two Overcards|
|7||15%||28%||5.6||2.6||Set to Full House or Quads|
|10||22%||38%||3.6||1.6||Inside Straight & Two Overcards|
|11||24%||42%||3.2||1.4||Open Straight & One Overcard|
|12||26%||45%||2.8||1.2||Flush & Inside Straight / Flush & One Overcard|
|15||33%||54%||2.1||0.85||Flush & Open Straight / Flush & Two Overcards|
- Two Times Rule and Four Times Rule: Multiplying the number of outs by two or four gives a reasonable approximation to the One Card % or Two Card %, respectively, in the above table.
- Calculators: calculators are poker tools that calculate the odds of your hand (combined with the cards on the table if there are any) to win the game. Calculators provide precise odds but they can't be used in live games and are therefore mostly used on Internet poker games.
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- Brunson, Doyle (1978). Super/System: A course in power poker. B&G Publishing Company. , emphasis in original
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- A list of publication from this group can be found at .
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- Cloutier, T.J. and Tom McEvoy (1997). Championship No-Limit & Pot-Limit Hold'em. Cardoza. ISBN 1-58042-127-X.
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- Miller, Sklansky, and Malmuth op cit. and Jones, Lee (1994). Winning Low-Limit Hold-em. Conjelco. ISBN 1-886070-15-6.
- Gregorich, Mark (April 27, 2005). "The Future of Tournaments". Card Player Magazine 18c (8c): 26, 110.
- . Glazer, Andrew N.S. (2004). The Complete Idiot's Guide to Poker (First ed.). Indianapolis, Indiana: Alpha.
- Sexton, Mike (February 5, 2005). "Tournament Tips". Card Player Magazine 18c (3c): 18.
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- Flynn. Professional No-Limit Hold 'em: Volume I.