How to Play No-Limit Hold’em
Chances are that when you think about poker, you’re thinking about Texas No-Limit Hold’em.
While it’s one of the dozens of poker variants out there, it’s no doubt the most popular. Chris Moneymaker’s historic 2003 World Series of Poker Main Event win? No-Limit Hold’em. Iconic poker scenes from movies like “Rounders” or “Casino Royale”? They’re playing No-Limit Hold’em.
If you walk into any cardroom around the world and they’re playing poker, they’re probably playing No-Limit Hold’em. Part of the appeal behind this variant is that it’s easy to learn, but takes a lifetime to master. We’re here to help you with the first part and hopefully get you started down the right path towards mastering this game.
In this guide, we’ll teach you the basic rules of NLHE, how betting works and we’ll explain the different types of Hold’em out there. After that, we’ll leave you with some resources that can help you develop your game. After that, it’s up to you to study, play and practice to become the best NLHE player you can be.
But before we get into that, let’s start with the basics.
What is Texas Hold’em
Texas Hold’em is a poker variant with roots in Robstown, Texas that date back to the early 1900s. The game’s simplicity, but never-ending depth led to an increase in popularity. The game crept its way to Las Vegas and then started spreading after it became the format of the World Series of Poker Main Event.
Things really picked up after Chris Moneymaker won the 2003 WSOP Main Event for $2 million dollars after winning a $86 qualifier online. This led to a huge online poker boom in the United States and around the world. That’s how Texas Hold’em came to be the dominant poker variant out there.
As you’ll see, the rules and set up are easy enough. But once you get past the basics, there’s a never-ending road to mastery. There’s always a dash of luck keeping things interesting too. You can play with a minimum of two people and tournaments can have tens of thousands of players.
If you only have a single deck of cards and one table, the maximum recommended number of players is 10. It’s great to have poker chips or something to gamble with like pennies or dried beans, but if you’re in a pinch, little pieces of paper can work too.
How to play Texas No-Limit Hold’em
The game is simple, take your opponents money. Doing it is a bit more complicated.
You take their money by betting on five-card poker hands. Every players’ hand is made up of two hole cards and five community cards. Your hole cards are private and the community cards are for everyone. You make your hand with any mix of the two. You can use both, one or none of your hole cards when building your hand.
At the beginning of each hand, every player gets dealt two cards, face down. These are your hole cards and they’re just for you. After that, players start betting.
You’ll often hear poker players talk about position: late, early, on the button. Betting in poker isn’t a first-come-first-serve scenario, there’s always a strict order that’s dictated by the button.
A random player starts with the button and it moves left after every hand. The player to the left of the button posts a mandatory bet called the small blind and the player to their left posts the big blind, which is twice the size of the big blind.
In tournaments, the blinds are always rising, but in cash games they stay the same unless players decide to change it.
After the hand is dealt, the player to the left of the big blind starts. That player can either check, fold, call the big blind or raise. Action switches from player to player. The players who bet and called then make it on to the next round.
If everyone folds to a bet or raise, the hand ends there.
Congratulations, you’ve made it to the flop. This is where the first three community cards get dealt. While you may have hit a hand, there are still two more cards to go. So if you need one or two cards to hit a flush or a straight, you’re now hoping they’ll show up later on in the hand.
After the flop is dealt, action moves to the player on the button’s left. Remember after the flop, the button always goes last. If both players check or there’s a called bet, players move onto the turn.
This is the fourth community card and it plays out just like the flop. Action starts with the player on the button’s left and keeps going until everyone’s folded or called.
This is it, the last card. The final stage of the hand. At this point, you either hit your hand or you haven’t. This starts the final round of betting and then players show down their hands to see who won.
Poker Hand Rankings
So now that you know the mechanics of how a hand plays out, let’s see how these hands rank.
The hand rankings from low to high are:
- High card
- Full house
- Straight flush
- Royal flush
Again, this is using a combination of your hole cards and the community cards. Check out our poker hand rankings page for a more detailed breakdown of poker hand rankings.
You might’ve noticed that we’ve used the term No-Limit Texas Hold’em and just Texas Hold’em. The “No-Limit” refers to the way you can bet in the game. There are a few different betting styles in Texas Hold’em including: Limit, Pot-Limit and No-Limit.
The most popular version is No-Limit, and that means there’s no limit to what you can bet at any stage of the hand. The minimum is a big blind and the maximum is as much as you have. That means you can raise all-in whenever you want.
In Limit, the amount you can bet is a fixed amount. You can only bet or raise by that same amount. Bets are capped at four bets.
Pot-Limit means the maximum you can bet is what’s already in the pot. So if you’re starting a hand with $1/$2 blinds, you can raise to $5. That’s $3 from the blinds and a $2 of your “call” for a total raise to $5.
Cash games and tournaments
Aside from the different types of betting, there are different types of poker formats. In cash games, the blinds are always the same, you sit down with real money and can cash out whenever you’re done playing. For example, you sit down with $100 and if you win $200, you can stand up and walk away with $300.
In a tournament, everyone buys in for the same amount and gets a set number of chips. The blinds rise until one player is left standing. In tournaments, a percentage of the field makes money back. This depends on every tournament and it is usually from 20 percent of the field to 10 percent.
The biggest reward always goes to first place. The World Series of Poker Main Event is a tournament, and so is most of the poker you see on TV. Sit & Gos are like a mini-tournament. They can be as small as one table or encompass several.
Texas No-Limit Hold’em Resources
So now you know the basics, time to set you down your road of poker mastery. If you’re ready to get going check out our online poker site reviews to see which site matches you the best:
Still not confident enough to plunk down some real money? No worries, you can start playing online for free! Most sites offer freerolls to players, these are free-to-play tournaments that reward real cash if you do well enough.
While practice is the best way to improve your game, it should always go accompanied by some good studying. There are tons of poker books, forums, and training websites out there to help you improve your game.
“Harrington on Hold’em” by Dan Harrington is a great place to get started. If you want a wealth of information and a place to discuss any questions you might have, the TwoPlusTwo Forums have been offering invaluable poker knowledge for years. Poker coaching is a bit pricey, but a great option for players who really want to work on their game. Some great players also livestream poker, so you can search for poker on Twitch and