How to Play No-Limit Hold’em

Texas Hold’em, or No-Limit Hold’em, is the most popular form of poker, with millions of players around the world regularly playing the card game in both the live and online arenas. It has often been said that Texas Hold’em takes just a few minutes to learn but a lifetime to master, with the ease in which it can be learned undoubtedly adding to its continuing iconic status. It’s one of the best skill-based card games in the world.

There are a number of Texas Hold’em variants, such as Limit Texas Hold’em in which there is a pre-determined betting limit on each betting round, or Pot-Limit Texas Hold’em where a player is able to bet any amount up to the size of the pot. The most popular game by far, however, is No-Limit Texas Hold’em, which allows players to bet any amount up to all of their chips at the table. While No-Limit Texas Hold’em will be the main focus of this guide, the poker hand rankings across the various Hold’em variants remains the same, making it easy for a player to switch between different games according to their own preference.

Before you start playing Texas Hold’em, however, there are a number of terms and basic rules you will need to know which are explained below.

Dealer Button and Blinds Explained

Dealer Button: A dealer button is a marker used to refer to the dealer position, or the player dealing the cards. The player on the ‘button’ is the last to receive cards, and after the action starts is the last player to bet.

Blinds: Blinds are compulsory bets posted by players before they look at their cards, hence the name blind bets. In Texas Hold’em, blind bets are placed by the two players immediately clockwise from the dealer button. These two forced blinds include the small blind posted by the player directly left of the button, and the big blind, which is equivalent to double the small blind and posted by the next player along clockwise.

Basics of Texas Holdem

Texas Hold’em starts with the two players immediately to the left of the dealer posting the big and small blinds. Each of the players around the table are then dealt two down cards known as pocket cards or holecards. A betting round subsequently takes place after which five face up community cards are dealt over three betting rounds referred to as the flop, turn and river. While a player can win a pot by bluffing, the ultimate object of the game is to build the best five card hand using a combination of your two hidden pocket cards and the five community cards.

Do I Have To Use Both My Hole Cards?

No. A player can either use one, both or none of their pocket cards to build their best five-card combination. A player who has been dealt As-Kd, for instance, could use both his pocket cards to make a straight on a Qs-Jc-10h board.

Alternatively, a player with As-8h hole cards could use just one of his cards to complete an ace high spade flush on a Js-9s-7s-5s-3d board.

Finally, a player who has been dealt 2s-3d on a Ks-Kd-Kh-Kc-Ad board could use all of the board cards to make quads with an ace kicker without using any of their pocket cards. However, in this example referred to as “playing the board”, so would anyone else left in the hand which would naturally result in a split pot.

What Are The 5 Betting Options Available in Hold’em?

Texas Hold’em, as with other poker variants, has five different player betting options available, namely ‘fold’, ‘check’, ‘bet’, ‘call’ or ‘raise’. However, the exact option  available depends upon the action taken by the previous players, and which of the four betting Hold’em rounds are underway. These are known as “pre-flop,” “flop,” “turn,” and “river“, which we will discuss shortly. In the meantime, here is a more detailed explanation of the different betting options available to a player.

1) Check: If no one has bet, a player may check, which is equivalent to calling the current bet of zero. This indicates that the player does not wish to bet, but does want to keep their cards and stay in the hand. By checking the player then passes the betting action over to the next player. This option is not available pre-flop, however, as the blinds are live bets and must be either called or raised in order for a player to remain in the hand.

2) Bet: A player is said to bet, initiate the betting, or make an ‘opening bet’ when they start the post-flop betting round in a poker hand and are the first person to act. After making this first voluntary bet, a player will subsequently receive either a call, raise or fold from the other poker players in the hand.

3) Call: During the pre-flop betting round a player may call the bet by matching an amount equivalent to the big blind. Post-flop, a player calls a bet by matching the bet made by the previous player in the hand.

4) Raise: Raising is a strong action one takes in order to increase the size of the previous bet. After raising, a player in the same betting round then might make a subsequent raise called a re-raise, while a player who had prevously checked in the hand might decide to  re-raise the raiser, which is a deceptive play called a check-raise. When facing a re-raise, players have the options to either call, fold or re-raise again.

5) Fold: If a player folds their hand in poker, they relinquish interest in the pot and throw away their hand. A player may fold when it is their turn to act, after which they will no longer be required to put more money into the pot, and will forfeit any further claim on the pot. This betting option is also referred to as ‘mucking’ a hand. The player can then sit out and wait for the next deal in order to play again.

The Four Stages Of A Texas Hold ‘Em Hand

1) Opening Deal: After all the players receive their two face down cards a pre-flop betting round takes place in which each player decides on what action to take. The pre-flop betting begins with the player immediately to the left of the big blind, who has the option to either fold, call or raise. The action subsequently follows in a clockwise direction around the table with each player given the options to either fold, call, raise or re-raise. Once the last bet has been called, the preflop round is closed and the play progresses on to the flop.

2) The Flop: On the flop three face-up cards are dealt in the middle of the table, after which the player with a hand sitting immediately left of the dealer is the first to bet. The first player can either check or bet as no bet has been made and so calling is free. The minimum amount the player can place is the size of the big blind, unless their chip stack is depleted and they are forced to move all in. Once again, the betting round continues until the very last bet or raise has been called, after which the action closes. It is also possible that all the player may simply choose not to bet and check instead, which would also end the betting round.

3) The Turn: On the turn, otherwise known as “Fourth Street”, a fourth community card is dealt face up on the board, after which another round of betting takes place. Once again, the active player immediately left of the button opens another round of betting, with the players having the option to either check, bet, call, fold, or raise.

4) The River: On the river or “Fifth Street” a fifth and final community card is dealt. The betting round again follows the same betting rules as the flop and turn, as explained, and begins with the active player seated immediately left of the dealer button. Once all the betting action has been completed, the remaining players still in the hand reveal their holdings in order to determine the best five-card poker hand combination. This is called the showdown with the pot awarded to the winner.

The Showdown

If only one player remains in the hand after the river betting action is complete then that player is the winner. The showdown, however, is where more than one active player reveal their face-down cards and compare hands to determine the highest ranked hand and therefore the winner. In order of value, the strongest made hands in poker are as follows:

1) Royal Flush: Ace through to ten of the same suit; e.g Ah-Kh-Qh-Jh-10h

2) Straight Flush: Five cards of the same suit in consecutive order; e.g 8c-7c-6c-5c-4c

3) Four of a Kind: Four cards of the same value; e.g Jh-Jd-Jc-Js-5d

4) Full House: Three of a kind plus a pair; e.g Qs-Qd-Qc-4-d-4s

5) Flush: Five cards of the same suit not in sequence; e.g Ks-Js-9s-6s-2s

6) Straight: Five cards of different suits not all of the same suit; e.g 7h-6d-5c-4h-3s

7) Three of a Kind: Three cards of the same rank; e.g. 7s-7d-7c-Jc-5h

8) Two Pair: Two cards of the same rank along with a second pair of the same rank; e.g. 10d-10c-6d-5c-3s

9) One Pair: Two cards of the same rank; e.g. Ks-Kc-10h-7d-3c

10) High Card: Five cards of different ranks and at least two different suits. The highest card then plays; e.g. Jc-10d-7h-5c-3s would be called “jack-high”

Following the showdown, a new Hold’em hand is ready to be played. The button subsequently moves clockwise to the next player, blinds are posted, and two new cards are dealt to each of the players.

Summary

As can be seen, Texas Hold’em is an engaging and relatively straightforward card game to learn, with fairly simple rules to follow. Furthermore, valuable experience of the game and its various betting rounds can quickly be gained by practicing online for free, thus allowing a player to quickly improve their skills.

Although the basics are quite easy to master, acquiring a firm grasp of the game’s strategy and tactics, on the other hand, presents a bigger challenge. With just a little effort and reading, however, a player can soon gain a considerable advantage over their fellow opponents and make money at the table. Of course, even good players can still get unlucky in the short term.

Undoubtedly, one of the key areas a player will want to learn in order to improve their poker skills will be how to calculate outs for their drawing hands and their pot odds. This will help them to figure out the number of outs needed to make a hand so that they can weigh them against the bet they are facing and their odds of winning the pot. This will then allow them to decide the best betting options to take on each street and whether it is worthwhile continuing in a hand.

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