Complete Guide to Playing Texas Hold’em Online

PokerWired
03 Apr 2024
PokerWired Staff 03 Apr 2024
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  • Guide on how to play Texas Hold'em
  • Key terms and concepts
  • Hand rankings and other key information
Texas Hold'em Guide

Poker is seeing a boom again in the 2020s with live and online poker tournaments paying out hundreds of millions of dollars each month. Tournament series like the World Series of Poker, World Poker Tour, and European Poker Tour continue to attract thousands of players each year dreaming of cashing in for a big win.

Online poker particularly has seen a massive uptick since the pandemic, when many gamblers decided to get back into poker. That trend has continued with sites like GGPoker, JackPoker, WPTGlobal, and others seeing major increases in player pools.

The great thing about online poker is that players can take part from anywhere, even on a mobile phone, and play for pennies all the way up to high stakes. Texas Hold’em remains the most popular poker variant and those new to the game may not yet feel comfortable jumping in the action however.

This guide offers a complete look at how to play Texas Hold’em. Online poker offers a chance to play for real money and learn for micro stakes and even for free. Work on those skills for a chance to cash in with some real winnings. 

As longtime WPT commentator and poker pro Mike Sexton once noted, “The name of the game is No Limit Texas Hold'em, the game that takes a minute to learn but a lifetime to master.”

A Look at Texas Hold’em Rules & Gameplay

Some general knowledge of how to play Texas Hold’em and some of the gameplay involved will certainly help when heading to the tables. Here’s a look at some key sections of hand as well as some terms to remember.

Preflop

When a hand starts, all players receive two cards. In a home game, each player may take a turn dealing. But a casino poker room features a house dealer. In online poker, the software deals out cards to each player. You won’t have to worry about dealing the game themselves.

However, to denote which player would be the dealer, a “dealer button” rotates around the table on each hand. The player located to the left of the button is known as the “small blind” and the person to that player’s left is known as the “big blind.”

These two players put out forced bets – blind bets – which all players also make as the button moves around the table after each hand. What are the actual bets the players in the blinds must make? The big blind is determined by the table stakes in a cash game and the tournament level in a tournament. The small blind is usually half of the big blind.

Blind bets force the action so that no player can play without putting money into a pot, the accumulation of bets via chips that are bet during the hand. Players at the table must make one of these decisions:

  • Fold – A player gets rid of his cards and doesn’t play in this hand.
  • Call – This is when a player matches the blind bet.
  • Raise – A player raises the blind bet to play for more. Other players can then call, fold, or re-raise.

If there are no raises, the small blind can complete the other half of his blind to call and the big blind can “check” for the action to proceed. A “check” means a player isn’t betting and moves the action to the next player. On the big blind here, it also means he won’t be raising and is content with his big blind and moving on.

For example, the blinds in a cash game may be $1/$2 and 25/50 in a tournament (chips have no exact cash value in a tournament). At the beginning of a hand, the player to the left of the big blind can call, fold, or raise and this goes on around the table for all players. When all betting is finished, the dealer then displays three cards known as “the flop.”

Online poker players will find all this done for them. All chips are also conveniently counted as well, making for a quicker game. Playing online offers a great way to learn before heading to a casino.


The Flop

In Texas Hold’em, all players make use of community cards. This is different from older games like Draw and Stud where players used only their own cards. Community cards can be used by all players at the table and the goal is to make the best five-card hand possible.

Seven Card Stud was a precursor to Hold’em, and in that game all players receive three cards down and four cards up, with five rounds of betting. Players can view four of their opponents’ cards to gauge the strength of their own hands and others’ as well.

However, Hold’em features a limited number of visible cards that can be played by all. When the pre-flop action is finished, the dealer will “burn” a card and then deal three cards face up. These community cards are known as “the flop.”

After that, the person to the left of the button can open the betting or check (passing the action to the next player). The next player can either call or check as well. 

If an opponent bets, you can call the bet, raise, or fold (getting out of the hand). If all opponents fold, the hand is finished and the player who bet takes the pot. If any others call, the remaining players will see another card, which is known as the turn card.

WSOP hold'em tournament

The Turn

Once the flop action is finished, the dealer burns another card and deals out a fourth community card. This is called the turn card and players follow the same betting pattern as on the flop.

The first player left in the hand to the left of the button can bet or check. All remaining players can do the same. Once that’s complete, the dealer burns another card and deals the fifth and final community card.

One thing to clarify regarding versions of the game, in No Limit Texas Hold’em players can go “all in” at any time. Each player can bet all the chips they have whether in a tournament or cash game. A tournament player risks being knocked out if he or she loses, depending on the number of chips the player has compared to an opponent. This is a key aspect to the no limit game that makes it so exciting.

The River

The final card dealt is known as the river and comes with one last round of betting. If a player bets, those remaining can once again call, fold, or raise. If an opponent calls, the betting player shows his hand – known as a “showdown.”

The player with the best hand then wins the pot. If the opponent has the best of it, the dealer will ship those chips his way. The dealer button then moves to the next player and a new hand commences.

Poker Variants

Poker is actually a family of games with Hold'em now the most popular of several variants. Players will find three formats:

  • No Limit Hold’em — Players can bet all their chips at any time, either in a tournament or cash game.
  • Limit Hold’em — This variant comes with fixed-limit betting and usually caps the number of raises. A player is limited to raising only a certain amount, the amount of the big blind, and can’t go all in.
  • Pot Limit Hold'em — Bets are limited to the size of the pot. This version of betting is usually more popular in the Omaha poker variant.

The no limit variety is the most popular form of poker in the world and is found in the $10,000 World Series of Poker Main Event and World Poker Tour tournaments. The game is also the most common version played at legal online poker sites.

Hand Rankings

When playing at a live table or at an online poker platform, it’s imperative to know the hand rankings. A hand’s strength is based on the odds of being dealt that hand.

In Hold’em, a player can use both hole cards, only one of them, or even play the five community cards to form the best hand possible. Here are the possible hands in poker from weakest to strongest.

High Card

This hand doesn't really connect with anything on the board, not even a pair. You simply have a “high card” and it’s rare to win with a hand like this. An example would be A-K-J-3-2 after all cards are dealt, usually just called Ace-high.

Pair

This is pretty self explanatory and simply means one of your cards has matched another card on the board. Both of your “hole cards” (the two dealt to players) can also be the same, meaning you have a pair.

A player receiving  a pair of Aces in the hole is in great shape before the flop, and has the highest starting hand in Hold’em. A player holding A-Q makes a pair when a flop like A-J-7 hits the board. Since there is no possible higher single pair, this pair of Aces is the “top pair,” meaning that among the pairs now available considering the community cards.

Two Pairs

As the name implies, this is when a player finds two pairs, a good hand depending on the situation and other community cards dealt. If you’re dealt K-Q and the flop brings K-Q-9, you’ve made two pairs.

Three of a Kind

This hand occurs when a player finds three of the same card. If you’re dealt 10-10 and the flop brings K-10-8, then you’ve hit three of a kind. The is often called “set” of 10s

This is a great hand but not unbeatable. Consider the entire board and what possible hand combinations an opponent may hold when acting on this hand. A player holding K-8 has what is called “trips” when two more Kings hit the board such as K-K-3.

However, a player with A-K would also have trips as well as a higher hand so far, considering the Ace “kicker.” A kicker is the extra card that helps a player make a higher five-card hand.

WSOP poker flop

Straight

When five cards fall in sequential order, this is known as a straight. For example, a player with 10-J on a board of 8-9-K holds what’s called an “open-ended” straight draw. That means any Queen or 7 on the turn or river completes the straight.

A straight can be a powerful hand, but players must be aware of possibly making the sucker straight. That means you’ve made the low end of the straight while an opponent has the higher end.

For example, a player with 7-8 on a board of 9-10-J has made a straight, but any player with Q-8-J or K-Q has completed an even higher straight. This “sucker straight” could be costly to players unaware that there’s a decent shot they are beaten.

Seeing three of four suited cards on the board could also give another player a flush (more on that below). A pair on among the community cards could also mean an opponent has a full house. Keep reading for more on these powerful hands.

Flush

This is when a player makes a five-card hand of the same suit. A player holding 10K would be in luck with a board of 25J49. This player has made a King-high flush. A player with an 2A, however, would have an even better flush, in this case the top flush possible – known as the “nut flush.”

This kind of scenario can be even more worrisome when four cards of the same hit the board. Players then need to gauge whether their hand is beaten by a better flush. Figuring out when opponents are strong or weak – and if they’re "bluffing" – is a huge part of poker.

Full House

This is a huge hand – three of one kind and two of another. For example, a player has secured a full house with a hand like QAAQA. A player holding pocket nines – 99– would also hit a full house with a board of 109Q10Q. This is an excellent hand but not unbeatable.

A player with Q-10 makes an even bigger full house. Someone with 10-10 has also made a winning four of a kind.

Four of Kind

This means you’ve hit four of the same cards. A player could hold a big pocket pair like KKand hit two more Kings among the community cards for four of a kind.

You may also hold a single card that finds three more among the community cards. For example, a hand of 8K would hit four of a kind, also known as “quads,” with the remaining eights in the deck, 8♥8♠8♦. This would put a player in a nice position with one of the game’s premium hands.

Straight Flush

As the name implies, this develops when a players scores five cards in sequential order but also of the same suit –  678910.

This is the second-best hand in poker after a Royal Flush, which is really just the highest Straight Flush possible (more on that below). Players landing this hand have a great opportunity to grab plenty of their opponents’ chips – if they can get some action in the hand. Another player securing a big flush or full house in this scenario could be in some major trouble.

Royal Flush

This is the ultimate band in poker, topping all others and very rare to be dealt. Many players may even remember some of the specific times they’ve caught a royal flush because the hand is so rare.

The Royal Flush is the highest straight flush possible and includes all the face cards of one suit, such as 10JKQA. The is the rarest hand a player receives and appears only about 1 out of every 649,740 hands. That means the odds of finding a Royal Flush equate to 0.000154%.

More Poker Terms & Scenarios

When battling it out in some Hold’em, there are some other scenarios to be mindful of.  Here are a few of those to remember.

Split pots

This is a spot in which two players have the exact same hand. For example, a flop, turn, and river might bring JK4A8. Two players showing A8and 8A have the same hand and the pot will be split between them – both players receive half the pot. The dealer handles this in a live game and the split is done automatically when playing online.

Kickers

Your best five cards are what make up your hand. If you and another player both have a pair of eights, your other cards decide which player wins the pot. On a board of 10K1039, a player may hold KA A♠K♠ for the top two pairs with an opponent holding KQ.

Both players have made two pairs, Aces and 10s, but the KAhand has a bigger kicker, the Ace which is higher than his opponent’s Queen kicker. These situations are pretty normal, so it’s key to know the strength of your own hand versus an opponent’s.

Online players will find this situation sorted out automatically by the software. It still can be frustrating to just miss out on a nice pot, so beware of your kicker.

All In Betting & Side Pots

In No Limit Texas Hold’em, a player can go all in at any time. If players call the bet and have more chips, they can continue betting if other players remain involved in the action.

The chips players continue betting are put in a side pot. Only those players who continue betting can win the side pot. There can be multiple side pots if additional players move all in and others continue betting. 

Players who are all in and at risk of losing all their chips can only win or lose the number they’ve put in the pot. A tournament player facing two other opponents may move in his remaining 30,000 chips.

If three other players may call, this player could grab 120,000 chips if his hand is a winner. Casino dealers take care of dividing side pots, but this is all easily handled by online poker platforms.

poker chips

Texas Hold’em Game Types

Hold’em players have a few options to choose from, including tournaments and cash games. These are different when it comes to structure and game play. Here’s a look at each.

Cash Games

Players battle for real cash in these games. Most players like to buy into a game for at least 50-100 big blinds. A player heading to play in Las Vegas may want to play some $1/3 No Limit Hold’em, buying in for at least $300.

In these games, you’ll be playing for “table stakes,” meaning you can only play for the chips that are physically in front of you. A player who is all in can’t reach in his pocket for more money to play during that hand.

If the player comes up on the short end in the hand, he can purchase more chips or choose to call it a day. Unlike in a tournament, players can also leave a cash game whenever they wish. There is no time length a player must sit and play.

This is great for those who don’t have the time commitment needed for a tournament, which can be several hours and a few days for even larger events. Cash games can come with some different strategies as well.

Online players can find lower stakes than those found in live poker rooms. Cash games at sites like GGPoker, PartyPoker, JackPoker, WPTGlobal, and more feature action as low as $0.01/$0.02. That’s a great way for new players to work on their skills.

Tournaments

Tournament play can be quite a bit different than cash games. A tournament player who is all in and loses is eliminated from the tournament, unless there are re-entry or rebuy options. Players try to accumulate chips until they make the final table and hopefully win the tournament.

Chips come with no real cash value in a tournament. For example, a player entering a $1,000 Texas Hold’em tournament may begin with 30,000 in chips. As the tournament progresses, the field shrinks as players are eliminated. That’s because the blind levels increase throughout the tournament, meaning it costs more to play a pot.

Online tournaments move much faster but even huge events with hefty payouts may be spread out over multiple days. There are numerous events at various online sites throughout the day. Sites like GGPoker, PokerStars, and PartyPoker also feature major tournament series throughout the year, often with nice guaranteed prize pools and numerous events of every buy-in level.

Sit & Go’s

A Sit & Go is a smaller tournament that players can complete much more quickly than traditional tournaments. Some can even check in under an hour. Some casino poker rooms may offer Sit & Go’s, but the format is more associated with online poker. Here are some advantages to playing these events.

  • Numerous buy-in levels –Buy-ins can start at just $0.25 and go up from there.
  • Quick play – Those short on time can enjoy some tournament play in a SIt & Go without committing too much time.
  • Skill building –  Sit & Go’s make is easy to work on your skills with a quicker pace. Those can carry over to larger tournaments.
  • Simple mobile play – Smaller-field events are great for playing on a mobile phone or tablet device.

Texas Hold’em Strategy Tips

There is no shortage of theories and strategies when it comes to poker. Players can take advantage of strategy books, training sites, coaches, software, training apps, and more. For new players, here are some tips to get started:

  • Playing fewer hands – Picking good spots and better starting hands will help in the long run. Don’t wait for Aces, but getting in fewer pots with weak hands limits situations where your hand finishes second or third.
  • Know when to fold – New players tend to believe opponents are always bluffing. Playing without folding is a bad plan. Knowing when you're beaten saves those chips for the long haul, hopefully with a better situation to win chips later.
  • Use your position – The player on the button has a major advantage. This player is last to act after the flop and some bets and raises can pay off from this spot. If everyone check, a nice bet may help take a pot.
  • Bet strong on big hands – Being passive or weak in most situations can be costly when you have big hands. Checking nice hands can give opponents more chances to draw out on you, especially if more players are in a pot. When in doubt, bet, raise, or fold.
  • Know you stakes – One of the great things about online poker is that you can play at lower stakes. Don’t feel like you have to play at higher stakes if you’re not ready. Play the stakes that fit for you and your bankroll.

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