Texas hold 'em (also hold'em, holdem) is a community card game where each player may use any combination of the five community cards and the player's own two hole cards to make a poker hand, in contrast to poker variants like stud or draw where each player holds a separate individual hand.
In Texas hold 'em, like all variants of poker, individuals compete for an amount of money contributed by the players themselves (called the pot). Because the cards are dealt randomly and outside the control of the players, each player attempts to control the amount of money in the pot based on the hand the player holds.
The game is divided into a series of hands or deals; at the conclusion of each hand, the pot is typically awarded to one player (an exception in which the pot is divided between more than one player is discussed below). A hand may end at the showdown, in which case the remaining players compare their hands and the highest hand is awarded the pot; that highest hand is usually held by only one player, but can be held by more in the case of a tie. The other possibility for the conclusion of a hand is when all but one player have folded and have thereby abandoned any claim to the pot, in which case the pot is awarded to the player who has not folded.
The objective of winning players is not winning every individual hand, but rather making mathematically correct decisions regarding when and how much to bet, raise, call or fold. By making such decisions, winning poker players maximize long-term winnings by maximizing their expected utility on each round of betting.
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. 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 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 Reno and Lake Tahoe. 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 big blind. 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 bet of $6 to a total of $8, a 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 can not re-raise again. This only matters of course if there was 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 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. (Like most poker games, the deck is a standard 52 card deck, 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 either 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 contribute to the amount that the blind player must contribute, and that, 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 Reno and Lake Tahoe casinos, the dealer will burn a card before the flop, turn, and river.
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 five-card poker hand he 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, since 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. Note that the card's numerical rank is of sole importance; suit values are irrelevant in Hold'em.
At the end of the last betting round, if more than one player remains, there is a showdown, in which the players reveal their previously hidden cards and evaluate their hands. The player with the best hand according to the poker variant being played wins the pot. A hold'em hand consists of the players best five cards.
A straight flush is a poker hand which contains five cards in sequence, all of the same suit, such as Q J 10 9 8. Two such hands are compared by their highest card; since suits have no relative value, two otherwise identical straight flushes tie (so 10 9 8 7 6 ties with 10 9 8 7 6). Aces can play low in straights and straight flushes: 5 4 3 2 A is a 5-high straight flush, also known as a "steel wheel". An ace-high straight flush such as A K Q J 10 is known as a royal flush, and is the highest ranking standard poker hand.
Four of a kind
Four of a kind, also known as quads, is a poker hand such as 9 9 9 9 J, which contains four cards of one rank, and an unmatched card of another rank. It ranks above a full house and below a straight flush. Higher ranking quads defeat lower ranking ones. In community-card games (such as Texas Hold 'em) or games with wildcards it is possible for two or more players to obtain the same quad; in this instance, the unmatched card acts as a kicker, so 7 7 7 7 J defeats 7 7 7 7 10.
A full house, also known as a full boat, is a hand such as 3 3 3 6 6, which contains three matching cards of one rank, and two matching cards of another rank. It ranks below a four of a kind and above a flush. Between two full houses, the one with the higher ranking set of three wins, so 7 7 7 4 4 defeats 6 6 6 A A. If two hands have the same set of three (possible in wild card and community card games), the hand with the higher pair wins, so 5 5 5 Q Q defeats 5 5 5 J J. Full houses are described as "Three full of Pair" or occasionally "Three over Pair"; Q Q Q 9 9 could be described as "Queens over nines", "Queens full of nines", or simply "Queens full". However, "Queens over nines" is more commonly used to describe the hand containing two pairs, one pair of queens and one pair of nines, as in Q Q 9 9 J.
A flush is a poker hand such as Q 10 7 6 4, which contains five cards of the same suit, not in rank sequence. It ranks above a straight and below a full house. Two flushes are compared as if they were high card hands; the highest ranking card of each is compared to determine the winner. If both hands have the same highest card, then the second-highest ranking card is compared, and so on until a difference is found. If the two flushes contain the same five ranks of cards, they are tied - suits are not used to differentiate them. Flushes are described by their highest card, as in "queen-high flush" to describe Q 9 7 4 3. If the rank of the second card is important, it can also be included: K 10 5 3 2 is a "king-ten-high flush" or just a "king-ten flush", while K Q 9 5 4 is a "king-queen-high flush".
A straight is a poker hand such as Q J 10 9 8, which contains five cards of sequential rank but in more than one suit. It ranks above three of a kind and below a flush. Two straights are ranked by comparing the highest card of each. Two straights with the same high card are of equal value, suits are not used to separate them. Straights are described by their highest card, as in "ten-high straight" or "straight to the ten" for 10 9 8 7 6.
A hand such as A K Q J 10 is an ace-high straight, and ranks above a king-high straight such as K Q J 10 9. The ace may also be played as a low card in a five-high straight such as 5 4 3 2 A, which is colloquially known as a wheel. The ace may not "wrap around", or play both high and low: 3 2 A K Q is not a straight, but just ace-high no pair.
Three of a kind
Three of a kind, also called trips, set or a prile (the latter from its use in three card poker), is a poker hand such as 2 2 2 K 6, which contains three cards of the same rank, plus two unmatched cards. It ranks above two pair and below a straight. In Texas hold 'em and other flop games, a "set" refers specifically to a three of a kind composed of a pocket pair and one card of matching rank on the board (as opposed to two matching cards on the board and a third in the player's hand). Higher-valued three of a kind defeat lower-valued three of a kind, so Q Q Q 7 4 defeats J J J A K. If two hands contain threes of a kind of the same value, possible in games with wild cards or community cards, the kickers are compared to break the tie, so 4 4 4 8 6 defeats 4 4 4 6 5.
A poker hand such as J J 4 4 9, which contains two cards of the same rank, plus two cards of another rank (that match each other but not the first pair), plus one unmatched card, is called two pair. It ranks above one pair and below three of a kind. To rank two hands both containing two pair, the higher ranking pair of each is first compared, and the higher pair wins (so 10 10 8 8 4 defeats 8 8 4 4 10). If both hands have the same "top pair", then the second pair of each is compared, such that 10 10 8 8 4 defeats 10 10 4 4 8). Finally, if both hands have the same two pairs, the kicker determines the winner: 10 10 8 8 4 loses to 10 10 8 8 A. Two pair are described by the higher pair first, followed by the lower pair if necessary; K K 9 9 5 could be described as "Kings over nines", "Kings and nines" or simply "Kings up" if the nines are not important.
One pair is a poker hand such as 4 4 K 10 5, which contains two cards of the same rank, plus three other unmatched cards. It ranks above any high card hand, but below all other poker hands. Higher ranking pairs defeat lower ranking pairs; if two hands have the same pair, the non-paired cards (the kickers) are compared in descending order to determine the winner.
A high-card or no-pair hand is a poker hand such as K J 8 7 3, in which no two cards have the same rank, the five cards are not in sequence, and the five cards are not all the same suit. It is also referred to as "no pair", as well as "nothing", "garbage," and various other derogatory terms. High card ranks below all other poker hands; two such hands are ranked by comparing the highest ranking card. If those are equal, then the next highest ranking card from each hand is compared, and so on until a difference is found. High card hands are described by the one or two highest cards in the hand, such as "king high", "ace-queen high", or by as many cards as are necessary to break a tie.