Rules of Texas hold 'em
Texas hold 'em (also known as Texas holdem, hold 'em, or holdem) is a variation of the standard card game of poker. Two cards (hole cards) are dealt face down to each player and then five community cards are placed face-up by the dealer—a series of three ("the flop") then an additional single card ("the turn" or "fourth") and another additional card ("the river" or "fifth street"). The best five card poker hand is obtained by taking cards from either the community or their hole cards. Players have the option to check, bet, raise or fold after each deal; i.e., betting may occur prior to the flop, "on the flop", "on the turn", and "on the river".
In Texas hold 'em, as in all variants of poker, individuals compete for an amount of money or chips 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 either on the hand they are holding, or on their prediction as to what their opponents may be holding.
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 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 occurs when all but one player has 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 to win every individual hand, but rather to make mathematically and psychologically correct decisions regarding when and how much to bet, raise, call or fold. By making such decisions, winning poker players can maximize their expected gain on each round of betting, thereby increasing their long-term winnings.
Although little is known about the invention of Texas hold 'em, the Texas State Legislature officially recognizes Robstown, Texas, United States as the game's birthplace, dating the game to the early 1900s.
After the game spread throughout Texas, hold 'em was introduced to Las Vegas in 1967 by a group of Texan gamblers and card players, including Crandell Addington, Doyle Brunson, and Amarillo Slim. This is when "ace high" was changed from the original form in which aces were low. Addington said the first time he saw the game was in 1959. "They didn't call it Texas hold 'em at the time, they just called it hold 'em.… I thought then that if it were to catch on, it would become the game. Draw poker, you bet only twice; hold 'em, you bet four times. That meant you could play strategically. This was more of a thinking man's game."
For several years the Golden Nugget Casino in Downtown Las Vegas was the only casino in Las Vegas to offer the game. At that time, the Golden Nugget's poker room was "truly a 'sawdust joint,' with…oiled sawdust covering the floors." Because of its location and decor, this poker room did not receive many rich drop-in clients, and as a result, professional players sought a more prominent location. In 1969, the Las Vegas professionals were invited to play Texas hold 'em at the entrance of the now-demolished Dunes Casino on the Las Vegas Strip. This prominent location, and the relative inexperience of poker players with Texas hold 'em, resulted in a very remunerative game for professional players.
After a disappointing attempt to establish a "Gambling Fraternity Convention", Tom Moore added the first ever poker tournament to the Second Annual Gambling Fraternity Convention held in 1969. This tournament featured several games including Texas hold 'em. In 1970, Benny and Jack Binion acquired the rights to this convention, renamed it the World Series of Poker, and moved it to their casino, Binion's Horseshoe, in Las Vegas. After its first year, a journalist, Tom Thackrey, suggested that the main event of this tournament should be no-limit Texas hold 'em. The Binions agreed and ever since no-limit Texas hold 'em has been played as the main event. Interest in the Main Event continued to grow steadily over the next two decades. After receiving only eight entrants in 1972, the numbers grew to over one hundred entrants in 1982, and over two hundred in 1991.
During this time, B & G Publishing Co., Inc. published Doyle Brunson's revolutionary poker strategy guide, Super/System. Despite being self-published and priced at $100 in 1978, the book revolutionized the way poker was played. It was one of the first books to discuss Texas hold 'em, and is today cited as one of the most important books on this game. In 1983, Al Alvarez published The Biggest Game in Town, a book detailing a 1981 World Series of Poker event. The first book of its kind, it described the world of professional poker players and the World Series of Poker. Alvarez's book is credited with beginning the genre of poker literature and with bringing Texas hold 'em (and poker generally) to a wider audience.
Interest in hold 'em outside of Nevada began to grow in the 1980s as well. Although California had legal card rooms offering draw poker, Texas hold 'em was deemed to be prohibited under a statute that made illegal the (now unheard of) game "stud-horse". But in 1988 Texas hold 'em was declared legally distinct from stud-horse in Tibbetts v. Van De Kamp. Almost immediately card rooms across the state offered Texas hold 'em. (It is often presumed that this decision ruled that hold 'em was a game of skill, but the distinction between skill and chance has never entered into California jurisprudence regarding poker.) After a trip to Las Vegas, bookmakers Terry Rogers and Liam Flood introduced the game to European card players in the early 1980s.
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. After one round of betting is done, the next betting round will start by the person in the small blind.
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 players' 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 its being marked.
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.
If the first or second 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. A misdeal is also declared if a player receives more than two hole cards by mistake (e.g. two cards stuck together).
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 worked to develop poker playing programs utilizing techniques in game theory and artificial intelligence. In January, 2015, the AAAS journal Science reported that the group at the University of Alberta had succeeded in coding a computer program called Cepheus that can learn from its playing experience to optimize its CFR algorithm and approach playing perfection when opposing strong players in the variant known as heads-up limit Texas Hold ’em, which involves only two players. Although it does not win every hand, it is unbeatable on average over a large number of hands. The program exhibits more variation in its tactics than professional players do, for instance bluffing with weak hands that professional players tend to fold. Public web access to observe and play against Cepheus is available.
Because only two cards are 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 J♥ J♣ and J♦ J♠ are distinct combinations of cards by rank and suit, they are of equal value as starting hands.
Because of this equivalence, there are only 169 effectively different hole-card combinations. Thirteen of these are pairs, from deuces (twos) to aces. There are 78 ways to have two cards of different rank (12 possible hands containing one ace, 11 possible hands containing one king but no ace, 10 possible hands containing one queen but no ace or king, etc.). Both hole cards can 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 hands are stronger than their unsuited counterparts, although the magnitude of this strength advantage in different games is debated.
Because of the limited number of starting hands, most strategy guides include a detailed discussion of each of them. This distinguishes 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
Texas Hold'em is commonly played both as a "cash" or "ring" game and as a tournament game. Strategy for these different forms can vary.
Before the advent of poker tournaments, all poker games were played with real money where players bet actual currency (or chips that represented currency). Games that 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). This difference of small-stakes games has prompted 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 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 a 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 to not scare off other players with weaker hands, while 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.
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 a hand (combined with the cards on the table if there are any) to win the game. Calculators provide precise odds but they cannot be used in live games and are therefore mostly used on Internet poker games.