How to Play Texas Hold’em

Want to enjoy a game of Texas Hold’em poker? Here you will find key details about Texas Hold’em to help you learn the game including the rules, hands, different variants of this game type and more.

What is Texas Hold’em Poker?

Texas Hold’em poker is one of the most popular poker variants in the world. Despite its relative simplicity, Texas Hold’em has the potential to be played with a seemingly infinite variety of strategies and tactics.

The Rules of Texas Hold’em

To start playing Texas Hold’em games, it’s important to understand the basic rules:

  • Every player is dealt two cards which only they will see (known as ‘hole cards’)
  • The dealer spreads five cards (community cards) - three at once, then another, then another - these can be used by all players to make their best possible five-card hand
  • Before and after each card(s) is revealed, players take turns to bet. To stay in the hand and see the next card, all players must have put the same amount of chips in the pot as each other (unless one player is already all-in)
  • The best poker hand wins the pot. A player may use any combination of the seven cards available to make the best possible five-card poker hand, using zero, one or two of their private hole cards

The Blinds

In Hold'em, a marker called ‘the button’ or ‘the dealer button’ indicates which player is the dealer for the current game. Before the game begins, the player immediately clockwise from the button posts the "small blind", the first forced bet. The player immediately clockwise from the small blind posts the "big blind", which is typically twice the size of the small blind (blinds can vary depending on the stakes and betting structure being played).

In Limit games, the big blind is the same as the small bet, and the small blind is typically half the size of the big blind (but may be larger depending on the stakes). For example, in a $2/$4 Limit game the small blind is $1 and the big blind is $2. In a $15/$30 Limit game, the small blind is $10 and the big blind is $15.

In Pot Limit and No Limit games, the games are referred to by the size of their blinds (for example, a $1/$2 Hold’em game has a small blind of $1 and a big blind of $2).

Depending on the exact structure of the game, each player may also be required to post an ‘ante’ (another type of forced bet, usually smaller than either blind, posted by all players at the table) into the pot.

Now, each player receives their two hole cards. Betting action proceeds clockwise around the table, starting with the player ‘under the gun’ (immediately clockwise from the big blind).

Player Betting Options

In Hold'em, as with other forms of poker, the available actions are ‘fold’, ‘check’, ‘bet’, ‘call’ or ‘raise’. Exactly which options are available depends on the action taken by the previous players. If nobody has made a bet, then a player may either check (decline to bet, but keep their cards) or bet. If a player has bet, then subsequent players can fold, call or raise. To call is to match the amount the previous player has bet. To raise is to not only match the previous bet, but to also increase it.


After seeing their hole cards, each player now has the option to play his or her hand by calling or raising the big blind. The action begins to the left of the big blind, which is considered a ‘live’ bet on this round. That player has the option to fold, call or raise. For example, if the big blind was $2, it would cost $2 to call, or at least $4 to raise. Action then proceeds clockwise around the table.

Note: The betting structure varies with different variations of the game. Explanations of the betting action in Limit Hold'em, No Limit Hold'em, and Pot Limit Hold'em can be found below.

Betting continues on each betting round until all active players (who have not folded) have placed equal bets in the pot.

The Flop

Now, three cards are dealt face-up on the board. This is known as ‘the flop’. In Hold'em, the three cards on the flop are community cards, available to all players still in the hand. Betting on the flop begins with the active player immediately clockwise from the button. The betting options are similar to pre-flop, however if nobody has previously bet, players may check, passing the action to the next active player clockwise.

The Turn

When the betting action is completed for the flop round, the ‘turn’ is dealt face-up on the board. The turn is the fourth community card in Hold'em (and is sometimes also called ‘Fourth Street’). Another round of betting ensues, beginning with the active player immediately clockwise from the button.

The River

When betting action is completed for the turn round, the ‘river’ or ‘Fifth Street’ is dealt face-up on the board. The river is the fifth and final community card in a Hold'em game. Betting again begins with the active player immediately clockwise from the button, and the same betting rules apply as they do for the flop and turn.

The Showdown

If there is more than one remaining player when the final betting round is complete, the last person to bet or raise shows their cards, unless there was no bet on the final round in which case the player immediately clockwise from the button shows their cards first. The player with the best five-card poker hand wins the pot. In the event of identical hands, the pot will be equally divided between the players with the best hands. Hold'em rules state that all suits are equal.

After the pot is awarded, a new hand of Hold'em is ready to be played. The button now moves clockwise to the next player, blinds and antes are once again posted, and new hands are dealt to each player.

How many Hand Combinations are there in Texas Hold’em?

There are 1,326 possible combinations for your opening hand in Texas Hold’em poker. However, because suits have no value in this poker variant, a lot of these combinations will have the same value before the flop. When we eliminate identical combinations, there are 169 starting hands in Texas Hold’em.

Pre-flop, Pocket Aces is the best starting hand. However, if your hand doesn’t improve on the board, you will only have one pair. Particularly in multi-way pots, this may not be a strong enough holding for you to continue in later betting rounds, or to win the hand if it gets to showdown.

When playing heads up games (vs just one opponent), you typically need to play an extremely wide range of starting hands, especially when on the button.

However, in multi-way games (vs several opponents), you need to be more selective with your starting hands, taking table position and the actions of your opponents into account. Hands with generally strong playability include:

  • Top pairs – AA and KK are the premium starting hands in Texas Hold’em. They can be played extremely confidently and aggressively pre-flop, and you shouldn’t be deterred from getting your stack in the middle at this stage if you get the opportunity. QQ and JJ are the next best pairs which can also be played positively, though you need to proceed with caution if facing a lot of pre-flop aggression, or if over cards are dealt on the flop.
  • Small pairs – small to middle pairs like 44 or 66 are good to play in late position if you can see a flop relatively cheaply, to try and hit a set on the flop. If you do, your hand will be pretty well disguised against opponents playing bigger pairs or higher cards. Folding is recommended against a lot of pre-flop action, or if you face a bet after missing the flop.
  • Suited connectors – cards with consecutive numbers and the same suit (e.g. JH, 10H). These holdings have great playability post-flop and can give you the chance to make straights or flushes. It’s recommended that you play a lot of these hands multi-way and/or when you have a deep stack, as you have the potential to win large pots against players with inferior holdings like two pair or three of a kind.
  • Suited aces – hands like AH, 4H give you the potential to make straights, but more importantly, the nut flush. Again, this can be extremely profitable against players with inferior holdings – especially players who may also hit lower value flushes. In addition, suited aces are great bluffing hands against pre-flop raises. Holding an ace means you block the combinations of aces that your opponent(s) can be holding. And if you’re called, your holding still has decent playability post-flop.

How are hands ranked in Texas Hold’em?

Understanding hand rankings beyond your starting hands is important as you look to play your best possible five-card hand from the seven available cards.

Texas Hold’em poker uses traditional high poker hand ranks:

  • Royal Flush – 10-A of the same suit
  • Straight Flush – Five cards of the same suit, in consecutive order numerically
  • Four of a Kind – Four cards of the same rank, and one side card/’kicker’
  • Full House – Three cards of the same rank, and two other cards which also match rank
  • Flush – Five cards of the same suit
  • Straight – Five cards in sequence numerically
  • Three of a Kind – Three cards of the same rank, and two unrelated side cards
  • Two pair – Two cards of matching ranks, another two cards of matching rank, and one side card
  • One pair – Two cards of matching rank, and three unrelated side cards
  • High card – No matching cards and no other hand type

More information on hand ranks, including examples of poker hands, is available in our How to Play section.

Limit, No Limit, Pot Limit and Mixed Texas Hold'em

Hold'em rules remain the same for Limit, No Limit and Pot Limit poker games, with a few exceptions

  • Limit Texas Hold'em
    Betting in Limit Hold'em is in pre-determined, structured amounts. Pre-flop and on the flop, all bets and raises are of the same amount as the big blind. On the turn and the river, the size of all bets and raises doubles. In Limit Hold'em, up to four bets are allowed per player during each betting round. This includes a (1) bet, (2) raise, (3) re-raise, and (4) cap (final raise).
  • No Limit Texas Hold'em
    The minimum bet in No Limit Hold'em is the same as the size of the big blind, but players can always bet as much more as they want, up to all of their chips.

    Minimum raise: In No Limit Hold'em, the raise amount must be at least as much as the previous bet or raise in the same round. As an example, if the first player to act bets $5 then the second player must raise a minimum of $5 (total bet of $10).

    Maximum raise: The size of your stack (your chips on the table).

    In No Limit Hold'em, there is no ‘cap’ on the number of raises allowed.
  • Pot Limit Texas Hold'em
    The minimum bet in Pot Limit Hold'em is the same as the size of the big blind, but players can always bet up to the size of the pot.

    Minimum raise: The raise amount must be at least as much as the previous bet or raise in the same round. As an example, if the first player to act bets $5 then the second player must raise a minimum of $5 (total bet of $10).

    Maximum raise: The size of the pot, which is defined as the total of the active pot plus all bets on the table plus the amount the active player must first call before raising.

    Example: If the size of the pot is $100, and there is no previous action on a particular betting round, a player may bet a maximum of $100. After that bet, the action moves to the next player clockwise. That player can either fold, call $100, or raise any amount between the minimum ($100 more) and the maximum. The maximum bet in this case is $400 - the raiser would first call $100, bringing the pot size to $300, and then raise $300 more, making a total bet of $400.

    In Pot Limit Hold'em, there is no ‘cap’ on the number of raises allowed.
  • Mixed Texas Hold'em
    In Mixed Hold'em, the game switches between rounds of Limit Hold'em and No Limit Hold'em. The blinds are typically increased when the game switches from No Limit to Limit, to ensure some consistency in the average pot size in each game. The betting rules on each round follow the rules for that game, as described above.

In the PokerStars software, it’s not possible to bet less than the minimum or more than the maximum. The bet slider and bet window will only allow you to bet amounts within the allowed thresholds.

Learn How to Play Texas Hold'em for Free

If you want to learn how to play Hold'em, then download the PokerStars software and join any of the free poker games where you can play online against other players. Unlike our real money poker games, since there is nothing at stake, you can be comfortable learning the ropes of the game and all the rules of Hold'em.

As well as Texas Hold’em, we also offer many other poker variants. See our Poker Games page to learn more.

Additional information

During a game of Texas Hold’em, players are trying to win the pot – the sum of all the bets that have been played in that hand. A player will win the pot if they have the best five-card hand at the showdown.

In the instance where all but one player has decided to fold, the remaining player will win the pot without having to show their hand.

Success in Texas Hold’em games often relies upon strategy. Considering the following elements can be a good way to start developing your optimal Texas Hold’em strategy:

  • Choose to play opening hands that are more likely to make you money in various situations. Are you ‘on the button’? Think about what others have done and make the most of being in a stronger table position.
  • Think about your potential hands and what others are likely to do at the table when sizing your bets. Again, position can play a big part in your decision-making here.
  • Folding and knowing when you’re beaten is a skill that can help you maintain your stack/buy-in and your success/bankroll in the long run. Learn when it’s best to fold and move onto the next hand.

Practice and experience can be key when it comes to developing a successful poker strategy. PokerStars offers free-to-play games where players can hone their skills, as well as a range of strategy tips and advice.