Updated: Dec 7, 2021
This is an article aimed at explaining the basics of how you can play a game of poker including some great beginner strategy. Never feel unsure of what you can or can't do when playing your next game. You will become familiar with key terms and definitions, when it's your turn to make your move, and what you can do when it is your turn. This is a great starting point for anyone wanting to learn the basics of how Texas Hold'em works and the basic strategy behind the game.
I've also thrown in some Top Tips throughout the article, these are techniques that you can start doing in your game to improve your play immediately!
What is No Limit Texas Hold’em
Texas Hold’em is the most popular poker variation played in the world. Players compete to make the highest value poker hand at the end of a final betting round. The player with the highest hand will win the pot. The pot is the total cash or chips that players contribute to over the course of the hand. There are 4 betting rounds in a poker hand, a game of poker can last any number of hands.
Each hand is started by dealing each player 2 cards. These individual cards are private and are often referred to as hole cards. Players will use their hole cards and 5 community cards to make the best poker hand when the final round of betting is over. The community cards are visible to all players and revealed in order with the rules after each round of betting.
Which Hands Win
One thing to remember when playing, is the likelihood that you will make one of the strongest hands in the game. For example, I've played over 4 million poker hands in my career and I've never had a Royal Flush in poker! The most common hands that you will be seeing are single pairs, 2 pairs and high cards. Most hands are won at showdown with single pairs.
When it comes to the value of the individual hands. The highest card value in the highest category is the winner, remember aces are high. So a pair of Aces is better than a pair of Kings and so on. In 2 pair situations, the highest pair takes priority, so Aces and Twos is better than Tens and Nines. When it comes to straights, the straight that ends in the highest card wins.
Toppers Top Tips: Pay attention to the board at all times, if there are multiple straights and flushes available this will decrease the relative strength of your hand. If there are no straights or flushes possible, 3-of-a-kind is the strongest possible hand!
How a Hand is Played
Players sit at a table after buying in to the game. You can pay a tournament fee in exchange for chips to play with, or you play a cash game where you sit with real money to gamble with.
A hand is divided into multiple sections. The simplest way to talk about the hand is to refer to the betting rounds. There is a round of betting after each player has received their hole cards (preflop), a round after the flop, turn, and then river. To move to the next round, all remaining players must have contributed the same amount of chips into the pot or all players must have checked.
On the Flop, before the players start betting, 3 community cards are revealed to the remaining players that they can use. On the Turn and River, a single extra card is revealed to all players. What a player can do in a hand is dictated by what has happened before them and which round of betting they are on.
Important Positions for Beginners to Learn
When you are just starting out playing, the positions that you must pay attention to are the Button (The dealer, the BTN), the Small Blind (SB) and the Big Blind (BB). The button is shown on the table by a small disk, often white and will move one player to the left upon the completion of every hand. It’s vital you know which player at the table is “on the button” as the order that players make decisions in the hand is dictated by this position.
The SB and BB are the positions to one and then two to the left of the dealer respectively. Players in these positions are forced to contribute money into the community pot prior to being dealt a hand. These act as forced bets. This is to encourage other players at the table to play their hands and win the money that the players in the blinds have contributed. In a cash game the blinds do not change, in a tournament the blinds will increase at set intervals, also known as levels.
When Is It My Turn?
What a player can do in the hand is called their action. You must wait until it is your turn before making your action. The order that players have their turn is clockwise starting with a player who has not acted in the hand. As the blinds have been forced to bet, the first person to act is the player directly to the left of the BB.
What Can You Do Preflop
When it is your turn, you have multiple options of what you can do preflop. You can call- match the previous bet, in this case the blind. Calling the blind preflop is called limping. You can raise- bet a larger amount than the big blind (a minimum of 2x the size). Or you can Fold. When folding, you release your cards and exit the hand. By doing this, you don’t have to put any money into the pot but will not have a chance to win the hand.
To move to the next round of betting, all remaining players with cards must have matched the previous bet size. Once all remaining players have put the same amount into the pot, community cards are revealed, and the next round of betting can take place.
When you are the player in the BB, if players have limped into the hand, you can either raise or check. When checking preflop, you have already matched the previous bet size but choose to not put any more money into the pot. You can think of a check as passing your go.
What Can You Do on the Flop, Turn, and River
All players in the hand still have their hole cards. They will see the 3 community cards dealt for all players to use. When this happens, another round of betting can take place. You will know that it is your turn because of where the BTN is. The first player who still has cards to the left of the button makes the first move in the hand.
They have the following options: bet or check. If they bet, they add money to the pot that their opponent must respond to if they want to see another card. If they check, they are essentially betting no chips, skipping their go. If you decide to bet in NLHE you can bet any size that you like if it is bigger than one BB.
Toppers Top Tips: The best bet sizings are based on the current size of the pot. These sizings are 33% pot size, 66% pot size and even 133% pot size. You don’t want to bet too big or small.
What you are allowed to do will depend on what your opponents who act before you have done. If it's your turn and the players in the hand have checked, you will also have the option of checking. You also have the same option of betting, which will send the action back around the table and force them to respond to the new bet size by calling, raising, or folding.
If one of your opponents has made a bet in the hand you can no longer check. You must respond to that bet by either matching it calling, raising, or folding.
Folding is an important part of poker if you don’t think that your hand is going to win. Good poker players know how likely their hand is to win against their opponents so will not want to put more money in the hand and lose.
How do I win a Hand?
There are 2 ways of winning a hand in poker:
- Winning at Showdown
- Being the last player in the hand with cards
If all the bets have been matched on the river, the hand will go to showdown. This is where the player with the strongest 5 card poker hand will be awarded the pot. You can use one, both or none of your cards with the community cards to make your poker hand. To claim a pot, you must prove that you have the strongest hand so must show the table your hole cards at this stage. Showdown can only happen at the river or if a player the remaining player has no chips left.
Last Man Standing
If there are no players left with cards other than yourself, then there is no player who can possibly have a better 5 card hand than you. Therefore, you win the hand automatically without having to show your hole cards.
Strategy Advice For Beginners
The hand you choose to play and see a flop with is called the range of hand you play. Most poker hands are won with good single pairs. You can maximise your chances of winning by playing hands that are more likely to make these strong high pair hands. This is called playing a strong range. The best players understand that stronger range will always beat a weaker range when there is no difference in skill.
Therefore, it is vital that you are using a great preflop strategy. Solid Post Flop Players will always have a rock solid preflop range. Good players also don’t limp into a pot preflop, they either raise or fold.
One of the first things that stands out to me in 80% of consultation sessions are errors that players make in their preflop strategy. Don't be one of those players! Download some high quality preflop range charts today from jacobtopley.com and see a dramatic improvement immediately.
One final thing to remember... Have fun! Poker is a great game and you should be playing poker to have a fun time and not for profit- not right away anyway!