Texas No-Limit Hold’Em Poker (NLHE) has seen an explosion in popularity over the past decade for two simple reasons. First, the rules are easy to learn.
Second, the betting structure of NLHE makes for some thrilling games, massive pots and huge winnings.
To enjoy the latter, however, you first have to master the former. Every good poker player must have a thorough understanding of the rules of NLHE. Let’s get started.
1. The Basics
Traditionally, NLHE is played with no more than ten players. One player is designated the Dealer (D) and given the dealer button (“the button”).
The player to the left of the SB is the “Big Blind” (BB).
Well, those numbers simply refer to the stakes played. So in a $1/$2 NLHE game, the small blind is $1 and the big blind is $2.
They’re referred to as blinds because the SB and BB have to put in the money before they’ve even seen their cards – they’re putting in the money “blind”.
This ensures there’s always some money in the pot to be won. It’s all fair, because the buttons rotate clockwise every hand – everyone takes turns to be D, SB and BB!
- These buttons are important because they determine the betting order.
- Before the flop, the BB is last to act. The player to his left acts first.
After the flop, the SB is first to act – if he’s still in the hand. If he’s not, the player closest to the left of the SB acts first.
- After the flop, D is always last to act. This gives him a massive advantage – he can find out what everyone else plans to do before he makes a move!
The objective of NLHE is incredibly simple – to make the best five-card hand from the available cards.
Every player gets dealt two cards. This is your starting hand, and these are cards only you can use. By the end of the game, there’ll be five “community cards” on the table. These are cards everyone can use to make their five-card hand. Here’s an example to illustrate. Say you have the following starting hand:
And your opponent has the following starting hand:
And the five community cards on the table are:
You can use one, both or none of the cards in your starting hand, in combination with the community cards, to make your final five-card hand. In our example, the best hand you can make from the seven cards available to you is three-of-a-kind. You have three threes (try saying that five times, really fast!)
Your opponent’s best example is one pair. He has a pair of sixes.
Three of a kind beats one pair, so you win.
(Note: You can grab our free preflop play guide HERE or click on the image below)
Of course, the five “community cards” aren’t all dealt at once – NLHE would be a terribly boring game if that were the case. The community cards are actually dealt in three stages – the flop, turn and river. Let’s use another example to illustrate this. As we’re discussing the example, try to apply what we learned in Part 2 by asking yourself whether the flop, turn and river improve your hand respectively.
Let’s say your starting hand is:
The flop comes. During the flop, three community cards are dealt at once.
Has your hand improved?
Yes, it has! Before the flop, your best hand was 9-high. Now, you have a pair of 8s. Of course, this isn’t the strongest hand out there. One of your opponents could have a pair of Jacks or a pair of Kings. But let’s assume you get to the turn.
Now, the turn comes. The turn consists of a single card.
Has your hand improved?
Yes, it has! Before the turn, your best hand was one pair (a pair of eights). Now, you have two pair – a pair of eights, and a pair of Kings.
Now, the river – the final card – is dealt.
Has your hand improved?
Okay, that was something of a trick question. The answer is both yes and no.
In a technical sense, your hand has improved. Before the river, you had a pair of eights and a pair of Kings. Now, you have a pair of Kings and a pair of Jacks.
The problem is, because both Kings and both Jacks are among the community cards, everybody has a pair of Kings and a pair of Jacks. Anyone with a Jack beats you, because he has a full house – Jacks full of Kings. Anyone with a King beats you, because he has a full house – Kings full of Jacks. And anyone with a card higher than a 9 beats you, because he has a better kicker.
In a relative sense, your hand is worth much less after the river, because your pair of eights is worthless – NLHE is only concerned with the best possible five card hand.
So you’ve not only learnt about the flop, the turn and the river. You’ve also picked up two essential pieces of advice:
- The value of your hand can change dramatically as the cards are dealt. Pay attention to the flop, turn and the river, and always keep track of the strength of your hand.
- Don’t be obsessed with the absolute value of your hands. Consider also its relative value. Your hand may look like it’s improved, but the important question is, has it improved relative to the hands that your opponents might have?
- Betting, Calling and Folding
The final part of our lesson concerns the meat and potatoes of NLHE – betting, calling and folding. These are the three options open to you when it’s your turn to play. We’ll use one last example to illustrate the rules.
Let’s say you’re dealt the following hand in the Big Blind, in a $1/$2 NLHE game where each player has $200 stacks.
Rejoice! You’ve just been dealt the best starting hand in poker – Pocket Aces.
As you will recall from Part 1, before the flop, the Big Blind is last to act. The player to the left of the Big Blind is first to act. The spotlight’s on him – so we say he is “under the gun”. Let’s say the player under the gun (“UTG”) bets $6. Everyone else folds.
It’s your turn. You can bet, call or fold. Let’s look at each of these options:
- Folding. This means you give up, and UTG wins. This is a silly option right now. You have the best possible hand – no way you are folding.
- Calling. This means you match the previous bet and put in a further $6. Once all players have called, the flop is dealt.
- Raising. This means you put in even more money. In NLHE, the minimum raise is the size of the previous bet – so in this case, the minimum raise is to $12. In NLHE, there are no maximum bets – the maximum bet is your entire stack.
That’s why NLHE is so exciting!
You have a great hand, so you’re going to raise. You raise to $18.
UTG raises to $50.
Now you know UTG has a good hand.
Your heart is racing.
Do you call and see the flop, or do you raise?
You decide the aggressive play is better, and you raise him all in.
UTG has already put in $50, so it’ll cost him $150 more to call. He folds. You’ve won $51 (UTG’s $50 bet + the $1 SB).
Now you know how to play NLHE.
You’ve taken the first step towards big winnings and a glittering poker career.
It’s time to hit the tables – but first, arm yourself with some of our poker strategies and discover how you can use the rules you’ve learnt today to your advantage!
(NOTE: if you’re serious about improving your game, I’ve prepared a FREE preflop guide for you to check out by linking the link below.)
I’m Matt “Checkmate” Colletta. I’ve been playing poker professionally since about 2004.
As one of the poker pros on UpswingPoker.com, my goal here is to help transform at least one hobbyist poker player into a self made millionaire.