Learn to play poker

No Limit Texas Hold’em

No Limit Texas Hold’em plays out using two different blinds: the ‘small blind’ and the ‘big blind’.

A blind is an initial compulsory bet placed by the two players to the left of the dealer button, before any cards are dealt. This ensures that at least two players are involved in the hand and gives incentive to other players to compete for each pot. At the later stages of a poker tournament, as the blinds rise, game play can speed up and, as it becomes more expensive to play, it forces players to play hands. If you don’t play hands, then you’ll run out of chips; players are forced to enter pots in order to stay in the tournament.

Blinds also put pressure on those players who don’t want to get involved much. If a player doesn’t get involved at all, his chip stack will decrease with every circuit of the table – they’ll have placed one small blind and one big blind each round. This means that if someone doesn’t play a hand for the whole tournament, they’ll be left with no chips. In other words, they will have been ‘blinded out’.

Small blind

The small blind is always sandwiched between the button (the dealer: generally regarded as the best position) and the big blind. The small blind is usually half the value of the big blind.

Big blind

The big blind is placed by the player seated to the left of the small blind. It is twice the size of the small blind.


The ante is an additional bet introduced in the later stages of a game, when the blinds are high. Smaller in value than the small blind and big blind, it is a compulsory sum placed by each player at the table to enforce game play.

Once these initial bets have been placed and the cards have been dealt, the real action can begin. This starts with the player who is under the gun: to the left of the big blind. Play then continues, and the button moves one spot, clockwise, with each hand, along with everything else.

Player betting options

In No Limit Texas Hold’em, there could be up to four betting rounds: pre-flop, the flop, the turn and the river.


At this stage of the game, players are dealt their hole cards: the two cards which belong solely to them, and which remain hidden from the other players for the duration of the game. After receiving these cards, play begins, with the person sitting on the left of the big blind kicking off proceedings.  This player has the option to either fold, call or raise. This process then continues until all active players have placed equal bets into the pot.

Bear in mind that if someone does raise instead of call, this amount will act as the new minimum bet for that betting round.

The Flop

Three community cards are dealt onto the table, face up. Betting then begins to the left of the dealer button, with similar options to pre-flop. However, this time (if nobody has previously bet), players can decide to check, passing the action on to the next player. This in itself creates the possibility of this round being ‘free of charge’, with every player checking.

The Turn

Once the betting action for the flop is complete, play moves on to the turn: the fourth community card to be dealt, face up, onto the table. Here, another carefully calculated round of betting ensues in the same way as the flop: starting to the left of the dealer button.

The River

The river is the final community card to be dealt. Once this has been dealt, the final round of betting takes place, the same way as pre-flop, the flop and turn: starting from the left of the dealer button.


To win the pot, a showdown of all the remaining players in the pot takes place.  Players turn their cards face up and the player with the best five card poker hand will win the pot.  In the event that two or more players have the same winning hand, the pot will be split equally between these two players.

Each decision you make can be crucial, as not only does it affect the size of the pot, but also gives your opponent clues as to the strength of your hand. Equally, your opponent’s betting can reveal information about the strength of their hand.

When you’re first learning how to play poker, it may be difficult to process all of this information, but the more you play, the more natural it will all become.

So, what exactly do we mean when we choose the following course of action?


After the flop has been dealt, and if nobody at the table has yet made a bet, then a player can check. Checking involves declining to bet yourself, but keeping your cards. Uttering the word “check” or tapping the table simply means passing the action on to the next person.

If every active player checks during a round of betting, that round is considered complete.


Folding means discarding your cards until the next deal, and giving up any interest in the pot – you are out of action.

Bear in mind that you can only fold when facing a bet. Under some rules, it’s considered bad etiquette to fold when you aren’t facing a bet, and is completely against the rules in some circles.


If a bet hasn’t yet been made, you have the option to make a bet yourself. Once a bet has been made, the rest of the players then have the option to fold, call or raise during the rest of the round. The minimum bet you can place is always the same as the big blind.


A call is made once a bet has been placed in a round of poker. Calling involves matching the current bet, and may mean that you don’t have a very strong hand. Unless, of course, you are trapping: feigning weakness while nursing a very strong hand, to get more chips in later betting rounds.


If you want to increase the size of the initial bet, it would be the time to ‘raise’ and make a bigger one. Bear in mind that this must be done in one motion, however, rather than putting some chips in before then throwing in some more. Only the first move counts, a guideline that’s very strictly followed.

You could raise for a number of reasons:

  • Because you like your hand and want to increase the size of the bet as a result, and get more money into the pot.
    • To get your opponent to fold.
    • To get rid of players (thin the field).
    • To make an opponent pay to make a hand he is drawing to.
    • To take control of a hand (for example, raising in position on the flop may give you a free card on the turn).
    • To raise for value.

You should always have a reason for making bets or raising. Always make sure you know why you are raising.

Hopefully this explains the basics of No Limit Texas Hold’em, for more advanced play strategies, you can attend one of our learn to play evenings held on the 1st Friday of every month.