How To Play: No Limit Texas Hold'em

In this post we'll give you the basics of online poker, how to play No Limit Texas Hold'em (NLHE) and offer a few simple strategies so you don't make any major mistakes.

John Wallin
Jun 1, 2022
 minutes to read
How To Play: No Limit Texas Hold'em
June 1, 2022

Playing No Limit Texas Hold'em has gone from an obscure backroom game, to one of the biggest televised 'sporting' events on ESPN, to omnipresent at gatherings of friends and family around the globe. But just because you've played poker, doesn't mean you understand Texas Hold'em, and even if you've played some Texas Hold'em with your friends you may not be ready to play a competitive no limit game. In this post we'll give you the basics of poker, how to play NLHE and offer a few simple strategies so you don't make any major mistakes.

Before we get into No Limit Texas Hold'em specifically, lets review overall poker hand rankings, courtesy of PokerNews, so you know which hands are strongest.

Straight forward, right? We all know two pair beats a pair; three of a kind loses to a flush. Knowing which hand is strong is key to making smart decisions to bet or fold. In most forms of poker, you get dealt a hand and have the opportunity to improve on your cards. In five card draw, each player is dealt five cards and can then ask the dealer to trade in 1-5 of their cards to help improve their hand. In that game you know the cards you are dealt, the cards you traded in and the final cards in your hand. That is the only information you have. In stud, you get dealt two cards face down and then the next three face up - you can see 3/5 of your opponents cards and they can see 3/5 of yours. In these games you are typically betting against a limit - in other words if you're playing for $0.25/$0.50 antes you'll make a $0.50 / $1.00 raise, or raises in increments of $05.0 / $1. The pots are small, the bets are often small, and thus the risk of playing a bad hand are small. As you know, everything is bigger in Texas!

In Texas Hold'em, you are dealt just two cards. These are your hole cards, or your starting cards. The very best hand you can start with is A-A. Each player at the table will receive two cards, but those are the only individual cards dealt in NLHE. All of the remaining cards which are dealt are community cards and those are dealt in three rounds. First is the flop: three cards dealt face up. Next is the turn, or fourth street: one additional card is dealt face up. Finally, the river: one final card is dealt face up. Five cards in total and each player at the table uses three, four or five of these community cards to make their best five-card poker hand. Unlike other games, you're not playing your five cards against your opponents five cards; you are playing the best mix of your two hole cards + the five community cards against your opponents two hole cards + the five community cards.

Location, Location, Location

After you get dealt your cards there is a round of betting. It is important to understand that position matters a lot in NLHE. This is because any player at the table, at any time during the hand, may make a raise for all of their chips. That's the "no limit" part of No Limit Hold'em. Think about that for a minute: the dealer just dealt you two cards, the person in front of you folded their cards. You raise $5.00 thinking your Q♣-J♣ was pretty good. The next player re-raises you $100.00! What do you do? All of a sudden that Q-J isn't looking so good, even if they are suited.

That means the strength of your hand isn't just based on the two cards you have been dealt, it is also based on where you are seated at the table relative to the dealer. Poker players are a colorful bunch and have nicknames for almost every aspect of the game - seats at the table are no different. In NLHE we have eight, nine or ten players at a table. We could starting from the dealer - in a casino or online the dealer doesn't actually deal the cards but their position is indicated by the dealer button.

Directly to the left of the dealer is the Small Blind. The SB posts a bet, gets dealt their cards first, and is the second to last to act in the opening round of betting. They are then the first to act in every other round. The fact you're in for a penny (but not yet a pound) before the cards ever hit the felt AND you have to act first, make this arguably the worst seat at the table - even worse than Under The Gun. A lot of players have lost their chips making calls and continuation bets with marginal hands because they were 'defending' their small blind.

The Big Blind posts a bet 2X the size of the small blind (so if the small blind is $5, the big is $10 and the minimum bet/raise at the table is $10). Just like the small blind, you're already invested in the hand before any cards are dealt. Because you're already in the hand, it is often possible to see flops without having to invest any additional money in the pot.

Under The Gun earns it's nickname because you're the first to act once the hole cards have been dealt. You're acting without any additional information - you haven't seen anyone else bet, the only $$ in the middle are the blinds, and every other player at the table gets to act after you. Once the flop hits, you'll be among the first to act.

The next several seats are lumped together as 'middle position'. Some of them are designated by how far they are from the UTG seat: directly to the left of UTG is UTG+1, then UTG+2. They're not all clever. Middle position is very mid. You have some players behind you, you have a chance to see a few players ahead of you. Typically less experienced tight, aggressive players are playing premium hands from these spots.

The next two seats are designated by their position to the right of the dealer. The Hijack! is two seats to the right and earned this name from the number of sharks who use the late position to try and hijack the action from the last two players to act. In this position you can make plays to try and steal the blinds before the cutoff, dealer and two blinds get to act pre-flop.

The Cutoff is the seat directly to the right of the dealer and named that for this historic home game job of cutting the deck. In the world of live online poker we don't cut the cards, but the Cutoff still has an important role to play - stealing pots. If the table has folded around you're left with just yourself, the dealer and two blinds in the hand. That's a prime position to make a bet to steal the blinds, or limp in by making a call of the big blinds wager. You will not also get to see both blinds act after the flop before having to commit and additional chips to the pot.

The final seat at the table is the dealer. Of course, in a home game we often think of the dealer as the 'first' position since they deal the cards, but in casino poker and online Texas Hold'em you get to see the dealer position for what it really is: the best seat in the house. After the flop and each successive turn you are the final position to act, giving you the best information before deciding what to do.

The closer we get to the dealer, the more marginal a hand you can consider playing while reducing the risk of committing too many chips and increasingly the chances of winning the pot. Small pairs (4-4; 6-6) and small connectors (5♦️-6♦️; 3♥-4♥) are more often played in these positions with the player looking to improve their hand on the flop by making a set, straight or flush.

Losing Stinks

Getting your Kings (or Queens or ACES) cracked at a poker table is one of the most infuriating things - and it never seems to happen to anyone else. Losing is never a good feeling, but it is going to happen. While losing with big hands is part of the game, you can control more easily how often you lose with bad hands. Having a basic understanding of pre-flop strategy and post-flop strategy will give you a foundation to learn online Texas Hold'em while increasing your chances of winning pots - that makes the whole experience better. Betting in online hold'em is really defined in two phase: pre-flop and post-flop betting. Pre-flop poker strategy is all about what to do when your only betting with your hole card. The folks at Poker Listings offer these simple strategies to keep you focused:

  • Most of the time you should raise/re-raise with top-pairs (AA-QQ) and top connectors (AK, AQs) in order to make low-pairs and various connectors pay to see flops against you. Remember, they will often have the opportunity to double up on you if they hit (although many beginners do not realize this and fold too often pre-flop).
  • Stick to the premium hands (see table of minimum required hands). You will pay dearly to "chase" with second-best hands in NL.
  • Keep most raises down to between 70% and 100% (making it 3x the big blind to go typically equals an 80% pot bet) in order to save money when you get re-raised or called by stronger holdings. If there are limpers in front of you, raise to about 4-6x the big blind.
  • Have respect for strong tight players (for example, you should drop AQ if a strong player raises under the gun).
  • When very weak players have entered the pot, be inclined to call and take flops with them.

The second phase of betting is post-flop. There are three rounds of betting which happen after the flop, the turn and the river cards are dealt. Betting after cards are on the table gives you considerably more information and will let you try to determine what types of hands your opponents may be playing (this is often called a 'range' because you are not trying to determine the exact two cards your opponent holds, but instead a small variety of cards). Post-flop poker strategy can vary greatly between players based on their style, their experience level, their position at the table and the number of chips they have. As you get more experiences you'll start to calculate the pot odds. Poker Listings discussion of post-flop poker strategy includes these rules of thumb for players at all levels:

  • How you play post-flop has very much to do with position. Late position almost always gives you a large advantage in the hand. This is why it's so important to take that into consideration when you're making your decisions. It's obvious why late position is so advantageous: you get to see what everyone else in the hand does before you have to act.
  • Pay attention! Making a good accurate reading of the texture of the board is a skill. Many players don't realize the importance of this and don't work on improving their technique in this area or they allow themselves to get lazy. Assessing board texture is especially important in online poker. In online poker you get far fewer opportunities to pick up information about the hand, making the texture of the board a significant component of the information you will be offered.
  • The more players in the hand the less equity you have. Also, the more players in the hand the more likely there is someone who has enough of a hand to make a call. This makes bluffing a low-probability wager. Dan Harrington teaches that you should only c-bet if you're heads-up to the flop. The other factor introduced into multiway pots is the ability to create much more attractive pot and implied odds.
  • Why did your opponent do that? The betting story, along with the texture of the board, almost always accounts for a huge portion of the information you'll have at your disposal while playing online. Live or online, it's the most important part of a No-Limit Hold'em game. But as it's almost impossible to write out every possible betting story for every possible situation, the best is some general advice. Poker is a straightforward game in principal. If everyone plays perfect, tight ABC poker, then players will make bets directly proportionate to the hands they have.

Pot odds

Pot odds are what you use to calculate whether a certain bet makes sense at that time based on the amount you have to bet and the size of the pot. The easiest way to think about this is if the pot is $100 and you bet $10, the pot odds are 10 to 1. Of course, calculating pot odds is not always a 10:1 proposition, and you will need to know not just the size of the bet and the post, but to properly calculate your pot odds, you must know how many outs your hand has at the moment you make the bet.

You can find charts which help you calculate the odds of improving your hand, but anyone can quickly calculate the number of outs (the number of cards which will improve your hand). If you remember that each out gives you on about a 4% chance to improve your hand on the turn and river combined. For example, 5 outs gives you about a 20% chance of improving, 6 outs about 24%, etc. If you are playing a spade flush draw and have four spades already (two in your hand, two on the board) then you then have 9 outs to make your hand. There are 13 hearts in total. You hold 2 and the flop came with 2, which leaves 9 hearts unseen. Could some of those be in opponents hands? They could, but you can't see them so for purposes of calculating the odds, we treat all unseen cards the same.

Now you're ready! All you need to do now is create a group, invite your friends and host a game! Good luck (hey, a little luck never hurts).

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