No-Limit Holdem (NLH, No-Limit Texas Holdem, Texas Holdem) is the poker game of choice for pub poker leagues and professional poker players alike. Use this course to improve your NLH tournament strategy and become a better poker player.
No-Limit Holdem is a simple game in design, but complex in it’s details.
“Texas Holdem takes minutes to learn, but a lifetime to master.”Highly respected poker player and former WPT co-host Mike Sexton
No Limit Texas Holdem is a popular poker game where you get dealt 2 hole cards, then a round of betting. A flop is dealt, then the turn, then the river, with a betting round between each. You can use both of your hold cards to make the best 5 card hand or use all 5 cards on the board. It's called 'No Limit' because at anytime you can bet all of your chips.
In NLH, everyone gets two cards to start the hand. This is your hand. Then five cards (3,1,1) eventually are on the board where you can use any of the seven cards to make your best poker hand.
Example of a full hand of NLH from start (Pre-Deal) to finish (Showdown).
1. Each player is dealt two cards face down (players hole cards).
2. A round of betting occurs.
3. 3 cards are turned face up in the middle of the table. This is called the ‘Flop’. Your two down cards with the 3 cards on the Flop make up your 5 card hand.
4. Another round of betting occurs
5. A 4th card is dealt face up. This is called the ‘Turn’. Now you have 6 cards with which to make your hand.
6. A round of betting occurs.
7. A 5th card is dealt face up. This is called the ‘River’. You use the 5 community cards along with your 2 private cards to make your best 5 card hand.
8. The final round of betting occurs.
9. After all betting has been finalized the player with the best 5 card poker hand rakes the pot. See detailed example below.
Sounds pretty simple and straightforward, but don’t let looks deceive you. Texas Hold-Em is a game of skill, and once you get a few hours under your belt you’ll realize you’ve got a whole lot to learn. We certainly do.
Example – here is an example of a final board of a Texas Hold Em hand.
These 5 cards are the community cards, and everyone at the table shares them. Your job is to determine how strong your hand is compared to everyone else that is still in the game. In this situation, the ‘nuts’ would be K, 10 – which makes an Ace high straight.
Looks pretty straightforward…and it is, but you might be surprised at the twists this game can take.
Each seat (position) at the table has a name. See detailed description of Position in basic strategy below.
The Button is the best position at the table. It signifies who the dealer is, therefore this player acts last during that hand.
Large bet that is made by the player two positions after the button.
Small bet that is made by the player one position after the button.
Small forced bet made by each player (Optional).
The dealer starts the hand by dealing two cards to each player one card at a time, starting one seat left of the button (the small blind). A betting round occurs after each player receives their 2 hole cards. These are (cards 1, 2) of the hand.
A betting round occurs after flop cards (cards 3, 4, 5).
A betting round occurs after the turn card (card 6).
A betting round occurs after the river card (card 7).
A hand may end at any time after the deal. However, if the hand makes it to showdown (after all betting has occured after the River), players reveal their hands to see who has the best 5 card poker hand, based on the standard poker hand rankings.
Poker is a game of action. When it is your turn for action, there are a number of things you can do. Here we will look at your options and begin discussion on reasons for taking each action, check, bet, call or fold.
At any time you can fold (give up) your hand to the dealer. You are now out of the hand and unable to win that hand. You will be dealt in next hand.
Folding is not calling or raising a bet before you, thus giving up the hand.
Reasons for Folding
Look for reasons to fold. Especially in low limit hold-em, you normally have to show down the best hands to win the pot. You should fold for many reasons. Fold most of your starting hands, fold most of your hands to lots of action in front of you. Fold, fold, fold. Don’t get involved in pots that you don’t think you can win, or that don’t lay you the proper odds for drawing to a monster hand.
If there is one word of warning about folding, is not to fold on the river unless you are VERY CERTAIN you are beat. Pots are normally large enough on the river that it doesn’t take but catching 1 bluff every now and then to make it worthwhile to call a river bet. Tight players will fold often, and tight is right.
If nobody has bet when it is your turn to act, you may check (pass) and the action goes to the next player.
Checking means that you can pass on betting or folding, but reserve the right to respond if there is any action after you in that round. Checking can only be done if there is no bet that you have to at least call to stay in the hand. Scott “What is Check” Stapp currently leads the contest for playing poker on TV whilst having no clue as to how the game works, even mechanically.
Reasons for Checking
There are many reasons for checking. You should check if your hand is beaten and you know it and you know your opponent knows it. This is a check/fold situation. Often times you will check if you are in early position and you know the flop helped out the competition a whole lot more than it did to you. If you want to see a free card to help complete your draw you can also check. A check is a passive move, except when you utilize its one unique feature… the check raise.
A bet occurs when you are the first to put money in the pot for that round of betting.
If you are playing No Limit you will often times hear the expression ‘Open the pot’. Opening the pot means you are the first person to bet. In general, if you hear that someone just opened the pot, they have done more than just called the big blind, they have raised to a certain amount. A common opening amount in NL is a raise 3 times higher than the big blind. Betting is the act of placing your chips into the pot and claiming ownership. If no one else at least calls your bet you win the pot, you now own it. You can also open the pot in limit holdem as well, it is just more common to here the phrase when playing no limit.
Reasons for Opening
You should open a pot whenever you think you have the best chance of winning the hand. This doesn’t mean that you never open with a weak hand. As all actions in poker, they are dependent on the situation. Some tables you can get away with limping in with J/10 suited from early position… some you can’t. Watching higher stakes tournaments, pots are normally opened by a raising the big blind. Generally you open when you have a strong starting hand or that the game conditions allow you to cheaply play drawing hands. If you are later in position, or at an extremely tight table with a bunch of rocks, you can open the pot on a bluff just to steal the blinds. This is most effective from late position. The question of, “How much do I raise to open the pot with?” is a question for the forum, and this is a good discussion of how much to raise with pocket aces pre-flop.
A call happens when you match a bet someone else makes.
Calling is when someone has bet before you and you match the amount of chips that they bet. Calling is done when you wish to continue in the hand but do not wish to raise. If someone before you bets $5 dollars and you have a drawing hand that you would like to continue playing you simply match that $5 and the action continues to the person on your left.
Reasons for Calling
You call bets because you want to see another card, or because you feel that someone behind you will raise and you will have the opportunity to re-raise. This calling with the intention to re-raise can be effective if you have a super aggressive player to your left and you you’ve got a monster and you want to get as much money in the pot as possible. This tactic will trap everyone in between the super aggressive player and yourself into contributing money into the pot when they would have folded if you were the one originally raising.
Often, you will want to see another card but you don’t want to raise the pot. On strong drawing hands it is often smart to call a bet because of the pot odds. Keep in mind that as you set your standards as to when you should call… you normally need a stronger hand to just call a bet than you do to raise it. Calling is a passive play.
A raise happens when you up a bet someone else makes.
Raising is when you increase the amount of money everyone else at the table has to put into the pot to continue in the hand. When it is your turn for action you raise the pot. Generally if you are playing Limit, raises will be in set increments. No limit you can raise as much as you choose. Calling a bet is not raising, even though there is more money in the pot. From our example above, in limit a raise would be making it $10 to go instead of just calling the $5. That means that all the players after you have to put $10 into the pot to continue their hand with the exception of the original raiser. He has to match the $10 you’ve put in but he already has $5 in the pot from this same round of action, so he only has to put $5 more in to call.
Reasons for Raising
Raising is an aggressive move, and aggression is rewarded in poker. Raising not only gives you the opportunity to win the pot right there, but it can give you valuable information about your opponents. If you think your opponents are on a draw, you should raise to make it cost as much as possible to complete the draws. If you think your opponent will fold to a raise and you want to win the pot right there, raise. If you want to find out the strength of your opponent, you can raise. If they re-raise you have to fear that they have a strong hand. If they just call you have to use your best judgment as to what they are holding.
If you are on a draw and in late position, you can raise to see a free card. For example you have 4 to your flush on the flop and an early position better bets. When the action gets to you, you raise it up with the hopes that on the turn, where the bets are larger, it will be checked to you. You now have the option of checking and seeing the river for ‘free’. Of course, you could also bet again on a semi-bluff and possibly win the pot there. Contrast this with the passive move of just calling a bet on the flop. The turn comes and it is very likely that whomever bet on the flop will bet on the turn, and now you have to pay 1 big bet to see the river.
Check Raising is when you check your first opportunity to act because you believe someone will bet after you and you would plan to re-raise them. Check raising is a 2 part move and requires action from your opponents to be executable.
Reasons for Check Raising
The check raise an extremely aggressive move in poker and it conveys powerful hand strength. The check raise is a risky maneuver. The check raise is a two step process, you check your first opportunity to bet in that round and then if you get a second opportunity, you raise. There is no guarantee that someone after you is going to bet and give you the option to check raise, it could possibly be checked around. The check raise is certainly a valid arsenal to employ in your poker game. It keeps people from trying to steal with a bet on the button after you checked. A well timed check raise will keep the competition guessing as to if you have a powerful hand or not.
For more on betting, see advanced betting strategy here.
Decision Making - NLH Poker is about making decisions.