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Texas hold 'em (also hold'em, holdem) is the most popular poker game in the casinos and poker card rooms across North America and Europe. Hold 'em is a community card game where each player may use any combination of the five community cards and the player's own two hole cards to make a poker hand, in contrast to poker variants like stud or draw where each player holds a separate individual hand.

After slow but steady gains in popularity throughout the 20th century, hold 'em's popularity surged in the 2000s due to exposure on television, on the Internet, and in popular literature. During this time hold 'em replaced 7 card stud as the most common game in U.S. casinos, almost totally eclipsing the once popular game. The no-limit betting form is used in the widely televised main event of the World Series of Poker (WSOP) and the World Poker Tour (WPT).

Because each player only starts with two cards and the remaining cards are shared, it presents an opportune game for strategic analysis (including mathematical analysis). Hold 'em's simplicity and popularity have inspired a wide variety of strategy books which provide recommendations for proper play. Most of these books recommend a strategy that involves playing relatively few hands but betting and raising often with the hands one plays.


In Texas hold 'em, like all variants of poker, individuals compete for an amount of money contributed by the players themselves (called the pot). Because the cards are dealt randomly and outside the control of the players, each player attempts to control the amount of money in the pot based on the hand the player holds.

The game is divided into a series of hands or deals; at the conclusion of each hand the pot is awarded to one or a few players. A hand ends either at the showdown (when the remaining players compare their hands), or when all but one player have folded and abandoned their claims to the pot. The pot is then awarded to the player(s) who have not folded and have the best hand. (This is usually only one player, but can be more in the case of a tie.)

The objective of winning players is not winning every individual hand, but rather making mathematically correct decisions. By making such decisions, winning poker players maximize their long run winnings, which is achieved by maximizing their expected utility on each round of betting.


Although little is known about the invention of Texas hold 'em, the Texas State Legislature officially recognizes Robstown, Texas as the game's birthplace, dating the game to the early 1900s.

After its invention and spread throughout Texas, hold 'em was introduced to Las Vegas in 1967 by a group of Texan gamblers and card players, including Crandell Addington, Doyle Brunson, and Amarillo Slim. Addington said the first time he saw the game was in 1959. "They didn't call it Texas hold 'em at the time, they just called it hold 'em... I thought then that if it were to catch on, it would become the game. Draw poker, you only bet twice; hold 'em, you bet four times. That meant you could play strategically. This was more of a thinking man's game."

For several years the Golden Nugget Casino in Downtown Las Vegas was the only casino in Las Vegas to offer the game. At that time, the Golden Nugget's poker room was "truly a 'sawdust joint,' with... oiled sawdust covering the floors." Because of its location and decor, this poker room did not receive many rich drop-in clients, and as a result, professional players sought a more prominent location. In 1969, the Las Vegas professionals were invited to play Texas hold 'em at the entrance of the now-demolished Dunes Casino on the Las Vegas Strip. This prominent location, and the relative inexperience of poker players with Texas hold 'em, resulted in a very remunerative game for professional players.

After a disappointing attempt to establish a "Gambling Fraternity Convention", Tom Moore added the first ever poker tournament to the Second Annual Gambling Fraternity Convention held in 1969. This tournament featured several games including Texas hold 'em. In 1970 Benny and Jack Binion acquired the rights to this convention, renamed it the World Series of Poker, and moved it to their casino Binion's Horseshoe Casino in Las Vegas. After its first year, a journalist, Tom Thackrey, suggested that the main event of this tournament should be no-limit Texas hold 'em. The Binions agreed and ever since no-limit Texas hold 'em has been played as the main event. Interest in the Main Event continued to grow steadily over the next two decades. After receiving only 8 entrants in 1972, the numbers grew to over 100 entrants in 1982, and over 200 in 1991.

During this time, Doyle Brunson's revolutionary poker strategy guide, Super/System was first published. Despite being self-published and priced at $100 in 1978, the book revolutionized the way poker was played. It was one of the first books to discuss Texas hold 'em, and is today cited as one of the most important books on this game. A few years later, Al Alvarez published a book detailing an early World Series of Poker event. The first book of its kind, it described the world of professional poker players and the World Series of Poker. It is credited with beginning the genre of poker literature and with bringing Texas hold 'em (and poker generally), for the first time, to a wider audience.

Interest in hold 'em outside of Nevada began to grow in the 1980s as well. Although California had legal card rooms offering draw poker, Texas hold 'em was prohibited under a statute which made illegal the now unknown game "stud-horse". However in 1988, Texas hold 'em was declared legally distinct from "stud-horse" in Tibbetts v. Van De Kamp, 271 Cal. Rptr. 792 (1990). Almost immediately card rooms across the state offered Texas hold 'em. (It is often presumed that this decision ruled that hold 'em was a skill game, but the distinction between skill and chance has never entered into California jurisprudence regarding poker.) After a trip to Las Vegas, bookmakers Terry Rogers and Liam Flood introduced the game to European card players in the early 1980s.

The hold 'em explosion

In the first decade of the 21st century, Texas hold 'em experienced a surge in popularity worldwide. Many observers attribute this growth to the synergy of five factors: the invention of online poker, the game's appearance in film and on television, the 2004-05 NHL lockout, the appearance of television commercials advertising online cardrooms, and the 2003 World Series of Poker championship victory by online qualifier Chris Moneymaker.

Television and film

Poker on television

Prior to poker becoming widely televised, the movie Rounders (1998), starring Matt Damon and Edward Norton, gave moviegoers a romantic view of the game as a way of life. Texas hold 'em was the main game played during the movie and the no-limit variety was described, following Doyle Brunson, as the "Cadillac of Poker". A clip of the classic showdown between Johnny Chan and Erik Seidel from the 1988 World Series of Poker was also incorporated into the film.

Hold 'em first caught the public eye as a spectator sport in the United Kingdom with the Late Night Poker TV show in 1999. Fueled by the introduction of lipstick cameras, which allowed spectators to see the players' private cards, hold 'em exploded in popularity as a spectator sport in the United States and Canada in 2003. ESPN's coverage of the 2003 World Series of Poker featured the unexpected victory of Internet player Chris Moneymaker, an amateur player who gained admission to the tournament by winning a series of online tournaments. Moneymaker's victory initiated a sudden surge of interest in the World Series, based on the egalitarian idea that anyone – even a rank novice – can become a world champion.

In 2003, there were 839 entrants in the WSOP Main Event, and triple that number in 2004. The crowning of the 2004 WSOP champion, Greg "Fossilman" Raymer, a patent attorney from Connecticut, further fueled the popularity of the event among amateur (and particularly internet) players. In the 2005 Main Event, an unprecedented 5,619 entrants vied for a first prize of $7,500,000. The winner, Joe Hachem of Australia, was a semi-professional player. This growth continued in 2006, with 8,773 entrants and a first place prize of $12,000,000 (won by Jamie Gold).

Beyond the World Series, other television shows – including the long running World Poker Tour – are credited with increasing the popularity of Texas hold 'em. In addition to its presence on network and general audience cable television, poker has now become a regular part of sports networks' programming in the United States.


Twenty years after the publication of Alvarez's groundbreaking book, James McManus published a semi-autobiographical book, Positively Fifth Street (2003), which simultaneously describes the trial surrounding the murder of Ted Binion and McManus' own entry into the 2000 World Series of Poker. McManus, a poker amateur, finished 5th in the No-Limit Texas Hold 'em main event, winning over $200,000. In the book McManus discusses events surrounding the World Series, the trial of Sandy Murphy and Rick Tabish, poker strategy, and some history of poker and the world series.

Michael Craig's 2005 book The Professor, the Banker, and the Suicide King details a series of high stakes Texas hold 'em one-on-one games between Texas banker Andy Beal and a rotating group of poker professionals. As of 2006, these games were the highest stakes ever played, reaching $100,000–$200,000 fixed limit.

Online poker

The ability to play cheaply and anonymously online has been credited as a cause of the increase in popularity of Texas hold 'em. Online poker sites both allow people to try out games and also provide an avenue for entry into large tournaments (like the World Series of Poker) via smaller tournaments known as satellites. Both the 2003 and 2004 winners of the World Series qualified by playing in these tournaments.

Although online poker grew from its inception in 1998 until 2003, Moneymaker's win and the appearance of televisions advertisements in 2003 contributed to a tripling of industry revenues in 2004.

Betting structures

Hold 'em is normally played using small and big blind bets – forced bets by two players. Antes (forced contributions by all players) may be used in addition to blinds, particularly in later stages of tournament play. A dealer button is used to represent the player in the dealer position; the dealer button rotates clockwise after each hand, changing the position of the dealer and blinds. The small blind is posted by the player to the left of the dealer and is usually equal to half of the big blind. The big blind, posted by the player to the left of the small blind, is equal to the minimum bet. In tournament poker, the blind/ante structure periodically increases as the tournament progresses. (In some cases, the small blind is some other fraction of a small bet, e.g. $10 is a common small blind when the big blind is $15. The double-blind structure described above is a commonly used and more recent adoption.)

When only two players remain, special 'head-to-head' or 'heads up' rules are enforced and the blinds are posted differently. In this case, the person with the dealer button posts the small blind, while his/her opponent places the big blind. The dealer acts first before the flop. After the flop, the dealer acts last for the remainder of the hand.

The three most common variations of hold 'em are limit hold 'em, no-limit hold 'em and pot-limit hold 'em. Limit hold 'em has historically been the most popular form of hold 'em found in casino live action games in the United States.[2] In limit hold 'em, bets and raises during the first two rounds of betting (pre-flop and flop) must be equal to the big blind; this amount is called the small bet. In the next two rounds of betting (turn and river), bets and raises must be equal to twice the big blind; this amount is called the big bet. No-limit hold 'em is the form most commonly found in televised tournament poker and is the game played in the main event of the World Series of Poker. In no-limit hold 'em, players may bet or raise any amount over the minimum raise up to all of the chips the player has at the table (called an all-in bet). If someone wishes to re-raise, they must raise at least the amount of the previous raise. For example, if the big blind is $2 and there is a bet of $6 to a total of $8, a raise must be at least $6 more for a total of $14. If a raise or re-raise is all-in and does not equal the size of the previous raise, the initial raiser can not re-raise again. This only matters of course if there was a call before the re-raise. In pot-limit hold 'em, the maximum raise is the current size of the pot.

Most casinos that offer hold 'em also allow the player to the left of the big blind to post an optional live straddle, usually double the amount of the big blind, which then acts as the big blind. No-limit games may also allow multiple re-straddles, in any amount that would be a legal raise.

Play of the hand

Play begins with each player being dealt two cards face down. (Like most poker games, the deck is a standard 52 card deck, no jokers.) These cards are the player's hole or pocket cards. These are the only cards each player will receive individually, and they will only (possibly) be revealed at the showdown, making Texas hold 'em a closed poker game.

The hand begins with a "pre-flop" betting round, beginning with the player to the left of the big blind (or the player to the left of the dealer, if no blinds are used) and continuing clockwise. A round of betting continues until every player has either folded, put in all of their chips, or matched the amount put in by all other active players. See betting for a detailed account. Note that the blinds are considered "live" in the pre-flop betting round, meaning that they contribute to the amount that the blind player must contribute, and that, if all players call around to the player in the big blind position, that player may either check or raise.

After the pre-flop betting round, assuming there remain at least two players taking part in the hand, the dealer deals a flop, three face-up community cards. The flop is followed by a second betting round. This and all subsequent betting rounds begin with the player to the dealer's left and continue clockwise.

After the flop betting round ends, a single community card (called the turn or fourth street) is dealt, followed by a third betting round. A final single community card (called the river or fifth street) is then dealt, followed by a fourth betting round and the showdown, if necessary.

In all casinos, the dealer will burn a card before the flop, turn, and river. Because of this burn, players who are betting cannot see the back of the next community card to come, which might be marked.

The showdown

If a player bets and all other players fold, then the remaining player is awarded the pot and is not required to show his hole cards. If two or more players remain after the final betting round, a showdown occurs. On the showdown, each player plays the best five-card poker hand he can make from the seven cards comprising his two hole cards and the five community cards. A player may use both of his own two hole cards, only one, or none at all, to form his final five-card hand. If the five community cards form the player's best hand, then the player is said to be playing the board and can only hope to split the pot, since each other player can also use the same five cards to construct the same hand.

If the best hand is shared by more than one player, then the pot is split equally among them, with any extra chips going to the first players after the button in clockwise order. It is common for players to have closely-valued, but not identically ranked hands. Nevertheless, one must be careful in determining the best hand; if the hand involves fewer than five cards, (such as two pair or three of a kind), then kickers are used to settle ties (see the second example below). Note that the card's numerical rank is of sole importance; suit values are irrelevant in Hold'em.

Most poker authors recommend a tight-aggressive approach to playing Texas hold 'em. This strategy involves playing relatively few hands (tight), but betting and raising often with those that one does play (aggressive). Although this strategy is often recommended, some professional players successfully employ other strategies as well.

Almost all authors agree that where a player sits in the order of play (known as position) is an important element of Texas hold 'em strategy, particularly in no-limit hold'em. Players who act later have more information than players who act earlier. As a result, players typically play fewer hands from early positions than later positions.

Because of the game's level of complexity, it has received some attention from academics. One attempt to develop a quantitative model of a Texas hold'em tournament as an isolated complex system has had some success, although the full consequences for optimal strategies remain to be explored. In addition, groups at the University of Alberta and Carnegie Mellon University are developing poker playing programs utilizing techniques in game theory and artificial intelligence.

Cash games

Ring game

Prior to the invention of poker tournaments, poker games were played with real money where players bet actual currency (or chips which represented currency). Games which feature wagering actual money on individual hands are still very common and are referred to as "cash games" or "ring games".

The no-limit and fixed-limit cash game versions of hold 'em are strategically very different. Doyle Brunson claims that "the games are so different that there are not many players who rank with the best in both types of hold 'em. Many no-limit players have difficulty gearing down for limit, while limit players often lack the courage and 'feel' necessary to excel at no-limit." Because the size of bets is restricted in limit games, the ability to bluff is somewhat curtailed. Since one is not (usually) risking all of one's chips in limit poker, players are sometimes advised to take more chances.

Lower stakes games also exhibit different properties than higher stakes games. Small stakes games often involve more players in each hand and can vary from extremely passive (little raising and betting) to extremely aggressive (many raises). The difference of small stakes games have resulted in several books dedicated to only those games.


Poker tournament

Texas hold 'em is often commonly associated with poker tournaments largely because it is played as the main event in many of the famous tournaments, including the World Series of Poker's Main Event, and is the most common tournament overall. Traditionally, a poker tournament is played with chips that represent a player's stake in the tournament. Standard play allows all entrants to "buy-in" a fixed amount and all players begin with an equal value of chips. Play proceeds until one player has accumulated all the chips in play. The money pool is redistributed to the players in relation to the place they finished in the tournament. Usually only a small percentage of the players receive any money, with the majority receiving nothing. As a result the strategy in poker tournaments can be very different from a cash game.

Proper strategy in tournaments can vary widely depending on the amount of chips one has, the stage of the tournament, the amount of chips others have, and the playing styles of one's opponents. Although some authors still recommend a tight playing style, others recommend looser play (playing more hands) in tournaments than one would otherwise play in cash games. In tournaments the blinds and antes increase regularly, and can become much larger near the end of the tournament. This can force players to play hands that they would not normally play when the blinds were small, which can warrant both more loose and more aggressive play.

Similar games

There are several other poker variants which resemble Texas hold 'em. Hold 'em is a member of a class of poker games known as community card games, where some cards are available for use by all the players. There are several other games that use five community cards in addition to some private cards and are thus similar to Texas hold 'em. Royal hold 'em has the same structure as Texas hold 'em, but the deck contains only Aces, Kings, Queens, Jacks, and Tens. Pineapple and Omaha hold 'em both vary the number of cards an individual receives before the flop, but are dealt identically afterward. Alternatively, in Double-board hold'em all players receive the same number of private cards, but there are two sets of community cards. The winner is either selected for each individual board with each receiving half of the pot, or the best overall hand takes the entire pot, depending on the rules agreed upon by the players.

Manila is a hold'em variant popular in Australia. In Manila, players receive two private cards from a reduced deck (containing no cards lower than 7). A five card board is dealt, unlike Texas hold 'em, one card at a time; there is a betting round after each card. Manila has several variations of its own, similar to the variants listed above. (Credit: Wikipedia).






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