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Poker Rules: A Complete Guide to Playing Texas Hold’em

Texas Hold’em has become the most popular version of poker and is played by millions of people around the world. From major casinos in Las Vegas to home games to online play, this version of poker has seen massive growth since televised poker became extremely popular in the early 2000s.

For those new to the game, the rules of poker and Texas Hold’em are fairly simple and Zynga Poker offers a great way to play for fun and to learn the game without playing for any real money.

Keep reading to learn the rules of poker and guidelines on how to play Texas Hold’em.

Texas Hold’em Poker Rules

Before jumping in the action, having a general grasp on poker game rules will help players enjoy Texas Hold’em even more and hopefully help rake in some winnings. Poker is actually a family of games that make use of hand rankings to determine which player’s hand is the winner. As Texas Hold’em is the most popular format and featured prominently in Zynga Poker, here’s a look at poker gameplay and some of the general rules.

Preflop Action

When a hand begins, all players receive two cards from the dealer. During a home game, one player usually acts or the role of dealer rotates to each player around the table. But in a casino or online using an app like Zynga Poker, there’s a designated house dealer.

To show where the dealer would be, a “dealer button” rotates around the table to a new player each hand. This shows which player would be the dealer and comes with some advantages (see the strategy section for more on this).

The next player to the left of the dealer button is called the “small blind” and the player to that person’s left is called the “big blind. The blinds are bets every player makes automatically as the button moves around the table. The small blind usually commits to half the amount the big blind puts in.

These blinds force everyone to make a decision so that they can’t continue playing without committing some money into the pot. The player to the left of the big blind then has the following choices:

  • Fold – getting rid of their cards and passing on the hand with no money lost

  • Call – matching the big blind bet

  • Raise – raising the big blind at least twice the wager to play for more

When action returns to the small blind, they can either fold their cards, complete the big blind, or raise themselves. The big blind can then choose to “check” to proceed or he can also raise. A “check” allows a player already in the action to continue in the hand without committing more chips (see more on this below).

Players can also re-raise another player’s raise. This is often referred to as a “three-bet” because it is the third bet in the hand. 

For example, blinds might be $1/$2 in a cash game (common low-stakes cash game stakes) and 50/100 in a tournament. To begin the hand, the player to the left of the big blind can call, fold, or raise and those options continue for other players as well – acting in order in the process. When all of this is complete, players will then see the flop (see below).

On apps like Zynga Poker, players don’t have to worry too much about all of this as the software deals the cards and takes care of all betting.

The Flop

Unlike other popular poker games, the rules of Texas Hold’em involve the use of community cards. These are a series of cards dealt face up for all players to use and make their best five-card hand. Unlike many poker variants, players can see these cards to help gauge the strength of their hands as well as opponent's hands.

When pre-flop play is finished, the dealer will “burn” one card and reveals three cards on the table known as “the flop.” After the flop is dealt, the player to the left of the button always acts first. The person to the left of the button has the option to check or bet. A check here means a player passes the option to another player and the action then rotates around the table until a player bets.

Other players can then call, raise, or fold. If all players fold, the original bettor wins the “pot” (the chips/money that has been bet so far and placed in the center of the table) and the hand is finished. If there are other callers, then a fourth card is dealt.

The Turn Card

Players still the pot in will then see another card, called “the turn card.” Betting then follows the same format as seen on the flop with the player to the left of the dealer either checking or betting. Other players remaining are once again allowed to check if the action is checked to them or bet or raise an earlier bet.

After that a fifth and final community card is dealt.

The River Card

The last community card is known as “the river card.” Play once again follows the betting order as seen on the flop and turn card. If a  player bets on the river, any player left can call, fold, or raise. If a bettor receives a call, he then “tables” his hand.

This part of the hand is known as “the showdown” and the player with the best hand takes the pot. When this hand is complete, the action continues with another hand. The dealer button moves one spot to the left and the cards are dealt again. Knowing these poker rules and gameplay routines will help a player better understand what’s going on at the table.

Texas Hold’em Varieties and Rules

There are a few ways to play Texas Hold'em, whether in a tournament or cash game. Here’s a look at those versions and the poker betting rules governing each:

  • No Limit Hold’em — This is the most popular vision of the game and players can bet all their chips at any time during the action. This game is found predominantly in Zynga Poker, and in events like World Poker Tour.

  • Limit Hold’em — In this format, all betting has fixed limits betting and usually caps the number of raises allowed. Some games feature higher limits on the turn and river.

  • Pot-Limit Hold'em — This is a mix between the two above formats and players can bet only up to the size of the pot. Similar to No-Limit, this can make for some juicy action and large pots, but is not as common as the first two variants.

Hand Rankings

While you may now know the general rules of poker and Texas Hold’em, knowing which hands beat other hands is critical to understanding the game. To play any form of poker, a grasp of the hand rankings is paramount in finding success and knowing when to check, bet, raise, or fold.

In poker, the rules covering hand rankings are based on the odds of receiving these hands. All players receive two cards and use both cards in combination with the five community cards to make the best best five-card hand.

One thing to remember: a player can use both of his hole cards, only one of them with four community cards, or simply play the five community cards as the best hand. Here’s a look at the rankings of hands according to the rules of poker.

High Card

This hand is when a player doesn’t even make a pair and only has “high card.” In Hold’em, it’s rare to win with this hand unless a player bluffs (more on that later). For example, a hand that doesn’t make a pair or higher simply may have something like A-K-10-9-7 after seeing all the cards are dealt. A high card that at least includes an Ace (the highest card in poker) is often just known as “Ace-high.”

One Pair

As the name implies, this is when you are dealt two of the same cards. A pair that a player receives “in the hole,” meaning the two cards a player is dealt initially that are concealed from opponents, is called a “pocket pair.”

A player may also make a pair if one of their cards matches another card on “the board” (meaning the flop, turn, or river). The higher the pair, the better the hand is. For example, a pair of Aces beats a pair of Kings or lower. Here are the rankings of pairs based on the strength of cards from highest to lowest:

  • AA

  • KK

  • QQ

  • JJ

  • 10-10

  • 9-9

  • 8-8

  • 7-7

  • 6-6

  • 5-5

  • 4-4

  • 3-3

  • 2-2

Two Pair(s)

This hand is, as the name implies, when a player makes two different pairs of cards.

A player can receive a pocket pair, such as AA and then see another pair on the board, such as K-K-10-5-4, to give that player two pair of aces and kings. This is a solid hand but can definitely be beaten by other hands depending on the board.

Three of a Kind

Three-of-a-kind, also referred to as a “set” or “trips”, occurs when a player makes three of the same card type. For example, when a player who is dealt pocket aces (AA) sees another ace hit the board, they have made three-of-a-kind. When a pocket pair is used to make three-of-a-kind, it is often referred to as a “set”.

A player holding a hand like AK may see another pair of Aces hit the table on a board like A-A-J-9-4 and is said to have hit “trips.” Three of a kind can be a great hand, but can definitely be beaten depending on how the community cards fall and perhaps the strength of an opponent. Making logical decisions is part of the challenge of poker.


Flopping a straight, however, is rare. More often than not, a player will flop a portion of a straight, or a “straight draw” and hope to improve on subsequent streets. For example, a player holding J-10 may also see a flop of 8-9-2. The 8 and 9 mean the player is one card short of a straight, needing either a7 or Q to improve. This is termed an “open-ended” straight draw and the player is looking for one of those eight cards to show up on the turn and river to complete the straight.

Higher straights may leave your own hand a loser (known as the “sucker straight” in this context). Other higher hands are also possible, such as a flush (see below), to top your straight.


As even occasional card players know, there are four suits in a deck of cards – spades, hearts, clubs, and diamonds. A “flush” is made when you hit five cards of the exact same suit. 

Someone holding J♣9♣ has hit a flush when seeing a board such as 6♣4♣J♦7♣2♠. This is usually a stellar hand, but because this player only has a Jack-high flush, there is a possibility of losing to a bigger flush if another player has two clubs as well with A♣, K♣, or Q♣.

When landing a flush, it’s important to consider if there are potentially larger flushes available and whether your opponent really might have it.

Full House

Most players love getting this massive hand. A full house is a combination of both three-of-a-kind and a pair, such as K♥K♦K♠8♣8♥.

It should be noted that the three-of-a-kind determines the strength of a full house. For example, 7♦ 7♠ 7♥ 3♣ 3♥ is a stronger hand than 4♥ 4♠ 4♣ Q♦ Q♣.

Players are usually hoping for a hefty pot with this hand, but disaster can await if a player has made an even larger full house. Be aware of the board and your opponents, but also don’t be afraid of betting this big hand.

Straight Flush

This hand is the combination of a straight and a flush. A straight flush is five cards in sequential order, all of the same suit– such as 9♦10♦J♦Q♦1K♦.

This is a huge hand, the second-best in poker, and presents a huge opportunity to accumulate some chips from opponents

Royal Flush

A royal flush  is the highest band in poker and tops all other hands. Finding a royal flush, however, is also a rare accomplishment. A longtime player may actually remember hitting a royal flush from a past hand because they are so rare.

As one might expect, a royal flush is a straight flush made up of the face cards and 10 of all one suit – A♥K♥Q♥J♥10♥.

The hand appears so infrequently that a player can expect to see this hand about once out of every 649,740 hands for a chance of 0.000154%. But if you do get dealt this hand, look to win plenty of chips. This concludes the poker rules for the hand rankings in most traditional poker games.

Other Poker Scenarios

Along with gameplay and hand rankings, there are a few other situations to consider when it comes to the rules of poker and playing Texas Hold’em. Here’s a look at some of those.

  • Split Pots – This comes into play when two players have the exact same hand. In these cases, the entire pot is divided between the two winning players.

  • Kickers – This refers to a side card that does comprise the actual hand (such as a pair or two pair) but is instead used to break ties when players have the same hand. For example, if both players flop a pair of aces, one holding Ace-King in the hole and the other holding Ace-Jack, the player holding Ace-King will win the pot.  

  • Side Pots – In No-Limit Hold’em, players can bet all of their chips at any time. If there are a few callers, this can make for some added action as the remaining players continue betting their hands. The player who is all-in can only win what they have wagered while the other players will continue betting into a “side pot” and can win that pot and the main pot. If more than one player is all-in, this can often necessitate additional side pots.

Texas Hold’em Variations

Hold’em is the most popular poker format and is the version of the game featured in Zynga Poker. There are a couple versions of the Hold’em that players can choose from and the poker rules, gameplay, and structure vary just a bit among them. Here’s a quick look at these options.


Those who may have checked out some World Series of Poker or World Poker Tour action on television may have a general idea of tournament poker. Unlike in cash games, players can’t just leave whenever they want to. The goal of a tournament is to keep accumulating chips to advance in the tournament, make the final table, and then win the event.

In this type of poker, chips don’t have any cash value but are used to survive and move through the tournament. As players advance in the tournament, the field size gets smaller as players are knocked out. Here are a few concepts and poker rules to remember when it comes to tournament play.

  • Blind levels – These are raised throughout the tournament and each level lasts a certain amount of time. This ensures that players can’t just sit back and wait for premium hands. Players will have to loosen up a bit.

  • Tournament clock – This is usually visible to all players and shows the time remaining in a certain blind level.

  • Buy-ins – This is the amount the tournament costs to enter. Many casinos take a certain percentage of this as the “house fee” to pay dealers and run the tournament.

  • Re-entry tournaments – These are tournaments where the event’s rules allow for players to enter again if they get eliminated. There is usually a cutoff point where players can’t re-enter. Re-entry events are popular because they help build a prize pool and allow players at least another shot at playing the event.

  • Bounty tournaments – These are a type of tournament in which a portion of each player’s bounty is awarded to the player who knocks him out. These can be fun events and allow players to accumulate winnings throughout the tournament.


These poker rules and game scenarios may seem like a lot, but most players can get a general grasp of the game in a short time. But working on strategy and opportune betting may come over time. As former WPT commentator Mike Sexton said: “The name of the game is No Limit Texas Hold'em, the game that takes a minute to learn but a lifetime to master.”

One of the best ways to learn and understand the game is to actually play and practice. Zynga Poker offers the chance to make that happen right on your mobile phone. There’s never been a  better time to get in the game.