While poker is a game of psychology, luck, and skill, this article will only address the official rules of Texas Hold'em and explain how to literally play the game. If you’ve played any form of poker before, you should already have an idea of hand rankings, which are also a vital part of the story, but again, the purpose of this article is to explain the technical rules and terminology of Texas Hold'em Poker; it does not cover strategy for winning Texas Hold'em.
To begin with, your position at the table will govern when it is your turn to “act” (bet or fold). Locate the player with the dealer “button” (indicator of where the dealer position is; usually marked with a round disk, hence the name button). The player to the left of the dealer is the small blind position and the next player to the left is the big blind position. The button moves around the table to the left, after each hand, so eventually, all players will have the opportunity to occupy each position. The small blind and the big blind will bet prior to the deal. All other players will wait until the cards are dealt.
The deal begins to the left of the dealer and consists of two cards for each player. These are the “hole” cards or “pocket” cards. Once all players are dealt into the hand, they can privately view their cards. Once all players have had an opportunity to see their cards, the player to the left of the big blind is first to act. He can fold, call, or raise. Depending on what game structure you are playing (pot-limit, limit, or no-limit), there may be limitations set on the bets that can be placed. In no-limit, which is the most popular, there is literally no limit as to how high your bet can be. This is why all-in bets are involved in No-Limit Texas Hold'em.
After the first to act, the betting round continues around the table in a clockwise manner (to the left), until it reaches back to the small blind. The small blind must then complete the other half of his bet, raise the bet if everyone checked, or call if anyone raised if he wants to remain in the pot. He can also choose to fold. Then the big blind has the same opportunity to raise, call, fold, or “check” (a check bet is allowed when the player is already in the pot to the maximum amount necessary; he is not raising, he’s just staying in the pot for another round in order to see the next round of cards). Once all players are in the pot or have folded, the first round of betting is complete.
At this point, the dealer will “burn” (discard) one card and then deal the “flop” (the first three community cards) face up on the table. Then a second betting round ensues in the same fashion as the first: action begins with the first active player to the left of the big blind (some players may have folded, and therefore, will no longer be in the rotation).
After the second betting cycle is finished, the dealer will burn another card and deal the fourth community card on the table face up. This card is also called the “turn” or “fourth street.” A third betting round is carried out in the same manner as the previous (there will likely be fewer players in the hand at this point).
Another card is burned and the fifth and final community card is dealt, referred to as the “river” or “fifth street.” Then, the final round of betting will take place, which, will eventually result in a “showdown” (the final determination of the winning hand). If two or more players are remaining, they must show their hands to determine a winner, based on poker hand rankings. The winner will be the player who makes the best five-card poker hand using either one or both of his hole cards in combination with three or four of the community cards. If two players have an equally ranked hand, they will split the pot evenly. If all other players fold out of the hand, the winning player can “muck” his hand (choose to not show his cards).