Texas hold’em is the most common variety of poker, requiring both luck and skill from players to gain a winning hand. While playing a few hands with friends or at an online casino is enough to learn who bets first in Texas hold’em, you need more practice to master all the rules.
Players’ decisions in any poker game and at any stage of the game are hugely influenced by the moves of their opponents. This is why to play Texas hold’em successfully, one of the first things you learn is who bets first and how table positions work.
Who Goes First in Texas Hold’em—Main Rules
Texas hold’em is played with a standard 52-card deck between 2–22 participants, but the 9-max player format is the most common. The game consists of one hand, split into four betting rounds. The players bet with the goal of either combining the best poker hand in the final round or bluffing their way to victory by tricking their opponents into giving up on their hands.
To achieve that goal, it’s important to understand the moves available to you depending on the four rounds:
Pre-flop is the first betting round of a Texas hold’em poker game. The player sitting directly left of the dealer, or the dealer button, is the first to bet. The player sitting left of them goes next. After the first two bets, all players are dealt two cards face down, and the betting proceeds clockwise around the table.
Since the first two players to go are betting before being dealt their hole cards, they are placing the so-called “blind bets” or “forced bets.” Blinds serve to set up the action, pose a price for entering the game, and prevent a scenario in which all players refuse to bet and wait for the next, better hand. There are two types of blinds:
- Small blind (SB)—placed by the first player sitting left next to the dealer. It is usually half the amount of the big blind (e.g., $1 or $3)
- Big blind (BB)—placed right after the small blind by the second player sitting next to the dealer. It is a pre-determined minimum bet (e.g., $2 or $5)
After the blinds are posted, the betting proceeds clockwise via one of the following moves:
- Calling—placing a bet that matches the one made by the player before you or the big blind
- Raising—increasing the pot by placing a bet that is higher than the one made by the player before you
- Re-raising—increasing the raise placed by the player before you
- Folding—giving up your cards and forfeiting from the betting, also known as “mucking your hand”
The flop is the second stage of the game, beginning with a dealer placing three cards face up on the board, called “community cards.” Players base their betting decisions on these three community cards and how they influence their hand odds.
The betting, once again initiated by the small blind player, proceeds clockwise in the same manner. The only exception is that players can now check—refuse to bet but keep their cards. You can check only if no player before you in that same round has placed any bets.
The turn is what comes after the flop in Texas hold’em, and it represents the third betting round. The dealer will add the fourth or “turn” card to the board, and the betting order remains the same. If the small blind player is no longer playing, the player directly left to him will be the one who acts first after the flop.
The river is the fourth and final betting round, initiated by the dealer handing out the fifth or “river” card to the board. The betting is performed in the same order as all previous rounds.
After the betting ends, the remaining players show their hole cards. The player who has combined the strongest poker hand out of seven cards available to them—two hole and five community cards—wins the pot.
Who Plays First in Texas Hold’em When There Is a Straddler?
Even though the betting order never changes, there is one pre-flop exception.
A player sitting directly left of the big blind can decide to place a double big blind before the starting hands are dealt. This player is referred to as the “straddler.” By straddling, the player’s goal is to act last before the flop.
When the straddle has been wagered, the starting hands are dealt, and the player seated directly left of the straddler acts first. Once the game enters the flop stage, the usual order is in place—the player directly left of the big blind acts first.
Different venues have different rules as to whether straddling is allowed and in what manner. It is rarely performed because it’s a risky move on the part of the player and leads to the increase of the pot right at the beginning of the game.
How Player Positions Change In-Between Hands
To begin the second hand of poker, all players move one position around the table clockwise. Here is how the positions will change:
|Small blind/First to bet
|The first player left of the current big blind
|Every other player
Players will repeat the same rotation between each hand, not between different rounds. The rotation ensures that every player has a chance to participate from different positions, which contributes to the fairness of the game.
The moves you make and the advantages or disadvantages you have over your opponents are highly influenced by the following three positions:
- Early position
- Middle position
- Late position
Early position players usually occupy the first three seats in a 9-player game.
It’s a vulnerable spot because your poker strategy is based on how your opponents act—and the more you get to observe them, the higher the chances of making smart decisions. This is why betting first after the big blind is sometimes called being out of position or being an “under the gun” (UTG) player.
If you are in an early position, stick to the conservative style of playing—raise only from a tight range, and don’t play your hand unless it’s particularly strong. Your goal is to survive to the next hand and get to a more advantageous position.
If you are sitting between the first three and the last two players in a standard game of Texas hold’em, you are in a middle position. You have some advantage over the early players but are still less powerful than the late-position ones.
Late position players are:
- Cut-off player, sitting directly right to the button
- Button player, being the last to participate in the betting round
Playing from a late position, you can bluff with more confidence due to information advantage, have more opportunities to steal the blinds, and maintain greater control of the pot.
How To Play Texas Hold’em Between Two Players
If you want to play Texas hold’em with just one opponent, Heads-Up poker is a game variation that allows that. Two players will take on the following roles:
- The dealer, i.e., the button player, will act as a small blind and will place the first bet pre-flop
- Their opponent will act as the big blind and be the first to act in each following round post-flop
This type of poker brings on an additional dose of excitement because it requires players to adopt a more aggressive style of betting. A few key aspects of a Heads-Up game that will influence your usual strategy are:
- Frequent acts of raising and betting
- More room to observe your opponent and learn and exploit their mistakes
- Favourable opportunities to pressure your opponent and catch their bluffs
- Board structure that helps you figure out your range equity easily
Register for an Online Casino and Start Betting
Source: Aidan Howe
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Featured image source: Amanda Jones