When a hold’em game initially starts, players draw for high card to determine which player first gets the dealer button. Each hand of hold’em starts with two blinds. The player immediately to the left of the dealer button puts in the small blind, and the player to that player’s left puts in the big blind. The big blind is equal to the size of the smallest bet for the table, and the small blind is half that amount. For example, in a $10-$20 limit game or a $10-$200 spread-limit game, the small blind puts in $5 and the big blind puts in $10.
Each deal, the house dealer distributes, clockwise, two cards, face down, one at a time, to each seated player, starting with the player to the left of the dealer button. These two downcards (or hole cards) are each player’s hand.
On the first round, called preflop, the betting starts with the player to the left of the big blind. Each player in turn has three options:
- Fold, which the player does by throwing the starting cards face down towards the house dealer.
- Call the blind, that is, put into the pot an amount equal to the big blind. (This is called limping.)
- Raise, that is, put in more than the big blind.
Play continues clockwise. If the pot has not yet been opened (a bet made), each player in turn has the three preceding options. If the pot has been opened, the player has three options:
- Call the preceding bet or raise, that is, put into the pot an amount equal to the betting thus far.
- Raise, that is, put in more than the betting thus far. (If the betting has been capped in a limit game, as described under “Limit,” raising is not an option.)
Betting proceeds around to the button, who has the same options.
After the button acts, it is the turn of the small blind, who has the same options, with the exception that the small blind has already put half a bet into the pot, so he can enter the pot for half a bet less. (For example, in a $10-$20 limit game, if no one has raised, the small blind can come in for $5.)
The big blind acts last on the first round. If the pot has been raised, the big blind can fold, call, or reraise. Since the big blind has already put a full bet into the pot, she can enter the pot for a bet less. If no one has opened, the big blind wins what is in the pot at the time. If players are in but no one has raised, this is a special case. The big blind has the option of stopping the betting for that round (by not increasing the bet) or raising.
The betting for the round ends when all bets have been called.