Play Texas Hold'em


Tips and information about Texas Hold'em

"It's just a version of 7-Card Stud," he said as the newcomer asked what game they were playing. "You know how to play Stud so come on in and play a few hands."

Texas Hold'em is a faster, more deceptive game than Stud and even at the lower limits ($1-4 for example) a pot can grow to monstrous proportions (three raises allowed, unlimited raises when only two players remain) with only two cards in each player's hand.

Let's expand on that raise scenario before going into the basics of the Texas Hold'em. Suppose there are 10 players in the game. The first hand already has $3 in the form of blinds in the pot. The dealer gives everyone two cards. The first player bets $4 right away because he's holding a pair of aces (the very best starting hand).

The next player, with an Ace-king suited, raises, making it $8 to play. ($15 in the pot). The third player, looking at a pair of queens, bumps the bet another $4 ($23), and players four through eight call. ($12 each or $60 total). Then, since only three raises are allowed in multi-way action, players one through three call. You add it up. This won't happen everywhere, every time, but if you're in a game with a bunch of gamblers, it does happen � often.

Now, back to the basics. (Note: All examples refer to a low-limit game, $1-3 limit.)

In Hold'em, the first two cards for each player are dealt face down. To make sure something happens each deal, the casino uses a "dealer button." At the beginning of the game, the dealer gives each player a card face up. The highest card becomes the faux dealer. The person next to the dealer becomes what is known as the "little blind." He must put one small bet ($1) in front of him.

The next person becomes the "big blind." She must put twice the amount in front of her ($2). This happens before any cards come out of the dealer's hands.

After the blinds are on the table, the dealer gives everyone two cards, one at a time, starting with the poor soul who had to put in the little blind. Once this is a done deal, the first round of betting begins. Since two people are already in action, the person next to the big blind must decide whether to fold, to call (bet as much as the big blind) or raise (which has to be equivalent to the big blind). Each subsequent player has the same options -- plus the option of re-raising.

When the betting comes back to the little blind, that player must either match whatever wagering has taken place, fold or re-raise. And finally, the big blind has the option of calling any raises, raising herself, or, if no one has raised, "rapping pat" (tapping the table lightly to signify that she's not going to raise.)

After the first round of betting, the dealer turns three cards over in the middle of the table. This is known as the "flop," and these cards belong to everyone involved in the hand (community cards). Now it's time to take a look at your hole cards and compare them to the flop to see if anything good as turned up. While you had to make a big decision in the beginning (whether to fold, call or raise your two starting cards), you now have to make an ever bigger decision � and it's the same one. (Hint: Once you've played enough Hold'em to be comfortable at the table, don't look at your hole cards immediately. Watch the faces and actions of the other players who are looking at their cards. You can often pick up signals -- known as "tells" -- which can give you information about what they have. Also, by not looking at your cards immediately, you won't reveal anything about your hand to others at the table.)

In Hold'em, the first two cards are broken down into four categories to help you decide whether or not to play. The categories are subdivided into cards to in early position, in middle and late position, in late position only and cards not to play no matter where you are in relationship to the dealer.

Each category is also broken down into suited and unsuited hands. For example, ace-king suited is an "always play" hand while ace-9 is a late-position play only -- and then the decision to play depends on what kind of action has happened before the betting came around to you.

Notice if you will the use of the word "position." This is clearly a very important word, because it determines whether or not you will play, what you will play, and how you will play it. Position refers to the place you are occupying in relationship to the blinds.

For example, if you are the first, second or third player to act after the big blind, you are in early position. If you are fourth, fifth or sixth from the big blind, you are in middle position. If you are seventh, eighth, ninth, or are one of the blinds, you are said to be in late position.

Here are some questions to ask yourself when deciding whether or not a bet is warranted.

How many players have already acted and what did they do? (This serves as a reminder of the strength or weakness of your position, indicates whether or not you should play a marginal hand, and also indicates how you should play the hand you hold.)

If I call (or raise) now, what are the chances that X number of players remaining will call or raise? Do I want players to fold because I have a marginal hand and I want to get rid of as many players as possible? Do I want to keep players in because I have a monster hand and I want to get as much money in the pot as possible?

If I bet (or call or raise now), will I still want to call another raise or two should they occur?

Position, while one of the most important concepts in Hold'em, is also one of the most difficult for some people to master. When you have a pair of queens and you see another queen on the board, you might be tempted to bet the hand strongly all the way to the "river" (seventh card).

However, what if that queen is a heart and the jack of hearts and ace of hearts are also showing in the community cards. You now have to think about a royal flush, a pair of aces, any flush, any trip jacks or aces, as well as what potential hands might come on the next two cards.

If you're in late position, you get lots of information again because of previous bettors. But in early position, you must proceed with caution lest you get caught up in the feverish action of better hands.

OK, we've gone through the first two cards and the flop. What's next? After all betting action on the flop is completed, the dealer turns another card face up and positions it to the right of the third card in the flop. This card is called the "turn." Now it's time to bet again.

The turn card can be even more critical than the flop, because now everybody has a complete five-card hand and an extra card that can make their hands stronger or weaker. So study the "board" (the name given to the community cards) carefully before proceeding. It's often said that more money is lost on the turn than on any other card in Hold'em.

Finally, the dealer puts out a fifth card (the "river") and after a final round of betting, the hand is over.

In Hold'em, as in Stud, you are to use five cards out of seven to make a poker hand. The difference here is that you are sharing five cards with the rest of the players in the game. So, if you have a queen and a five and there is a queen and two kings on the board, you now have queens and kings. However, if the guy next to you has a king, he has three kings and he beats you.

The winner of any Hold'em pot is determined by the best five-card hand, although much of the time, the best hand doesn't win because furious betting action chases players out of the action.

A good way to practice Hold'em is to deal two hole cards and a flop. Don't look at the down cards. Look, instead, at your flop and figure out what the very best possible hand could be. Now look at your cards and think about where they stand in relation to the best hand.

After you become proficient in recognizing potential hands from the flop, pretend you are in early, then middle, then late position and deal again. Now decide what you would do in any of those situations in relation to the strength of your hand.

Once you've mastered the basics of Hold'em, you're ready to move into more subtle moves -- particularly bluffing. Much money is won (and lost) through bluffing and most players bluff when they are in late position. (again note the importance of position).

If you never bluff in Hold'em, even at the low limits, you will probably never win any significant amount of money. But, to bluff successfully, you must have a basic understanding of odds, particularly pot odds in relation to your odds of winning. If you don't have a full grasp of odds and probabilities, here are some general guidelines for bluffing.

Bluff if the pot is big and you haven't made your hand by the time the last card comes in -- especially if you are up against only one player who has checked to you. The reasoning here is that your opponent probably had a drawing hand that didn't materialize. He might have a small pair, even a big pair, but be unwilling to call another bet because he doesn't think he's strong enough to invest any more money. In the meantime, if you have a losing hand and check as well, you're most likely going to lose.

A bluffing wager might drive your opponent out, in which case you earn good money. Even if your opponent calls and you lose, you lose only one extra wager. (Say the pot is $160 and the last bet costs you $8. You can bluff in this situation 20 times, win just one and not lose money. Win two and you make money.)

Bluff against good players. Good players are more likely to fold drawing hands or weak hands.

Bluff often against players who merely check and call. These players can be intimidated easily. They might have drawing hands, weak hands, even strong hands, but they have no inner strength. They're afraid of losing or looking bad at showdown time. You can start bluffing them from the flop to the river and count on them to fold more often than not when the last bet is made.

Bluff when the flop doesn't show strength. A ragged flop such as two-six-eight probably won't make anyone whoop for joy (unless they're all suited and somebody has two of the same suit in his hand, particularly with an Ace or king). If you have an eight, a six, or even a high card, you can try bluffing and getting as many (possibly all) players out as quickly as possible.

In the article about basic casino poker, we mentioned that the buy-in for low-limit poker is generally $20. Truly, this is not enough to play Hold'em because the game can accommodate 10 or 11 players. To be assured of getting enough action in low-limit Hold'em, you should be willing to invest about $100 per session.

You don't want to be all-in very often because you will lose the opportunity to take advantage of strong hands. If you intend to play only once or twice a year, you can adjust the amount you are willing to invest in any particular session.

If you like the game (and few players don't), invest in a book or two to help expand your knowledge � particularly on starting hands and odds. It might take 100 actual playing sessions to get the table experience you need before you start winning regularly.

Above all, don't be intimidated by other players in your game.


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