Texas Hold’em has been dubbed “the Cadillac of poker games” by no less an authority than the legendary Doyle Brunson. Calling Hold’em a “Cadillac” might give new players the idea that this version of poker is smooth and comfortable. In fact, others have stated that the game is more like a top-fuel dragster – fast and dangerous.
Hold’em is certainly the most popular style of poker, by far. It is played every day, on dozens of Web sites and in many live poker rooms. Millions of dollars change hands at both virtual tables and casino tables, as players from all over the globe try their luck.
It’s a basic game, with some slight differences from 7-card stud. Hold’em is, in fact, quite easy to learn. But, as experienced players know, it takes a lifetime to master any form of poker. Players are dealt two cards face down and a round of betting takes place. Three cards are dealt face up on the center of the table (the flop), followed by another round of betting. A fourth card is dealt face up (the turn), followed by another round of betting. A fifth card is dealt (the river) and a final round of betting takes place.
Players make the best five-card hand they can using their two hold cards and the five cards on the table. These five are “community” cards or “the board” and are available to all players. This is the major difference between Texas Hold’em and many other forms of poker. Reading the board and determining how it fits with your hand is important. Trying to figure out how it fits with the hands of other players is crucial.
Some other basics of Hold’em that players should understand:
- Blinds – first two players to the left of the dealer must post a small blind and a big blind. These are forced bets intended to get the betting started and vary from game to game. The blinds move counterclockwise with the dealer button.The small blind is equivalent to half the minimum stake (e.g. $2.50 for a $5/$10 game), and is posted by the player sitting to the left of the dealer. The big blind posts the full amount of the minimum stake (e.g. $5 for a $5/$10 game) and is posted by the player sitting to the left of the small blind.
- Button – Marked "D" for dealer button, this indicates the dealer position, which rotates around the table clockwise, moving with the blinds. The button comes from players taking turn in dealing cards in land-based play. In online poker, cards are dealt by a virtual dealer that changes position with each hand.
- Betting limits – can vary from small ($1) to no limit), depending on the nature of the game played.
- Betting Rounds – the player sitting to the left of the big blind begins the betting round. Players may choose to fold, call or raise. What bet can be placed, depends on the type of game, and on which betting round is being played (see below). There are a total of four betting rounds.
- Fold – when you fold, you stop playing the current hand, and wait for the next hand to begin. When you fold after you have posted a blind, bet or have raised, you lose that money. You can enter the game again at the next hand.
- Check/Call – Checking does not involve placing additional money in the pot. You can only check if no other player has placed a bet before you. If they have placed a bet, and you want to continue, you must either bet the same amount ("call"), or raise.
- Bet/Raise/Re-raise – in each betting round a maximum of one bet, and three raises may be made (bet, raise, two re-raises). After this, the round is capped, and the next community card is dealt. Betting amounts are determined by table stakes, and the first two rounds are limited to the lower table stake, and the latter two to the higher. For example: if you are playing a $5/$10 table, the first two betting rounds are limited to $5, the latter two to $10.
- All-In – If you run out of chips but would like to continue playing a hand that you believe stands a chance of winning, you can choose to go "all-in" instead of folding. The pot will then be divided into main and side pots, and any further chips are placed in the side pot. In the event that you win the game, you'll receive the main pot and the second best hand will receive the side pot. If more than one player chooses to go all-in, then additional side pots are created and divided according to the top-ranked hands and the order in which the players went all-in. If a player who did not go all-in has the top-ranking hand, that player wins both the main and side pots.
Here is a typical how a typical Texas Hold'em hand goes:
- Blinds: The small and the big blind are posted.
- Pocket Cards – The dealer deals the pocket cards – these are two face-down cards that only the player is able to see;
- 1st Betting Round – the player to the left of the begins the betting round. Players fold, call or raise, with a maximum of the lower table stake (e.g. $5 in a $5/$10 game).
- The Flop – the dealer deals three cards, face-up; everybody sees these cards, and can use them to make the highest poker hand.
- 2nd Betting Round – same as in the 1st betting round.
- The Turn – the fourth community card is dealt face-up.
- 3rd Betting Round – Similar to the 1st and 2nd betting rounds, but the betting limit is set to the higher limit of the table stake (e.g. $10 in a $5/$10 game).
- The River – the fifth community card is dealt face-up.
- 4th Betting Round – the final betting round, with the same rules as the 3rd betting round.
- The Showdown – all remaining players show their hand, and the pot goes to the highest hand – this is made up of the pocket cards and/or any of the community cards. If players have equal ranking hands, the pot is split. If you prefer not to show your hand you can opt to "muck" at this stage, which simply means to fold your cards.
After this, play starts over, and the button moves one seat to the left.
These basic guidelines do little to tell us what Hold’em is all about. One top player, Dan Harrington, emphasizes that all poker is a betting/people game. The cards are just used to keep track of where each player stands. This is definitely the case with Texas Hold’em. As you start on your learning path in Hold’em, remember it’s not really about the cards.