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How to Play Texas Hold'em

Poker: The Beginning of Fun

 

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A deck of playing cards. It has been around in some form or another for centuries. The modern game of poker is based on games that originated in China, Asia and Europe. Some believe that poker is closely associated with a Persian game called “As Nas”. Others say the origins trace back to an earlier Chinese dynasty in the 10th century. While there is probably some truth in all the rumors, most likely the modern American version of poker is tied to a French game called “Poque”. French settlers traveled to the southern region of America where they settled in New Orleans. In the early 18th century a form of poker begin spreading throughout the Mississippi River region. Over the next hundred years poker made its way west with the early settlers. It became a prominent past time in the Wild West, especially in gold mine settlement towns.

There are many different card games that are labeled as poker. When groups of guys get together for cards, whether on a regular basis or not, it is called poker night, no matter what card game is played. Originally, Stud Poker was the game of choice, either 7-Card Stud or 5-Card Stud. As the game evolved, Draw Poker increased in popularity. The main difference between Stud and Draw Poker is the number of cards your opponent can see in reference to your hand. In Stud poker there are a number of up cards, or open cards. In Draw Poker, all of your cards are hidden. Over the passage of time, variations of the game emerged. Two such games are Texas Hold’em and Omaha.

In the 1970’s, in Las Vegas, a tournament called the World Series of Poker was started played by poker professionals. The featured game was Texas Hold’em. This marked the beginning of tournament play for Texas Hold’em. For the first thirty years of the tournament, professionals competed against each other to win cash prizes and bracelets, and the distinction of being one of the best poker players in the world. With the advent of the internet, amateurs entered the fray. Slowly, over the last decade, thousands and thousands of people have played Texas Hold’em online. Websites have given away free entry into the World Series of Poker and Casinos have run satellite poker tournaments that award entry to the winner. Now, over 7,000 people compete in the World Series of Poker, where the main attraction is Texas Hold’em, and where first prize has ballooned to over $8 million dollars.

As the Tournament has grown, more varieties of poker have been included. The Main Event has always been No Limit Texas Hold’em. But games such as 7 Card Stud, 5 Card Stud, Draw Poker and Omaha were eventually added to the tournament. Now over 60 events lead up to the Main Event, all with different pot limits, hi/lo, number of hands, number of cards, number of players, along with other variations.

Texas Hold’em is derived from a combination of 5 Card Draw Poker and & 7 Card Stud Poker. Most poker games require all the players who wish to participate to bet an Ante. An Ante is a minimum bet every player puts into the pot before the cards are dealt. In Texas Hold’em, there are forced blinds, forced antes, by two of the players to ensure there is a pot for each hand. The two players are to the left of the dealer. The first player is the small blind. The second player to the left of the dealer is the big blind. The dealer button rotates to the left after each hand so that a new player posts the blinds for each hand. The blinds, small and big, are determined prior to the start of the game, such as in $1-$2 No Limit or $2-$4 Limit games. In no limit, the small blind is the smaller number and the big blind is the larger number. The players can bet a minimum of the big blind or a bet up to and including all of their chips. In limit, the numbers equal the small bet and the big bet. The big blind is always equal to the small bet, and the small blind is equal to half of the big blind. The first two rounds of betting are governed by the small bet and increments of the small bet. For the last two rounds of betting, the bets are governed by the big bet and increments of same.

Confused? Here’s a quick example First, a $1-$2 No limit game. Before the cards are dealt, the dealer button is placed on the table. The person directly to the left of the dealer puts in a $1, the person two seats to the left of the dealer puts in $2. The cards are dealt. For the first round of betting, starting with the third player to the left of the dealer, a minimum bet of $2 must be made to stay in the hand. All others follow suit except the small blind, who must bet enough to match the big blind and any raise, and the big blind who does nothing unless there was a raise. For all other rounds of betting the players can check (make no bet) or make a minimum bet of $2 or a bet up to and including all of their chips.

For a $2-$4 Limit game, after the dealer button is placed on the table, the player directly to the left of the dealer puts $1 in the pot, half of the small bet. The player two seats to the left of the dealer bets $2, an amount equal to the small bet. The cards are dealt. For the first round of betting, starting with the third player to the left of the dealer, a minimum bet of $2 must be made, again not including the small and big blind as described above. In the second round of betting, all players can either check, make a bet, or bet a minimum of $2, the small bet. Once a bet is made, raises can occur but only in increments of the small bet, $2. For the third and fourth rounds of betting, the minimum bet is the big bet, $4.

Now, returning to the play of Texas Hold’em. After the blinds are posted, or put into the pot, two cards are dealt face down to the players. After the cards are dealt, the first round of betting commences, as described above. Each player must match the big blind, raise, or fold (drop out of the hand). Next, the dealer “burns” a card. This means she discards the top card off the deck, without showing anyone, and deals the “flop”, three cards face up in the middle of the table. These are the first of the community cards. The betting begins with the first player to the left of the dealer. All players must check, bet the minimum required amount; match a bet, raise or fold. Dealer burns another card, deals the “turn” card, fourth card face up next to the other three. Again, the betting commences in the same way as before. Finally, dealer burns another card, deals the “river”, the fifth and final community card, face up next to the others. Betting commences again. If more than one player remains after betting, a showdown takes place where the player who made the bet that everyone else matched, shows his hand and the remaining players show their cards. Players can “muck” their hand, which means throw it away without showing. The player with the best hand made up of five cards wins. You can use all five community cards as your hand.

There are many different strategies on how to play Texas Hold’em. The winning hands are ranked lowest to highest as follows: High Card, One Pair, Two Pair, Three of a Kind, straight (such as A, 2, 3, 4, 5), flush (all card same suit), Full House (two pair, three of a Kind), Four of a Kind, straight flush (all same suit five in a row). In determining the winner, you compare hands. For high card, if two players have the same high card, you go to next highest and so one through all five cards. If they have identical five cards they split the pot. For pairs, three of a kinds, four of a kinds, and full houses, the highest ranked card wins, such as a pair of aces beat a pair of kings. For a straight, the last card in the straight determines the winner. For a flush, the highest card, determines the highest flush.

Evaluating your starting two cards is crucial in playing Texas Hold’em. If your first two cards are a pair of aces, you have the highest hand and should match the bet, and even consider raising. The purpose of raising after two cards is to eliminate people with middling hands. For instance, if someone is dealt a smaller pair, like a pair of threes. Another middle of the road hand is two cards like an eight of diamonds and a jack of spades. If you are dealt these two cards to start you may fold if someone raises or you may even fold before putting any money in the pot. There are a few reasons. Your two cards are not the same suit, which reduces the possibility of a flush or straight flush. Your eight is a middle of the road card. So, even if you get a pair, someone else may have a higher pair. Your jack is a valuable card, but the odds of getting a pair or higher is low compared to someone else’s starting hand, especially if someone raises. The eight and jack are in a range where a straight can be made, but you need a lot of help and you may end up spending a lot of money for no value.

The key to playing Texas Hold’em is evaluating your hand and, based on the community cards and betting patterns, evaluating what your opponents hands could be, and if you can beat them. You do this as each new card is revealed, from your initial two cards, through the flop, the turn and the river. Always keep in mind your ultimate goal is the best possible poker hand of five cards. As each community card is dealt, evaluate what hands could possibly be made from the exposed cards, with and without your two down cards. An example. You are dealt two aces, diamond and spades. You are definitely going to match the big blind and more likely raise. After you raise, two others call you and stay in the hand. The flop is a 10 of clubs, 5 of clubs, and king of diamonds. You bet and the others all call. No one raised. What could they have? Could they have two tens in their hand, making a three of a kind? Or maybe two kings or two fives, making three of a kind? If so, you would expect a raise. Maybe they have two clubs and are looking for a flush. Or, they might have a queen and jack and are looking for a straight.

The turn is the ace of clubs. Hmmm, now there are three clubs and someone could have made a flush. Or maybe, a queen and jack to make the ace high straight. But you have a good hand, three aces. At this point you may want to consider a check to see if anyone else makes a bet. If they do, then you have to decide, are they legit, do they actually have a hand, or are they bluffing, trying to make you think they have a hand and force you to fold. Only through a good understanding of the ranking of poker hands, the odds of actually making those poker hands, and an evaluation of betting strategies, can you hope to proceed through a Texas Hold’em card game.

Omaha is another version of poker. All of the betting rules and evaluation of hands is similar to Texas Hold’em, so here the focus will be on the differences in the games. First, no limit Omaha is rarely played, so this discussion will be mainly about limit Omaha. In limit Omaha, the betting is described above, with the small bet for the first two rounds and the big bet for the turn and the river. There are a few variations of Omaha, such as Hi/Lo Omaha, Omaha High, and Omaha 8. In Hi/Lo, the high hand and low hand split the pot. In Omaha High, the highest hand wins. In Omaha 8, in order to win the low hand split, your hand must have no card higher than an 8, and the hand value must be 8 high or lower. If not, high hand wins the whole pot. Another difference for Omaha is that the initial deal is four face down cards for each player, instead of two. Finally, when making your hands, you must use two cards from your four face down cards and three cards from the five community cards.

For example, let’s say you are dealt an ace of hearts, two of hearts, five of spades, and king of spades. The five community cards are six of hearts, jack of spades, seven of clubs, four of spades, and a nine of spades. In constructing your hand, you need two cards from your hand and three from the community. For a low hand, you will use ace of hearts and two of hearts from your hand, and the four of spades, six of hearts, and seven of clubs from the community cards, to make a seven high low hand. For your high hand, you will use the five of spades and king of spades from your hand, and the jack of spades, four of spades, and nine of spades from the community cards to make a king high flush for your high hand. Notice you used the four of spades for both hand. Perfectly fine.

It is crucial to properly evaluate your hands in Omaha, even more so than Texas Hold’em. You have to evaluate for a possible low hand and high hand. Sometimes, all four of your cards lend themselves to only high or low hands. In fact, this is more likely than not. For instance, you get an ace of hearts, jack of hearts, jack of clubs and ten of clubs. All of your cards can be matched for high hands. Two jacks leads to three of a kind, four of a kind, or full house. Ace and Jack could be straight flush, flush, or straight. Jack and ten could be also be a straight, straight flush, or flush. These cards are all in play for the high hand split of the pot. The exact same happens if you have four low cads. The goal in Omaha is to get four cards that can be equally put together in low hand and high hand. But at the very minimum, your cards need to be able to lead to either a high or low hand, otherwise fold. In Omaha, holding out for all the community cards to be shown is not a good strategy. Chasing your hand can work once in awhile, like bluffing, but as you evaluate the cards and your opponent, you should always be working from a position of strength.

There are many intricacies to playing Texas Hold’em and Omaha poker. If you are aiming to be a professional, or make lots of money playing these games, you will need time and energy to study the methods and learn the games. However, these games are also just plain fun. A group of guys get together, break open a pack of cards, crack a few beers, eat some chips, tell some jokes, and have a great night together. You do not have to be a professional. You just need a quick understanding of some of the basic rules and tips to begin playing. Over time, the more you play, the more experience you accumulate, the better you will become. But for now, remember, Poker is the beginning of a fun evening and should be enjoyed.