Beginner's Course in Texas Hold'em
series originally appeared in Card
series is aimed squarely at beginning Hold'em players. The
goal is to introduce new players to this exciting game and
give them enough background to make them feel comfortable
playing casino poker.
Hold'em is among the most popular games played in casino poker
rooms. Although playing expertly requires a great deal of
skill, Hold'em is easily learned and deceptively simple. It
is a subtle and complex game, typically played with nine or
10 players to a table, and is a faster, more action-filled
game than stud. Texas Hold'em is also the fastest growing
poker game in the world, and is the game used to determine
the world champion at the World Series of Poker.
this series, I'll present a short course in Texas Hold'em,
designed for beginning players. You won't be an expert at
this series' conclusion, but you'll have enough information
to allow you to hold your own in most lower-limit games.
you've never played Hold'em before -- While Hold'em may
look like seven-card stud, it is a different game altogether.
Because Hold'em players form the best poker hand by combining
exposed communal cards in the center of the table with two
hidden cards that are theirs alone, it is more difficult for
an opponent to draw out on you than it is in a game like seven-card
stud. For example, if you were dealt a pair of jacks and your
opponent held a pair of nines, the presence of a pair of fives
among the communal cards gives each of you two pair. But you
still have the best hand. Unless one of those fives helped
an opponent complete a straight, the only player helped by
that pair of fives would be an opponent fortunate enough to
have another five in his hand.
Blind bets -- Before cards are dealt, the first two
players to the left of the "dealer" position are required
to post blind bets, which are used instead of antes to stimulate
a $10-$20 Hold'em game, the blinds usually are $5 and $10.
Each blind is considered live. Because blinds represent a
forced first bet, both of the blinds can raise (but only on
the first round) once the betting has gone around the table
and it is their turn to act again.
stud, where position is determined by the cards showing on
the board, the player with the dealer button acts last on
every round of betting - with the exception of the first one.
deal and betting structure -- Two cards are dealt facedown
to each player, and a round of betting takes place. On the
first round, players may either call or raise the blind bet,
or else they must fold their hands. Most casinos allow a bet
and three or four raises per betting round, with one exception.
When only two players contest the pot, there is no limit on
the number of raises permitted.
the first round of betting is complete, three communal cards
- called the flop - are turned faceup in the center of the
table. That's followed by another round of betting. On this
and each succeeding round, players may check or bet if no
one has bet when it is their turn to act. If there is a bet,
however, players no longer may check. Once confronted by a
bet, players may fold, call, raise, or reraise.
A fourth communal card -- called the turn -- is then
exposed. Another round of betting takes place. Then, the fifth
and final community card - known as the river - is placed
in the center of the table, and is followed by the last round
of betting. The best five-card poker hand using any combination
of a player's two private cards and the five communal cards
is the winner.
all there is to the play of the game. Yet, within this simplicity
lies an elegance and sophistication that makes Texas Hold'em
the most popular form of poker in the world.
when to hold'em and when to fold'em -- While Hold'em is
exciting, exhilarating, and enjoyable, you ought to know something
before diving in and plunking your money down - even if it's
the lowest-limit game in the house. Here are a few of those
somethings that I wish I had known when first making the transition
from seven-card stud to Texas Hold'em.
only looks like stud. It plays differently -- With a total
of seven cards, some of which are turned faceup and others
down, Hold'em bears a resemblance to seven-card stud. But
this furtive similarity is only a "tastes like chicken" analogy.
major difference is that 71 percent of your hand is defined
on the flop. As a result, your best values in Hold'em are
found up front; you get to see 71 percent of your hand for
a single round of betting.
for the turn and river demands that you have either a strong
hand, a draw to a potentially winning hand, or good reason
to believe that betting on a future round may cause your opponents
to fold. Because there are only two additional cards dealt
after the flop, along with the fact that the five communal
cards play in everyone's hand, there are fewer draw outs in
Hold'em than in stud.
first two cards are critical -- You'll frequently hear
players say that any two cards can win. While that's true
as far as it goes, it doesn't go far enough. The whole truth
is this: While any two cards can win, they won't win enough
to warrant playing them. Like all forms of poker, you need
starting standards. Players who lack starting standards take
the worst of it far too often.
position, and position -- There's an old real estate bromide
that says the three most important features of any property
are "location, location, and location." In Hold'em, it's position,
position, and position. It's so important that some two-card
holdings, which can't be profitably played from early position,
are cards with which you might raise when you're last to act.
a typical ninehanded game, early position includes both blinds
and the two players to their left. The fifth, sixth, and seventh
players to act are in middle position, and the eighth and
ninth players are in late position.
The flop should fit your hand -- No matter how sweet
your first two cards may appear to be, an unfavorable flop
can render them nearly worthless. A key concept is that the
flop must fit your hand. If the flop doesn't strengthen your
hand or offer a draw to a very strong hand, you probably should
Suppose that you called on the first round of betting with
Ad Jd, and the flop is Qd 5d 3s You don't have a strong hand
at this point. What you do have, however, is a hand with extremely
strong potential. If another diamond falls on the turn or
the river, you'll make a flush - not any flush, mind you,
but the best possible flush, since your ace precludes anyone
from making a higher one.
Even if you don't make a flush but were to catch a jack or
an ace instead, that might be enough to win the pot.
the flop -- As a general rule, you shouldn't continue
beyond the flop without a strong pair and a decent side card
or kicker, or a straight or flush draw with at least two opponents
to ensure that the pot is big enough to make it worthwhile.
texture -- The relative aggressiveness or passivity exhibited
by the players also is important in determining whether to
call bets or raises. A feel for the game's texture and how
it should influence your play can be obtained only with experience.
In the absence of that experience, err on the side of caution.
It costs less.
Success in Hold'em demands that you be patient, pay close
attention to position, and take comfort in the knowledge that
good hands are run down less often than the best seven-card
to Part 2