A BEGINNER’S COURSE IN TEXAS HOLD’EM – PART 1
This is the first in a series of articles aimed squarely at beginning
hold’em players. My goal is to introduce new players to this exciting
game and give them enough background to make them feel comfortable playing
Texas hold’em is among the most popular game 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 ten 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.
In the next few issues, we’ll present a short course in Texas
hold’em, designed for beginning players. You won’t be an
expert when at this series’ conclusion, but you’ll have
enough information to allow you to hold your own in most lower-limit
If 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 is in a game like 7-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.
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 action.
In a $10-$20 hold'em game blinds are usually $5 and $10. Each blind
is considered live. Because blinds represent a forced, first bet, each
of the two 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.
Unlike stud, where position is determined by the cards showing on the
board, the player with the dealer button acts last in every round of
betting — with the exception of the first one.
The deal and betting structure
Two cards are dealt face down 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 hand. 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
When the first round of betting is complete, three communal cards,
called the flop, are turned face up 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 may no longer check. Once confronted
by a bet, players may fold, call, raise, or reraise.
A fourth communal card ¾ called the turn ¾ is then exposed.
Another round of betting takes place. Then the fifth and final community
card ¾ known as the river ¾ is placed in the center of
the table 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.
That’s 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.
Knowing 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 I wish I had known when first making the transition
from 7-card stud to Texas hold’em.
Hold’em only looks like stud. It plays differently
With a total of seven cards, some of which are turned face up and others
down, hold’em bears a resemblance to 7-card stud. But this furtive
similarity is only a “tastes like chicken” analogy.
One major difference is that 71% 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 seventy-one percent of your hand for a single round of betting.
Staying for the turn and river demands that you either have 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 stud.
The 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, 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 you might raise with when you’re
last to act.
In a typical nine-handed 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, 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 should probably release it.
Suppose you called on the first round of betting with Ad-Jd and the
flop is Qd-5d-3c. 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 any of your opponents 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.
Beyond 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.
Game texture — the relative aggressiveness or passivity exhibited
by the players is also important in determining whether to call bets
or raises. But a feeling for the game’s texture and how it should
influence your play can only be obtained with experience. In the absence
of that experience, err on the side of caution. It costs less.
Success at 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 stud hands.
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