These days, if you want to play poker (either online or in a weekly card game) you better know how to play Texas Hold Em. The Texas Hold Em craze is sweeping the nation, everywhere from college campuses to the World Poker Tour.
The game itself is fairly straight forward and easy to learn. While it may help to be able to calculate odds and count cards, it is not necessary for playing well. It is more important to play often and be able to bluff and read a bluff. The basic rules are the same whether you play online or in person. But, depending on where you are playing, there are different tips to improve your game.
Usually, initial bets are placed by the two players to the left of the dealer. The player closest to the dealer puts in the “small blind,” and the next player puts in the “big blind.” Then the dealer shuffles a standard 52-card deck and deals each player two cards face down. These are called the “hole” cards or the “pocket” cards.
There is then a round of betting, starting with the player to the left of the “blinds.” Players can check, raise, or fold at this point. The amount a player can bet will be determined by the betting structure of the game. Some games are called “no limit” hold em, which allows a player to bet any amount he wants. Other games limit the amount of the bet that can be placed. For example, in a game with a betting structure of $1/$5, a player can bet up to $1 in this first betting round and up to $5 in later betting rounds.
After this betting round, the dealer will discard the top card in the deck and flip the next three cards over in the middle of the table. This is called the “flop,” and these cards become community cards that any player can use with his hole cards to make a hand.
After another betting round, starting with the player to the left of the dealer, the dealer discards the top card of the deck and flips over one community card in the middle of the table. This is the “turn” card.
There is another round of betting, and then the dealer turns over the last community card, the “river.” At this point, players make their best five-card hand using their two hole cards and the five community cards. There is a final betting round, and then the players who have not folded show their hands. The player with the best hand wins.
For true beginners, the hands and their order of priority are: one pair, two pair, three of a kind, straight, flush (all the same suite), full house (three of a kind and a pair), four of a kind, a straight flush (1, 2, 3, 4, 5 in the same suite), and a royal flush (10, J, Q, K, A in the same suite).
Know When to Fold Them
Usually, in-person hold em games are “no limit” hold em. In this case, it is important to know when to fold your hand. If you don’t have a pair, one of the best starting hands in hold em is Ace/King (suited or not). The reason for this is that if nobody makes at least a pair, Ace/King would be the best hand.
The worst starting hand is Two/Seven, the reason being that they are both low cards, and they are too far apart to make a straight.
When your cards fall in between, you need to make a judgment call. A good rule of thumb is that with no pair, if you don’t have at least one picture card, you should fold before putting any money in the pot. Even if you have a pair, if it is a low pair (e.g., a pair of threes) you may want to fold it. Whether you fold or not may depend on how much money you need to call.
Once the flop is laid down, if you don’t have a pair, you should fold your hand. If you have a low pair, you may want to fold if there are picture cards in the flop. Chances are someone else has a picture card in their hand and made a pair with the one in the flop. Whether you fold or not will probably depend on where you are sitting and whether other players are folding, calling, or raising.
If you are the first player after the blinds, you need to act first. This puts you in a difficult position if you don’t have a really strong hand. If you are either the small blind or the big blind, you are in a good position because you can see what other players are doing before you have to act. If you are the big blind, and the other players don’t raise and only call, you can see the flop “for free.”
Don’t expect to become a good poker player if you play online for fun. When people are not playing with real money, they tend to stay in and not fold hands that should be folded. Sometimes, the table rules prevent players from folding before the flop. With everyone staying in, bad hands can actually become winners. In online games, the player with pocket Aces, more times than not, will lose. Also, if you can’t fold before the flop, you really can’t bluff.
Also, with regard to bluffing, some tables limit the amount you can raise, so you can’t bluff by going “all in” to scare others out of the pot. And, if the table requires staying in until the flop, they aren’t going anywhere anyway.
If, after the flop, you don’t have at least a pair, or are working towards a straight or flush, you should fold. This rule stays the same whether you are playing online or not.