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Learning To Play Texas Holdem
Texas Holdem is the most popular poker variant in the world. For a whole new generation of poker fans, No Limit Hold 'Em is synonymous with poker. Most of us grew up playing some variation of draw or stud poker. But a group of Texans such as Jack Binion, Amarillo Slim and Doyle Brunson introduced Texas Holdem to Las Vegas. Once it conquered Vegas, the game was bound to conquer the poker world.
No Limit Texas Holdem offers wild swings in the fortunes of players. Anyone can go "all-in" at any time. This allows the big stack to bully around other players. It also allows a small stack to double up two or three times and suddenly become the big stack.
Holdem allows an amateur to compete with a pro, not falling prey to the many traps and pitfalls of seven-card stud. This has made Holdem events a huge draw for the poker masses. When ESPN watchers saw Chris Moneymaker win the World Series of Poker No Limit Holdem Main Event in 2003, it stoked a new level of fascination for poker in those masses.
The Table Arrangement
Typically, Texas Hold 'Em is played with two to ten players at a table. There can be more seated at a table, but this is quite typical. In many tournaments, the maximum players at a table are nine.
A dealer button is passed around the table. In amateur games, this indicates the person who deals, along with the final person to bet in the opening round of betting. In pro games where an actual dealer is used, this indicates only who is the final person to place a bet. This becomes important when we get to the blinds.
The Basics of Holdem
Holdem is grounded in classic poker. The card ranks, from ace down to two, are the same as for standard variants of stud and draw poker. The hand ranks, from royal flush down to high card, remain in place. So a person who is familiar with other versions of poker should pick up the basics of Holdem rather quickly. From this basic starting point, there are radical departures.
Each player is dealt two cards, which are theirs and theirs alone. These cards are dealt face down, so that no one else at the table can see them.
Eventually, five community cards will also be dealt, in a specific sequence. These are called community cards, because each player at the table can see them and build their hands with these cards.
The player with the best five card hand wins the pot. A player can build his or her hand using any five card combination of the two face down cards and the five community cards.
But this is getting ahead of ourselves. There are several rounds of betting before we get to the payoff.
In Texas Holdem, there are no ante bets. Instead, there are mandatory pre-bets called "blinds".
Not everyone at the table must put down a blind bet. Only the two people to the left of the dealer button must place blind bets. These are called the big blind and the small blind. The big blind is placed by the player sitting directly to the left of the dealer button. The small blind is placed by the player sitting directly to the left of the big blind.
The blinds are meant to drive the action in a game of Holdem. Typically, blinds are raised incrementally as a game of Holdem continues. At the latter stages of tournaments, the blinds require small stacks to play ever more aggressively.
Blinds are mandatory, no matter which cards are drawn. Players who are not "in the blinds" do not need to bet on a hand. Players who are in the blind need not bet after the blinds. Therefore, real strategy begins after two face down cards are dealt around the table and it is time for the pre-flop betting stage.
It should be noted that there are four stages of active betting in Holdem. These are, in sequence, the pre-flop, the flop, the river and the turn. Each of these will be detailed later.
After seeing their private cards, players may bet pre-flop bets. It is here that I should explain the different types of Holdem, which have to do with the betting structures of the game.
Limit Holdem limits the size of bets. Typically, a limit holdem bet is the size of the big blind. If you want to buy into the pot during the first two rounds of betting, you pay the amount of the big blind to stay in the hand. In the final two rounds of betting, the limit holdem bet is twice that of the big blind.
Pot Limit Holdem
Pot Limit holdem bets have a ceiling on them. You may not raise the pot larger than the current size of the pot. This means that raises may grow exponentially as the hand continues, though it is still more structured than No Limit Holdem.
No Limit Holdem
This is the most popular, and most dynamic, form of Holdem. In this variant, there is no limit on the raises. The size of a raise is dictated only by the size of one's stack. Any player may go "all in" during any of the four stages of betting.
Betting the Flop
After the pre-flop bets are made, the dealer deals three cards face up. These cards are the flop cards, and the act is simply called "the flop". These are the first community cards revealed.
After the flop, another round of betting occurs. As with the pre-flop bet, betting begins with the players to the left of the dealer.
The Flop is where the most cards are revealed at once, and therefore is the most volatile point of the hand. Typically, if you don't improve your hand on the flop, called "catching the flop", it is conventional to avoid further bets. Of course, because this is where the most cards are revealed, this is typically the phase of betting where bluffing is most common.
The Turn card is the fourth community card dealt. Another round of betting occurs on the turn.
The River card is the fifth and final community card dealt. The final round of betting occurs after the River. If a player is behind going into the river, but catches a card to surge ahead of an opponent, this is called "sucking out on the river". Though it is not synonymous with the term "bad beat", as a bad beat can happen prior to the river, more often that is what a loss on a river card is called.
Often, one player pushes all other players out of the hand before the river card is revealed. If two players remain in the hand until the river phase, this is called the "showdown".
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