Texas Hold’em 101

The game that has everyone buzzing is Texas Hold’Em. However, before you race down to the casino and sign up for a high stakes tournament, you need to learn the basics of the game and get some playing experience in low limit games.

The matches you see on television are No Limit Texas Hold’Em games. That means at any time a player can bet all of his chips. This is a great format for tournaments but, as a beginning player, you will want to first learn to play Limit Texas Hold’Em. Limit games have structured betting rounds, and you are limited to the amount of money you can bet during each round. More precisely, you will want to play Low Limit Texas Hold’Em as you learn the game. Some of the low limit games you will find in the cardroom have a betting structure of £2/4, £3/6, and £4/8. That means for the $2/4 game, the first two rounds of betting are limited to £2 betting increments and £4 for the second two rounds. The same applies for the £3/6 and the £4/8 games. After you gain experience you can move up to the higher limits or No Limit if you desire, but you must learn to walk before you can run. Let me explain the game and give you some winning tips to get started.

Texas Hold’Em is a deceptively simple game to learn but a hard game to master. Each player is dealt two personal cards. Then, five community cards are turned up on the board. You make the best five-card hand using any combination of the seven cards. For this example, we will use a low limit structure of £2/4. There are four betting rounds and the first two have a limit of £2 and the last two rounds have a limit of £4. You must bet or raise only the amount of the limit for that round.

To start a new hand two Blind bets are put up or Posted. The player immediately to the left of the dealer puts up or reposts the small blind, which is half the minimum bet or in this case, £1. The player to the left of the small blind posts the big blind which is equal to the minimum bet which is two dollars for this game. The rest of the players do not put up any money to start the hand. Because the deal rotates around the table, each player will eventually act as the big blind, small blind and dealer.

Each player is dealt two cards face down with the player on the small blind receiving the first card and the player with the dealer button getting the last card. The first betting round begins with the player to the left of the big blind either putting in two dollars to Call the blind bet, or putting in four dollars to raise the big blind or folding his hand. The betting goes around the table in order until it reaches the player who posted the small blind. That player can call the bet by putting in one dollar since a dollar blind was already posted. The last person to act is the big blind. If no one has raised, the dealer will ask if they would like the option. This means the big blind has the option to raise or just check.

By checking, the player does not put in any more money. A rookie mistake sometimes occurs here. Because the blind is a live bet, the player with the big blind has already put his bet in. I have seen some players throw their cards in not realizing that they are already in the hand. Another rookie mistake is betting or folding your cards when it is not your turn. You must wait before you act.

After the first betting round is completed, three cards are dealt and turned face up in the middle of the table. This is known as the Flop. These are community cards used by all the players. Another betting round begins with the first active player to the left of the dealer button. The minimum bet for this round is again two dollars.

When the betting round after the flop is completed, the dealer turns a fourth card face up in the middle of the table. This is referred to as the Turn. The minimum bet after the turn is now four dollars and begins again with the first active player to the left of the dealer.

Following the betting round for the turn, the dealer will turn a fifth and final card face up. This is called the river, and the final betting round begins with four dollars being the minimum bet.

To determine the winner, the players may use any combination of their two hole cards and the five cards on the Board (Table) to form the highest five-card hand. In some rare cases the best hand will be the five cards on board. Don’t count on that happening too often. In that case the active players will split the pot. A sixth card is never used to break a tie.

Here are some winning tips to consider the next time you try your luck at Texas Hold’Em.

Position, patience and power are the key to winning in Texas Hold’Em. The most important decision you will make is choosing to play a starting hand. The biggest mistake a player makes is playing too many hands. Being aware that your position in relation to the dealer is important in Texas Hold’Em. You need a stronger hand to act from early position because you have more players acting after you who may raise or re-raise the pot. It is important that you are patient and wait for powerful starting hands to play from the correct position.

The player to the left of the big blind acts first before the flop. He along with the other two players to his left are in early position. The next three players are middle position and the ones after are late position. The blinds act last before the flop and first after it. Here are some guidelines for starting hands that I recommend you play. They are fairly tight but will give you a good foundation to work with until you learn a little more about the game.

Raise with A-A, K-K and A-Ks from any position (s denotes suited cards) and Call with A-K, A-Qs, K-Qs and Q-Q J-J, T-T and fold everything else.

In Middle position, call with, 9-9, 8-8, A-Js, A-Ts, Q-Js, A-Q, K-Q,

In Late position, call with A-Xs, K-Ts, Q-Ts, J-Ts, A-J, A-T and small pairs. (note: x denotes any card)

After the Flop, deciding whether to continue playing will be your second biggest decision. It can also be one of the most costly decisions if you continue to play with an inferior hand. It is said the flop defines your hand. That is because after the flop your hand will be 71 percent complete. Where does this figure come from? Assuming you play your hand out to the end, it will consist of seven cards. After the flop you have seen five cards or 5/7 of the final hand, which is equal to 71 percent. With this much of your hand complete, you should have enough information to determine whether to continue. Poker author Shane Smith coined the phrase, Fit or Fold. If the flop does not fit your hand by giving you top pair or a straight or flush draw, then you should fold if there is a bet in front of you. If you played a small pair from late position and you do not flop a third one to make a set, you should throw the pair away if there is a bet.

If you think you have the best hand after seeing the Turn card and are first to act, then go ahead and bet. Many players will try to get fancy and attempt to check raise in this position. If the other players also check, you have lost a bet or two. In low limit games the straight forward approach is usually best as there are plenty of players who will call you. Make them pay. Why give them a free card if you don’t have to? If another player raises on the turn and you hold only one pair you are more than likely beaten and should fold.

If you get to the Turn and you hold only two unsuited overcards (two cards higher than any cards on the board) with no flush or straight draw, then you should fold if there is a bet in front of you. There has been too much money lost by players who hope to catch a miracle card on the river. The best hand you can make with two unsuited overcards is a pair which will probably lose anyway.

If you have been playing properly, you will not see the river card unless you have a strong hand that is a favorite to win or you have a draw to a winning hand. Once the river card is turned over, you know exactly what you have. If you were drawing to a hand you know whether you were successful or not. Obviously, if you do not make your hand, you will fold.

As with the Turn, you should bet your hand if you are first to act. If you bet and the other player folds, then they more than likely would have just checked if you had checked in an attempt to check raise.

When you get to the river there are two mistakes that you can make. One is to call a losing bet, which will cost you the price of a bet. The other is to fold your hand, which will cost you all the money in the pot. Folding your hand will be a far more costly mistake then merely calling a bet. If there is a slight chance you may have the winning hand, you should call. I’m not advocating calling with nothing, but you should call if there is a chance to win.

Until next time, remember: Luck comes and goes…Knowledge stays forever.