A popular poker game, and the only variant played at the World Series of Poker. Players are dealt two cards, one at a time. There is a round of betting and then three cards at once come down on the table. This is refered to as the flop, and counts as community cards. That means everyone playing can use those cards as part of their hand. More betting and another card, the turn card. More betting and the last card, the river. Last bets, then finally comes the showdown. Best five card hand wins.

How to win at Texas Hold 'Em (the low limit variety)
  • Know the value of your hand. This may seem elementary, but the most important part of the game knowing when your hand is likely to win. Know the poker hands like the back of your hand. Memorize the starting hand rankings in poker books. Understand why an inside straight draw is worse than an outside straight draw.

  • Fold. Often. Don't play trash. Don't even play mediocre hands. And don't hesitate to throw away a hand if you miss your draws, or if things get too wild. Don't feel like you have bought in too heavy to bail, and don't worry about looking weak or foolish.

  • Play your position. Starting in late position gives you a huge advantage: you get to see your opponents actions first, not just pre-flop, but every round. You have advance notice if somebody comes out both barrels blazing. You can force the hand if everybody is limping along too. Take advantage of these hands, and conversely, play more cautiously in early position.

  • Know your opponents. People unfamiliar with poker assume that players study the faces their opponents for that one fatal twitch that reveals he has the royal flush, just like in the movies. This may happen in some games, but at a low stakes club game, just taking note that the fat lady in the corner only raises when she holds the nuts might save you from losing your stack.

  • Don't bluff. Unless you can get away with it. In low stakes limit poker, you rarely can. If you play in bigger games, you don't need my advice.

  • Understand the odds. Mathematics is only half of what poker is about, but its the easiest half to learn. Calculating pot odds is fairly simple with some practice. On each action, calculate the ratio of cards left in the deck that give you a winning hand to those that don't help you (you'll have to make some assumptions here). Then calculate the ratio of money you must pay to stay in the hand to the amount already in the pot. If the first ratio is larger or equal to the second, pony up; otherwise chuck em.

  • Know when to stop. Everybody hits bad cards sometimes, and when things don't go your way for a while, it is easy to make mistakes. If you start getting tired or frusterated, get up and leave.

Recommended reading:
Winning Low Limit Hold'em, Lee Jones
Super/System, Doyle Brunson
and anything by Malmuth and/or Sklansky

Texas Hold 'Em (some people would say only the no-limit variation) is known as the "Cadillac of poker games". Like many poker games, Hold 'Em outcomes can be approximated or even derived completely with mathematics, but that's not the whole story. Hold 'Em is often referred to as the purest form of poker, because what you get is what you get and there are no card changeups. You make the best five-card hand out of the community plus your hole (the two cards you are dealt after the blinds are made). Of course, occasionally the best five card hand has nothing to do or very little to do with your hole cards and has everything to do with the community cards out on the table.

The legends of poker, such as John Chan, David Sklansky, Phil Helmuth, and Doyle Brunson all say that they prefer Texas Hold 'Em over any other game. Most of them also say it is the purest form of poker left.

Hold 'Em has ante, in the sense that the two players from the left of the dealer make a "small blind" and a "big blind". These blind bets are designed to get some money in the pot. Hold 'Em is traditionally played with nine players, but can be played with fewer or more. After the blinds, the initial cards are dealt, then the first betting round commences before you see the flop (three cards dealt as community cards, across the middle). Additional betting and dealing rounds are the turn and the river, after each of which one card is dealt. After all the cards are out on the table, there is a final betting round which occurs before people are required to show their cards. Edit: vivaldi: "In my experience 10 players tends to be more common through the US (although I've seen games spread with 11 before). Also Texas hold-em is played heads-up with just two players. I've played hundreds of hours like this. In fact I prefer games with as few players as possible. With fewer players involved it makes it much easier to control the game - bluffing and other moves become necessary in order to win. Also note that in tournament play by necessity the final positions are determined by playing short-handed. I would suggest beginners only play at full tables - even a 5-handed game will eat their bankroll away much too quickly."

Poker (especially Hold 'Em) can be a wonderfully strategic game. Comparisons to chess are not entirely unsuitable: You can set traps, play the fool, or even make aggressive moves. There isn't the same sense of elegance in poker as there is in chess, of course.

In Hold 'Em, you only have the possibility of 169 different two-card starting combinations (not counting suit differences). My opinion is that this makes Hold 'Em much easier for beginners: As long as they learn how to fold early and fold often. More about this in just a moment.

A lot of action can happen on the flop -- the three cards dealt after the first round of betting. If the blinds happened, and nobody bets blind (betting without seeing your cards), then you essentially just pay to see the cards. Nobody's sure when they get their first two that they can make an incredible hand, so many times you will call (just toss in the big blind) just to see the flop. This is an important concept in Hold 'Em. There's also a concept of "starting standards" in Hold 'Em that doesn't occur in many other poker games: If your cards can't pull off something (and I'm not talking about a low pair here) then you should get rid of them. Then again, a pair will win a lot of games if the other guy is just trying to buy the pot because he knows he's got nothing. It's usually pretty silly to spend money (unless it's someone else's money) on cards that probably don't have at least a 51% chance of winning. (That's me - but vivaldi says: "Drawing hands with less than 50% chance can also be very profitable. All that is needed is for the "expected pot odds" (not just the pot odds) to be greater than your true odds."

Most people may have good starting standards, but the flop is where the foundation of their hand is built. This is where the largest portion of randomness appears in Hold 'Em: If most of your hand isn't built on the flop (remember, this is the three cards after the second round of betting), then you should probably fold right away and save your money for the next round. Then again, players with low chips who have lost everything may use this opportunity at least some of the money by betting into the other players.

Hold 'Em can be incredibly exciting. In no-limit games, you can be put to a decision for all your chips. Remember those aggressive moves? This is a gut check; some people will buy the pot this way because you have the chance of losing everything and you may not want to take that chance. People get eliminated at the World Series of Poker - people who KNOW how to play poker - because they were put to that kind of decision. This is where character is often developed in poker. See Rounders beginning and ending scenes for excellent examples, or just check out some World Series of Poker videos.

Additional concepts to remember:

  • Position. Your betting position is determined by the position of the blinds. Where you sit in Hold 'Em (or where your betting position is, more appropriately) can be a critical component of the game. Cards you may play in early position (the first 1/3 of the seats) may not be able to be played in middle position or late position, and the same is true for other positions. The reason why this ends up being important is that since more cards are dealt as the game goes along, the chances fluctuate greatly as to what's already out and what isn't. This can help you predict other players, if you're good. It's harder to predict from earlier position, but much easier to predict from later position (more cards have come out). You also get to watch the reactions of players to specific cards, which can be critical if they're not good at hiding their tells.
  • Be patient, but be reasonable. A large factor in the success of Hold 'Em is patience: It all comes out in the flop. You can learn a lot by being careful and watching other players. Rushes, nervousness, or other emotions have no place in this game: You may lose your whole bankroll. Even if you have the best two cards, or you just made your hand on the flop, someone can always do better. Remember this. Any two cards can win, but any hand except the top one can lose.
  • Know your opponent. If you play with the same group regularly and you learn to get good at it, you may become almost psychic with regards to your regular group: You will know them so well, and know their tells so well, that you will win every time. Different people from different backgrounds play different ways, and sometimes this is predictable. The country club guys have a lot more money to lose than the barbers.
Hold 'Em is the game played in Rounders.

I play low-limit Hold 'Em pretty much exclusively. I have a lot of thoughts about it. For one thing, KoreyKruse is right and Arimathea is critically wrong above (though her writeup is good). First of all, at a typical low-limit table, you can never see the flop using Arimathea's philosophy since even a pair of A's has much less than a 50% chance of winning (I've written computer simulations to analyze it). Second of all, if you use such a conservative philosophy after the flop, you're not giving yourself an opportunity to make up for your pre-flop bids. In poker, you lose money by being excessively conservative. As KoreyKruse points out, "expected pot odds" vs. odds of winning determine the correctness of every Hold 'Em decision (with the exception that possibly you might want to fool other players by pseudorandomly playing poorer-than-acceptable hands, making them more likely to stay for your better hands--my feeling is that generally in low-limit games the players aren't clever enough to worry about that).

But even though KoreyKruse is right, correct play is still extraordinary difficult. For one thing one must accurately predict the "expected pot" (the amount of money that will be handed to you in the event you win). Odds of winning are extremely hard to analyze as well. Suppose the flop just occurred and there are 5 players left. You can write a computer program to determine your odds of winning in the event everyone stays in to the showdown. But what if, for example, you have an inside straight draw on the turn and you fold it (often correctly--only 1 in 11.5 chance of getting the straight, high likelihood of split pot, chances for raises on the turn to make it not worth your while, etc.), but you would have made the straight on the river? An accurate computer model would have to take into account your play on the turn to determine your odds of winning after the flop! And what about the reality that other people also may fold their winning hands? Not the easiest program to write!

And even more importantly, unless you have good position (Arimathea is right--position is huge) you cannot know whether your call will be followed by a raise. While it is often worth it for you to see the river card for the minimum bid on the turn (say $20 in $10-$20), raises to $40 or (gasp) $80 could very well ruin the math for you. You say to yourself--I am going to lose this $20 X% of the time, but (100-X)% of the time I'll get it back and the expected pot--so I'll come out ahead over the long run by Y amount. Then raises make it so you will lose major money in the long run. No computer analysis or probability calculations are going to save your ass here. So...

You have to read the players! That's what makes poker so fascinating. Sure, knowledge of your odds of winning is critical. But if you can watch people's behavior and determine, for instance, whether they intend to raise on the turn, you have a massive advantage.

The neatest thing about Texas Hold 'Em is that it is nearly impossible to "learn to play" simply from experience, in my opinion. Since every hand is based on luck, you'd often have to play the exact same hand 1,000 times (and be able to remember that fact and the results of each hand) to be able to analyze your proper move based on experience. So there is TONS of room for innovation and ingenuity...

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