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