Texas Hold ‘Em is the Rolls Royce or Cadillac of poker games. It is the form favoured by the professional players and it is the one which features every year in the five-day marathon which is the climax to the WSOP – theon World Championships – or the “Big One”, as it is often called. Thankfully, it is incredibly easy to learn which means that you will be playing before you know it.
Firstly, let’s look at the briefest of descriptions – and then we’ll explore the game, the terminology, and the ritual in more detail.
In a casino or online casino game of Texas Hold ‘Em, each player is dealt, face down, two hole cards – so-called because the cards are “in the hole”, in the dark to the other players, hidden – which he looks at without showing them to his opponents. These are his cards and only his. There is now a round of betting based on the strength of those two cards alone.
Next, three cards are dealt face up in the middle of the table. This is known as the flop. These three cards are community cards, which can be used by all of the players, together with their two hidden cards, to make up a 5-card poker hand. There is another round of betting.
Now, a fourth community card is turned over and added to flop. This is known as the turn or fourth street. Another round of betting follows, before the final card is dealt, face up, in the middle of the table. This final card is known as the river, or fifth street. It is so-called because it is often the river on which a player’s dreams go floating away when his opponent’s hand is suddenly transformed by the arrival of the final card.
There is now one final round of betting in which the remaining players use one or both of their own cards, plus any of the five community cards on the table, to make up the best 5-card poker hand. If more than one player believes that he holds the best hand, there will be a showdown, in which the players will show their hidden cards and announce their hand.
The winner takes all.
It is possible, although very rare, that the five cards on the table form the best possible hand and, if that is the case, all the remaining players would share the pot between them.
Let’s look at a quick example:
Player A holds A(C), 7 (C)
Player B holds K(C), Q(S)
Player C holds J(D), J(H)
There is a round of betting, based on just these hole cards during which strong hands may raise the betting and drive out players who hold weaker hands. Once the betting is complete, the flop is dealt:
The flop comes A(S), J(C), 2(D)
All three players will feel that they have quite a good hand now.
Player A has a Pair of aces – that is pretty strong.
Player B has no hand yet but if a 10 were to appear, he would hold the highest possible Straight – what we would call the “Nut Straight”.
Player C is winning right now, holding a powerful 3 of a Kind jacks.
There is a second round of betting. Player A might well put in a bet, believing his Pair of aces to be the best hand. Player B might give up, since he doesn’t have a made hand yet. Player C would certainly call the bet and might even raise the betting, since he is virtually sure that his hand is the best right now.
However let’s assume that all the players stay in the hand and watch what happens.
The fourth community card, or turn, is now dealt: 8(S)
The 8(S) has not changed the situation much, except that Player B, whilst still holding no hand, has now developed an extra chance of winning. Not only would a 10 give him the Nut Straight, but another spade would give him the highest possible Flush – the Nut Flush – since A(S) is on the board and he holds the next highest spade: K(S). So, while Player C is currently winning, with Player A in second place, Player B could overtake both of them if and when the fifth and final card is dealt.
Assuming, perhaps unrealistically, that the betting fails to drive out any of the players and they are all still in the hand, here comes the fifth and final community card – the river.
This is a big card for everyone. For Player A, it gives him 2 Pair – aces and 7s; for Player B, he has now made the best possible Flush – the table shows A(S) and he holds K(S) no one can have a higher value Flush than him – whilst Player C still holds three jacks, which still looks a strong hand.
There is now a final round of betting and, with each player holding what appears to be a good hand, there could be some big bets made. If the players end up having to show their hands, it will be Player B who will be smiling – he will collect all the chips. Players A and C will not be happy. They had good hands, but having the second or third best hand at poker is the worst situation of all because, in a showdown, you never win anything for being second best.
In a real game, the action might not have reached those final stages because Player C, holding the best hand until the very last card appeared, might have chosen to raise the betting so high that neither Player A nor B may have felt it worthwhile to stay in the hand. In that case, Player C would have won the pot at an earlier stage.
Here, then, is the classic poker dilemma. When you hold what you think is the best hand, do you bet it strongly, telling everyone you are strong, and risk all the other players giving up and you winning only a small amount of money?
Or, do you feign indifference, keep all the other players in the hand and then hope to surprise them at the end and lure them into betting more than they should?
That is one of the hardest, most skilful decisions in the game. Represent strength and risk winning little; slow play a good hand in an attempt to win more, but risk another hand overtaking you (as Hand B did) and then lose everything at a later stage?
To answer briefly: if you’re starting out at poker, when you have the best hand put in a big bet. It is definitely better to win something than to get outdrawn – have a player make a better hand than you because perfect cards appear for him on the flop, turn, or river – and outplayed later and lose everything. As you gain in knowledge and experience, you can modify that action.
There is a further scenario however, unique to poker. You may have a very poor hand, but choose to bluff your, way into winning a pot. If you bet aggressively and confidently, other players may believe that you have the best hand at the table, and they may all concede to you. Most players will tell you that it is far more satisfying to win a pot with a bluff than to have the best hand and Just get paid what you feel you were owed. Without the aspect of bluffing, poker would be a very dull game, smce the best hand would always win the money. Bluffing changes everything.