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These days the most popular poker variant is Texas holdem, thanks to its use as the game of choice during the World Series of Poker. This is the game used during the WSOP’s main event, and thanks to an explosion in the game’s popularity in the late 1990s and early 2000s, it is sometimes the only game played in tournaments or ring games at head to head poker websites and in the smaller poker rooms in casinos and other gambling venues around the world.
Learning to play the game is the first step towards building a solid strategy for playing it. For beginners just starting their Texas holdem play, there is no point in trying to play deceptively or attempting to bluff or even read your opponents. Until you get a good handle on the game, strategy is fairly simple. Bet good hands and fold bad ones.
Early on, developing a strategy simply means learning the rules and playing as often as you can. That’s how you’ll learn to read other players. The more flops you see, the better you’ll be at reading them. The same goes for reading your opponents and learning to use psychology and bluffing to dominate the other guys at your table. Start by learning the rules. Develop your understanding by playing a ton of games. Then dive into more complex strategy.
Here are some terms and basic Texas holdem tips to learn before you try to play like the pros.
A blind is nothing more than a required wager. Blinds are used to increase the size of pots. Think of a blind as an extra ante – each game has two of these forced antes per hand. Since blinds rotate among players, an average game (with 9 or 10 players around a table) means each player posts a blind twice every nine or ten hands. Two blinds exist – the big blind and the small blind. A big blind is considered a full-sized bet, while a small blind is always half of the big blind. Since games are always categorized by the size of the blinds, it is important to understand how blinds work. Those signs over the game that say something like “$5/$10” are indicators of the size of the blinds; in this example, the small blind is a $5 bet and the big blind is a $10 bet.
Play begins with two cards dealt to each player face down. These are known as your “hole cards,” or sometimes your “pocket cards” and they are important since their value is what you’ll base your initial bet on.
The position of the dealer, marked in live casino games and online versions by the dealer button, determines the order of betting. The player to the left of the button makes the first bet. This player is also in the small blind position and has the first choice of calling, raising, or folding a hand. Calling the bet means matching the big blind’s size even though they’ve already laid the small blind ante. Folding means ending your play this round, tossing your cards in and declaring that you fold. Even in fold situations the small blind bet is lost. Raising at this point requires increasing the size of the pot beyond the size of the big blind ante.
If the player at the small blind position doesn’t call or raise the bet pre-flop, the big blind position player doesn’t have to increase the pot to stay in the game, though that player can choose to raise if they want to.
After the player in the big blind position makes his move, the option to either call, raise, or fold moves around the table to the other players. After all bets pre-flop are made, it’s time for the flop itself.
The point in each game when the dealer lays the game’s first community cards (three of them) is called the flop. These cards are “community cards” because all players can use them to improve their hand.
The flop is critical to game strategy because it contains the most information about the other player’s hands. Post-flop activity is sometimes the most active part of a hand – plenty of bets, raises, and folds take place at this point of the game. The first player to take action post-flop is the player to the left of the dealer. He can choose to raise or call. Once a bet is called by all players still in the game this betting round ends. A player who bets when all other players fold is the winner and the game starts over with a different dealer.
When the dealer turns over a fourth community card, this is called the turn. Another round of bets begins. Since more information is revealed by the turn, another round of betting is necessary.
After the turn and its betting round, the dealer reveals the fifth (and final) card held in community; at this point all of the cards used in the game have been dealt. Another betting round takes place post-river, after which the showdown begins. If more than one player is still in the game after the first four rounds of bets, the showdown commences.
At this point, each player shows their hole cards and a winner is determined. The description above makes the game sound pretty simple; when you sit in on a real hand, the psychology involved in the game becomes apparent.
Beginners need not worry about all this psychological stuff – bluffing, reading tells, and getting in your opponents heads can wait for later.
At this stage in your understanding of the game, it is enough to watch how hands are improved during the flop, river, and the turn. Try to work out what your opponents are doing with each of their actions and work to improve the value of your hand at the same time. Once you can accomplish these two feats with relative and regular success, you’re ready to move on to more complex holdem strategy.