How to play poker

Texas hold'em

Texas What'em?
Stories abound about the origins of the game and the name. One of the most popular theories is that it dates back to a poker variant that became popular in the USA in the sixties, which was called 'Hold Me Darling' - that later became 'Hold Me', then later Hold'em. Quite who was holding who is unclear!

The Basics Explained
In Texas Hold'em, each player has seven cards at his disposal to make the best hand of five that he can - but here's the rub: he only gets dealt two cards directly to himself, that no-one else gets to see - the other five cards are dealt open on the table, and can be used by all players to make up their best five. These open five cards are called the Community Cards. A player can use any combination of the cards available - even using all five cards on the table and none of his two - known as the Pocket Cards - but this is pretty rare.

The five Community cards are revealed in stages, with betting taking place before each reveal, so the pot (that's the quantity of money that has been bet on each hand) grows up until - and afterward - all the five cards are revealed. This ensures that decent sized pots are played for on each hand.

The player with the best hand - or the player that can scare everybody else out of the hand - wins the pot, and the game usually continues until one player has all the chips.

What's Good?
The order of hands, best to worst, is as follows:

Straight Flush - Five cards, same suit, in numerical order - and the higher the order, the better the hand. A, K, Q, J, 10 being the best.
Four of a Kind - The name says it all - four cards, same value, different suits, and any other (if any are the same suit, you need to consider changing the pack of cards, or possibly the card sharps you are playing with).
Full House - Three of a kind, and a pair, eg. A, A, A, 5, 5
Flush - Five cards in the same suit, but not in order, eg. Q, 9, 5, 3 2 of Hearts
Straight - Five cards in order (eg. 7, 8, 9, 10, J) but not in the same suit.
Three of a Kind - Three cards of the same value, different suits, and any two others
Two Pairs - Two sets of two cards of the same value, eg. 4, 4, K, K, and any other.
One Pair - 2 cards, same value
High Card - basically, nothing. Time to stack it, as they say in the trade.

A Closer Look
Okay, that's the basics and the order of hands covered. Now into the nitty-gritty, the game-play. There are six different stages of the game in each hand:

1. The Blinds
2. The Pocket Cards Deal
3. The Pre-Flop Bet
4. The Flop
5. The Turn Card
6. The River Card

We'll have a look at each section in detail.

The Blinds
Once you've decided who is going to be the dealer for the first hand (in subsequent hands the position of the dealer moves clockwise), then the person to the left of the dealer makes a compulsory bet, called the Small Blind. The amount bet will be half the previously agreed minimum bet of the game. Then, the next person round (to the left) makes another compulsory bet, called the Big Blind - this will be the full minimum bet.

The Pocket Cards Deal
Now, the Pocket Cards are dealt. These are the two cards that each player gets to himself, and nobody else gets to see . The players may look at their pocket cards straightaway.

The Pre-Flop Bet
Next, it's the turn of the player in position three, (to the left of the person who bet the Big Blind) to bet; he can put-up, or shut-up - or in poker parlance, he can 'Call', (match the bet of the Big Blind), 'Raise' (match the last bet, and raise again it by however much he wants), or 'Fold' - chuck his hand in, and save his money for the next round.

And so it goes on around the table, each person having to at least match the bet of the last player to stay in the game, but having the option to raise the stakes, or fold and retire from the round.

When it comes round to the player on the immediate left of the dealer who originally bet the Small Blind, he again has the same three options, (Call, Raise or Fold), but to Call he just needs to put in the difference between his first (Small Blind) bet and the current Call bet.

That completes the Pre-Flop Bet - unless nobody actually raised the Big Blind (that is, everybody just elected to Fold or Call). If that's the case, then the player who initially made the Big Blind can raise himself, and trigger another round of betting, with the choices for each player as described above.

The Flop
At this point, three of the five community cards are dealt from the pack and put face up on the table.

After the cards are turned up, another round of betting takes place. Starting from the player to the left of the dealer, the player has the option to 'Check' - not bet at all on this round (but stay in the game), bet on the hand (as much or as little as they like) or Fold. If the first player Checks, then the next player has that option, and so on, but as soon as one player bets on the hand, then subsequent players must at least match that bet.

The Turn Card
Once the Flop and subsequent round of betting are complete, then the 4th Community Card is dealt from the pack and put face up along with the first three.

Again, there is a round of betting - exactly the same rules apply to this round of betting as did to the Flop.

The River Card
Now the final Community Card is dealt and put face up along with the other four. There is another round of betting - the last, and again the same rules apply. At this point, the best hand held by the remaining players wins the pot.

It is down to the player on the left of the person who bet last to show their hand first - the remaining players don't have to reveal their cards if they don't have a better hand than that player - they may choose to 'Muck' their cards (give them back to the dealer without revealing them).

It is not unusual for hands to be won without ever getting to the River card - if all but one player folds during the course of play, then the remaining player wins the pot, and does not need to reveal his hand to anyone.

The Betting
Okay, we're nearly there but before we finish lets take a closer look at the betting.

Normally, a particular game will be referred to with two numbers: for example 3/6 or 40/80. These two numbers refer to what has been chosen as the Small Blind and Big Blind for the game. The Big Blind is also the minimum bet during the whole of the game-play - and that means, if you raise somebody in the game, you have to raise them at least by the size of the minimum bet.

Normally, the Blinds (and therefore the minimum bet) will be increased as the game progresses - this happens to compensate for the fact that as the game goes on, there will be fewer players still involved, with more chips. A typical scenario might be to double the Blinds after every fifteen minutes. Of course, this would need to be established and agreed by all players before the start of the game.

If you're playing no limits Texas Hold'em, then it is possible for a player to bet his whole chip stack during the betting process - going 'All In', as it is commonly known. This is often the act of desperation, when a player is closing to being eliminated from the game. If a player goes All In, then all other players who want to stay in the hand must Call his bet with the same amount of chips. If the other players want to continue to bet on the hand after everybody has matched the All In bet, then they can do so, but further bets go into a separate pot, which the All In player cannot win. If the All In player wins the hand, then the separate pot will be won by the next best hand.

Of course, in certain circumstances the player with the most chips could decide to go All In. If this happens, then any players who wish to call will themselves be forced to go All In. When this happens, the player with the most chips will reduce their All In bet to match that of the others.

Practice, Practice, Practice
It's true what they say - practice makes perfect. The more you play, the better you get. Take every opportunity to fine tune your poker skills


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