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Texas Hold'em

Texas hold'em is by far the most popular form of poker played on the Internet. Like seven-card stud, it's a game in which the best five-card hand is made from seven available cards. But there's a world of difference between the two games.

In Texas hold'em, each player receives two cards dealt face down - the only private cards to be dealt during the hand. After players glance at them, a round of betting - the first of several - begins. Some players drop out at this point rather than wait for the remaining five cards.

Those remaining cards are communal, and can be used by any player. They'll be turned face up in the center of the table by the dealer. Those common cards - shared by those still active in the hand combine with each player's two private cards to form his strongest five-card poker hand.

The mechanics of Texas hold'em are simpler than seven-card stud: You're freed from the drudgery of constantly asking yourself, "Which cards did my opponents throw away?" In hold'em, all cards you're concerned with are either in your own hand or right in the center of the table for you and everyone else to gaze upon - happily or wistfully, as the case may be.

How To Play Texas Hold'em

Rather than have each player ante a token amount, hold'em uses "blind" bets posted by the two players immediately to the left of a rotating "dealer button." In poker lingo, the blind bets are referred to simply as "the blinds." Because the button moves one player to the left with each new hand, all players pay their fair share of blinds as it moves clockwise around the table.

A typical hold'em games uses two blinds. The first, or "small blind," is posted immediately to the left of the dealer button. The second, or "big blind," is posted immediately to the left of the small blind. The small blind is generally one-half or one-third the size of the big blind, and the big blind is usually the size of a small bet. For example, in a typical $2$4 hold'em games, the small blind is one dollar and the big blind is two dollars.

You'll find these concepts easier to grasp when you play through the Wilson Software mini-program, "Demo Turbo Hold'em," on the CD. For example, you'll know you have the blinds when the button is just to your right and one or two chips are on the table in front of you before any cards are dealt.

Also notice the community cards: The first three, called the "flop," come after the first betting round, and the fourth and fifth, called the "turn" and "river," respectively, join the flop one at a time in the center of the table after the second and third betting rounds.

We urge you to use the mini-program right after reading this page - or even as you continue reading - since playing actual hands interactively against computer opponents will put your learning curve into orbit as well as allow you to visualize the way the games is played. Don't be concerned at first with which cards to play - that will come later. For the moment, concentrate on the games mechanics and order of play. Later on, you'll be able to play through the program as many times as you wish, understanding more with each pass.

Earlier, we described the blind structure for a typical $2-$4 hold'em games. Let's assume that betting structure for this discussion:

After the shuffle, two cards are dealt face down to each player and a round of betting begins. Each player - starting with the player just to the left of the two-dollar big blind - may fold, call the big blind, or raise. The player who posted the one-dollar small blind bet has an option to fold, call, or raise - but only after everyone at the table except the big blind has already acted. The player who posted the big blind acts dead last on this first betting round, but may raise his own blind bet if nobody else has, or re-raise if someone has already raised. In most games, a bet and either three or four raises per betting round are permitted.

On subsequent betting rounds, the small blind acts first, followed by the big blind, then the rest of the players still in the hand, moving clockwise around the table. The button player - if still in the hand - acts last. Again, this will be easier to visualize and comprehend hands-on by playing through the CD mini-program mentioned earlier.

If at least two players remain active at the conclusion of the first betting round, three cards, called the flop," are turned up in the center of the table. These are communal cards, to be used by each active player in combination with his or her own two cards. Another round of betting follows the arrival of the flop. Then a fourth communal card, called the "turn," is dealt. It's followed by a third round of betting, this time in four dollar increments.

Once that round of betting is complete and at least two players are still vying for the pot, a fifth and final communal card, called the "river," is turned up. Then the final round of betting takes place. If at least two players remain at the conclusion of all the betting rounds, there's a showdown to determine the best hand. If you reach this point in an Internet hand, the games programming will automatically award the pot to the winning hand. (We hope it's yours!)

Some Hold'em Tips

Texas hold'em is a subtle and complex games typically played with nine or ten players to a table. It's a faster and more action-filled game than stud. It's also the fastest growing poker games in the world, and it's the games used to determine the world champion at the World Series of Poker. Moreover, as major tournaments migrate online - a million-dollar first prize has already been awarded to the grand winner of an Internet tournament - we suspect hold'em will become even more popular, if that's possible.

Because those exposed communal cards in the center of the table belong to you as well as to your opponents, it's more difficult for an opponent to draw out on you than in stud. If your private cards are a pair of jacks and your opponent has a pair of nines, the presence of a pair of fives among the communal cards gives each of you two pair. But you still have the best hand. Unless a five allows an opponent to complete a straight, the only player helped by that pair is one fortunate enough to have one of the other two fives in his hand - making a "set" or "trips," common poker parlance for three-of-a-kind.

Texas hold'em is a "first come, first served" games. That's because you get to see seventy-one percent of your hand on the flop for a cost of only a single round of betting. That's a major difference between hold'em and seven-card stud. If you stay for the turn and river in hold'em, you should have a strong hand, a draw to a potentially winning hand, or good reason to believe that betting on a future round will cause opponents to fold.

Another difference between stud and hold'em is that the order of action in hold'em is fixed for the entire hand; while in stud, the exposed cards in each round determine who acts first. Acting last in any form of poker is a big advantage, since opponents have to commit to wagering decisions (and thereby reveal something about their hands) before you do. Q ?J ?, a hand you might raise with in late position (near or on the button), is for winning players a throwaway hand in early position right after the blinds.

If you want a bottom line written in black ink, don't invest in mediocre cards before opponents reveal something about the real - or purported -strength of their hands. That means throwing away marginal hands when you're first or nearly first to act before the flop. In those early positions, where you're most vulnerable, you should play only the very best starting hands. Success at hold'em demands that you be patient, pay close attention to position, and take comfort in the knowledge that your best hands will hold up more often than in seven-card stud.

The Flop Should Fit Your Hand

No matter how sweet your first two cards look; an unfavorable flop can render them nearly worthless. The flop must fit your hand. If your hand doesn't improve on the flop, or pick up a draw to a very strong hand, you should usually just let it go. While you won't fold every time you catch an unfavorable flop - especially heads-up - remember this: Flops that don't help you usually help one of your opponents. Tell yourself, "If I miss the flop, I'll have to stop."

As a rule of thumb, don't continue beyond the flop without a strong pair. Moreover, that pair should be coupled with a decent side card (or kicker). Two pair is better still, or if you're really lucky, "trips," which is a very strong hand. Without one of those hands, you'll need a straight or flush draw to continue. If it's a draw, it should be against at least two opponents so the pot is big enough to make it worthwhile.

Games texture - the relative aggressiveness or passivity exhibited by the players - is also important to your games strategy. In a brick and mortar casino, a solid feeling for a game's texture and possible impact on your play can generally be obtained only through live games experience. Although you can usually observe a game, your ability to see clearly may be obstructed, and your serious intent will be transparent to the players. In a card room with spatial constraints, it's hard to observe unobtrusively when you're not actually in the games.

But on the Internet, you can get a visceral feel for the action of any games by observing anonymously. Usually, the players won't even know you're there! So until you actually click into a game, play ghost and "lurk" over the table. You'll be able to see everything as clearly as though you were already seated, and to take detailed notes on the action without anyone knowing. You should take advantage of this eagle's eye preview every chance you get - especially when wait-listing!

Starting Hands

Some starting hands are strong enough to be played in any position. You don't get these hands very often, but when you do, you're a favorite from the get-go to win the pot. Position is so important in hold'em that we recommend playing very few hands in the first two positions left of the blinds. But you can safely play any pair of sevens or higher in early Position, along with the twelve suited and six unsuited card combinations listed in the following chart:

When you're the fifth, sixth, or seventh player to act - that's middle Position - you can safely play smaller pairs like sixes and fives. You can also add ten additional suited hands and four more unsuited combinations to your playable repertoire if the pot hasn't been raised.

In late position you have the advantage of acting last or next-to-last. As a huff you can add a variety of hands to your arsenal. Most are bargain

basement specials, however, that should be played only if the pot hasn't been raised. You should be disciplined enough to release them if the flop brings anything less than an abundant harvest of friendly cards.

To Raise or Not to Raise: That is the Question!

Hold'em requires aggressive play and selectivity. You can't win in the long run by passively calling: You've got to initiate your share of raises, too. You can always raise with a pair of aces, kings, queens, jacks, or tens. In fact, if someone raises, and you have a pair of aces, kings, or queens, go ahead and re-raise! Re-raising protects your hand by eliminating opponents, minimizing the chances of someone getting lucky on the flop. Other raising candidates are a suited ace with a king, queen, or jack, or a suited king and queen. If your cards are unsuited, you can raise if you're holding an ace with a king or queen, or a king with a queen.

If you're in late position, and no one's called the blinds, you can safely raise with any pair; an ace with any kicker; or a king with a queen, jack, ten, or nine. When you raise in this situation, you're really hoping that the blinds - which are, after all, random hands - will fold. But even if they play, yours is likely to be the best hand if no one improves.

If you play hold'em correctly, you'll have incorporated all of these tips into your games.

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Play few hands from early position. You'll throw some hands away, but you'll save money.

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Position is critical in hold'em. Certain hands that you would fold in early position can be raising hands in late position.

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Fit or fold: If the flop does not help your hand, you must consider folding, regardless of how sweet it may have looked before the flop

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Many of your opponents will mistakenly play A-K as strongly as a pair of aces or kings. A-K is a powerful drawing hand, but it usually needs help on the flop to win the pot.

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Hold'em only looks like seven-card stud. In reality, it's a very different game due to community cards, the games' positional aspects, and the fact that you see seventy-one percent of your hand for the cost of a single round of betting on the flop.

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Selective and aggressive play is the key to success.

If you haven't already done so, pop in the CD and get your feet wet at virtual hold'em. Software on the CD may be used at those Web sites not only for real cash games but for complimentary play-money games. While those bogus money games won't be like real cash games - indeed, they'll be rip-roaring free-for-alls with nobody folding - they're great practice at using the games technology and for basics like reading hands and practicing hand selection. If you're a beginner, or new to Internet play, they're the place to start online: Playing in those games won't cost you a cent!

 



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