November 23, 2014
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Crash course in strategic betting, Texas Holdem

Over the past decade Texas Holdem has become the most popular kind of poker in America. While unique, you’ll discover it has some of the elements of other poker games it has surpassed in popularity, such as stud and draw poker.

Two or more players are needed; eight is considered the ideal number, although more can play. The object is for each player to make the best five-card poker hand possible out of two hole cards (which only the individual player sees), and five community cards (which everyone sees and uses).

The dealer is selected (called the button position), and may or may not actually play the game. Once each game is over, the dealer changes, rotating clockwise to each of the other players around the table.

The dealer deals out two cards from a standard deck of 52 (no Jokers), one at a time to each player starting to the dealer’s left. Those are called the “hole” cards, and must remain face down on the table in front of each player.

Texas Holdem is a strategic betting game and that element begins immediately. The position on the dealer’s immediate left is called the “small blind,” and the next position to the left of that is called the “big blind.” These positions are forced bet positions, meaning that they must place a bet or fold – the amount of the big blind is set prior to play and the small blind is one-half of the big blind.

There is no ante (an initial bet made by all players prior to the deal) in Texas Holdem, so the two blinds serve to start the pot. (In some versions of the game, the blinds are posted before any cards are dealt.) The rest of the table, in turn, either matches the blind (calls), raises the bet or drops out (folds). If all the other players call or fold, the big blind has the option to raise and continue the betting.

Once all these bets are made, the dealer turns over three cards from the deck and places them face up in the center of the table. This is called the flop. They are community cards, which all players use to build their hands. A round of betting then occurs just like before, with the blinds in control. This time the blind has the option to check, which is not placing a bet. The rest of the table, in turn, can then either check or bet.

Once the betting is over, the dealer turns over a fourth community card and places it face up next to the flop cards. This is called the turn card, and starts another round of betting. Once all those bets are placed, a fifth card, called the river, is dealt, and the final betting begins. When that’s over, each player shows their hole cards, and the best hand wins everything in the pot.

There are many strategic plays that can be made during the game. Going “all in” is one of the most powerful. At any point during the game, a player can push all the chips they have into the pot. The rest of the table must then match the bet or fold, but they don’t have the option to raise that player.

The all-in maneuver can rescue a player whose chip count has dwindled while waiting for a promising hand. It could be a bluff. It could be a big “pocket pair,” meaning two matching high cards in the hole. Either way, it puts a lot of pressure on the other players.

There are also a few points of etiquette for Texas Holdem. The most important is waiting your turn to raise, call or fold. There is no more egregious faux pas in this game than making a move when it’s someone else’s turn.  

Two excellent books on Texas Holdem are “Super/System,” by Doyle Brunson, and “The Biggest Game in Town,” by Al Alvarez. Both are available through the Ocean State Library system. And there are dozens of sites on the Internet with loads of information.

If you decide to give it a try, check out the Eastern Poker Tour website for a restaurant near you that hosts a game. You’ll discover an exciting evening out with friendly people any night of the week. Have fun, and good luck.


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