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Texas Holdem

It's just a version of 7-Card Stud," he said as the newcomer asked what game they were playing. "You know how to play Stud so come on in and play a few hands."

Texas Hold'em is a faster, more deceptive game than Stud and even at the lower limits ($1-4 for example) a pot can grow to monstrous proportions (three raises allowed, unlimited raises when only two players remain) with only two cards in each player's hand.

Let's expand on that raise scenario before going into the basics of the Texas Hold'em. Suppose there are 10 players in the game. The first hand already has $3 in the form of blinds in the pot. The dealer gives everyone two cards. The first player bets $4 right away because he's holding a pair of aces (the very best starting hand).

The next player, with an Ace-king suited, raises, making it $8 to play. ($15 in the pot). The third player, looking at a pair of queens, bumps the bet another $4 ($23), and players four through eight call. ($12 each or $60 total). Then, since only three raises are allowed in multi-way action, players one through three call. You add it up. This won't happen everywhere, every time, but if you're in a game with a bunch of gamblers, it does happen ­ often.

Now, back to the basics. (Note: All examples refer to a low-limit game, $1-3 limit.)

Playing The Game

In Hold'em, the first two cards for each player are dealt face down. To make sure something happens each deal, the casino uses a "dealer button." At the beginning of the game, the dealer gives each player a card face up. The highest card becomes the faux dealer. The person next to the dealer becomes what is known as the "little blind." He must put one small bet ($1) in front of him.

The next person becomes the "big blind." She must put twice the amount in front of her ($2). This happens before any cards come out of the dealer's hands.

After the blinds are on the table, the dealer gives everyone two cards, one at a time, starting with the poor soul who had to put in the little blind. Once this is a done deal, the first round of betting begins. Since two people are already in action, the person next to the big blind must decide whether to fold, to call (bet as much as the big blind) or raise (which has to be equivalent to the big blind). Each subsequent player has the same options -- plus the option of re-raising.

When the betting comes back to the little blind, that player must either match whatever wagering has taken place, fold or re-raise. And finally, the big blind has the option of calling any raises, raising herself, or, if no one has raised, "rapping pat" (tapping the table lightly to signify that she's not going to raise.)

After the first round of betting, the dealer turns three cards over in the middle of the table. This is known as the "flop," and these cards belong to everyone involved in the hand (community cards). Now it's time to take a look at your hole cards and compare them to the flop to see if anything good as turned up. While you had to make a big decision in the beginning (whether to fold, call or raise your two starting cards), you now have to make an ever bigger decision ­ and it's the same one. (Hint: Once you've played enough Hold'em to be comfortable at the table, don't look at your hole cards immediately. Watch the faces and actions of the other players who are looking at their cards. You can often pick up signals -- known as "tells" -- which can give you information about what they have. Also, by not looking at your cards immediately, you won't reveal anything about your hand to others at the table.)

In Hold'em, the first two cards are broken down into four categories to help you decide whether or not to play. The categories are subdivided into cards to in early position, in middle and late position, in late position only and cards not to play no matter where you are in relationship to the dealer.

Each category is also broken down into suited and unsuited hands. For example, ace-king suited is an "always play" hand while ace-9 is a late-position play only -- and then the decision to play depends on what kind of action has happened before the betting came around to you.

Notice if you will the use of the word "position." This is clearly a very important word, because it determines whether or not you will play, what you will play, and how you will play it. Position refers to the place you are occupying in relationship to the blinds.

For example, if you are the first, second or third player to act after the big blind, you are in early position. If you are fourth, fifth or sixth from the big blind, you are in middle position. If you are seventh, eighth, ninth, or are one of the blinds, you are said to be in late position.

Here are some questions to ask yourself when deciding whether or not a bet is warranted.

How many players have already acted and what did they do? (This serves as a reminder of the strength or weakness of your position, indicates whether or not you should play a marginal hand, and also indicates how you should play the hand you hold.)

If I call (or raise) now, what are the chances that X number of players remaining will call or raise? Do I want players to fold because I have a marginal hand and I want to get rid of as many players as possible? Do I want to keep players in because I have a monster hand and I want to get as much money in the pot as possible?

If I bet (or call or raise now), will I still want to call another raise or two should they occur?

Position, while one of the most important concepts in Hold'em, is also one of the most difficult for some people to master. When you have a pair of queens and you see another queen on the board, you might be tempted to bet the hand strongly all the way to the "river" (seventh card).

However, what if that queen is a heart and the jack of hearts and ace of hearts are also showing in the community cards. You now have to think about a royal flush, a pair of aces, any flush, any trip jacks or aces, as well as what potential hands might come on the next two cards.

If you're in late position, you get lots of information again because of previous bettors. But in early position, you must proceed with caution lest you get caught up in the feverish action of better hands.

OK, we've gone through the first two cards and the flop. What's next? After all betting action on the flop is completed, the dealer turns another card face up and positions it to the right of the third card in the flop. This card is called the "turn." Now it's time to bet again.

The turn card can be even more critical than the flop, because now everybody has a complete five-card hand and an extra card that can make their hands stronger or weaker. So study the "board" (the name given to the community cards) carefully before proceeding. It's often said that more money is lost on the turn than on any other card in Hold'em.

Finally, the dealer puts out a fifth card (the "river") and after a final round of betting, the hand is over.

In Hold'em, as in Stud, you are to use five cards out of seven to make a poker hand. The difference here is that you are sharing five cards with the rest of the players in the game. So, if you have a queen and a five and there is a queen and two kings on the board, you now have queens and kings. However, if the guy next to you has a king, he has three kings and he beats you.

The winner of any Hold'em pot is determined by the best five-card hand, although much of the time, the best hand doesn't win because furious betting action chases players out of the action.

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