They call it the Cadillac of poker, the shining star, the core variation of the game: Texas hold’em. People also call it Texas Hold Em or Hold’em or even just HE (LHE for limit hold’em and NLHE for no-limit hold’em). But no matter the spelling or capitalization, or even the use of an apostrophe, the game is the same. And it is certainly one of the most popular card games in the world.
The essentials include a five-card community hand on the table, two hole cards for each player, and the best five card hand to win.
The basics of poker date back to the early American settlements, but the game of Texas hold’em got its start in the early 1900s. Card players who frequented back-room games in saloons and bars across the state increased the game’s popularity.
Now-well-known players like Crandell Addington, Thomas “Amarillo Slim” Preston, and Doyle “Tex Dolly” Brunson simply called it hold’em but brought the game with them to Las Vegas, where it became popular at the Golden Nugget, then the Dunes, and finally at Binion’s Horseshoe, where Benny Binion hosted said gamblers at a little game called the World Series of Poker.
The WSOP, which eventually became its nickname, allowed the seasoned poker players to compete in a range of tournaments, but Texas hold’em became the singular game of the Main Event by the second year of the competition.
Since then, Texas hold’em has been the primary game of most major poker tournaments, from the WSOP to the World Poker Tour, European Poker Tour, and others around the world. Most poker rooms also host more hold’em tables than any other, primarily due to the game’s popularity through televised poker and the growth of the game in many forms.
The dealer begins a Texas hold’em game by providing two “down” cards to each player, ones dealt face-down so only the player knows their value.
- Round 1 of betting, players can check, bet, or fold.
The dealer puts three face-up cards in the middle of the table. Those community cards are called the flop and can be used by any player alone or in combination with their hole cards.
- Round 2 of betting, players can check, bet, or fold.
The next community card is dealt, which is called the turn or fourth street, making four total cards in the center of the table.
- Round 3 of betting, players can check, bet, or fold.
The final community card is dealt, which is called the river or fifth street. This completes the board. Players now have a five-card hand, using any number of their own hole cards and community cards.
- Round 4 of betting, players can check, bet, or fold.
If more than one player remains after the final round of betting, the players show their hands in what is called a showdown, and the best card wins.
The hand rankings are as follows:
- Royal flush, an ace-high straight flush, such as A-K-Q-J-10 of the same suit.
- Straight flush, five cards in a row and of the same suit, i.e. 8-7-6-5-4 of the same suit.
- Four of a kind or quads, all four of the same card, i.e. all sevens.
- Full house or a boat, three of a kind and a pair of another, i.e. 9-9-9-2-2.
- Flush, any five cards of the same suit, i.e. A-J-10-4-3 of the same suit.
- Straight, five cards in a row, such as 9-8-7-6-5 of any suit.
- Three of a kind or trips, such as three jacks.
- Two pair, such as aces and eights.
- Pair, two of the same card, such as two jacks.
- High card, with no pairs or higher hands, the highest card wins, with ace ranking highest.
One of the most important factors in improving Texas hold’em skills is to understand the importance of position. As the dealer button moves around the table, every player gets the chance to play every spot in the betting order.
Early positions are the first to act, which start with the player to the left of the big blind, also called the UTG (under the gun) position. It is best to play strong hands from early position. Middle position consists of the next few seats, and any pair or better should prompt a raise. Late positions are the cutoff (just before the button) and the button seats, which are thought to be prime opportunities to raise with a wide variety of hands. The small blind and big blind are next, and strategies for these spots vary widely.
Another key factor in Texas hold’em is a player’s table image. While many decisions will be based on position, players can portray an image of being tight, which is to play few and usually prime hands, or aggressive, which is to bet or raise many hands.
Evaluating hands is also important. Many players count their outs in a hand, which involves counting in one’s head the number of cards still in the deck that can provide a winning hand. Then players begin to calculate pot odds, which is the amount of money in the pot compared to the amount of money required to remain in the hand. Calculating equity involves multiplying one’s number of outs by four on the flop or two on the turn to figure out the chance of winning the hand.
One major consideration when devising strategies for playing hold’em is whether the games are no-limit or limit, the latter also known as fixed-limit. Limit games have betting caps, so players know that raises and reraises will stop at some point. No-limit poker requires more of an ability to take risks and trust one’s instincts, as a betting battle can result in one player being all in, which is to put all chips into the pot.
Another difference in strategy comes into play when competing in tournaments versus cash games. In a tournament, players must stay in until only 10% or 15% of the field remains to make it to the money portion and leave with cash. In cash games, however, players can leave whenever they choose and cash in the chips in their possession. Tournament play often requires more patience and further analysis of opponents, as well as knowing how to play position to pick up blinds and antes.