So you want to know some strategy, uh? Learn the rules first, this is our advice. There are a lot of players who consider themselves experienced, but fail to know some basics.
Let’s go through a hand of Texas Hold’em. Each hand has some steps, or rounds, when cards are dealt and bets are made.
Setup: It’s a Texas Holdem game, and the blinds are $1/$2 (*confused? Take a look at our poker glossary if you need). Players are at a table, each one with his chips (the stacks). One player has a button in his front – he will be in the dealer position for this hand (in a home game, he would be the one shuffling and handling the cards, but not in a professional game, where there would be a professional to do this). The player at his left is on the “Small Blind” position. He will have to bet $1 for this hand, independent of his first cards. Left to him, one other player is on the “Big Blind” position. He will have to bet $2 for this hand.
Every time the action gets to a player, he has a choice to make, between the following options:
– Fold. When you fold, you give up the hand, and your cards go to the muck (the discard pile). Looks ugly, doesn’t it? But mark these words: the best players fold a lot**. They only play the best hands, statistically speaking.
– Bet. If you are the first one to act, and want to bet the minimum amount, this is your option. In a $1/$2 blinds game, it would mean putting $2 in the middle (in the pot). Betting or calling an initial bet is also called “limping in”.
– Call. If someone bet before you, you have to equal their bet to keep in the hand (or raise – see below). This would be a call.
– Raise. If you wanna bet an amount higher than the current bet, it’s a raise. It is another powerful weapon of the good player.
– Check. If you have already bet the necessary amount, you could just check. For example, if you are in the big blind position (we will call it “the big blind” or “BB” from now on), you have already bet even before the cards were dealt. If no one has raised, you could just check.
Read the options again if you are in doubt.
1st Step: 2 hidden cards (hole cards): Each player receive two hidden cards. This is the moment when knowing some starting hands strategy helps. Starting from the player at the left side of the Big Blind player, everyone will have to look at their cards and decide their actions. This is a $1/$2 blinds game, so to bet you would have to put $2 in the pot. If no one raises, the player in the small blind (we will call it “sb” from now on) could pay another $1 dollar to enter the pot. The player in the BB could check, if no one raised before. But what happens if someone raises? Well the action keep going, and the players that have bet before, would have to equal the raise to keep playing the hand. We only go to the next step when every player still in the game have bet the same amount.
2st Step: The Flop. Now three cards are dealt in the middle of the table, with their faces up. These will be the community cards. Every player still in the game can use those cards to make the best possible 5 card hand. After the flop was dealt, the action start rolling again, starting from the player closer to the dealer button, from the left. It means that the player closer to the button, from the right side, would be the last one to act. (If the player in the button is still in the hand, he would be the last to act). Again, players have the options above. When bets are equal, or if everyone checked, we will pass to the next step.
3rd Step: The turn. Now one more card is added to the community cards, face up. Another round of betting occurs, just like in the step above.
4th Step: The River (or 5th street). The last card is added to the community cards, face up. Another round of betting occurs, just like in the step above. Now its the showdown. People start showing their hole cards, and we find out who was the winner.
– In any step above, if everyone but one player folded, the action stops, and the remaining player is the winner of the hand. So you could win the hand even before the Flop.
– In some games you have an “ante”: It means that everyone have to put a small amount in the pot, even if he/she decides to fold the hole cards. So if you see a tournament which the blinds are $200/$400/$25, it means blinds of $200 and $400, and a $25 ante.
– Check the game type before entering. The three common types are: Limit, Pot-Limit, and No-Limit Texas Holdem. We will talk about the differences in the future. Newbies should start in the “Limit” games. In fact, internet poker newbies should start playing with “play money” before depositing their cash. All online softwares have this option.
* About the Blinds above ($1/$2): You can find games with blinds as low as $0.01/$0.02, or as high as $10,000/$20,000 (or even higher, in some casinos). In a tournament, usually the blinds go up after some pre-determined time has passed – you can find that info in the tournament description.
** In his book Poker – The Real Deal, Phil Gordon call the “Fold” the screwdriver of the poker player toolbox, the tool you should use most often. Checking and calling? the weakest tools.