No Limit Texas Hold'em is easily the most popular poker variation in existence today. If you mention the word poker, the game of Hold'em is what crosses most everybody's mind. That said, there are always people who have just discovered the game and are looking to learn to play it. This is a short and to-the-point guide that should have you playing within minutes.
Before getting into the gameplay itself, there are a few key concepts that need to be understood at the very start, which should make learning to play much easier.
* No limit - this designation stands to explain that any player can bet any amount of chips at any point in the hand up to the amount they have in their stack. When a player bets all of his chips, he is usually referred to as being all in.
* Hole cards - the two cards every player receives in their hand. These cards are known only to the player who receives them.
* Community cards -cards dealt out on the table, face up, for everyone to see and use in combination with their hole cards.
* Big and small blind (aka the blinds) - forced bets placed by two players at the table before the cards are dealt. These bets are designed to force the action since if there wasn't anything in the pot to begin with, players would have no incentive to play anything but pocket Aces.
* Antes - another form of forced bets, but unlike blinds, antes are not an obligatory part of every Texas Hold'em game. In games with antes, every player at the table places a certain amount of chips in the pot alongside the blinds before every hand is dealt.
* Dealer or Button - designated position of a dealer at the table. In a home game, this person will usually deal out the cards, while in a casino, the ‘dealer’ only stands to designate a position at the table. The button moves around the table with every hand, clockwise, and with it, the designation of the two players who will bet the blinds.
* Streets - rounds of betting in Texas Hold'em. There are four of these in every hand, provided it has been played to the end.
- Preflop - when players receive their hole cards and no other cards have been dealt.
- Flop - first three community cards
- Turn - fourth community card
- River - fifth and the last community card
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With these concepts out of the way, we can now proceed to the gameplay. Every round of Texas Hold'em begins with the two players to the left of the dealer posting the small blind and the big blind respectively, after which the cards are dealt out.
The person in the small blind receives the first card and the dealing continues in a clockwise direction around the table. Once all the players have received their first card, the dealer deals the second card to every player at the table. Once all players have received their two cards, the game begins.
The action begins with the first player to the left of the big blind. He or she has an option to fold, giving up their hand and involvement in the hand; call which means paying up the amount of the big blind or raise to any amount of their liking up to the amount of chips in their stack.
The action continues with the next player to the left, who has the same options, with the only difference being that they might be facing a raise from the player acting before them. If there is a raise, a player facing the raise can decide to either fold, call the raise (matching the raise amount) or re-raise, increasing the amount needed to stay in the hand.
The number of raises and re-raises in No Limit Hold'em is not limited and players are at liberty to raise and re-raise as much as they like until they have committed all of their chips in the pot.
The action goes around the table, coming to the big blind who, in case there weren't any raises, will have an option to check, e.g. proceed to the flop without putting any extra money in the pot.
After the preflop betting action is over, the dealer will place the first three community cards in the middle. These community cards are to be used by all the players at the table to try and make the best hand, using one, both (or sometimes neither) of their hole cards.
The action begins with the first active player to the left of the dealer. He has two options; either check and pass the action to the next player on the left or bet any amount they see fit.
Once the small blind makes a decision, the next player will have several options depending on the action before him.
If there was a bet in front, the player can decide to fold, call the bet (matching the amount of the bet) or raise to any amount up to their all in.
All the players still in the hand will see the fourth community card, and the action continues in the same fashion as on the flop, with the first active player to the left of the dealer starting the betting action.
The last community card is dealt and final bets are placed. If there are still players in the pot, they proceed to show their hands and the winner is declared.
There are two ways of winning a hand in Texas Hold'em:
1) Making all your opponents fold their cards with your bets.
2) Having the best hand when the cards are turned over - e.g. at the showdown.
If you can make your opponents believe you have the best hand and they decide to fold before the river, you will automatically be awarded the pot. However, once the showdown is reached, players will have to show their hands and the highest ranking hand will be declared the winner.
This guide should have you covered for your first game of Texas Hold'em. Once you get into the groove of things, it will become much easier as rules of the game are not very complicated. Strategies and finer points of Texas Hold'em are not as simple, but when you feel ready for it, you can find a lot of guides right here to help you along.
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By Ivan Potocki
Cash games are much different from tournaments in one important aspect: they are all about the value, not about survival and hanging in there. You can always re-buy in a cash game and you are never out as long as you have money to play with and this makes it for a different game all together.
First of all, in a cash game you will never be on a short stack unless you choose to do so (for example: if you want to limit how much cash you bring to the table). In general, you will always be playing with a stack of at least 100 big blinds and this will lead to much more post-flop play. You will have to make more decisions and think about the hands more.
That being said, if you are just starting out, your best bet is to follow advice suitable also for the early stages of tournament. Playing a tight, solid game is rarely a mistake unless you find yourself in a very tough game where your opponents are capable of reading into, and taking advantage of your tendencies.
If you are just starting out, you must be very mindful of position. While having position on your opponents is very important no matter how experienced you are, if you are a new player playing as many pots as possible, being in position will really make your life easier. Making difficult decisions on flops, turns and rivers can be a tricky business, but it will be way harder out of position when your information is extremely limited.
The more hands you play, the more will you start understanding some general tendencies of the players and you can start to gradually adjust. If you notice the games are very tight and passive, you can start opening more hands and entering more pots, safeguarded by the knowledge that people will only play back at you when they have good cards.
Conversely, if the games are very loose and crazy, your best bet is probably to stick to TAG (tight aggressive) strategy and go for a maximum value when you do have big hands. The truth is, while solid foundations will go a long way in helping you become a better player, there is nothing that can substitute your own experience and learning from both your own mistakes and the good plays you make along the way.
Ivan Potocki is a veteran Iron Poker player who was born in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and spent part of his childhood under war conditions. He studied English language and literature and discovered Texas Hold’em while in college. After working different jobs he turned to poker full time and this serves as his main source of income. You can follow him on Twitter: @ivanpotocki
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