If you've ever watched the World Series of Poker on the Travel Channel, you've seen Texas Hold'em, widely considered the game of choice among professional poker players. Like seven-card stud, Hold'em is played with seven cards, from which players form the best five-card hand. There are four rounds of betting in Hold'em. Players build their hands from two hole cards (dealt to them face-down) and a series of five community cards dealt face-up in the center of the table.
The person to the left of the dealer (designated by the dealer button, as explained in Chapter 5) pays the small blind (forced bet), and the person to his or her left pays the big blind. The dealer deals two cards to each player, and then the first round of betting takes place. Betting begins to the left of the person who paid the big blind. Players may call, raise, or fold.
After the first round of betting is concluded, the dealer burns (or discards) the top card on the deck, then deals the first three community cards, called “the flop.” Players then make the second round of bets. The fourth face-up card in the middle of the table is called “the turn,” and it is followed by another round of betting. The fifth community card is called “the river,” and the final round of betting follows this deal. Each player makes his best hand from the two cards he holds and the five cards in the middle of the table.
In limit Hold'em games, the amount of the bets is set. In the first two rounds of betting, players who choose to bet or raise must do so in increments of the lower betting amount. For example, in a $2–$4 game, bets during the first two rounds are in increments of $2. During the third and fourth rounds of betting, bets and raises must be made in increments of the larger bet amount ($4 in this example).
In no-limit Hold'em, typical in tournaments, players may bet as much or as little as they wish when it is time to act.
Texas Hold'em is by far the most popular tournament poker game. This typically is the game you'll see being played in televised poker tournaments, such as “Celebrity Poker” and the World Series of Poker events. Sometimes, particularly in larger tournaments, the format calls for alternating rounds of Texas Hold'em, Omaha, and other variations of poker.
How to Bet Texas Hold'em
Experts caution that Texas Hold'em is seldom won with any hand lower than a pair of aces. In most cases, if you don't have high-value hole cards and the community cards haven't already given you a good hand, you'll probably be better off dropping out after the fourth community card is dealt.
Betting strategies for Texas Hold'em are similar to those for seven-card stud, but you make your decisions based on your first two cards. If you don't have either a pair or two high-value cards — queens or better — in your hand, experts recommend withdrawing and waiting for the next hand. Again, you can use the time to study the other players.
The best starting hands in Texas Hold'em are a pair of aces, kings, queens, or jacks, but even with a good start, it's important to pay attention to the community cards. If you're lucky enough to start with a high-value pair, you should stay in and cover the bets at least until the fourth up-card is dealt. With aces or kings, most experts recommend playing the entire hand, regardless of what the up-cards show. With a pair of queens or jacks, play until the fourth up-card is dealt, and withdraw if you haven't improved your hand by then.
The same strategy is recommended for lower-value pairs and high-value cards, either of the same or different suits. If you hold any combination of ace, king, or queen, cover all bets until the fourth up-card. If you haven't bettered your hand, fold.
Because you use the best five of seven cards to build your hand in Texas Hold'em, there are more ways to be dealt winning hands than in a game using only five cards. For example, with five cards, there are only about 10,000 ways to build a straight. But with seven cards, there are more than 6 million ways to do it.