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How to Play Texas Hold'em

A Brief Primer on How to Play Texas Hold ’em Poker

By Scott, Professional Poker Player,

To play Texas hold ‘em well takes years to cultivate. Learning the basics, however, is fairly easy. There are a few quirks and other considerations that upon mastering, should have you ready to do damage at an actual poker table. Let’s break down exactly what happens in a poker hand in Texas hold ‘em.

Everyone gets dealt two hole cards and a betting round begins. This is where you decide if you want to play the hand. It depends on the quality of your starting hand, your position at the table, and whether or not a player raises. We’ll explain the ins-and-outs of those factors later. Generally, a weak hand gets folded here, while a strong hand may cause you to a see a flop.

Then the flop comes out--three community cards dealt on the middle of the table. You’re obviously looking for these 3 cards to bolster whatever hole cards you are holding, though that’s not necessarily the only standard you will use to decide whether or not to continue. Another round of betting ensues. This is a critical part of the hand, with those serious about winning the pot continuing, while players with the more speculative hands dropping out.

Those remaining in the hand then see the “turn.” It is the 4th community card that is put alongside the flop, now making 4 community cards. Another round of betting ensues and those remaining are now ready to see the last card.

Ah, the famous “river.” It can make or break you. The decisive and final card. All hands are now complete, with no other cards coming. The final action is another betting round that precedes the revealing of the hands. Once the action is complete and bets are called, the players reveal their hands, with the player with the best holding obviously winning the pot.

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If when in a hand, your betting causes everyone to fold, you win the pot right there. You don’t have to show your cards.

If the hand is not raised before the flop, you can see a flop for free if you are on the big blind, being that you already put an obligatory bet. Small blinds generally receive a 50% discount if the pot is unraised pre-flop.

As a matter of etiquette, whoever’s bet was called in the final betting round is who first reveals his cards. It’s not uncommon for a player who failed to successfully execute a bluff on the river to just throw his cards in when he’s been called, knowing there is no chance he could have won.

You can use 1 or 2 of your hole cards to make a hand--it doesn’t matter. Though, a hand where you use both of your hole cards will be better concealed. In some cases, players will “play the board,” meaning their best hand is the 5 cards on the middle of the table. It depends on the situation, as do all poker scenarios. Remember, you are making your best 5-card hand. In other words, there is no such thing as three-pairs, 2 different 3-of-a-kinds, or a 7-card straight. You must use 5 cards.

Hand Rankings:

Here are how all the different hands you can get in Texas hold-’em stack up against each other.

Royal Straight Flush: The big one. A rare and unbeatable hand, where the player has a straight that goes from 10-to-Ace, with all cards having the same suit.

Straight Flush: A straight and a flush in the same hand, the straight flush is a super-powerful card that is nearly impossible to defeat. It is any 5 consecutive straight cards, where all cards possess the same suit.

Four-of-a-Kind: Another hand that is almost a sure-winner. It you have a hand with 4 of the same cards, like four aces, for example--you have four-of-a-kind.

Full House: A full house is a strong holding, when the player has 3 of one card and 2 of another. For example, if you have 8-8 in your hand, and the board comes out 8-2-2, you have “eights full of twos”--three eights and two twos, a full house.

Flush: When you have 5 of the same suits, you have a flush. The better flush is when you have a high card of one of the suits and when you use both of your hole cards to make the flush. A weak flush would be when there are 4 of the same suit on the board and you’re holding a low-value suit, like a 4, for example.

Straight: When you have 5 consecutive-valued cards in sequence, like 2-3-4-5-6. The higher the straight, the more powerful it is.

Three-of-a-Kind: When you have 3 of the same card. The best version of this hand is when you are holding a pair and one of the cards on the board matches your holding.

Two Pair: When you have two different pairs. And you definitely want both of your hole cards to play into it.

One Pair: Simply a single pair of any card. In a small hand where no one is particularly strong, this could win it.

High Card: When no one has a pair, the high card will be used to determine the winner. For example, the board reads 6-6-7-K-7. If no one has a 6, 7, or King, the player holding the high-card ace would win the hand.

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