It is often said about Texas Hold’em Poker that it is a game that takes minutes to learn and a lifetime to master. As the game is played against other players, rather than against the house or casino, there are more variables to consider than in many casino games. No single strategy is going to prove effective at every poker table.
An understanding of odds is key to being successful at Texas Hold’em Poker (commonly referred to as “Texas Hold’em” or just “Hold’em”). Each player is dealt two face down or hole cards at the start of each hand. This portion of the hand is referred to as “pre-flop”. As the hand progresses, five more cards are revealed face up and are shared by all players still in the hand. These are called community cards or “the board”. They are revealed in three stages. The first three, dealt all at once, are called “the flop”. The fourth community card is “the turn”; the final one is “the river”. There is a round of betting pre-flop, and after each of the flop, turn, and river. If two or more players remain in the hand after the final round of betting is completed, then the winner of the hand and the chips that have been bet (called the pot) is determined by the player having the best 5-card poker hand from the combination of the community cards and their 2 hole cards. If players drop out or “fold” their cards at any point prior to the conclusion of the hand such that only one player remains, that single player takes the pot regardless of what cards were dealt.
The objective for each player is to decide based on what they know about the cards in play whether or not the odds favor their hand being the best. When the odds are in their favor, they will typically bet more chips into the pot. This is called a “raise”. Other players are forced to match that bet to continue in the hand. If a player concludes that the odds are not favorable, the usual strategy is to fold. However, there are times when the odds favor the opponent but only slightly or the bet is small compared to the chips already in the pot that it is in the best interest of a player to call even though he is behind in the hand. The calculation of the odds of a hand winning combined with cost in chips being bet compared to the size of the pot is referred to as “pot odds”.
The ability to compute such information quickly and accurately in one’s head while a hand is in progress is an asset for a poker player. However, it isn’t the only skill required, or the best players at Texas Hold’em would all be actuaries.
Sometimes a player will bet aggressively while holding a weak hand in an attempt to drive other players out of the hand. This is called a “bluff” or bluffing. This may prove costly to the bluffer if another player has a strong hand or correctly recognizes that he is over-betting his hand.
Variations of Texas Hold’em determine how much a player may raise when it is his turn during any round. In “Limit” poker, he may only raise a set amount. In “Pot Limit”, the raise can be as large as the number of chips already in the pot. In “No Limit”, a player at any point may bet all of his chips; this is called going “All In”. As the variations move from Limit to Pot Limit to No Limit, the winner is often determined less by who holds the best cards and more by who is best at reading the opponents and knowing when they can be bluffed into folding their hands. An important factor in any hand is “position”; being able to act later in each round of betting is an advantage.
Hold’em games for both play chips and real money can be found Online. For a beginner, it is best to start with play chips until comfortable with the game. Be aware that strategies that work with play chips may not be as effective when dollars are on the line and people care more about losing chips.
One difference in online play as compared to live poker games is that it is more difficult to read opponents in the absence of the visual “tells” one can observe in person. It is necessary to rely on patterns from hand-to-hand instead of guessing if a player holds a strong or weak hand based on mannerisms.
When playing Hold’em, remember than this is a game where luck plays a huge role. The player who can control his emotions when a well-played hand is reversed by an unlikely card on the river is likely to fare better on subsequent hands than one who gets angry and goes on “tilt”.