Texas Hold’em: I am all in

While doing some channel surfing, back in 2002, I came across a televised poker tournament. They were playing a version of poker that I had not heard of called Texas Hold’em. After watching for a bit, I looked the game up online and found a couple of sites like PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker that allowed you to play online. Having just the basic understanding of how the game was played from having watched it, I signed up on both sites and started playing.  

There is definitely a learning curve when starting any new game and playing Texas Hold’em is no different. Although I was familiar with poker as a whole having played Stud and Draw poker, this new version took some getting used to. The basic concept is that you get 2 hold cards and you make the best hand using these and a combination any 3 cards from the “community hand”.

                There are essentially 4 rounds of betting. The seat directly to the left of the Dealer is called the small blind. The seat 2 spots from the dealer is the big blind. These two seats start the betting action prior to any cards being dealt. The small blind is ½ the ante of the big blind. Then the betting goes around to each preceding player who can either call the bet of the big blind or raise to a higher amount, or just fold out of the hand. Once the play gets back to the big blind, and all other players have just called, meaning just anted up the amount of the big blind, the person in the big blind gets to either check or raise. If he checks, the dealer will “burn” a card and then deal out the first 3 cards of the “community deck”. This is called the “flop”, then there is another round of betting starting with the small blind. After this 2nd round of betting, the dealer will “burn” another card and deal out the 4th card called “the turn”.  After this 3rd round of betting, and all players have had an opportunity to bet, raise, or fold, the final card “the river” is dealt. Then the final round of betting goes on and after that is completed, the players display their hands and the best 5 card hand wins the pot.

                There are 2 types of Texas Hold’em. Limit Texas Hold’em “limits” the amount you can bet on each of the four betting rounds. If you are seated at a $2-4 limit table, the small blind will be $1, and the big blind will be $2. You may ONLY bet or raise $2 pre-flop, and only $2 after the flop. On the turn and river, you may only bet or raise $4.

            Then there is No Limit Texas Hold’em, where the name defines the game. There is no limit as to how much a player can bet. At any given betting opportunity, the player can bet the minimum which is the amount of the big blind or he can go all-in and bet all of the chips he has in his possession. This version of the game is the most popular.

            After having played online for about a year, I got my first opportunity to play a “live” game. I was house-sitting for some friends that were out of town and there was a sports bar about a block from their home that had a huge banner hanging outside the building promoting Texas hold’em. I will admit, it was really daunting to play with real people. I can’t ever remember being that nervous, but it turned out to be a   relaxing and pleasant experience. The game started with 4 full tables of 9 players each and I was able to make it through to the last table of 9 and finished in 7th place. I was so excited. That was the beginning of a wonderful and lasting relationship with the game of Texas Hold’em Poker. I have since, in the last 15 years, been a member of a poker league that is put on by the FreePokerNetwork(FPN). FPN is a bar league that runs a 3-month qualifying league. At the end of that period the top 10% of players move on to a Regional tournament. From that tournament, the top 5% move on to the State tournament. The winner of the State tournament gets a paid entry into the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas, along with some cash for travel and lodging. You can see why for a poker fan, this is an awesome incentive to be a part of the FPN league. During my time with this organization, I have made it to their State Championship tournament twice. And although I have not yet won the State tournament, I have continuously improved my play.

            One of the things I have noticed is that there are a lot of Professional poker players that offer training on their system of play. It’s true that whatever knowledge they have is valuable, but the thing to remember before paying someone to teach you the game is that you can learn this game for free. The only “training” I have taken is a free course on the PokerStars website. The other thing to remember is that just because their system works for them, doesn’t guarantee that it will work for you. As a poker player you must develop the skill of reading tells and adjusting your play as the game moves on. This is not to say you shouldn’t read a book written by some of the big names like Doyle Bronson, or Daniel Negreanu. But just know that they developed their styles through years of playing just as you will.            

            There is a belief in poker that players should only play “premium” hands such as Ace/Ace, Ace/King, Ace/Queen, etc., and that anyone who plays differently are considered “donks” (short for donkeys). This mindset goes on to say that when you have one of these premium hands that you should automatically raise the bet, sometimes going all in pre-flop. As I have watched hundreds of hours of poker play on television and in actual live games, this thought process is purely fictional. There is really no such thing as a “premium” hand, especially pre-flop. The problem is that although a hand such as Ace/King, even suited, is pretty good before the flop is dealt it is of no use to you if the 3 cards that come up are a Seven, Three and Nine each of a different suit. But the person playing a pre-flop hand of say, Nine/Four has suddenly got a much-improved hand with a pair of nines. And even holding a pair of Aces pre-flop isn’t that good as so often they are beaten by a “donk” hand, say Eight/Two.

            The one thing all poker players will agree on is that you must watch the other players as much as possible. Look for “tells” and watch how they bet based on where they sit. If a player through the first hour or so of play only plays a hand when they are in the Big or Small blinds, and suddenly makes a big bet when they are not in one of those positions is telling you that they have a really good starting hand. Poker is a game where a lot of skill is needed, but you also need to be able to read people’s body language.

            If you haven’t played Texas Hold’em poker, I strongly suggest you try. It is a very good game of skill and chance that will also text your mental endurance. Start with one of the online websites to get some practice and then find a bar league in your area and give it a shot. You may be as pleasantly surprised as I was. Next time, I will discuss the two different games that are most common with Texas Hold’em, Cash games and Tournament games. Stay tuned.

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