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Basics of Texas Hold'em

by Jon Sofen

Learning the Basics of Texas Hold ‘Em

I’m going to assume you understand the strength of each poker hand (i.e. flush beats a straight). But I want to help our beginners understand the basics of Texas Hold ‘em. It’s a great game. It’s a difficult game. Well, difficult to beat, but easy to learn how to play. In order to get to the point where you are a winning player, you first need to understand Texas hold ‘em basic strategy.

Hold ‘em, as you know, is a game involving a total of 7 cards. Each player is dealt 2 cards facedown called hole cards. This is when the first round of betting occurs. After that, 3 community cards (the flop) are dealt face-up, followed by another round of betting. The third round of betting occurs on what’s called the turn, which is the 4th community card. The river is next with the final community card placed down on the table and then the final round of betting occurs. The winner of the hand is the player that made the best possible 5-card poker hand from the 7 cards available (2 hole cards + 5 community cards). Here’s an example:

Your starting hand: A-10

Your opponent’s starting hand: K-Q

The flop: K-Q-A

The turn: 4

The river: 4

Which player has the best hand? The answer is you. This can be a bit confusing for some new to Texas hold ‘em. At first glance, it may appear that your opponent has the best hand since he has two-pair. But you also have two-pair, only yours is stronger. The hand you are playing is A-A-4-4-K. Your opponent’s hand is K-K-Q-Q-A. Remember, you don’t have to play both of your hole cards, or even one. You get 7 cards and attempt to make the best possible 5-card poker hand from any of those 7.

Of course, many Texas hold ‘em hands never make it to the river and many times the best hand doesn’t win because one player bluffed their opponent off the hand. But if the hand makes it to showdown (post-river betting), the player that wins the pot is the player with the strongest poker hand.

Understanding the Importance of Proper Hand Selection

Hand selection is something you must take into consideration. Playing too many hands will be costly. Not playing enough hands will make it difficult to win much money. The best players are those that find the right middle ground. There are certain hands you should never play (unless you’re in the big blind facing no raises, of course). These are your 2-8, 2-7, 3-9, 4-10, 3-8, 2,9, 2-10, 5-J, 4-Q types of hands. These hands have no potential value and can only get you in trouble if you play.

For example, if you play 2-8 and flop top pair (8’s), what are you going to do if your opponent bets? In many cases, your hand will be crushed by a bigger 8. The purpose of limiting the starting hands you play is to prevent being stuck in so many tough decisions such as this. Sure, your pair of 8’s COULD be the best hand, but you’ll have to make a difficult decision. If you make the wrong decision, it will be costly. Of course, if you don’t play the hand at all, you won’t have to worry about that.

There are certain hands you should play in any position. Those hands are Aces, Kings, Queens, Jacks, and AK. In fact, you should raise pre-flop with those hands. There are other hands you can play as well, such as AQ, AJ, KQ, and all other pocket pairs. However, these hands should be folded in early or middle positions if you are facing a raise.

When you are in position (on the button or one spot to the right of the button), you can expand your starting hand range to include hands such as QJ, KJ, A10, and some suited connectors such as 8-9 and 9-10. Don’t play too tight or your opponents will pick up on it and you won’t ever get paid off on your big hands. But also don’t play too loose or you will be put in too many difficult decisions on the flop. As you become more experienced and get comfortable playing flops, you can start playing more hands.

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