Make sure you read this before Poker Night with the guys. Bill Burton, author of Get the Edge at Low Limit Texas Hold’em and contributor of 'Play Poker' in RVR's Men: 10 Essential Skills gives you a priceless 'how to'!
By Bill Burton
It’s all about never letting ’em see you sweat.
Playing poker with the guys is as old a pastime for men as,
well, just about anything. Remember the hilarious scenes
in Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple with Oscar, Felix, and the
boys. They would get together every week, usually in Oscar’s
apartment, as a way to socialize and let off steam. Oscar would
complain about his ex-wife, Felix would be dusting up the cigar
ashes, and the others would be throwing zingers and one-liners
throughout the night. Very little has changed today.
Before we get into how poker is played you need to learn
some of the terminology you will encounter.
In a casino or card room the three most popular games
are Texas Hold’em, Seven Card Stud, and Omaha Hi/lo (also
known as 8 or Better). None of these games are played with
wild cards. They all use a 52-card deck and the rankings are
standard. The best hand is made out of five cards, and the sixth
card is never used to break a tie. If there is a tie then the two
players with the same hand will split the pot.
These are some of the terms you will encounter in the explanation
of how the games are played.
Ante:Money put in the pot by all players before the start of
a hand. This is common in Seven Card Stud.
Bet: A bet is made by the first person putting money into
Blinds: A forced bet made before the start of a hand to get
some money into the pot. Blind bets are used in Texas
Hold ’em and Omaha.
Bluff: To make a bet or raise with the hope that the other
players will fold and you will win the pot by default.
Call:When you call you are putting money into the pot that
matches the bet that was made by a player before you.
Check: To put no money in the pot if there has not been a
bet made before your turn to act. You retain the right to
call a bet if one is made after you check.
Check Raise: To check and then raise the person who bets
Fold: To not call a bet or raise and give up your hand. You
are then out of the pot.
Raise: To increase the amount of the bet. Usually it will be
double the amount of the bet.
Slow Play: To play a strong hand weakly with the hope of
getting players to stay in the hand and not fold.
Card Room Etiquette
Playing casino poker is quite different from playing in an
online or home game. There are certain procedures and protocols
you will need to understand before you sit down to play.
• Don’t throw your chips into the pot. Place them in a stack
in front of your cards. This allows the dealer to make sure
the bet is correct and other players can see exactly how
much you are betting. The dealer will scoop the chips into
the main pot before dealing the next round.
• If you are going to raise, you should announce “raise” when
it is your turn. If you don’t announce a raise, you must put
the bet and the raise in at the same time. If you put in the
bet and then go back to your stack for the raise, you will
be called for a “string bet,” which is not allowed, and your
raise will not be honored.
• Make it a habit to look at your hole cards (your face down
cards) once and memorize them. This will allow you to
act smoothly and keep the game going. It will also prevent
you from giving away anything by looking at your cards.
• It is up to the players to protect their cards at all times.
Place your hands or a chip on top of your cards. If other
players’ cards mix with yours when they throw in their
cards your hand will be declared dead. Put a chip or some
other token on top of your hole cards.
• Don’t act out of turn. Doing so can give the other players
an unfair advantage. Make sure to wait until it is your turn
to act. Even if you plan to fold, you have to wait until it is
• Don’t talk about the cards you threw away while a hand is
being played out by the other players. If you mentioned
that you threw away a card that an active player might need
on the draw, this would give them an unfair advantage.
• Never berate or try to educate another player at the table.
A bad beat in poker is when you have a good hand that is a
favorite to win beaten by a player who caught a miracle draw
with a hand that should not have been played to begin with.
If you suffer a bad beat just say “nice hand” and move on. If
you berate bad players you may drive them out of the game.
If you educate them they may play better next time.
• Don’t tell “Bad Beat” stories. Bad beats are like the
weather. Everyone talks about it but nobody can do anything
to change it. It is a really boring subject and so are
bad beats. Everyone has suffered bad beats and by constantly
talking about them you just make yourself look like
How to Play Texas Hold’em
Texas Hold’em is the most popular poker game in the
world. There are several reasons for this.
Texas Hold’em is a fast-paced game. You will play a hand
in about two minutes. If you are out of one hand you won’t
have a long wait for the next one. This is good because as a winning
player you won’t be playing a lot of hands.
The basic concepts of Texas Hold’em are easy to learn and
understand. Each player is dealt two personal cards and then
five community cards are dealt face up in the middle of the
table. Since there are five community cards you do not have to
keep track of all the dead cards that were folded by your opponents
as you do in stud.
Because each player has only two personal cards, you can
also easily determine the best hand at any given time. This is
known as reading the board and is one of the most important
skills to learn in low limit Hold’em.
A full Texas Hold’em game usually consists of ten players.
This can mean some really big pots.
Limit versus No Limit
There are two popular variations of Texas Hold’em, and
the only difference is the betting structure. The two types are
No limit and limit Hold’em. No limit Texas Hold’em is the
game that is played in the tournaments that many people have
watched on television. In a No limit game a player can bet any
amount of chips on any hand. limit Hold’em has structured
betting rounds and players are limited to the amount of money
they can bet at any given time. Except for tournaments, limit
Hold’em is the format that is played in the majority of cash
games in poker rooms in the casinos and on the Internet.
Whether you aspire to be the next big tournament winner,
or merely take home some extra money playing in the cash
games, you will need to learn the basics of Texas Hold’em and
the best way to get started is playing in low limit games.
How to Play
There are four betting rounds in a Texas Hold’em game.
In a limit game, the first two rounds have a set amount that
can be bet and the last two rounds are double the amount of
the first two rounds. A popular starting low limit game in the
card room is a $2/4. This means that the amount you can bet
during the first two betting rounds is $2 and $4 for the last two
betting rounds. Other denomination games include $3/6,
$4/8, and $5/10. Because there is little overhead, an Internet
poker room can offer a limit game as low as five and ten cents.
To keep things simple, I will use a $2/4 game for the example.
This means that the minimum bet during the first two
betting rounds is $2. If you want to raise you must also raise in
increments of $2. The last two betting rounds have a minimum
bet of $4 and any raises are made in this increment as well.
To start a new hand, two “blind” bets are put up or
“posted.” The player immediately to the left of the dealer puts
up or posts the small blind, which is half the minimum bet or
$1. The player to the left of the small blind posts the big blind,
which is equal to the minimum bet of $2 for this game. The
rest of the players do not put up any money to start the hand.
The card room supplies the dealer, who does not play. There
is a dealer button that is moved clockwise around the table.
Because the deal rotates around the table, each player will
eventually act as the big blind, small blind, and dealer.
Each player is dealt two cards face down; the player on the
small blind receives the first card and the player with the dealer
button gets the last card. This is referred to as the “pre-flop.”
The first betting round begins with the player to the left
of the big blind either putting in $2 to call the big blind, raise
the pot by putting in $4, or simply folding his hand by throwing
in the cards and waiting for the next round. Unless you are
the big small or big blind it costs you nothing to look at your
first two cards.
The betting goes around the table in order until it reaches
the player who posted the small blind. The small blind can call
the bet if the pot was not raised by putting in $1, since a $1
blind was already posted. If the pot was raised, the small blind
would have to put in $1 and any money to cover the raise. The
last person to act is the big blind. If no one has raised the pot,
the big blind has the option to raise or just check. If the pot
was raised, the big blind would have to put the amount of
money for the raise or fold and forfeit the money that was
posted for the blind.
After the first betting round is completed, three cards are
dealt and turned face up in the middle of the table. This is
known as “the flop.” These are community cards used by all the
players. Another betting round begins with the first active
player to the left of the dealer button. The minimum bet for
this round is again $2.
When the betting round after the flop is completed, the
dealer turns a fourth card face up in the middle of the table.
This is referred to as “the turn.” The minimum bet after the
turn is $4 and begins again with the first active player to the
left of the dealer.
Following the betting round for the turn, the dealer will
turn a fifth and final card face up. This is called “the river,” and
the final betting round begins with $4 as the minimum bet.
To determine the winner, players may use any combination
of their two hole cards and the five cards on the “board” (table)
to form the highest five-card hand. In some rare cases the best
hand will be the five cards on the board. Don’t count on that
happening too often. In that case the active players will split
the pot. A sixth card is never used to break a tie.
FIVE POKER LIFE LESSONS
Your decisions in life and in poker matter.
Quality decisions will yield quality results. Successful people
strive to make the best decisions every time. Although they
will not always win, they will usually prevail over those who
constantly make poor decisions.
Life is not fair; neither is poker.
Anyone who believes poker or life is fair is living in a fantasy
world. In poker there will always be someone who is dealt
better cards. In life there are those who were born into a world
of privilege with advantages and opportunities that others will
never have. Some of us will suffer health issues or other adversities.
That is simply a fact of life. learning to deal with the
cards life deals you is a true sign of character.
Poker is the great social equalizer.
You can find players from all walks of life sitting at the
same poker table. A CEO or doctor may be sitting next to a
mechanic or a salesman. A game of poker can bring together
different people and for the most part they get along. Poker
players are not distinguished by social class but rather by their
playing ability and common enjoyment of the game. A good
social mix can be a rewarding experience and should be carried
over into our daily lives.
Never expose your hand.
Poker is a game of incomplete information. Each time you
expose your hand or comment on the play of others, you give
away information that can help your opponents beat you in the
future. In life, the more you talk the more you give away about
yourself. Most of us know there are more times when we wish
we hadn’t told somebody something than times when we wish
we had revealed more. learn to keep your personal information
Learn to cut your losses.
Sometimes it is better to cut your losses and move on. In
poker, once you have put money in the pot, it is no longer your
money. It belongs to the person who has the winning hand.
Too often players continue with a hand that they have little
chance of winning just because they have invested money in it.
In life we have all invested time and energy in personal relationships,
stock, and/or real estate deals that are not working
out. You must know when to cut your losses and move on. If
you chase your losses, you are throwing good money after bad.
As kenny Rogers sang, “You have to know when to hold ’em
and know when to fold ’em.”
Great Poker Movies
The Cincinnati Kid. (1965) Director: Norman Jewison.
Cast: Steve McQueen, Edward G. Robinson,
The Sting. (1973) Director: George Roy Hill.
Cast: Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Robert Shaw,
Rounders. (1998) Director: John Dahl.
Cast: Matt Damon, Edward Norton, John Turturro,
Famke Janssen, and Gretchen Mol; with John Malkovich
and Martin landau