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An Introduction to Poker and Texas Hold’em.
For many of us, our knowledge of poker may only be what we’ve seen on TV and films. Think of poker therefore and you might think of five cowboys sitting around a saloon table, chewing tobacco and wondering what time the next gunfight is on.
However, the success of online poker is that now anyone can play this game which is an exciting combination of skill and chance. If you have thought about playing poker online yourself but don’t know where to start, here is a guide to poker and playing one of its most popular, variations, Texas Hold’em.
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An Introduction to Poker Texas Hold’em.
The aim of poker is to get the best combination of five cards in your hand as possible to have. Some combinations of cards have a higher or lower value than others. For instance, if you have three nines in your hand, this is better than having three eights. Here’s a list of the different poker rankings (card combinations) you should aim to have.
Straight Flush – A straight flush is five cards in numerical order that are also in the same suit such as the 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 of diamonds. The best straight flush you can have is called a royal flush which means the highest card is an ace. An example would be the 10, jack, queen, king and ace of hearts. If two players have a straight flush, the highest of the five cards wins. This means a royal flush, with its ace, is unbeatable.
Four of a Kind – This is four cards with the same value (number), four kings, four threes, four sevens etc.
Full House – A full house is when you have three cards with the same value and another two cards which also have the same value. An example of a full house would be three fives and two jacks or three twos and two sevens.
Flush – A flush is five cards of the same suit. Five clubs, five diamonds etc. They don’t have to be in any numerical order. In the event of a tie, the highest card of the flush wins. Likewise, if two players have the same high card, then it’s the second highest card that wins and so on downwards. If in the event of two players having the same high card right down to the fifth card, the winnings are split between them.
Straight – A straight is five cards in numerical order that are in different suits such as the 3 of hearts, the 4 of diamonds, the 5 and 6 of clubs and the 7 of hearts.
Whatever combination of suit it may be doesn’t matter, the main thing is the run of five consecutive numbers. If you’ve got that, you’ve got a straight. As always, the highest card of the straight wins in the event of a tie. Note: The ace can be used either as a high card or low card in any sequence.
Three of a Kind – The next one down from a straight is still a pretty good hand. Three of a kind means three sevens, three fours, three nines etc.
Two Pairs – If you have two cards that have the same value and another two cards that also have the same value then you’ve got two pairs. Examples would be two sixes and two eights or two kings and two fives. In other words, two pairs.
One Pair – This is having two cards of the same value, such as two threes, two queens and so on.
High Card – The high card is when you don’t have anything except the highest card out of the five in your hand. It’s not the best of situations and yet this brings up another aspect of poker. Depending on your luck and bluffing skills, you could still win the round with just a high card.
The Four Betting Rounds of Texas Hold’em
There are four betting rounds in a game of Texas Hold’em poker and the first round is called the pre-flop. It begins with every player being dealt two cards face down. As the game progresses, there are going to be another five ‘community’ cards appearing on the table which you can add to these two cards.
This means you will have seven cards in total to make your best five card hand from. For now, you’ll only be able to see your own first two cards, the ‘hole’ cards, but not those of the other players.
The betting begins with the first and second ‘blind’ putting down their bets. These blinds are the first and second players respectively to the left of the dealer. The first or small blind puts in half the minimum stake. So if the minimum bet is two dollars, the first blind bets a dollar.
Note: You should be aware of the minimum and maximum bet of a particular game before you enter it. This should be clearly marked at each table when you’re in the ‘lobby’ of a poker site.
The second or big blind, sitting left of the first or small blind puts up the full minimum bet of a game which in this example would be two dollars. Who deals the cards goes clockwise around the table and therefore who is the first or second blind changes after each game.
The reason these two blinds exist is that it gives the following players something to bet against and do things like call or raise the bet. There’s one of one of five things a player can do when it’s their turn to play and these are as follows:
- Fold – To fold means, you decide it’s unlikely you’re going to win that round so you cut your losses and throw in/away your cards.
- Check – To check means you want to stay in the game but decide against betting any more money. You can only check if no-one before you in that round has bet any money.
- Bet – A bet means you want to bet, put some money into the pot. This would often be the first time someone puts money in the round.
- Call – A call is a bet which matches the previous highest bet placed by another player in that round.
- Raise – A raise means you’re not just calling a bet, matching a previous bet, you are so confident (or wanting to appear so) that you are raising the bet which means the following player(s) need to put even more money into the pot to match your own bet and stay in the game.
Say, in this example, that your two hole cards are the ace of diamonds and the seven of diamonds. What would you do in this situation, call, check, raise or fold? Essentially, this is what the game of poker is all about. Making decisions and trying to make the right decision at the right time. That’s to say, deciding to either check, bet, call, raise or fold at the right time.
Remember that the object of poker is to eventually have the best poker hand as possible. What you do now should reflect what you think your chances are of winning the round when the additional cards are shown on the table later on.
In this game, you have an ace which is good, for instance if another ace turns up you have a pair of aces and this can beat someone who has a lower numbered pair. You also have two diamond cards which means you’ve got an outside chance of a diamond flush.
One other factor you have to consider is if a previous player raised the bet. It means this player might have a potentially good hand, so perhaps it’s best to be cautious for the moment and simply call. If the betting goes round again and someone raises the bet then you’ve got to match or call it again, unless you decide to raise yourself or fold this time because you feel different about your chances. The round only finishes when each player has put in the same amount of money.
Note: A big part of poker is ‘bluffing’. This is making out you have a great hand when you really have a bad hand or making out you have a bad hand when you really have a great one. You give this impression of what kind of hand you have (online) by the bets you put down. If you raise, it gives the impression you’ve a great hand and could make another player fold. Similarly, if you’ve a great hand, you can check instead of raise because it might make another player think they have a better hand than you.
That means the other player may bet more money only to be surprised when you later show you have a good hand. You probably know already the phrase poker face which means giving nothing away by your facial expression. Online, it’s more about how much and when you bet which creates an impression of your hand.
After the pre-flop round, we have the flop. This is where three cards are turned face up in the centre of the table. You should act as if these three community cards, shown to everyone, were in your own hand so now you have five cards with which to make a good poker hand.
The other players are doing the same with these same three cards, adding them to their two hole cards, which is why they’re called community cards. The three community cards which appear in this game are the king of diamonds, the ace of hearts and the five of spades.
So what do you have in your own hand with these three extra cards added? Well, you’ve got a pair of aces, which is quite good. You still have the chance of a diamond flush if the next two cards are diamonds though it’s a bit of a long shot. In this example you could call the bet if you don’t think the amount bet already is too high. Once everyone (the active players, the ones who haven’t folded) has bet the same amount of money, we go to the third betting round.
This third betting round is called the turn which involves another community card (the fourth) being upturned in the centre of the table. It’s a six of diamonds. So now lets’ look at the six cards you have in total now. You have the ace and seven of diamonds in your hand and the four community cards which are the king of diamonds, the ace of hearts, the five of spades and now the six of diamonds.
So you’ve got a chance of getting three of a kind with three aces plus you’ve still got a chance of getting a flush. This is a promising hand. If you decide to raise the bet then others will have to match your bet. They in turn can raise the bet again which means you then have to call (match) their bet. As always, only when everyone has bet the same amount of money, do we move on to the next round.
This final round is called the river and it means a fifth and last community card is turned face up in the centre of the table. Now you have the final seven cards available from which to make the best five card combination possible. The last community card is the nine of diamonds which you’re pleased to see because it means you have a diamond flush.
That’s to say you have the ace, six, seven, king and nine of diamonds. In order to beat your hand, an opposing player needs to have a full house, four of a kind, a straight or royal flush. He could also have a flush like you but needs an ace as their high card and then a king as their second highest card and so on which is possible but not probable.
By now, the pot of money in the middle of the table will have built up considerably. Everyone (left in the game) eventually bets or calls the same amount of money and this means the four betting rounds are now finished and you can show your cards. This is called the showdown. You show you have a diamond flush and are pleased to see no-one else has as good a hand as yourself which means you win the pool of money in the centre of the table.
Learning Poker Online
You have to play many games in order to learn poker properly. You can do this online with games which don’t play with ‘real’ money. There will also be slight variations in the rules of how each poker game is played from one poker site to the next but they’re generally the same as the example shown here.
Poker is a game that’s exciting no matter how much or how little you’re playing for. The more you play, the more you’ll learn and have many enjoyable hours using your new found skills trying to beat other players to that big jackpot in the middle of the table. You never know, if lady luck is also on your side the chances are, you might just do that.