Texas Hold’Em is the darling of pro Poker players, spectators, and the media. It’s an aggressive, flashy, intense and unpredictable game that gets the dollars on the table and changing hands like no other contemporary form of Poker. All that and it looks deceptively simple to play. The old hard-nut players may prefer 7-Card Stud, but everyone else is in love with Hold’Em.
Hold’Em is clearly a descendant of 7-Stud in that players form a five-card hand from seven available cards, but that’s where the similarity ends. In fact, only two cards are actually held by the player as pocket cards. The other five are open, dealt to the middle of the table and shared by all players. Of course this means there are less cards in play, which is why Hold’Em typically seats nine or more players at the table.
The dealer in Hold’Em is marked by a disk called the button. For each hand the button rotates to the left. Players are identified by their seat position. The dealer is seat one, the player to the dealer’s left is seat two and so on, clockwise around the table to the player on the dealer’s right which is typically seat nine.
In practice, casino Hold’Em has a fixed (house) dealer and the button rotates around the table simply to mark the rotation of theoretical dealer. Betting position significantly affects a player’s opportunities so the button’s position in not simply symbolic.
Hold’Em comes in many low-limit/high-limit forms. Beginner games are typically $1-$2 or $2-$5, but the high end can be as much as $300-$600, $500-$1000 or more. Regardless of the limits, Hold’Em is designed to be a money game. Instead of a small ante in 7-Stud, Hold’Em uses two forced bets, the blinds, to get Bets on the table right from the beginning of the game.
The first player to the dealer’s left — seat two — is the small blind and must kick in half the lower limit ($5 in a $10-$20 game). Seat three is the big blind and must kick in the full value of the lower limit ($10 in a $10-$20) game.
The deal rotates clockwise around the table beginning with the player to the big blind’s left. Each player is dealt their first pocket card in turn, then their second.
Since the blinds opened with their forced bets, seat four, the player to the big blind’s right, bets first. They Call by matching the big blind ($10, the lower limit) and may also Raise by kicking in the big limit, $20 in our $10-$20 example game. In this round Checking is not permitted so a Check is the same as Folding.
The blinds in Hold’Em are live in that they can Call, Raise or Fold when the betting has returned to them.
Once the first betting round has completed, the dealer lays out the first three community cards in the center of the table. This is called the flop.
This betting round begins with the blinds, or the first remaining seat on the dealer’s left. Checking is permitted now and for the rest of the hand. Bets are placed at the lower limit ($10 in our example).
A fourth community card it dealt onto the table.
Betting begins with the blinds, as before. Now, and for the rest of this game, Bets and Raises are at the high limit ($20). As such, the turn is the first expensive street.
The fifth and final community card is dealt.
This is also an expensive street: Bets and Raises are all at the high limit ($20).
As in 7-Stud, the best 5 card hand wins. Players may form their final hands from any combination of the table cards and their own pocket cards, even ignoring the pocket cards and using only the table cards if they wish.
One point on which Hold’Em departs from other poker games is the option for any player to see another player’s pocket cards once they’ve been mucked. Provided the requesting player has Called or Raised the last Bet made, they simply ask the dealer and the mucked cards will be retrieved and shown.
To the newcomer this move may seem incredibly invasive, especially if they come from a Draw poker background where such a move would be heresy. However, in the Hold’Em context, it’s one of the few ways to gain insight into an opponent’s play style. And how and when the pocket cards are played is a critical part of the game.