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How To Play Hold’em

This section will be for those who have not played hold’em poker before. It has described how to play a hand.

The Deal

Years ago poker players in all games had dealt for themselves. The deal had rotated clockwise (one position to the left) after each hand. Presently, most cardrooms will have dealers who will deal all the cards, maintain table decorum, ensure the pots and betting are correct, will see that players act in turn, and will award pots to the winning poker players.

A dealer button will indicate the position from which the dealer will distribute cards if the dealer is one of the players. The button will often be a white disk approximately the size of a hockey puck, sometimes labeled ‘button.’ Henceforth, when there is a reference to a button, the reference will either be of that disk or the poker player who will be sitting in that position. You would be able to tell by context what it will mean.

When the house will distribute cards to the poker players, he will always start with the player in the seat to the left of the button and end with the button. All online cardrooms have used a button, and it has been a graphical representation of the preceding.

Antes and Blinds

Also in those days, back when the main game in cardrooms had been five-card draw, poker players had put antes into each pot. An ante was a payment made by every poker player to the pot prior to receiving cards. An ante was not a bet because it had not ‘played for’ the player. The purpose of the antes has been to stimulate action. Without money in the pot, the first player would never have an incentive to open the betting because there would have been nothing to win.

Antes have still been used in forms of seven-card stud and they have also appeared in the later stages of no-limit hold’em poker tournaments. Normally, though, hold’em type games have used blinds. Unlike an ante, however, a blind has been considered to be a bet made before the cards have been dealt, and it ‘plays for’ the poker player. That is, an amount equal to the size of the blind has been part of a player’s bet later on.

Generally, the poker player to the immediate left of the button has put chips into the pot equal to half the size of the lower limit of the game. Those chips (and the player who has put the chips in) have been called the small blind. The next poker player to the left, that is, the player two positions to the left of the button, has put chips into the pot equal to size of the limit of the game. Those chips (and the player who has put the chips in) have been called the big blind.

For instance, if the stakes have been $4/8 – this would have been called a $4/8 limit game – the small blind would have been a $2 and the big blind would have been $4.

First Round

The dealer would distribute first one card face down to every poker player, beginning with the small blind, and then another. The cards would always be dealt clockwise in any poker game. When every player has two hole cards, as they have been called, the deal would stop and the action would begin. Here action would mean betting, raising and betting.

On the first round of betting, the action had commenced with the player immediately to the left of the big blind. Just as in the deal rotation and the distribution of cards, the action in any poker game would always proceed clockwise. The first player would have three options. The $4/8 game shall be used as an example.

He could have folded his hand (chosen not to play and relinquished his cards to the dealer), called $4, or raised by putting $8 into the pot. In limit hold’em poker, the increments of all bets and raises have been determined by the limits of the game. On the first two betting rounds, bets and raises have been in increments of the lower limit; on the last two betting rounds, bets and raises have been in increments of the higher limit.

If the first poker player would fold, each succeeding player would have the same options. If the first poker player would open for the minimum, that is, would not raise, each succeeding player could fold, call (by matching the opening bet), or raise, by putting $8 into the pot.

Opening for the minimum would have a special term. It would be called limping. If the first poker player would come in for a raise, that is, would initiate the betting by putting $8 into the pot, succeeding poker players would have to fold, call the new amount, or raise by an additional $4

The Cap

Limit poker games would have another limit that would come into play, and that is a limit on the number of raises in any one round. Some cardrooms will permit one bet and three raises in any one round. Other cardrooms will permit one bet and three raises in any one round. The total number of bets permitted will be called the cap; that last bet will also be called the cap.

Poker players have used the word as a verb, also, when they have said, ‘The betting was capped.’ You will want to find out what the cap is before you start playing. You could ask the house dealer when you first sit down, if you wish, although if you wouldn’t want to be immediately pegged as a ‘newbie,’ you would want to ask the floorman before sitting down.

Betting by the Blinds

On the first round of betting, the blinds will act after all the others. After the button folds, opens or calls (as appropriate), or raise, the small blind will act. Since the small blind will already have chips in the pot, if he will play he will add only as much to the pot as to make the total equal the bet. In out example of the $4/8 game, we have seen that the small blind had $2 that played for him in the pot.

If poker players were to limp and there would be no raises, he could participate by adding $2 to the pot. Just as any other poker player, the small blind could fold, call, or raise. If all the others were to fold except the small blind, the small blind would have those same three options. If anyone were to raise before the action would get to the small blind, he could get in for $2 less.

For instance, if there were one raise, the total bet would have to be $8. The small blind could play by adding $6 to the pot – or re-raise by adding $10. The big blind would be the last to act on the first round of betting. If one or more poker players were to call the initial bet – that is, all the players were to limp – the big blind would have two choices. The situation would be called the option.

He could elect to simply check. This would effectively end the betting for the round. However, the big blind would have another choice when the action would get to the big blind without anyone having raised, the house dealer will usually say something like ‘Your option’ or ‘Option.’ Sometimes the dealer will just point at the poker player. In an online cardroom, when the action similarly will get to the big blind, the software will present two choices, one that will prompt ‘raise’ and the other ‘check.’

The effect will be the same. If however, there has been a raise, the big blind will have to now match the raise (call), raise the pot himself, or fold his hand.

The Flop

After the action will be completed for the fist round, that is, at the point that all the betting would have been equalized, the dealer will place three cards called community cards, and each poker player will use them in combinations of his two hole cards and the five community cards.

Because community cards will be part of every poker player’s hand, a flop of three Aces will ordinarily be nothing to get too excited about. Yes, you will have three aces, but so will all your opponents. If you were to have the remaining ace in your hand, however, some inner rejoicing might be appropriate.

A second round of betting will now begin. This time the betting will start with the first active poker player to the dealer’s left. (An active player will be one who will have met all the betting thus far.) The first round of betting will be the only one in which the betting will not start immediately to the left of the button – and that will be because of the blinds. The first poker player will have two options. He could check (should make no bet but retain his cards) or bet.

Only in the first round will each poker player in turn bet or fold until a bet will be made – also because of the blinds. If someone were to bet on the second round, each remaining poker player will have three options: folding, calling (equaling the preceding bet), or raising. The action will continue around the table until the betting for that round will be equalized – with the same provision about the cap as on the first round.

The Turn

The dealer will place a fourth card face up in the center of the table, adjacent to the three flop cards. This card will be called the turn. Another round of betting will follow, only this time the stakes will double. In a $4/8 game, the first two rounds of betting will be in $4 increments. On the turn, betting will occur in $8 increments. Apart from that, poker players will have the same betting options as the previous round. They could check or bet if no bets have yet been made. They could fold, call, or raise if bets have been made – up to the cap.

The River

Finally, the dealer will deal the fifth card face up in the center of the table, adjacent to the four community cards, which will already be there. This card will be known as the river. A final round of betting will take place, again at the higher level. When the betting will have been equalized, there will be a showdown of all remaining hands, and the best hand will win the pot.

If only one poker player were to remain; that is, there were to be a bet or raise that has not been called, then that player will win the pot and no cards will be shown. The exception would be if any poker player has been all in, that is, has run out of chips, there will still be a showdown, even though the betting will not be equalized.

You would never be bet out of a pot just because you would run out of chips before a hand would be over. If you were to run out of chips and other poker players would have chips left with which to bet, then a side pot will be created that the all-in player couldn’t win.On the showdown, the best hand in contention for the main pot will win that. The same hand could win both the main pot and the side pot.


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How to Play Hold’em

Three Universal Hold’em Concepts
Tip: 1-3

Playing Before the Flop
Tip: 4-16

Playing on the Flop
Tip: 17-27

Playing on the Turn
Tip: 28-37

Playing on the River
Tip: 38-45

More Hold’em Concepts You Should Know
Tip: 46-52

Poker Odds Chart

Poker Dictionary


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