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Texas Hold'em: Understanding the Basics.

Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the past two years, you’ve probably noticed that poker has taken the world by storm. Once played almost exclusively by overweight Las Vegans in track suits, poker, in particular Texas Hold’em, has become the game du jour for both the young jet-set crowd and the recreational gambler alike. In fact, given the jolt of media exposure that Texas Hold’em has received over the past couple years it seems strange that there are people out there who haven’t yet tried their hand at this fast-paced and exciting game. Still, we know that a few of you haven’t yet taken the plunge and it is with you in mind that we’ve put together the following Texas Hold’em tutorial. No, it won’t turn you into Amarillo Slim overnight. But if you adhere to the following strategy tips you should be able to more than hold your own in either a casual game with your friends or in a small stakes game online.

Play Tight.

‘Tight’ is pokerspeak for conservative. Thus, a player who waits for premium hands, and rarely mixes it up with a mediocre holding, would be considered a tight player. Although world class players frequently play some very strange looking hands before the flop, anyone who’s learning the ropes will be doing themselves a great favor if they restrict themselves to playing only the very best starting hands. If there’s one irrefutable fact in poker it’s that playing marginal hands will put you into marginal situations—and while marginal situations are where a world class player may thrive, it’s not the place where beginning players want to find themselves.

Don’t Bluff.

This always sounds strange to new players. After all, doesn’t the bluff represent the very essence of poker? Well, as it turns out, no- it doesn’t. The threat of the bluff is crucial, but the bluff itself only plays a negligible role in the games of many winning players. The reason for this has to do with the fact that bad players are almost ‘unbluffable’, by which we mean they’ll call you with almost any hand that has so much as an outside shot of winning the pot. The typical bad player does not fold too much; to the contrary, he calls too much, and against this kind of a player bluffing becomes almost futile. If you’re playing against competent players then you will eventually need to work the occasional bluff into your game; but so long as you’re playing against mediocre (or downright awful) players you need not concern yourself with learning how to bluff.

Be Aggressive.

If you think you have the best hand then bet it. Do not fall into the habit of checking your hand at the end because you’re worried your opponent made a flush, or because the river card could have completed a straight. As you will quickly learn it is not easy to make a big hand (i.e., three of a kind of better) at Texas Hold’em, so the odds are usually against your opponents having such a hand. Also, remember what we said in the paragraph above; bad players love to call with bad hands, so you shouldn’t be scared of betting if you’re quite confident a worse hand will call you.

When in Doubt Early, Fold.

When in Doubt Late, Call. By ‘early’ and ‘late’ we’re referring to the stage of the hand. If you’re unsure whether you’re ahead or behind in the early stages of the hand you should usually fold. If you’re not sure at the end of the hand you’re best play is usually to call. The reasoning works like this: In the beginning of the hand you need to consider two different possibilities; first, that you’re behind right now, and second, that your opponent has a draw to a hand that beats you. Thus, the combined probability of being either behind now or being behind at the end of the hand should make folding the more attractive option if the decision is close. At the end of the hand, however, the situation is dramatically different. For one, all you have to worry about is whether or not you’re behind right now. Second, the pot will typically be big enough at this point to make calling at least marginally profitable with all but your most hopeless hands. If, for instance, there is nine dollars in the pot, and your opponent bets one dollar, you only need to have the best hand one time out of ten to make calling break even.

What other advice do we have? Well, if you decide to get serious about the game prepare to read, read and read some more! There are some excellent texts out there on poker, and making an honest study of these books will improve your learning curve tremendously. Outside of that, start logging some table time! There are still far more bad players than good players, both in ‘live’ games and online, so you shouldn’t feel intimidated when you put your money down for the first time. Just sit tight, wait for a big hand, and when you get one bet it hard. You’ll be amazed how far that simple strategy will get you.
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