Texas Hold 'em
Texas Hold 'em (also hold'em, holdem) is the most popular poker game in the casinos and poker card rooms across North America and Europe.
Hold 'em is a community card game where each player may use any combination of the five community cards and the player's own two hole cards to make a poker hand, in contrast to poker variants like stud or draw where each player holds a separate individual hand.
After slow but steady gains in popularity throughout the 20-th century, hold 'em's popularity surged in the 2000's due to exposure on television, on the Internet and in popular literature. During this time hold 'em replaced 7 card stud as the most common game in U.S. casinos, almost totally eclipsing the once popular game. The no-limit betting form is used in the widely televised main event of the World Series of Poker (WSOP) and the World Poker Tour (WPT).
Because each player starts with only two cards and the remaining cards are shared, it is an excellent game for strategic analysis (including mathematical analysis). Hold 'em's simplicity and popularity have inspired a wide variety of strategy books which provide recommendations for proper play. Most of these books recommend a strategy that involves playing relatively few hands but betting and raising often with the hands one plays.
In Texas hold 'em, like all variants of poker, individuals compete for an amount of money contributed by the players themselves (called the pot). Because the cards are dealt randomly and outside the control of the players, each player attempts to control the amount of money in the pot based on the hand the player holds.
The game is divided into a series of hands or deals; at the conclusion of each hand, the pot is typically awarded to one player (an exception in which the pot is divided between more than one player is discussed below). A hand may end at the showdown, in which case the remaining players compare their hands and the highest hand is awarded the pot; that highest hand is usually held by only one player, but can be held by more in the case of a tie. The other possibility for the conclusion of a hand is when all but one player have folded and have thereby abandoned any claim to the pot, in which case the pot is awarded to the player who has not folded.
The objective of winning players is not winning every individual hand, but rather making mathematically correct decisions regarding when and how much to bet, raise, call or fold. By making such decisions, winning poker players maximize long-term winnings by maximizing their expected utility on each round of betting.
Although little is known about the invention of Texas hold 'em, the Texas State Legislature officially recognizes Robstown, Texas as the game's birthplace, dating the game to the early 1900s.
After its invention and spread throughout Texas, hold 'em was introduced to Las Vegas in 1967 by a group of Texan gamblers and card players, including Crandell Addington, Doyle Brunson, and Amarillo Slim. Addington said the first time he saw the game was in 1959. "They didn't call it Texas hold 'em at the time, they just called it hold 'em... I thought then that if it were to catch on, it would become the game. Draw poker, you only bet twice; hold 'em, you bet four times. That meant you could play strategically. This was more of a thinking man's game.
For several years the Golden Nugget Casino in Downtown Las Vegas was the only casino in Las Vegas to offer the game. At that time, the Golden Nugget's poker room was "truly a 'sawdust joint,' with... oiled sawdust covering the floors." Because of its location and decor, this poker room did not receive many rich drop-in clients, and as a result, professional players sought a more prominent location. In 1969, the Las Vegas professionals were invited to play Texas hold 'em at the entrance of the now-demolished Dunes Casino on the Las Vegas Strip. This prominent location, and the relative inexperience of poker players with Texas hold 'em, resulted in a very remunerative game for professional players.
After a disappointing attempt to establish a "Gambling Fraternity Convention", Tom Moore added the first ever poker tournament to the Second Annual Gambling Fraternity Convention held in 1969. This tournament featured several games including Texas hold 'em. In 1970 Benny and Jack Binion acquired the rights to this convention, renamed it the World Series of Poker, and moved it to their casino Binion's Horseshoe Casino in Las Vegas. After its first year, a journalist, Tom Thackrey, suggested that the main event of this tournament should be no-limit Texas hold 'em. The Binions agreed and ever since no-limit Texas hold 'em has been played as the main event. Interest in the Main Event continued to grow steadily over the next two decades. After receiving only 8 entrants in 1972, the numbers grew to over 100 entrants in 1982, and over 200 in 1991.
During this time, Doyle Brunson's revolutionary poker strategy guide, Super/System was first published. Despite being self-published and priced at $100 in 1978, the book revolutionized the way poker was played. It was one of the first books to discuss Texas hold 'em, and is today cited as one of the most important books on this game. A few years later, Al Alvarez published a book detailing an early World Series of Poker event. The first book of its kind, it described the world of professional poker players and the World Series of Poker. It is credited with beginning the genre of poker literature and with bringing Texas hold 'em (and poker generally), for the first time, to a wider audience.
Interest in hold 'em outside of Nevada began to grow in the 1980s as well. Although California had legal card rooms offering draw poker, Texas hold 'em was prohibited under a statute which made illegal the now unknown game "stud-horse". However in 1988, Texas hold 'em was declared legally distinct from "stud-horse" in Tibbetts v. Van De Kamp, 271 Cal. Rptr. 792 (1990). Almost immediately card rooms across the state offered Texas hold 'em. (It is often presumed that this decision ruled that hold 'em was a skill game, but the distinction between skill and chance has never entered into California jurisprudence regarding poker.) After a trip to Las Vegas, bookmakers Terry Rogers and Liam Flood introduced the game to European card players in the early 1980's.
The hold 'em explosion
In the first decade of the 21st century, Texas hold 'em experienced a surge in popularity worldwide. Many observers attribute this growth to the synergy of five factors: the invention of online poker, the game's appearance in film and on television, the 2004-05 NHL lockout, the appearance of television commercials advertising online cardrooms, and the 2003 World Series of Poker championship victory by online qualifier Chris Moneymaker.
Hold 'em is normally played using small and big blind bets - forced bets by two players. Antes (forced contributions by all players) may be used in addition to blinds, particularly in later stages of tournament play. A dealer button is used to represent the player in the dealer position; the dealer button rotates clockwise after each hand, changing the position of the dealer and blinds. The small blind is posted by the player to the left of the dealer and is usually equal to half of the big blind. The big blind, posted by the player to the left of the small blind, is equal to the minimum bet. In tournament poker, the blind/ante structure periodically increases as the tournament progresses. (In some cases, the small blind is some other fraction of a small bet, e.g. $10 is a common small blind when the big blind is $15. The double-blind structure described above is a commonly used and more recent adoption.)
When only two players remain, special 'head-to-head' or 'heads up' rules are enforced and the blinds are posted differently. In this case, the person with the dealer button posts the small blind, while his/her opponent places the big blind. The dealer acts first before the flop. After the flop, the dealer acts last for the remainder of the hand.
The three most common variations of hold 'em are limit hold 'em, no-limit hold 'em and pot-limit hold 'em. Limit hold 'em has historically been the most popular form of hold 'em found in casino live action games in the United States. In limit hold 'em, bets and raises during the first two rounds of betting (pre-flop and flop) must be equal to the big blind; this amount is called the small bet. In the next two rounds of betting (turn and river), bets and raises must be equal to twice the big blind; this amount is called the big bet. No-limit hold 'em is the form most commonly found in televised tournament poker and is the game played in the main event of the World Series of Poker. In no-limit hold 'em, players may bet or raise any amount over the minimum raise up to all of the chips the player has at the table (called an all-in bet). The minimum raise is equal to the big blind. If someone wishes to re-raise, they must raise at least the amount of the previous raise. For example, if the big blind is $2 and there is a bet of $6 to a total of $8, a raise must be at least $6 more for a total of $14. If a raise or re-raise is all-in and does not equal the size of the previous raise, the initial raiser can not re-raise again. This only matters of course if there was a call before the re-raise. In pot-limit hold 'em, the maximum raise is the current size of the pot (including the amount needed to call).
Most casinos that offer hold 'em also allow the player to the left of the big blind to post an optional live straddle, usually double the amount of the big blind, which then acts as the big blind. No-limit games may also allow multiple re-straddles, in any amount that would be a legal raise.
Play of the hand
Play begins with each player being dealt two cards face down, with the player in the small blind receiving the first card and the player in the button seat receiving the last card dealt. (Like most poker games, the deck is a standard 52-card deck, no jokers.) These cards are the player's hole or pocket cards. These are the only cards each player will receive individually, and they will only (possibly) be revealed at the showdown, making Texas hold 'em a closed poker game.
The hand begins with a "pre-flop" betting round, beginning with the player to the left of the big blind (or the player to the left of the dealer, if no blinds are used) and continuing clockwise. A round of betting continues until every player has either folded, put in all of their chips, or matched the amount put in by all other active players. See betting for a detailed account. Note that the blinds are considered "live" in the pre-flop betting round, meaning that they contribute to the amount that the blind player must contribute, and that, if all players call around to the player in the big blind position, that player may either check or raise.
After the pre-flop betting round, assuming there remain at least two players taking part in the hand, the dealer deals a flop, three face-up community cards. The flop is followed by a second betting round. This and all subsequent betting rounds begin with the player to the dealer's left and continue clockwise.
After the flop betting round ends, a single community card (called the turn or fourth street) is dealt, followed by a third betting round. A final single community card (called the river or fifth street) is then dealt, followed by a fourth betting round and the showdown, if necessary.
In all casinos, the dealer will burn a card before the flop, turn, and river. Because of this burn, players who are betting cannot see the back of the next community card to come, which might be marked.
If a player bets and all other players fold, then the remaining player is awarded the pot and is not required to show his hole cards. If two or more players remain after the final betting round, a showdown occurs. On the showdown, each player plays the best five-card poker hand he can make from the seven cards comprising his two hole cards and the five community cards. A player may use both of his own two hole cards, only one, or none at all, to form his final five-card hand. If the five community cards form the player's best hand, then the player is said to be playing the board and can only hope to split the pot, since each other player can also use the same five cards to construct the same hand.
If the best hand is shared by more than one player, then the pot is split equally among them, with any extra chips going to the first players after the button in clockwise order. It is common for players to have closely-valued, but not identically ranked hands. Nevertheless, one must be careful in determining the best hand; if the hand involves fewer than five cards, (such as two pair or three of a kind), then kickers are used to settle ties (see the second example below). Note that the card's numerical rank is of sole importance; suit values are irrelevant in Hold'em.
Here's a sample showdown:
Each player plays the best 5-card hand they can make with the seven cards available. They have
|Three fours, with ace, king kicker
|Full house, kings full of fours
In this case, Ted's full house is the best hand, with Carol in 2nd, Alice in 3rd and Bob last.
Here is a sample game involving four players. The players' individual hands will not be revealed until the showdown, to give a better sense of what happens during play:
Compulsory bets: Alice is the dealer. Bob, to Alice's left, posts a small blind of $1, and Carol posts a big blind of $2.
Pre-flop: Alice deals two hole cards face down to each player, beginning with Bob and ending with herself. Ted must act first because he is the first player after the big blind. He cannot check, since the $2 big blind plays as a bet, so he folds. Alice calls the $2. Bob adds an additional $1 to his $1 small blind to call the $2 total. Carol's blind is "live" (see blind), so she has the option to raise here, but she checks instead, ending the first betting round. The pot now contains $6, $2 from each of three players.
Flop: Alice now burns a card and deals the flop of three face-up community cards, 9 K 3. On this round, as on all subsequent rounds, the player on the dealer's left begins the betting. In this case it is Bob, who checks. Carol opens for $2, Ted has already folded and Alice raises another $2 (puts in $4, $2 to match Carol and $2 to raise), making the total bet now facing Bob $4. He calls (puts in $4, $2 to match Carol's initial bet and $2 to match Alice's raise). Carol calls as well, putting in her $2. The pot now contains $18, $6 from the last round and $12 from three players this round.
Turn: Alice now burns another card and deals the turn card face up. It is the 5. Bob checks, Carol checks, and Alice checks; the turn has been checked around. The pot still contains $18.
River: Alice burns another card and deals the final river card, the 9, making the final board 9 K 3 5 9. Bob bets $4, Carol calls, and Alice folds (Alice's holding was A 7; she was hoping the river card would be a club to make her hand a flush).
Showdown: Bob shows his hand of Q 9, so the best five-card hand he can make is 9 9 9 K Q, for three nines, with a king-queen kicker. Carol shows her cards of K J, making her final hand K K 9 9 J for two pair, kings and nines, with a jack kicker. Bob wins the showdown and the $26 pot.
Kickers and ties
Because of the presence of community cards in Texas hold 'em, different players' hands can often run very close in value. As a result, it is not uncommon for kickers to be used to determine the winning hand and also for two hands (or maybe more) to tie. A kicker is a card which is part of the five-card poker hand, but is not used in determining a hand's rank. For instance, in the hand A-A-A-K-Q, the king and queen are kickers.
The following situation illustrates the importance of breaking ties with kickers and card ranks, as well as the use of the five-card rule. After the turn, the board and players' hole cards are as follows.
|Board (after the turn)
At the moment, Bob is in the lead with a hand of Q Q 8 8 K, making two pair, queens and eights, with a king kicker. This beats Carol's hand of Q Q 8 8 10 by virtue of his king kicker.
Suppose the final card were the A, making the final board 8 Q 8 4 A. Bob and Carol still each have two pair (Queens and eights), but both of them are now entitled to play the final ace as their fifth card, making their hands both two pair, queens and eights, with an ace kicker. Bob's king no longer plays, because the ace on the board plays as the fifth card in both hands, and a hand is only composed of the best five cards. They therefore tie and split the pot.
Most poker authors recommend a tight-aggressive approach to playing Texas hold 'em. This strategy involves playing relatively few hands (tight), but betting and raising often with those that one does play (aggressive). Although this strategy is often recommended, some professional players successfully employ other strategies as well.
Almost all authors agree that where a player sits in the order of play (known as position) is an important element of Texas hold 'em strategy, particularly in no-limit hold'em. Players who act later have more information than players who act earlier. As a result, players typically play fewer hands from early positions than later positions.
Because of the game's level of complexity, it has received some attention from academics. One attempt to develop a quantitative model of a Texas hold'em tournament as an isolated complex system has had some success, although the full consequences for optimal strategies remain to be explored. In addition, groups at the University of Alberta and Carnegie Mellon University are developing poker playing programs utilizing techniques in game theory and artificial intelligence.
Because there are only two cards dealt to each player, it is easy to characterize all of the starting hands. There are (52 ? 51) ? 2 = 1,326 distinct possible combinations of two cards from a standard 52-card deck. Because no suit is more powerful than another, many of these can be equated for the analysis of starting-hand strategy. For example, although J J and J J are distinct combinations of cards, they are of equal value as starting hands.
Viewed this way there are only 169 different hole-card combinations. Thirteen of those hands would be pairs, from 2 through ace. There are 78 ways to have two cards of different rank (12 possible hands containing an ace, 11 possible hands containing a king and no ace, 10 possible hands containing a queen and no ace or king, etc.). Hole cards can both be used in a flush if they are suited, but pairs are never suited, so there would be 13 possible pairs, 78 possible suited non-pairs, and 78 possible unsuited non-pairs, for a total of 169 possible hands. Suited starting cards are usually considered stronger than unsuited hands, although the magnitude of this strength in different games is debated.
Because of this limited number of starting hands, most strategy guides involve a detailed discussion of each of these 169 starting hands. This separates hold 'em from other poker games where the number of starting card combinations forces strategy guides to group hands into broad categories. Another result of this small number is the proliferation of colloquial names for individual hands.
Strategic Differences in Betting Structures
Texas Hold'em is commonly played both as a "cash" or "ring" game and as a tournament game. Strategy for these different forms varies widely.
Prior to the invention of poker tournaments, all poker games were played with real money where players bet actual currency (or chips which represented currency). Games which feature wagering actual money on individual hands are still very common and are referred to as "cash games" or "ring games".
The no-limit and fixed-limit cash game versions of hold 'em are strategically very different. Doyle Brunson claims that "the games are so different that there are not many players who rank with the best in both types of hold 'em. Many no-limit players have difficulty gearing down for limit, while limit players often lack the courage and 'feel' necessary to excel at no-limit." Because the size of bets is restricted in limit games, the ability to bluff is somewhat curtailed. Since one is not (usually) risking all of one's chips in limit poker, players are sometimes advised to take more chances.
Lower stakes games also exhibit different properties than higher stakes games. Small stakes games often involve more players in each hand and can vary from extremely passive (little raising and betting) to extremely aggressive (many raises). The difference of small stakes games have resulted in several books dedicated to only those games.
Texas hold 'em is often associated with poker tournaments largely because it is played as the main event in many of the famous tournaments, including the World Series of Poker's Main Event, and is the most common tournament overall. Traditionally, a poker tournament is played with chips that represent a player's stake in the tournament. Standard play allows all entrants to "buy-in" a fixed amount and all players begin with an equal value of chips. Play proceeds until one player has accumulated all the chips in play. The money pool is redistributed to the players in relation to the place they finished in the tournament. Only a small percentage of the players receive any money, with the majority receiving nothing. "The percentages are not standardized, but common rules of thumb call for one table" (usually nine players) "to get paid for each 100 entrants," according to poker expert Andrew N. S. Glazer, in his book, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Poker. As a result the strategy in poker tournaments can be very different from a cash game.
Proper strategy in tournaments can vary widely depending on the amount of chips one has, the stage of the tournament, the amount of chips others have, and the playing styles of one's opponents. Although some authors still recommend a tight playing style, others recommend looser play (playing more hands) in tournaments than one would otherwise play in cash games. In tournaments the blinds and antes increase regularly, and can become much larger near the end of the tournament. This can force players to play hands that they would not normally play when the blinds were small, which can warrant both more loose and more aggressive play.
There are several other poker variants which resemble Texas hold 'em. Hold 'em is a member of a class of poker games known as community card games, where some cards are available for use by all the players. There are several other games that use five community cards in addition to some private cards and are thus similar to Texas hold 'em. Royal hold 'em has the same structure as Texas hold 'em, but the deck contains only Aces, Kings, Queens, Jacks, and Tens. Pineapple and Omaha hold 'em both vary the number of cards an individual receives before the flop (along with the rules regarding how they may be used to form a hand), but are dealt identically afterward. Alternatively, in Double-board hold'em all players receive the same number of private cards, but there are two sets of community cards. The winner is either selected for each individual board with each receiving half of the pot, or the best overall hand takes the entire pot, depending on the rules agreed upon by the players.
Manila is a hold'em variant popular in Australia. In Manila, players receive two private cards from a reduced deck (containing no cards lower than 7). A five card board is dealt, unlike Texas hold 'em, one card at a time; there is a betting round after each card. Manila has several variations of its own, similar to the variants listed above.
- Clark, Bryan (September 2006). "The Dying Days of Las Vegas 1-5 Stud". Two Plus Two Internet Magazine. Two Plus Two Publishing. Archived from the original on 2006-11-23. Retrieved on October 4, 2006
- Doyle Brunson: Super System. Cardoza, 2002. ISBN 1580420818
- Texas State Legislature - House (May 11, 2007). "80(R) HCR 109". House Resolution. Retrieved on 2007-05-12.
- Brunson, Doyle (2005). Doyle Brunson's Super System II. Cardoza.
- Ed Miller, David Sklansky, Mason Malmuth: Small Stakes Hold’em. Two plus Two, 2004. ISBN 1880685329
- David Sklansky: The Theory of Poker. Two plus Two, 1999. ISBN 1880685000
- David Sklansky, M. Malmuth: Hold’em Poker for Advanced Players. Two Plus Two, 1999. ISBN 1880685221
- David Sklansky, Ed Miller: No Limit Hold’em - Theory and Practice. Two plus Two, 2006. ISBN 188068537X
- Harrington on Hold'em: Volume I: Strategic Play ISBN 1880685337 (2004)
- Harrington on Hold'em: Volume II: The Endgame ISBN 1880685353 (2005)
- Harrington on Hold'em: Volume III: The Workbook ISBN 1880685361 (2006)