I'd Rather be Playing Poker
The Rules of Texas Hold'em
by Gideon Chung
It’s 2.30AM on a Saturday night and I just got back from a two-hour session of playing poker at Harrah’s in Northwest Indiana. I could have gone out to the clubs with my friends earlier tonight, but I chose not to. Why? Been there, done that. I’d rather be playing poker.
I’ve been gambling and playing poker for as long as I can remember. I first learned how to play poker at an early age while watching the adults play during family get-togethers. It wasn’t until junior high school when I started playing poker for nickels and dimes on someone’s kitchen table. In high school, my gambling escalated to betting the horses at Arlington Park, in addition to bigger home poker games. When I attended the University of Illinois, I started betting sports, betting on pocket billiards, and got my first taste of a real casino when I turned 21. I spent more time reading books and trying to learn more about gambling than I did studying for exams. It was in college that I learned how to play Texas Hold’em.
The game of poker has many forms. The most popular is Texas Hold’em. The annual World Series of Poker at Binion’s Horseshoe Casino in Las Vegas is the most prestigious poker event in the world. The world champion of poker is declared by winning a grueling, five-day, no-limit Texas Hold’em tournament. Texas Hold’em is my game of choice when it comes to poker.
In casinos, Holdem (for short) is played with 9-10 players at one table. Since card casinos provide you with a full time dealer, the player who is designated as the dealer receives a dealer puck known as the button. The player left of the button receives the first card. Every hand thereafter, the dealer button moves clockwise to the next player.
There’s a big advantage to being the button, since you have the privilege of making the last decision. The two players left of the button have forced bets to place in the pot before any cards are dealt, called blinds. This ensures that there is always money in the pot before a game begins. The player immediately to the left of the button, known as the small blind, must put in an amount usually half the size of the minimum bet. The amount varies depending on the casino. The second player left of the button, known as the big blind, must put in the full minimum bet.
Now the cards are dealt. Each player receives two cards face down starting with the small blind. Going around clockwise and in turn, each player must decide if they wish to put in the minimum bet and play the hand after only seeing the two cards they are dealt. In turn, a player may either throw away the hand (fold), match the minimum bet (call), or double the minimum bet (raise). The small blind then must match the amount of the minimum bet in order to stay in the game. The big blind has the last option to refrain from making any additional bets (check) or raise the pot.
Once the first round of betting is complete, the dealer will turn one card face down (known as the burn card), then three cards face up in the middle of the table. The burn cards are not used in the game. Known as the flop, the three face-up cards are community cards and can be used by every player. A second round of betting resumes starting again with the closest person left of the button.
The dealer then burns another card face down and flips up one card face up. This card is known as the turn card. Another round of betting resumes, but the betting amount is doubled. The dealer then burns another card face down and flips the last card face up. This card is known as the river card. A player must use the cards in his/her hand combined with the five community cards on the table to make the best five-card poker hand (see Rankings of Hands). A player does not need to use any or all of his/her two cards. The player who has the highest-ranking hand of those players who have not folded is declared the winner.
In the movie Rounders, Matt Damon plays a struggling law student who plays poker to pay his way through law school. Along with Edward Norton, who plays his sidekick, they show a realistic depiction of life as a poker player. I highly recommend watching this movie. I also recommend reading books on poker strategy if you want to play well.
Unlike all other casino games, poker is a game of skill. Because you play against other players and not the casino itself, there is no house edge. In the long run, the more skilled player will win. It’s the only casino game that one can win consistently in the long run. The keys to success in poker are being able to read your opponents (trying to figure out what cards they are holding), hand selection (playing only the hands that give you optimal winning potential), and managing your bankroll.
There are many people who play poker to make a living. I consider myself to be a recreational poker player. Of course, no poker player can win all the time. Even the best players in the world have their bad days. Poker is a game where you can always improve. It’s a lifelong learning experience. The entry fee to the World Series of Poker is $10,000. Do you have what it takes? At the moment, I don’t, but I’m constantly trying to better myself and get to the level the pros are at. You can’t get better at something without practice. Instead of spending my money on alcohol and going out on the weekends…I’d rather be playing poker.
Ranking of Hands
(highest to lowest)
Royal Flush – Ace, King, Queen, Jack and Ten in the same suit.
Straight Flush – Five cards in sequence consisting of the same suit.
Four of a Kind – Any four cards of equal value.
Full House – Any three cards of equal value plus a pair.
Flush – Any five cards consisting of the same suit.
Straight – Any five cards in sequence.
Three of a Kind – Three cards of equal value.
Two Pair – Two sets of two equal valued cards.
One Pair – One set of two equal valued cards.
High Card – A high valued card without any pairs.