Basic Tips, Better Tricks: How To Play A Better Hand of Texas Hold 'Em

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Overview of the Game

Texas Hold 'Em is a wildly popular version of poker, where players are dealt two cards each, bet on these cards, and then are given community cards by the dealer. The object of the game is to make the best hand possible out of the cards on the table combined with the two cards you were dealt at the beginning. The first community cards are three cards called the Flop. After the flop there is another round of betting. Then comes the fourth card called the Turn, followed by another round of betting. The last community card is called the River, which is succeeded by the last round of betting. After the river and bets have been placed, the players show their cards, or not if you're the winner and should you choose not to do so, and whoever has the best hand rakes in the pot, or the amount of chips/money bet through the hand.


Now that you have a basic understanding of what Texas Hold 'Em is, and how it is played, I will list the hands in Poker according to their rank, starting from worst to best:

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High Card: This isn't really a hand, but in those instances where no player can make a hand, the player with the highest value card is the winner, i.e., a king high beats a queen high, and a nine high beats an eight high.

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Pair: This is two cards of the same value. A pair of 2's is the lowest pair, while a pair of aces is the highest.

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Two-Pair: This is just what it sounds like, having pairs of two different cards. Example, two 5's and two jacks make one hand of two-pair.

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Three-of-a-Kind: This is like having a pair, and then adding a third card of the same value. Example, three fives makes three of a kind.

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Straight: A 5-card hand of sequential value. i.e., 2,3,4,5,6 makes a straight, as does Ace,2,3,4,5,. Aces can be high or low as well, as in 10, J, Q, K, A. This hand is also called a run.

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Flush: Five cards of the same suit.

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Full House: This hand is a combination of two hands, a Three-of-a-Kind and a Pair. This hand is also called a Full Boat, or just a Boat. When you have this hand, you declare one card full of the other. With three tens and two sevens, you have a Full House, Tens full of Sevens.

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Four-of-a-Kind: Having all four cards of the same value.

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Straight Flush: A straight flush is a combination of a straight and a flush; it's a straight of the same suit.

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Royal Flush: A royal flush is the highest hand in the game, and it is a straight flush using the top five cards. i.e., 10, J, Q, K, A of all spades, diamonds, hearts, or clubs.

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The Rules of Four and Two

Now that we've covered the hands, it's time for the math. The Rules of Four and Two reflect percentages based on the number of cards left in the deck and what you hold in your hand. They tell you your odds of catching a card that will give you a winning hand, otherwise known as an "out".

An example situation: I have a Jack of clubs and a 9 of diamonds. My opponent has a 10 of hearts and a 7 of hearts. The flop comes 10 of spades, 4 of clubs, 9 of clubs. My opponent has flopped top pair in this hand, a pair of tens, putting him in the lead. To make a winning hand, I need either another 9, or another jack, and there are 3 jacks and 2 nines left in the deck. Using the rule of four, multiply the total number of outs you have left by four, and the result is the percentage chance you have of catching one of your outs you need on the Turn. In this case, it's 5x4, making 20%. I have a 20% chance to catch one of the cards I need, which is enough to call.


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After the Turn, with only the River to come, the rule of four simply changes into the rule of two, and you multiply the number of outs you have by 2. In this case, we'll say the Turn was an 8 of spades, which doesn't help me out. However, it doesn't immediately raise my opponents hand either, (although he is on a run now to catch a straight, however, so am I). I now still have my two 9's to make 3-of-a-Kind, plus every Queen in the deck will give me a straight. I can also count the three remaining 7's, because although my opponent will make two-pair with a 7, I will also make a straight. However, I can't count my Jacks, because my opponent will get a straight with a Jack, and win. Using the rule of two, I have 9 outs times 2, making 9x2, which equals 18%. Let's see how the river fairs:

The River

Look at that! A Queen of clubs, giving me a Queen high straight and beating out my opponent! Thank you Rule of Four and Two!

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Pot Odds

Now that The Rules of Four and Two have helped us out, it's time for a portion of slightly more difficult math. Pot Odds are the ratio and percentage calculations used to determine if calling is a correct play. They are used as follows:

Pot Odds = (Total Pot/Amount To Call) to 1

Say my opponent and I each have $25 in chips, with $50 already in the pot. My opponent throws the rest of his chips in making a $75 pot. I have to use Pot Odds to figure out if it's correct for me to call.

Total pot is $75 divided by my chips of $25 to 1, which = 3 to 1. Seems easy enough right?

Now that you know you're getting a 3 to 1 call, you need to know that 3 to 1 is four outcomes, 3 losses plus 1 win. Now you need to calculate your Break Even Percentage, which is as follows:

BEP = 1 / (Pot Odds +1)

For our example this turns out to be:

BEP = 1 / (3+1) which equals 1/4.

You will need to win the hand 1/4, or 25% of the time to break even. With 25% or better, it is mathematically correct to call.

Implied Odds

This is where it gets the most difficult. The above situation was easy because my opponent went all in, meaning there was no betting to be done afterwards, and nothing to be won or lost once the hand was played. However, should there be more cards and more betting to occur, implied odds must be used in place.

Say I have $50 and so does my opponent. The pot also has $50 when the Turn card is placed. My opponent bets half of his chips, $25, making the pot $75, and I have to call the $25 to stay in. He has $25 left.

Let's say, hypothetically, If I make a winning hand I know I can get his last $25. If I don't get my winning hand on the river, I also won't have to spend any more. Let's use implied odds to figure out if calling is the right play:

Implied Odds = [(Total Pot + Amount I can win from my opponent) / (Amount to call right now + Amount to call in the future)] to 1.

Now this may seem complicated, but it's as complicated as Poker Math gets. So let's continue and see what our best move is:

Total Pot of $75 + his last $25 / My $25 to call + $0 I will have to call in the future to 1. This equals:

$100/$25 to 1, which in turn equals 4 to 1. I am getting 4 to 1 implied odds on this call. Time to calculate my BEP, Break Even Percentage, to figure out my play:

BEP = 1 / (4+1) = 1/5 = 20%

With implied odds, if you make 20% or better, it is mathematically correct to call your opponent.

And there you have it! Using these Rules and formulas you can play great No Limit Texas Hold 'Em, and it's all about practice. Play some house games with friends or family for low or no stakes at all to get the hang of it, using these strategies every chance you get to familiarize yourself with the processes. Over time, they will become second nature, and you'll be a Poker Pro! Good luck, and thanks for reading!

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