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Texas Hold'em Basics

Keys to How to Play Holdem





"Machines don't understand sacrifice, and neither do morons."
-- "Chief" in Hardware (about chess)


Along with the dramatic increase in popularity of poker in general, and Texas Holdem in particular, comes a tidal wave of new players who may not be newbies to poker itself, but definitely are beginners in comparison to experienced players. These beginning players have been influenced significantly by what they have seen on television. While this is cool and all, from a practical standpoint it has some disastrous implications for the beginners wanting to learn how to play Texas Hold'em. (Total novices can start with Texas Holdem Rules.)

To be blunt, if you watch Tiger Woods hook a three iron around a dogleg, over a sand trap, and then stop it on a dime on the green, don't try this at home, kids. That's not to say that all poker shown on television is Tiger Woods-like. Far from it. Some of the TV play is hopelessly bad -- if only because even the best players sometimes make terrible plays.

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The thing newbies need to remember is that the poker hands we see on TV do not well represent what makes a great poker player. First and foremost, the truly great players in all game disciplines master the fundamentals. Ted Williams, Earl Anthony, Magic Johnson, Cheryl Miller, Joe Montana, Martina Navratilova... all these folks spent hours and hours on fundamentals even AFTER they were superstars. In fact, great players devote much of their time to improving at those fundamentals they aren't particularly good at.

Like any other game, Texas Hold'em has fundamental/basics that aren't very flashy or readily apparent, but must be mastered (and continually mastered) before excellence can be achieved.

Discipline. No skills matter if you don't have the wherewithal to follow through. If you know you shouldn't tilt, but tilt anyway, you suck at discipline. And, you suck as a poker player compared to the poker player you could be. You may still be better than average, but you are a shadow of what you should be. It is almost impossible to work too hard on your discipline.

Bets. The bet is the atom of poker. Chips are electrons and protons, but the bet is the building block of everything good and bad that takes place in poker -- if you play for money, that is. If you play to satisfy ego urges, rather than to win money, then you have different priorities, and you've blundered onto the wrong website. All ring game poker concepts revolve around the bet. (Tournaments are different. Surviving and being the lone winner are tournament concepts that don't transfer to ring games.) You are not trying to win pots. You are trying to get the best of it on bets. You are trying to wager money, make bets, with a mathematically favorable expectation. This involves having as a coincidental goal the winning of pots, but that is not the main goal, and certainly not the focus of our efforts. We simply want to get our money in with the best of it. Win or lose, good luck or bad luck, that really is not the point. Let the bad players fixate on the results. You should fixate on doing the right thing.

Having the discipline to do the right thing all the time (more or less) is the basic of the basics.

The blinds. Poker is a thinking person's game. When bets are made without thinking, either by bad players or when "forced" via the game rules (as blinds or antes are), this is the fundamental money at stake in the contest. Thoughtful play must significantly focus on the bets that are made thoughtlessly! Attack the bad players, and attack the blinds. Thoughtful players have an edge over semi-thoughtful players, but thoughtful players have enormous edges over bets made without thought (again, either by thoughtless/bad players or by any player because they are forced by the rules to make the bet).

How to Play HoldemLimit versus No Limit. Most of the Holdem on television is No Limit Texas Hold'em tournament poker. This is about as different from Limit Texas Holdem ring game poker as two things of the same species can get. Many of the winning tactics used in No Limit tournaments are either useless or counterproductive in Limit Texas Hold'em ring games. Chainsaws may cut most things better, but butter knifes are more appropriate for some tasks. Just because you saw a skilled lumberjack cut down an oak tree with one doesn't mean you should use a chainsaw to cut butter.

Starting hands. One of the most poorly considered basics of Texas Hold'em is the fixation novices have on starting hands, with a corresponding focus on starting hand charts and groups. Texas Hold'em is much more of a post-flop game than a pre-flop one, but novices and mediocre players fixate on following guidelines on starting hands. Without learning to understand why you are playing a certain hand, and how you intend to play it after a variety of different types of flops, you are fully missing the point of the game. Learn why and how to play hands, not the simplistic what to play. Learning how to play Texas Hold'em means learning to understand the reasons you are doing the "what" you are doing.

Fundamentals win ball games and poker games and games of every sort. Let the suckers try to buy lunch with their egos. You should focus on the basics of making thoughtful bets when you have the best of it, and then you can focus on buying lunch with your profits -- profits courtesy of the bad players, the ego players, and the players who simply don't work on the fundamentals enough.

There is no reason answer, or chart, or diagram you can refer that teaches you how to play Texas Holdem, if you want to win that is. But following the various links here will lead you through the web of related concepts you need to master.

Also see: How to Play Poker

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