Your J-J Looked Good Until a 5-6-7 Turned Up on the Flop, a 3 Walked Down Fourth Street, And a 4 Came Down the River.

Did we lose you already? Then it’s time you learned to play no-limit Texas Hold ’Em. Everybody else has.

IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN A TEXAS HOLD ’Em tournament on TV lately, it’s probably because you haven’t actually turned your TV on. On any given night, you can now watch Las Vegas professionals playing Hold ’Em, Hollywood actors playing Hold ’Em, even rock stars playing Hold ’Em—all from the comfort of your own living room. The national obsession with Texas’s game has gotten so big, in fact, that World Poker Tour Enterprises, the parent company that produces the televised WPT events, is now listed on Nasdaq (ticker symbol: WPTE). “It’s unbelievable,” says Doyle “Texas Dolly” Brunson, a Longworth native and two-time champion of the World Series of Poker. “It’s brought poker players up to celebrity status.”

Brunson should know. The 71-year-old who cut his teeth playing the Texas poker circuit in the fifties and sixties became one of the game’s first big-name players in 1978, when he published Super/System, a breakthrough book that offered amateur players their first sound instruction in no-limit Texas Hold ’Em. Brunson is also partly responsible for Hold ’Em’s king-of-all-poker-games status. No one can pinpoint its genesis, but Brunson is intimately familiar with the game’s journey from Texas’s backroom gambling halls to Nevada’s casinos. He and poker raconteur “Amarillo Slim” Preston, San Antonio oilman Crandell Addington, and four other big-time Texas gamblers comprised the entire field of the first professional poker tournament at Reno’s Holiday Hotel, in 1969. (The game that decided that event was no-limit Texas Hold ’Em.) The following year, the charismatic gambling impresario Benny Binion, whose long Texas rap sheet perhaps only burnished his reputation in Vegas, moved the tournament to his Binion’s Horseshoe casino and called it the World Series of Poker. The success of that event over the years is in large part responsible for Hold ’Em’s popularity on television today.

Maybe you’ve watched a televised Hold ’Em tournament but haven’t actually played the game. Or maybe you’ve heard about a private neighborhood game, or one of the bar- or restaurant-sponsored tournaments held in cities across Texas, and are considering trying your luck. After all, it’s called Texas Hold ’Em. What kind of Texan would you be if you didn’t learn to play? Here, then, is a crash course on the game as well as some words of wisdom from Brunson and Addington, two master competitors. We couldn’t possibly distill all the knowledge and experience required to win in a high-stakes no-limit Hold ’Em tournament in a few pages. But if you’re determined to put your rear end in a seat at a local tournament table sometime soon, we can at least improve your chances of keeping it there for a while. »

The Rules

Texas Hold ’Em is a variation on regular stud poker: The object is to make the best five-card hands. The difference is that you’ll have seven cards—two of your own and five community cards—to choose from. Here’s how the game play unfolds.

A. The dealer deals two cards facedown to everyone (the hole cards; see “Bone Up” for a quick cheat sheet to Hold ’Em vernacular). The player to the left of the dealer is required to ante a predetermined amount (the small blind). The player to that player’s left must ante double that amount (the big blind). After that, each player may match the big blind (call), bet any amount over the big blind (raise), or quit his hand (fold).

B. Once all the players have either called, raised, or folded, the dealer turns over three community cards called “the flop” faceup in the center of the table, which all of the players share.

C. After the flop, there is another betting round, starting with the first active player to the left of the dealer. If there are still at least two players in after this betting round, the dealer turns another card faceup in the center, called “the turn,” or “fourth street.”

D. There’s another betting round.

E. Finally, the dealer turns the last card faceup in the center (“the river,” or “fifth street”). Thus, the players remaining in for the bet after the river are looking at seven cards: two hole cards only they can see and the five community cards. Once the betting is finished, the player who is called (the last person to make a raise) must reveal his cards.

F. Each time a hand is dealt, the deal rotates one seat to the left so that everyone at some point gets the dealer’s advantage of betting last.

The Rankings

Again, players win by having the strongest five-card hands. These are ranked—best to worst—as follows. You’ll want to memorize this information before throwing in your first chips.

1. Straight flush: five sequential cards all in the same suit. The highest straight flush—10, J, Q, K, and A of one suit—is called a royal flush. (Hint: Don’t fold this hand!) 2. Four of a kind: all four cards of the same rank, such as four 10’s, four 3’s, etc. If one or more players hold four of a kind, the player with the four cards of the highest value wins. 3. Full house: three cards (a set) of one rank and a pair of another rank, e.g., Q-Q-Q, 3-3. If two players have a full house, the player with the highest set in his full house wins. 4. Flush: five cards in the same suit, not consecutive. The highest card determines the strength of one flush versus another. In other words, a king-high flush beats a queen-high flush. 5. Straight: five consecutive cards of more than one suit. 10, J, Q, K, A is the highest possible straight. 6. Three of a kind 7. Two pair 8. One pair 9. High card

Know Your Limits


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