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The Ultimate Guide to Texas Hold’em Poker

The Ultimate Guide to Texas Hold’em

Poker is one of the most popular pastimes in the world. Part of the family of gambling card games, the game of poker is thought to have originated in New Orleans, Louisiana as long ago as 1829.

Joseph Cowell, an English actor, reported in his memoirs a game played with a deck of 20 cards where four players bet on which player’s hand was the most valuable. Since then, many different poker variants have been created, but of all the forms of poker, Texas hold’em is by far the most popular.

Despite Texas holdem’s popularity, little is actually known about the origins of the game, although according to Texas State Legislature, Robstown in Texas (hence its name) is the game’s birthplace with Texas hold’em poker being played there since the early 1900.

Poker legend, Doyle Brunson
Poker legend, Doyle Brunson

Texas holdem spread throughout its birth state and was eventually introduced to the gambling capital of the world, Las Vegas, in 1967 by a group of Texan card players including the legendary figures Amarillo Slim, Doyle Brunson and Crandell Addington, the latter claiming to have been introduced to the game in 1959.

In 1970, Benny and Jack Binion acquired the rights to the Gambling Fraternity Convention and renamed it the World Series of Poker and in doing so decided to add a Texas hold’em tournament to the list of scheduled events

In 1970, Benny and Jack Binion acquired the rights to the Gambling Fraternity Convention and renamed it the World Series of Poker and in doing so decided to add a Texas hold’em tournament to the list of scheduled events. One year later, the game was chosen as the World Series of Poker’s main event and this has been the case to this very day.

2003 World Series of Poker Main Event champion, Chris Moneymaker
2003 World Series of Poker Main Event champion, Chris Moneymaker

Poker, Texas holdem in particular, enjoyed a surge in popularity in the 2000s thanks in part to increased exposure on the internet, on television and the invention of the “hole card cam” that allowed viewers at home to see the cards being played as the action unfolded before them. In 2003, Texas hold’em became the game of choice for many after Chris Moneymaker turned a $38 online satellite tournament win into a $2.5 million fortune when he won the World Series of Poker main event. Moneymaker was an accountant who many then looked at for inspiration, a normal working man who took on the seasoned professionals in their own back yard and beat them.

Why is Texas hold’em poker so popular?

One the reasons Texas hold’em is so popular – the so-called “Moneymaker Effect” aside – is it is both simple to learn yet deeply complex. Mike Sexton, one of the most respected people in the industry, once said that of all the variants of poker Texas hold’em takes five minutes to learn but a lifetime to master.

Mike Sexton, part of the poker royalty
Mike Sexton, part of the poker royalty

The game is usually played with between two and nine players, with each player receiving two cards (hole cards) face down. A maximum of five community cards are placed face-up by the dealer – a series of three (known as “the flop”), an additional single card (known as “the turn”) and an additional single card (known as “the river”). A round of betting takes place before the flop, on the flop, the turn and the river if required, with players able to win by either having the best hand when the players’ hole cards are revealed (known as “the showdown”) or by forcing all of the other players to fold by representing a stronger hand than theirs.

Although the outcome of each hand does owe a lot to chance, players of Texas hold’em can make mathematically and psychologically correct decisions, which over time maximises their expected game on each round of betting, therefore increasing their long-term winnings.

Texas hold’em takes five minutes to learn but a lifetime to master.

Different Texas holdem poker variants

When Texas hold’em was first introduced to the masses, it was mostly played to a fixed betting structure where players could only place bets of a predetermined structure. Gradually, the betting structure changed to what is now known as no limit where players can bet any amount – even all of their chips if they wish. A third variant of the game is pot limit hold’em, which was popular in the United Kingdom and Ireland for some time, and see players allowed to bet any amount of chips that they wish up to a maximum determined by the size of the pot.

The common Texas holdem formats are ring games (sometimes called cash games) where players exchange cash for chips, sit ‘n’ go tournaments (SNG) in which players buy into a tournament that starts when a predetermined number of opponents enter and multi table tournaments (MTT) that are similar to SNG but start at a scheduled time.

In tournament Texas hold’em, players receive the same amount of chips and once they have no chips left, they are eliminated from the event. The winner is the players who has all of the chips in play in their possession.

Which are the best Texas hold’em poker hands?

Best starting hand in Texas Hold'em
A pair of aces, the strongest Texas hold'em preflop hand

Like all forms of poker, Texas hold’em has a set of hand rankings used to determine the winner. Players can use one or both hole cards in addition to the community cards to make the best five-card poker hand.

Aces are usually ranked high, although they can also be low when used to complete a straight that runs ace-through-five.

The possible hands are, in order of likeliness to win at showdown:

  • High card: This is the weakest possible holding as it doesn’t even contain a pair. An example would be {a-Spades}{10-Spades}{7-Diamonds}{6-Hearts}{3-Clubs} – ace-high
  • One pair: A single matching pair of the same rank — {a-Spades}{a-Clubs}{j-Hearts}{6-Spades}{2-Diamonds} – a pair of aces
  • Two pair: Two matching pairs of the same rank — {a-Spades}{a-Clubs}{j-Hearts}{j-Diamonds}{3-Clubs} – two pair aces and jacks
  • Three-of-a-kind: Three cards of the same rank — {a-Spades}{a-Clubs}{a-Diamonds}{6-Clubs}{3-Diamonds} – three-of-a-kind aces
  • Straight: Five consecutive cards with at least one of a different suit — {8-Clubs}{7-Spades}{6-Hearts}{5-Diamonds}{4-Clubs} – an eight-high straight
  • Flush: Five cards of the same suit — {a-Spades}{k-Spades}{8-Spades}{5-Spades}{3-Spades} – an ace-high flush
  • Full house: Three-of-a-kind and a pair — {a-Spades}{a-Clubs}{a-Diamonds}{k-Diamonds}{k-Clubs} – a full house aces full of kings
  • Four-of-a-kind: All four cards of the same rank — {a-Spades}{a-Clubs}{a-Diamonds}{a-Hearts}{3-Hearts} – four-of-a-kind aces
  • Straight flush: Five consecutive cards of the same suit — {a-Spades}{k-Spades}{q-Spades}{j-Spades}{10-Spades} – a straight flush, this one is a Royal flush, an unbeatable hand

Each of the individual starting hands in Texas holdem poker are also ranked. Computer simulations have shown that the following starting hands are the 10 best texas hold’em hands:

  • A pair of aces
  • A pair of kings
  • A pair of queens
  • Ace-king
  • A pair of jacks
  • Ace-queen
  • King-queen
  • Ace-jack
  • King-jack
  • Ace-ten

Playing poker online

The first online poker sites appeared in 1998 with the now-defunct Planet Poker being the first of them. On January 1, 1998, Planet Poker dealt a $3/$6 game of Texas hold’em poker and a new industry was born. A year later, Paradise Poker opened for business and still operates today.

Today, there are dozens of poker sites online with the largest of these being PokerStars. Rivals to PokerStars include Full Tilt, partypoker, 888poker, Unibet Poker, Sky Poker, and various online poker operations of major sports betting sites.

Online poker
Online poker

Most online poker operators offer a number of different types of poker: Texas hold’em, Omaha, Stud, Draw, Three Card Poker and many more besides, allowing customers to play their favourite poker games from the comfort of their own homes or on the move via a mobile device.

Texas holdem poker apps available today

The vast majority of online poker sites allow their customers to play for real money (and “play money”) via apps downloaded from places such as iTunes and the Google Play store. These apps have an array of features similar to those found in the downloadable desktop poker clients.

Not all Texas hold’em apps allow real money. Some such as Live Hold’em pro, Zynga Poker and Texas HoldEm Poker Deluxe are played against computer AI or real players with no financial risks.

What and where are the biggest Texas hold’em poker tournaments?

Tournament Texas holdem poker is arguably the most popular formats of poker in the modern world. Almost all of the major online poker sites spread tournaments with vast prize pools, but it is the live poker arena – usually in casinos – that offer the most prestige and often the largest financial rewards.

The longest running tournament series is the aforementioned World Series of Poker, held in Las Vegas every year since 1970. Another long-running festival is the Irish Open. Although both the WSOP and Irish Open feature several variants of poker, Texas holdem tournaments are the most popular.

Other major poker tournaments include the European Poker Tour (EPT), World Poker Tour (WPT), UK & Ireland Poker Tour (UKIPT), Grosvenor Genting Poker Series (GPS).

What are the best Texas holdem poker books?

Super System: Poker's bible
Super System: Poker's bible

There have been hundreds of books about poker, Texas Hold’em especially, with one of the first and most popular being Super System by Doyle Brunson and a host of other professional poker players. Super System is often referred to as being poker’s bible and when it came out it was ground-breaking, giving readers an insight into how professional poker players approached various poker games.

Another series of books that were very well received was Harrington On Hold’em, a trio of books written by 1995 WSOP Main Event champion Dan Harrington. The “HOH” series offered never before seen tournament tactics and concepts and will go down in history as books that changed the poker landscapes.

More recently, Chris Moorman, a British superstar, released Moorman's Book of Poker which was well-received in the poker community.

You can read more about the various poker book available today via the PokerNews book review section.

Texas hold’em poker drinking games

While PokerNews promotes drinking alcohol responsibly, there are a few Texas holdem drinking games that you can play with friends. One game is Drunken Hold’em where players have to take a drink if they fold before the flop, two if they fold after the flop, three if they fold after the turn and four if they fold after the river. If they lose the hand five drinks are the forfeit.

There are several other but most are variants of the above. Remember, alcohol and poker may seem like the perfect match, but drinking clouds your judgement and makes decision making much more difficult and you become less risk averse so do not play Texas hold’em poker drinking games with real money in play.

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  • Love the game of Texas Hold'em? Then check out this ultimate guide to the Cadillac of Poker

  • Learn more about the history of Texas Hold'em

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