Mapping out your Texas, Omaha skills

May 15, 2006 11:30 PM

Poker is the hottest game in the casino right now. All over town, poker rooms are scrambling to offer inducements to lure in players, and casinos that have in the past ignored poker are opening new rooms or expanding old ones.

Because poker has become so popular with new casino players, it would be helpful to review the basics of a couple of poker room stalwarts: Texas hold’em and Omaha hold’em.

In the more popular Texas hold’em poker, the high hand wins the pot (no low hand winner in this game). Each player receives two cards face down, a round of betting occurs, then the dealer places three cards face up in the center of the table.

These are community cards (called the flop) which are used by all players. A round of betting occurs then the dealer places a fourth community card in the center of the table. Another round of betting occurs and the fifth and last community card is placed face up on the table.

A final round of betting occurs followed by the show of hands. The player who has the highest ranking five-card poker hand using one or both of his "hole" cards and the five community cards is the winner of the pot.

Players who bet last in Texas hold’em have a decided advantage over the other players. Players rotate, therefore, as to who bets as a button is used to indicate an imaginary dealer.

At the commencement of play, the button is placed in front of the first player to the right of the dealer. The dealer will deal the cards starting with the first player to the immediate left of the button. This player also is required to initiate the betting round.

The player who has the button always bets last (remember, this is the imaginary dealer). After each game is completed, the button rotates around the table in a clockwise manner after each round of play. Therefore, everyone has a chance to bet last.

Here are some tips to increase your chance of winning at Texas hold’em. You should stay in a game if your first two cards dealt to you are A-A, K-K, Q-Q, or A-K or A-Q suited. Other playable hands are any two cards higher than 10 such as K-J.

Generally, never stay in if you have a pair less than sevens. You want to see all lower cards in the flop than the rank of your pair. Bet aggressively if you have a strong hand to force players out before the flop.

Your best position on the table is to bet last which justifies staying in with marginal hands.

Finally, observe the play of your opponents to determine who tends to stay in with weak hands and who stays with only strong hands.

In Omaha poker, every player receives four cards face down (a button is used similar to hold’em) and there are five community cards. Betting occurs after the initial four cards are dealt to each player and after each community card is dealt.

The players form their five-card poker hand by using two of the four cards dealt to them (you must use two cards) and three of the five community cards. This five-card hand constitutes the poker hand of the player at the showdown.

In Omaha poker high, the player with the highest ranking five-card high poker hand wins the pot. In high-low split eight or better, the player with the highest ranking five-card high poker hand and the one with the highest-ranking five-card low poker hand split the pot equally.

The latter low hand cannot contain any pairs or a nine, 10, jack, queen, or king (hence the term "eight or better").

No matter what game you play, one of the keys to being a successful winning poker player is to learn when to fold. Players who stay in a game too long generally will be steady losers.

Remember: Only the winner takes the pot — there are no prizes for being second best. Therefore, learn not to play cards that cannot win a hand or have a low probability of winning.

And finally, it’s important that you learn how to read your opponents. This takes skill and practice, but after a while, you should begin to pick up clues that players make as to the type of hand they hold. Learning the patterns of fellow players is what usually separates the good poker players from the great ones.

Among the common tells is the player who seems intent on other players, as if he’s a predator ready to pounce.

Generally, this could mean he has a good hand and can’t wait to raise or re-raise.

The converse is often true: a player seems bored or resigned to his hand, especially if he’s a limper (simply calls the blinds or small bets).

This player either has a weak or drawing hand and is therefore not very excited before the flop.

Of course, his outlook (and demeanor) can change if he catches the right cards, so watch for sudden shifts in demeanor.