Texas Hold’em game of choice for champions

May 14, 2002 2:29 AM

When the world’s top players square off on Monday in the World Series of Poker’s Championship Event at Binion’s Horseshoe, they’ll be dealing Texas Hold’em. Although the game will be called No Limit Hold’em, it is actually Texas Hold’em, and it remains the game of choice for championship tournament play.

In the ongoing WSOP at Binion’s, a variety of tournament events have already been held. Among the poker offerings already dealt were Hi-Lo Split, Razz, Ace to Five Lowball, Seven Card Stud, and even Gin and Hearts!

But the game of choice for most tournaments is Hold’em. High-stakes games are played daily in Las Vegas casinos, but the biggest of them all is the $2 million event that kicks off Monday. Here is a rundown of the game and what to look for.

The game is very similar to seven-card stud, except only two of the seven cards are dealt to the player; the other five are dealt face up and used collectively by all players.

The play begins with the dealer giving each player two face-down cards. The player next to the dealer starts the betting; the other players will match his bet or withdraw. Incidentally, it’s not uncommon in these games to see players leave early, often after receiving only two or three cards.

The dealer discards or "burns" the top card from the deck, then deals three cards face up in the center of the table ”” this deal is called the "flop." Another round of betting is completed. The dealer then burns another card and adds a fourth face-up card to the center. Once again, there’s a round of betting.

Finally, a fifth face-up card is dealt to the center. Each player can now determine his or her hand, based on the two "hole" cards and the five community cards. A final round of betting occurs, along with a showdown and revealing of hands. Once again, the highest hand wins.

The strategy for Texas Hold’em often hinges on your first two cards. If you’re dealt none of the combinations below, drop out.

  1. A pair of aces: This is the best starting hand. Hold and bet from the first round.

  2. A pair of kings: Another very good hand. Hold and bet from the first round.

  3. A pair of queens or jacks: Hold and cover all bets until the fourth up card is dealt. If you have not increased the value of your hand, drop out.

  4. Two high value cards (ace, king or queen): Hold and cover all bets until the fourth up card is dealt. If you haven’t bettered your hand, drop out.

  5. Two high-value cards of the same suit: Hold until the fourth up card, and if you haven’t increased the value of your hand, drop out.

  6. A small pair (10s or less): Hold until the fourth up card; if you haven’t increased your hand’s value drop out.

Generally, if you haven’t received a pair of aces or better ”” two pair, three of a kind, etc. ”” after the fourth up card is dealt, drop out. Seldom is a hand won by less than a pair of aces, especially at a big table of players.

Now that you understand the basics of Texas Hold’em, here are a few caveats when playing in Las Vegas:

  • Unlike your Saturday night poker game, you won’t get to shuffle. The casino provides a professional dealer, who is not part of the game.

  • For the casino’s effort, it takes a percentage of each pot ”” called the rake ”” to help defray expenses of operating the game.

  • If you’re a beginner, start at low stakes games. Until you are comfortable with betting, raising, checking and the like, you should stay away from high-limit games and the sharp players who frequent them.

  • Don’t abuse the playing cards. The house (and other players!) are wary of a person who bends, squeezes, crimps or otherwise deforms the cards.

  • Have a good time. Even though many of the players at the table look serious, you should try to make the game an entertaining pastime. Unless you’re a professional player. But then, if you were, you wouldn’t be reading this primer.