In recent months, the interest in poker has skyrocketed, thanks in part to the Travel Channel, which has broadcast World Poker Tour events, accompanied by expert and colorful commentary. For those who may be new to casino-style poker, here is a quick primer.
Casinos that have poker rooms simply provide the tables and dealers, and charge the players an hourly fee or take a percentage of the pot; players gamble against each other. The most popular games are seven-card stud and Texas Hold’em or variations thereof.
Unlike house games like Caribbean Stud and Let It Ride, where the goal is to get the highest paying hand, the object in "live" poker is to beat your opponents. Often times relatively weak hands, such as a pair of aces, two pair or three of a kind, are sufficient to win the pot. The skill in winning at poker lies in the ability to not only judge the quality of your hand, but also that of your opponents’ hands.
Although not every poker player is a novice-eating shark, many of the regulars are experts, so beginners should test the waters in low-stakes games or take a few lessons (most casinos offer them free of charge) before taking on the pros. Even after lessons, it’s a good idea to watch a game for, say, 20 or 30 minutes, so you understand the method of play.
Most beginners start with seven-card stud. It’s simple to learn, and the betting sequence provides for substantial pots. Play begins with the dealer giving each player two cards face down and then one card face up. The player with the lowest card showing makes the first bet. Other players can match the bet, increase the bet or withdraw.
Another card is dealt face up, and the player with the highest hand showing starts this round of betting. This is repeated until four cards have been dealt face up. The seventh and final card is dealt to the players who have remained in the game, and the final round of betting begins. During this "showdown," players may "raise" a bet up to three times. When the last bet is covered or "called," the dealer calls for the showing of hands, and the highest hand wins.
Experts believe the first three cards dealt nearly always determine the outcome of the game. Therefore, playing the first three cards is the most important part of the poker game. If none of the combinations described below are dealt in the first three cards, drop out.
1. Three of a kind: The odds are about 400 to 1, but it does happen. Play the hand, covering all bets, but don’t raise until the sixth card. You want the pot to build, as you have a winning hand in most games.
2. A pair of aces or kings: A good starting point, but watch the table for cards that will improve your hand. If they appear, your chances of winning are reduced. After the fifth card, if betting is heavy and you have not increased the value of your hand, drop out.
3. A pair of queens or jacks: An open pair (one card showing) reduces the value of your hand. Again, if betting is heavy after the fifth card and you have not bettered your hand, drop out.
4. Three cards to a straight flush: A very good start because there are several ways to improve it. Bet or raise during the first round. But after the fifth card, if you have not drawn a card to the straight flush, flush or straight, drop out.
5. Three cards to a flush: With this hand you should complete the flush in one out of six hands. Hold it until the fifth card is dealt. If you have not received another card in your suit, drop out.
6. A low pair (10s or less), three high cards (ace, king, queen or jack), or three cards to a straight: After the fourth card, if you have not increased the hand’s value, drop out. You must have good cards to work with. Wait until the next hand; don’t bet your whole bankroll on a losing hand.
Texas Hold ”˜Em
Texas Hold ”˜Em is considered the game of choice among professional poker players. High-stakes games are played daily in Las Vegas casinos, but the biggest of them all is the $1 million World Series of Poker held every year at Binion’s Horseshoe in downtown Las Vegas.
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 is required to start the betting; the other players will match his bet or withdraw. Incidentally, it’s not uncommon in these high-stakes 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 face down cards and the five community cards in the center of the table. 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 is similar to seven-card stud, except it’s based 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.