Talking Texas Hold Em

Published: Thursday, Feb 21, 2008
I play in a monthly poker game with my buddies every month (I have three young boys, so this is a much-needed escape from talking Thomas the Tank and watching Cars for the umpteenth time…I’m sure you docs can sympathize), and we all talk like we’re pros. Well, we’re not, but if you want a little knowledge to act like you know something about this little game called Texas Hold ‘Em, here’s a quick primer. If you want to know more, just drop me a line at jmaillard@mdng.com, Google “Texas Hold ‘em”, or simply read on!

How to Play

Stage 1 – “Preflop”

Starting with a standard deck of 52 cards, each person (from 2 to 11 players) is dealt two cards, face down, which become their “hole” or “pocket” cards. When everyone has their hole cards, the first round of betting begins, where players can stay in the hand by either betting or raising the minimum amount. A player “folds” their hand when they do not make a bet or “call” or “see” (match a bet or raise) another player, ending their action and forfeiting the pot. Note that in casinos, the dealer never plays; rather, a “dealer button” is passed around the table after each hand. It signifies where the dealing is done from, which is the most advantageous position at the table (“on the button”) because the dealer acts last on every hand. For home game, players act as dealers, with a new dealer every hand.

Betting Structure

One of the more confusing things about poker is the betting, so let’s explain that quickly. To ensure action every hand, forced bets called “blinds” are put into the pot by typically two players before the hand begins. The player to the dealer’s immediate left is the “small blind,” usually half of the normal bet, and the person sitting to the left of the small blind is the “big blind,” usually the amount of the minimal bet. As the deal rotates around the table, each player takes turns posting the small blind and the big blind bets. For players to stay in the hand, they have to bet at least this minimum blind. Blind structures, depending on the type of poker being played, may increase as the game progresses.

Stage 2 – “The Flop”

After the first round of betting concludes the dealer “burns” (discards) one card and then turns over three cards in the middle of the table (known as “the flop”). These are community cards, which can be used by anyone to make the best hand possible. Another round of betting occurs after the flop.

Stage 3 – “The Turn”

After the second round of betting concludes, the dealer burns another card and then turns over an additional card, adding it to the community flop on the table. This card is called “the turn” or “fourth street,” being the fourth card face up on the table. Another round of betting follows.

Stage 4 – “The River”

The dealer burns again and then turns over one last card, which is called “the river” or “fifth street,” and adds it to the community cards. The final round of betting then transpires.

Stage 5 – “The Showdown”

Of the remaining players in the hand, the best five-card hand wins. A player can use any combination of their hole cards and community cards to make a hand, and should the five community cards make the best hand, everyone splits the pot (“the board plays”).

What Beats What?

From best to worst…

  • Royal flush (straight flush to the Ace)
  • Straight flush (five consecutive cards of the same suit)
  • Four of a kind Full house (three of a kind and a pair)
  • Flush (five cards of the same suit)
  • Straight (five consecutive cards of any suit, Ace can be high or low)
  • Three of a kind
  • Two pair
  • Pair
  • High card

Best Pocket Card Nicknames

AA – American Airlines; Pocket Rockets; Bullets

AK – Big Slick; Anna Kournikova (“Looks good, but never wins”)

AQ – Big Chick

AT – Bookends; Johnny Moss

A8 – Dead Man’s Hand

KK – Cowboys; King Kong

KQ (suited) – Marriage

KQ (off) – Mixed Marriage

KJ – Kojak

K9 – Fido; Dog

QQ – Sigfried and Roy; Ladies

QJ – Maverick

Q7 – Computer hand

JJ – Fishhooks; Jaybirds

J5 – Motown

J4 – Flat Tire (“What’s a jack for?”)

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