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Bennett Winch SC Holdall

Texas Hold 'em Poker - Part 1

15 July, 2008

"The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning. Then the sole-erosion produced by high gambling - a compost of greed and fear and nervous tension - becomes unbearable, and the senses awake and revolt from it." - Casino Royale, 1953

But of course, in the novel, the game is baccarat.

casino texas hold em card deckWhen the film version of 'Casino Royale' was finally headed to the big screen, I had mixed feelings when I heard they were changing the game from baccarat to poker. Since the early '70s, the James Bond movies have had a tendency to follow the trends rather than set them. Knowing that Texas hold'em poker had become a bit of a sensation, I worried that this was simply a continuation of that same pattern.

But on the other hand, perhaps the switch to poker was a brilliant move. Unlike many card games, Texas hold'em is a game of risk that forces players to rely on skill, strategy, and even patience, rather than mere blind luck, making this the perfect game for the modern version of a classic James Bond thriller.

The Basics of Poker

It would be nearly impossible to have missed the many movies or TV shows highlighting the game of poker. Maybe you've flipped past the World Series of Poker on ESPN, or caught the classic film 'The Sting' or perhaps the movie 'Rounders' starring John Malkovich and Matt Damon (which is generally credited with starting the whole Texas hold'em craze). The films feature gangsters with thick accents chomping fat cigars in smoke-filled rooms, invariably sitting under dim lights with cards gripped in their hands and greed filling their eyes as they stare at enormous piles of chips in the center of the table.

Even if you don't understand how the game is played, you can at least read the scene as it unfolds. You know that poker is a form of gambling, and each hand is a wager. With each hand, a player is risking a little of his hard-earned money in hopes of winning the larger cash prize. So each time a player wins a hand, he greedily gathers up that pile of chips. That's the object of the game; get those chips! If you win the hand you win the chips, and if you win the chips you win the cash.

So if the object of the game is to win the pot, then how exactly do you accomplish that goal? Essentially there are two ways to win a hand of poker. Either you will have the best poker hand of anyone at the table, or everyone else will have folded their hands leaving you as the last one standing.

Slow down there...What are the "best hands" and what does it mean to fold? Ok, first thing's first.

Breaking down a hand of poker into its simplest terms would look like this: Imagine you have two players. They shuffle a deck of cards and then deal out five cards for each of them. From those five cards each wants to make a poker hand that will beat the hand of the other player.

So what constitutes a good poker hand?

Poker Hand Rankings

Starting from the lowest and working up to the hardest hands to make it goes like this:

High card: The card with the highest rank (numerical value, 2 through Ace) in the hand wins. If there are no other combinations in the hand, the highest card wins the pot.

One pair: A pair is two cards of the same rank. If you hold a 5, 5, 9, 6 and 8...then you hold a pair of 5s.

Two pair: Two cards of the same rank, plus two cards of another rank. If you have 10, 10, 2, 2, and a 8, you have a two pairs, 10s and 2s.

Three of a kind: Also called trips, this is a poker hand which contains three cards of the same rank. If you have 9-9-9-7-A you have three 9s, or trip 9s.

Straight: A straight is a poker hand that contains five cards of sequential rank. Five cards in numerical succession such as 2-3-4-5-6 or 10-J-Q-K-A make a straight.

Flush: This is a poker hand that contains five cards of the same suit, in any sequence. (the four suits in a deck of cards are hearts, diamonds, clubs, and spades.) So, if you have five cards and they're all diamonds, that's a flush.

Full house: A full house, or a full boat, is a hand which contains three matching cards of one rank, and two matching cards of another rank. So it's a pair and a three of a kind. So 10-10-10-7-7 is a full house. If you have a full house that contains A-A-A-J-J, as an example, you are said to have "aces full of jacks" or simply "aces full."

Four of a kind: Four of a kind, also known as quads, is a poker hand that contains four cards of one rank. So a hand of 9-9-9-9-7 is four of a kind. Since there are only four cards of the same rank in a single deck, four of a kind is a tough hand to be dealt.

Straight flush: You know what a straight is, and you know what a flush is. A straight flush is a poker hand that contains five cards in numerical succession, all of the same suit. So a straight flush is five sequential cards of the same suit.

Royal Flush: A royal straight flush is the ultimate hand in poker. It is made up of 10-J-Q-K-A, all of the same suit. The odds of getting this hand are astronomical (1 in 649,739)!

Also, when two players have the same hands, the higher hand (the hand that contains the higher numerical value) is the winning hand. For instance, if two players have a straight, and one holds 3-4-5-6-7 and the other holds 6-7-8-9-10, then the hand ending with the 10 wins. If two players each have a pair of 3s but one player has a high card in their hand of a 10 and the other a high card that is a Jack, the player with the Jack wins. This is called having a "better kicker." Looking at the example of a full house, A-A-A-K-K beats K-K-K-A-A (aces full versus kings full).

Now you know the hand rankings for the game of poker. (It's not a bad idea to write them down if you're just starting out.) But I also noted that to win a hand of poker the other players might fold, and you can win by being the last player still in the hand. So what does it mean to fold?


To understand "folding," bear in mind that playing poker is gambling. It's a game of risk. Folding simply means that you can opt out of the hand when you've decided you don't want to risk any more of your chips. In baseball terms, to fold means to forfeit the game, but take heart, this is often your best strategy.

There are two successful ways to complete a hand of poker: you can win the hand, or you can opt out of the hand before you have risked very much of your chip stack. Folding generally occurs when it's time to match, or "see," another player's bet. When one of the players has made a bet, you have to match that bet to continue playing. Simply put, if another player bets $10, then you have to risk $10 of your money to stay in the hand.

So if you don't feel you have a strong enough hand to win (and assuming you aren't planning to bluff), you generally want to fold in this case. Those who consistently win at Texas hold'em are the ones who know when to fold. If you choose your battles wisely, and for the most part only stay in when you feel you have a strong enough hand to win, you can survive in the game and eventually start to amass a large chip stack. So when you're in a position where your hand is not very strong and at a point when you have to put money in to stay in the hand, you'll generally want to fold. Remember, the key is choosing your battles carefully. Your motto should be "live to die another day."

Okay, so we've covered what the winning hands are, and we've established that winning the game means you either have the best hand or the other players have folded, leaving you the last player standing. We said that the object of the game was winning the pot. So let's talk about the pot for a second. How does all that money get into the pot? Well, that happens when the players start to call and raise bets. Let's talk about the terminology that goes along with betting.


casino royale chips

In a normal poker game you're going to hear the term "ante." "Ante up!" This means it's time for the players to put up a minimum wager to get the betting ball rolling. You start the game off by making an ante so that when you play that hand there's already some money in the pot before you start to raise or make more bets. Players will establish what the ante is for the game. You could be playing with nickels and dimes, or you could be in a high-stakes poker tournament in Montenegro with a $10 million buy-in.

In hold'em poker, the ante betting is a little bit different. Here you have what's called a "blind," which is the same thing as an ante, except that only two players are required to place that primer bet before the start of each hand. We'll discuss the blind in more depth as we get into actual game play, but essentially it means that instead of every player throwing in an ante at the beginning of each hand, just two players will be responsible for placing a bet, referred to as the "small blind" and the "big blind." The names make sense because the small blind is a smaller bet than the big blind, normally half the size. So, for example, if the big blind is $50 the small blind would be $25. Players take turns being responsible for the blind bets as the deal rotates around the table.

Once the antes or blinds have been established and the game gets under way, there will be rounds of betting during each hand. When it's your turn to act, you'll be betting (or not) according to the strength of your hand (unless, of course, you're bluffing, but we'll get into that later). If you choose not to make a bet and no one has bet before you, you can opt to "check." "Checking" means you're still in the hand, but you're choosing not to make a bet, hoping instead to see a free card. Another way to say it is that you're making a bet of zero dollars; you're in the hand, but you haven't put any money in the pot. If another player is going to make a bet, it leaves you with three options. You can "call" that bet by matching what the player before you put into the pot. Or you can "raise" the bet, meaning you matched the amount your opponent bet and you're now going raise the bet to a greater amount. And don't forget, this is also the time where you can choose to fold. If the bet is high and you don't want to stay in, you can say "too rich for my blood," and let your hand go.

Those are the basic elements of betting in poker, but of course there is a certain art to deciding when to call, raise or fold and how much to raise a pot when you think you have the best hand.


Next Time...

In Part II, we'll get into the specific game-play of Texas hold'em, which has rapidly become one of the most popular of all the games in the casino. You'll quickly see why hold'em requires the most skill, and provides the most excitement, of all the poker games. And you'll see that this is where players really get into bluffing, so be sure to bring your poker face.

© 2008 Joseph Darlington -

Joseph Darlington - Being James Bond

Being James Bond is dedicated to learning and exploring everything we need to know to live life the way James Bond does. It's an audio 'how-to' guide, for anything James Bond does or has done. If James Bond can do it, WE can do it!

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