Games You Can Play

In this chapter, we’ll show you the basics of flop games, such as Hold ’em, Omaha, and Pineapple, seven-card Stud, and the high-low split variations of those games. There are a number of rules these games have in common:✦  Your goal is to create the best possible five-card hand.

✦  Remember, the rank of poker hands is as follows: straight flush, four of a kind, full house, flush, straight, three of a kind, two pair, one pair, high card. Do note that these rankings are reversed when the object of the game is to get the low- est hand possible.

✦  When two players have a hand of the same rank, such as a pair of Aces, the next highest card in the players’ hands determines the winner. For example, if two players have a pair of Nines and a pair of Kings, but one player has an Ace as their fifth card and the other player has a Queen, the player with the Ace wins the hand. This extra card (or cards, if you need to use more than one to create the best possible five-card hand) is called a kicker.

✦  The suits have no value (i.e., they can’t be used to break ties).

✦  If the hands are exactly the same, such as if both of the players above had an Ace as their fifth card, the pot would be split evenly between the players.

Playing Flop Games

A flop game’s distinguishing characteristic is the set of shared cards displayed in the middle of the table after the first round of betting. Depending on which of the three games you’re playing, the dealer distributes two, three, or four cards face down to each player (your hole cards), after which there is a round of betting. At that point, the dealer turns three cards up in the middle of the table, as shown in Figure 4.1.

Figure 4.1 The first three shared cards of a flop game are turned over at the same time.

So what are the flop games you can play? They are, in order of descending popularity,

Hold ’em, Omaha, and Pineapple.

Hold ’Em

Texas Hold ’em is currently the most popular game in online and brick-and-mortar card rooms. The game has received a lot of attention as a result of television programs, such as the World Poker Tour, the World Series of Poker, and Late Night Poker, but Hold ’em has
a number of other factors going for it as well. First, Hold ’em is relatively simple to learn. Second, there’s the opportunity for weaker players to go wrong from the very start of a hand and put money at risk with underdog hands. Third, there’s a lot more to the game than meets the eye, which means skilled players can tear chunks out of their opponents’

bankrolls through superior knowledge and tactics. Fourth, there’s a fair amount of luck in- volved, so even if you do get trapped by a better player or a better hand, you will often have a shot to come out ahead.

In a brick-and-mortar card room, the dealer discards the card on top of the deck, deals three cards face down, and then turns the three cards face-up, spreading them out in one smooth motion. We can’t decide whether the action is “flipping” or “flopping” (we each voted for one version, then changed our minds and went for the other), but pretty much everyone calls that first group of three cards the flop, so we’ll call it that as well.

The three cards in the middle of the table, and the two cards that will appear later in the hand, are common cards, meaning they’re in everyone’s hand. If the flop contains three Aces, as is the case in Figure 4.1, then everyone still in the hand has, at a minimum, three Aces. If you have the A♥ as one of your hole cards, you have four Aces and an extremely good, though not yet unbeatable, hand.

After the flop, there is a round of betting. When the action in that round is done, the dealer adds a fourth common card to the middle of the table. This fourth card is called the turn, in the sense that horses come around the final turn before the home stretch in a race. There’s another round of betting after the turn, and then the dealer adds a fifth com- mon card to the middle of the table. This card is called the river, in the sense that horses need to cool off with a drink of water after a race. (No, we don’t really know why the final card is called the river. It might be a Texas thing.)

The Hold ’Em Betting Structure

The most common way to play Hold ’em is as a fixed-limit game, which means that all bets and raises are of a fixed amount. A common limit new players play is $2–$4, where the first two betting rounds allow bets and raises of $2 (called a small bet), and the third and fourth betting rounds allow bets and raises of $4 (referred to as a big bet). Most online card rooms allow a bet and three raises per betting round, so the maximum you can risk on a single hand of $2–$4 Hold ’em is $48 ($8 + $8 + $16 + $16). When you play on a site that allows a bet and three raises, you can figure out your maximum exposure on a single hand by multiplying the big bet by 12. If you play on a site that allows a bet and four raises per round ($10 + $10 + $20 + $20), multiply the big bet by 15 to find your total exposure per hand ($60 per hand at $2–$4).

You should also be aware that there is usually no limit on raises any time a betting round starts with only two active players. If you have a Royal Flush and your opponent wants to keep raising, you can raise back until one of you runs out of money.

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