The Order of Play

Thirty years ago, Texas Hold’em lived in relative Poker obscurity. When co- author Mark “The Red” Harlan was playing in casinos, it was fairly common for people to come up and ask him about the game.

A little more than a decade ago, the perfect Hold’em storm was created: Chris Moneymaker won the $10,000 Main Event of the World Series (pocketing more than $2 million off of a $40 entry fee), the World Poker Tour became the most successful program in the history of the Travel Channel, and online play became prevalent. Today people of all backgrounds play Hold’em around the kitchen table, in casinos, and online. It’s the most popular variation of Poker around.

The first time you see Texas Hold’em played, it can feel a little bit like the inside joke that only you don’t get. Don’t sweat it, though. Hold’em is an easy game to understand.

What’s not as obvious is how much money you should take to the table, as well as the social standards of playing. We cover it all in this chapter.

The Order of Play

When Hold’em is played in a professional cardroom (be it online or in a brick-and-mortar casino), a dealer button acts as the theoretical point that the cards are being dealt from (more on that in the following section). This button moves one position clockwise around the table at the conclusion of every hand.

The player in the position immediately to the left of the dealer (that is to say, clockwise) posts an automatic bet called the small blind, and the player immediately to his left (or two places to the left of the dealer) posts an automatic bet known as the big blind. These are forced bets that players must make in order to get dealt into the game. All other players get to see their hands “for free.”

Players decide whether to play or fold (quit) in a clockwise position, starting with the player immediately to the left (clockwise) of the big blind. Any players who fold are no longer eligible for the pot and are skipped over in subsequent betting rounds for that specific hand.

In Hold’em, your position relative to the other players is critical. When you’re in the beginning of the betting order, your cards have to be of higher quality than the cards you would normally play in later position — especially if lots of players are left in the hand — because you have no idea what evil may lurk beyond.

Likewise, if you’re riding at the back of the calling order, you can afford to play looser hands (those that aren’t as high quality) and hope to catch cards to break people’s dreams. In fact, pot odds (the amount you bet relative to the amount you would win) say that sometimes you should call, even when you have a lesser hand.

Understanding Who Deals: The Dealer Button

If you’re used to playing Poker at your kitchen table, you’re probably familiar with rotating the deal from player to player at the end of every hand.

In a professional cardroom, the house employee that deals the cards isn’t actually involved in the hand. That casino employee (also, a little confusingly, called the dealer) merely acts as a sometimes-wise-cracking card-distribution and pot-collection/distribution mechanism. The house

doesn’t have a vested interest in the hand; instead, it makes its money through the rake (a percentage of every pot).

When cards are dealt, the house acts as though there is a virtual dealer at the table, using a small round white marker with a D on it (for dealer) to signify the chosen dealer of the moment. Cards are dealt around the table in an order as though they’re coming from the dealer marker, and all betting action starts immediately clockwise from that position.

Moving the dealer button around the table ensures that all people get to play all positions throughout a long session of cards.

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