Description of Games and General Strategy
Just as pool has eight ball, nine ball, straight pool, and one-pocket, poker has draw, stud, lowball, Texas Hold'em, Omaha, and a million varieties in between -- not to mention online poker and tournaments. In the pages that follow, I'll be giving you advice on all those games, and for you folks who like to play at home, I've even included a chapter on poker games with wild cards and all those other crazy games that your Aunt Mary likes to play around the kitchen table.
If you're completely new to the game, I've included a list of hand rankings in the appendix on page 179.
Five-card draw is the game that most poker players -- at least those born before 1980 -- learn first. You get five cards, bet, and then get to draw cards followed by another betting round. A variety of five-card draw is called deuce-to-seven lowball, or "Kansas City" lowball. It works the same as regular draw except the best possible hand is the worst in regular poker: 2-3-4-5-7 of different suits. Ace is high, and straights and flushes count against you.
Five-card stud was a popular game up until about 1960, but the only game you'll find now is between Lancey Howard (Edward G. Robinson) and Eric Stoner (Steve McQueen) if you rent a video of The Cincinnati Kid. In five-card stud, each player gets one card dealt facedown and one card dealt faceup after the ante. There's a round of betting before the next three cards are dealt faceup, one at a time, with a betting round after each.
Seven-card stud is similar except each player starts with two cards down and one up, and after three cards are dealt faceup with a round of betting after each, the seventh and final card is dealt facedown. Up until the World Poker Tour was televised in 2003, stud was the most popular game on the East Coast at places like Foxwoods in Connecticut or the Taj Mahal in Atlantic City. Seven-card stud can also be played for the best low hand, and that game is called razz. You'll also see it played quite a bit as hi-lo split.
While all these other poker games are okay and all, as far as I'm concerned, there's just one real form of poker: Texas Hold'em. And as the expression goes, I could teach you to play in a day, but it would take you a lifetime to learn. The game can be played with as many as twenty-three players, but most games are usually played with between seven and ten players. For me, the fewer the better, and I like nothing better than playing one-person "heads-up."
Here's how the game works: Each player is dealt two cards followed by a round of betting. If you're dealt two aces, you've got the boss hand -- for the time being anyway. The dealer then flops three community cards in the middle that everyone can use to make their hand, followed by a round of betting. Then comes the fourth card, called the turn or fourth street, followed by a round of betting. Then -- and this is where many a man has been drowned -- comes the fifth community card, which is called the river or fifth street, which is followed by the fourth and last round of betting.
Omaha is a variety of Hold'em, with the only difference being that you get dealt four cards, and instead of using five of the best seven cards to make your hand, you use five of the best nine to make your hand (and you must use two from your hand and three from the board). You rarely see Hold'em played hi-lo, but it's pretty common to play Omaha that way. Whoever makes the high hand gets half the pot and whoever makes the low gets the other half. The place where you really make your money is when you make both and "scoop" or "hog" the pot, which can happen when you have four cards in your hand.
Aside from all the varieties of games, what really matters more than anything are the rules of betting. Most friendly games across America and most games in casinos are fixed limit -- nickel-dime, $1-$2, or $10-$20 -- where you must bet and raise a set amount on each round of betting. The power of a pure bluff is restricted in a game with a limit.
Here in Texas, and for all the major tournaments, the betting is no limit, meaning you can bet anything that's in front of you at any time, or pot limit, meaning you can bet the amount in the pot at any time. Don't get me wrong, limit poker can be a lot of fun -- if you haven't got the guts of an earthworm or if you don't make your living as an accountant. As far as I'm concerned, if you can't "move in" on someone -- meaning bet everything you've got in front of you -- then it's not real poker. So, naturally, No Limit Texas Hold'em is my game of choice, and it's what is played to determine the winner of the World Series of Poker.
If you could choose only two words to describe the poker greats, they would have to be tight and aggressive. They are "tight" in that they don't play many hands and play only when they have an edge. They are "aggressive" in that when they do have the edge, they will bet heavily. Now, if you watch players like Gus Hansen and Phil Ivey on TV, you're probably saying that there's nothing tight about their play. It almost seems as if they're playing every hand, which isn't so far from the truth. The reason they can play a lot of hands is that they are so good at reading other players that they can outplay them after the flop.