Modern poker and its variations, like the massively popular Texas Hold’em and Omaha, are relatively new forms of card play — did you know that?
Some historians think they have roots in Persian history or the Orient, however, others argue that a game like Hold’em has many unique features. Most people think of ‘going all in’ and the community cards format when they think of this game, both of which indeed do set it apart.
Texas Hold’em is exceptionally psychological and it hinges upon a range of incomplete knowledge players have about each other’s hands. It’s almost like gambling’s version of a whodunnit mystery, but in this case who-has-it (the best hand)!
In order to know the behaviours of opponents, a good Hold’em player must be a keen observer of their facial expressions and habits across a broad spectrum of ‘tells’, or telling details they give away.
NOTE — If you have ever watched televised games and seen pros who wear hats, sunglasses or even hoods over their heads, now you know why.
In order to read others’ hands as well as predict their behaviours, one must play tight or conservatively in starting rounds to collect the evidence.
There are two very important aspects to appreciate about what betting accomplishes aside from functioning as one’s stake in the game:
- Betting (raising or calling) is an essential part of gauging other players’ habits, and, reading their hands.
- Aggressive betting (raising) affords a player two ways to win: one is that it gives a chance of winning without having the best hand, and, boosting a win with the best hand.
Probably the most important qualification for betting wisely is one’s position relative to the dealer, who is said to be ‘on the button’ (meaning having the best position in terms of knowing the most about others’ hands).
In Texas Hold’em a player has just two cards to curate and combine with the community cards. Therefore, managing one’s cards in this poker variation is much simpler and starts in the very first round of gameplay. Each player must have enormous discretion and self-control in order to keep their standards for starting hands high.
Dovetailing off the point above (keeping your standards for starting hole cards high) is the need to be patient. If you find yourself craving to just get into the action and this tempts you to leave too much to chance by starting with lacklustre cards, then don’t expect to win much.
Also, if you’re getting involved in problematic hands then you are forfeiting the opportunity to sit out rounds and observe the psychological drama on display.
Actually, if you can re-frame your poor starting cards (that you should throw into the muck) as tickets to the show at your table, you will become a much smarter player when you are dealt playable cards.
Techniques Unique to Hold ‘Em
Perhaps you have heard the statement that in Hold’em you don’t just play your cards (which is to say, competing against the game of poker itself by using correct strategy), that actually you must play the player.
You see, Hold’em is overwhelmingly psychological to the degree that you can win not using the best hand but with the best act.
The most recognisable and unique factor for doing that in Texas Hold’em, once you have successfully navigated through the first rounds and bets, is to unleash the game’s most powerful move, the ‘all in’ raise. There are 3 main situations or reasons to go all in:
- You know you have the best hand — super!
- You certain you can pull off a bluff.
- You have one of the above and your stack is so short that a maximal bet is required anyway.
The Most Sociable Poker
Now, in closing, another distinctive characteristic of Hold’em stems from its community cards. The fact that players are looking at the common cards, each one with a particular motive and use for them, makes the game structurally more of a shared experience (contrast it to normal poker with each player focused on managing one’s own complete hand in isolation).
It is this juxtaposition of intense psychological competition with an exceedingly sociological nature, as well as certain asymmetrical conditions such as the rotating dealer role and early or late positions relative to the dealer, that make Texas Hold’em seem infinitely complex.
That complexity mirrors the human condition, and provides much food for thought — as well as gambling thrills and payouts!