No-Limit Texas Hold’em is, without any doubt, by far the most popular form of poker.
In the 1998 cult classic movie Rounders, Matt Damon’s character Mike McDermott described it as “the Cadillac of poker”. Please note, however, that that movie is set in the 90’s, when the most commonly played game was Limit Hold’em, while No-Limit was only played by the daring and the seasoned pros. These days, NLHE is more like Ford – ubiquitous and widely varying in quality.
Go to any online poker room and you’ll find tables full of players playing $0.01/$0.02 No-Limit Hold’em. Also, the biggest buy-in tournaments featuring the very best in the poker world are also No-Limit Hold’em games. If you know what poker is, almost certainly you know how to play No-Limit Texas Hold’em.
NLHE is in the community card family of poker games. It’s in the same category as Pot-Limit Omaha and Omaha Hi-Lo, two of the other more popular games out there. Evidently, there is not one land-based casino or online poker room which doesn’t offer Texas Hold’em.
Chances are you know most of this already.
Each player gets dealt two cards face down. The person to the left of the dealer button posts the small blind, while the one to the left of them posts the big blind. The player sitting on the left of the big blind opens the action.
They can choose to fold their hand, call the blind (often referred to as “limping” and is not an advisable strategic move) or raise. If there is a raise the other players have to match the raised amount in order to stay in the hand. If there are no callers, the last raiser claims the pot. Once a player made their move the action moves to the left.
If there are at least two players in the pot after the first betting round – the so-called “pre-flop” – three cards are dealt face up in the middle of the table. This street is called the flop.
Every player can use these community cards to make the best 5-card hand they can. After the three cards fall there’s another round of betting, starting with the player left to the dealer button.
If there was no bet made before them, players have the option to not bet and stay in the hand – it’s called checking.
Once again, at least two players are needed for the hand to continue. Only one face-up card is coming on the next street, the turn, then players can check, bet, raise or fold once again. The 5th and last card on the board is called the river. After that one more betting round follows, then, finally, the showdown comes.
Whoever has the best 5-card hand that can be made out of their 2 hole cards and the 5 community cards wins the pot. The less likely hand beats the more likely hand. With that in mind, here is Texas Hold’em hand ranking, from weakest to strongest:
Two of the same ranked card. Odds: 1.37:1
Two of the same ranked card and another two of the same ranked different card.
Three of a kind/Trips/Set
Three of the same ranked card. Odds: 46.3:1
Five cards following each other in rank, suit discounted. Odds: 254:1
Five cards of the same suit. Odds: 508:1 (, all of the same suit)
Three of the same ranked card and two of the same ranked different card.
Four of a kind/Quads
Four of the same ranked card. Odds: 4,165:1
Five cards of the same suit, following each other in rank.
Odds: 72,192:1. ( of the same suit)
of the same suit. Odds: 649,740:1
If more than one player has the same hand, card ranking decides the winner. This has nothing to with combinatorics, it’s just a convention of the game: an Ace-high straight beats a King-high straight, etc.
If a hand consists of fewer than 5 cards and the players have that same hand of the same ranked card, the kickers come into play. Let’s say both players have a set of Jacks. Whichever player holds the highest card with their three Jacks takes the pot. If the 5-card hands are identical, the players divide the pot between each other – this is called a “chop”.
In Texas Hold’em, you play your two cards against your opponents’ ranges. You try to reduce the number of possible combinations of hands your opponent can have based on their actions and what’s on the board. Then you can estimate how much equity you have in the hand – the percentage of chance you’ll have the strongest hand at showdown – and put money into pot accordingly.
For example, you have AJ. If the boards is AJ6, two hearts, and your opponent check-calls your flop bet, you need to start thinking what are the sort of hands they would do that with. Weak Aces, flush draws etc. Then you need to take that set of hands, and calculate how many percentage of the time you’re going to win the pot.
You also need to have an idea about your fold equity – what percentage of time the others are going to fold to a certain sized bet? You need to take their range in account and estimate how many percentage of hands they would be willing to fold.
Position is also crucial in Hold’em. If you get to act after somebody else, you have more information about their hand then they have about yours. That’s why the button is the most valuable position – players in that seat are guaranteed to act last post flop.
Texas Hold’em has an official birthplace – Robstown, Texas is officially recognized by the State Legislature as the hometown of the most popular poker game. The origins go back to the early 1900’s.
Hold’em wasn’t popular outside the Lone Star State until a group of gamblers brought it to Las Vegas in 1967. Doyle Brunson, Amarillo Slim and Crandell Addington introduced the game to the Golden Nugget executives and it became the first casino in Vegas to offer it to their patrons. Before that, Stud and Draw were the most common forms of poker.
Hold’Em, however, quickly took off because of the level of edge your skills can give you. By 1971, the first time a poker tournament was played for the most prestigious World Series of Poker Main Event title, it was decided in a No-Limit Hold’em event. It was won by Johnny Moss.
For a long time the limit version of the game was way more common than the no-limit one. This changed in the early 2000’s with the so-called “Moneymaker boom”. When an accountant from New Jersey, Chris Moneymaker satellited into the WSOP Main Event through an online qualifier and won the event for $2.5 million, the whole nation of the United States found a new enthusiasm for online poker. Traffic in online poker rooms tripled, mostly at the No-Limit Hold’em tables. However, the momentum was reversed in April 2011, when the infamous “Black Friday” events took place. The largest online poker rooms were shut down by the DOJ because of illegal fund mismanagement.
Notable Hold’em Professionals
The number of remarkable Texas Hold’em players are virtually endless, here’s just a few of them.
Doyle Brunson, the Godfather of poker – as we mentioned above – is responsible for spreading the game to the gambling capital of the world, Las Vegas. He also has 10 WSOP gold bracelets including two Main Event championships.
Stu Ungar, “the Kid”, played the second poker tournament of his life in the 1980 WSOP Main Event and won it. A year later he defended his title. The last person who was able to win two Main Events in a row was Johnny Chan in 1987 and 1988.
As far as WSOP bracelets go, Phil Hellmuth has the most of them to his name, 15. Nobody has won more money in online poker cash games than Phil Ivey. He’s over $19.2 million in profit. He also has 10 gold bracelets, tied in second place on the list.
Daniel Negreanu was number 1 in live poker tournament earnings for a long time, until he was overtaken by Justin Bonomo in the summer of 2018. Bonomo has over $43 million total in cashes. The most anybody has ever won in online tournaments is Chris “Moorman1” Moorman, he racked up over $15 million in online MTT winnings over his career.
Doug Polk has the most followers online among the poker pros, and his poker accomplishments aren’t half bad either – coming from an online heads-up NLHE background, he has 3 WSOP bracelets and over $8 million in live tournament earnings to his name. Two other names worth mentioning from the online poker generation is Tom “durrrr” Dwan and Viktor “Isildur1” Blom.
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