Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published in the London Telegraph in 2005.
Historical note: The following explanatory note didn’t appear in the series, but was sent with each column as submitted.
Doyle “Texas Dolly” Brunson stands unchallenged as the most celebrated poker player who ever lived. In 2005, at age 72, he won an unprecedented 10th championship gold bracelet at the World Series of Poker. He is among the few living members of the Poker Hall of Fame, and his books are the bibles for poker professionals.. Through www.poker1.com and www.doylesroom.com, Brunson has teamed with Mike Caro, today’s premiere poker educator, to offer a free learning experience to players worldwide. This column is founded on those collaborative teachings.
Hold ’em is in my heart. There was a time when nobody, except us Texans and others living in the southern United States could understand the romance with this form of poker. In most other parts of the world, poker players didn’t even understand hold ’em rules.
So, it was a shock, I’m sure, to many players when hold ’em became the main game that decided major poker championships. It happened that way because the first gatherings of poker pros for the first World Series of Poker included so many Texans. Choosing hold ’em only seemed natural.
I’m glad history happened that way. Now hold ’em is everywhere, but I got to thinking. We sometimes forget to advise beginners about the things that seem obvious to us. In order for you to take hold ’em into your heart, too, I’ll try to save you the agony of making the same beginners’ mistakes.
Here’s what you need to know. In a game like seven-card stud, your cards are your own – all seven of them. But in hold ’em, only two cards are your own. The other five cards are dealt face-up on the table and belong to everyone.
I’m not just telling you that so you know the procedures. I’m saying it so you can understand the truth at the core of hold ’em. In seven-card stud, if you start with a pair of jacks against a pair of queens, all you need to do is catch a second pair and possibly win. However, in hold ’em, you can’t win that way. If you start with jacks and catch a pair of tens on the board, well, it’s true that you have jacks and tens. But if your opponent started with queens, he has queens and tens. You didn’t catch up, because those tens belong equally to both of you. They belong to every player at the table competing for the pot. Everyone has at least two tens!
The other principle that beginners need to realize about hold ’em is that you don’t rank your two-hard hands the way that at first seems logical. You don’t start with a pair of aces as the best hand, then list a pair of kings, then queens, all the way down to deuces, and then begin with ace-king and work down the ranks. If you do that, you’ll end up believing that a pair of deuces is better than ace-king. In seven-card stud, it is. In hold ’em, it isn’t.
I’ve always said those small pairs are like rattlesnakes in the prairie, because you can get bit when you least expect it. The reason for this is that if you play a pair of deuces, you not only can’t catch up against a bigger pair without making at least three of a kind, all it takes is for any opponent without a pair to match either of his private cards to a board card to beat you with a superior pair. It’s treacherous. And that’s why ace-king is much better than a small pair in hold ’em – something that usually costs beginners money to learn.
For the most part, hold ’em is a battle waged with big cards. Forget that at your own peril. — DB