Poker / The real action starts in Texas

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TEXAS HOLD 'EM is the most popular game in modern poker. It's a simple game, marked by fast action, strong betting and subtle card reading. As the name implies, the game came out of Texas where men are men and are not afraid to gamble for high stakes.

The name Hold 'em perhaps derives from players yelling 'Hold 'em]' at the dealer to stop a card coming out which would break their hand. It requires both judgement and courage to play well, and is the game of the world championships.

Hold 'em is a faster form of Seven Card Stud. Players receive two cards in the hole, followed by five cards dealt in common. The first three dealt together are called 'the flop', a fourth card (known as 'the turn') and a fifth card ('the river') follow. There is a betting interval at each stage.

(x-x) bet x-x-x bet x bet x bet

Players combine either or both their hole cards with the up-cards to make their hand. The intricacy of the game comes from the positional factor. It makes a huge difference if you are next to the dealer and first to act, or sitting half-way round the table, or last to act (10 can play). In the early position, a player needs high cards to open (pairs or ace-x or two high- suited or straight cards), because of the risk of being raised around the table.

But as the initiative shifts, players must decide if the pot justifies raising or opening on lesser holdings. In last position, if the price is right, a player might find it worth playing on almost anything, even 7-2 off-suit, the worst hand at Hold 'em (because it cannot improve on the flop to either a straight or a flush). Who knows - the flop might come up 7-7-2.

The cards in common mean that play is often very finely shaded. Who wins the following hand?

A: Ac Jh

Flop: As Qd 9d 4s 9s

B: Ad 8d

Answer: it is a split pot, two pairs aces and 9s with a queen. A's jack of hearts is irrelevant.

Hold 'em is best played pot- limit. American casinos play mostly limit-raise games, say dollars 10 before the flop and dollars 20 after it. This makes the game less dangerous, but still requires judgement (casinos want the players to survive, so the house can cut each pot played). British casinos (which make a session charge) usually play pot-limit. If you are looking for action, this is where to find it.