Learning something new can be painful. But as I repeatedly tell my kids, it's better to learn from someone else's mistakes than your own. That's why the cast of Hold 'Em at Home is here to teach you how to play No-Limit Texas Hold 'Em. They'll make every error in the book and then some. As you laugh with them and at them, you'll become a better player, and instead of dreading the learning curve, hopefully you'll enjoy every minute of it.

This blog is presented as a narrative story featuring the alliterating alphabetical cast below. You've played with people just like them; maybe you resemble one or two of them closely yourself. If you are already an intermediate or better player, please bear with the first few posts as the basics of the game are explained. Each post will be categorized and tagged with an appropriate skill level (from "skillBeginner" to "skillExpert" or "skillAny"), so you can read just those that interest you.

Acknowledgements

My sincerest respect and apologies to the most entertaining bridge author of all time, Victor Mollo, who passed away in 1987 just before my roommate taught me Texas Hold 'Em1. It's taken me a quarter century to get good enough at Hold 'Em to write this blog, but it'll take me longer (if ever) to approach Mollo's gift of wit.

I was going to complete my grand theft of Mollo's work by naming this blog "Poker in the Menagerie" but settled on the simple "Hold 'Em at Home" because nobody knows what a menagerie is anymore (no, it doesn't have anything to do with sex ;-)).

The Settings

The main event is a monthly Texas Hold 'Em tournament that rotates among several suburban hosts. There's a $25 buy-in, one $20 rebuy, and one $10 add-on after four blind levels. Most of the stories will come from this event, which usually draws from 18 to 24 players. A dealer's choice side game starts once a few players have busted out and features mostly Hold 'Em and Omaha (which won't be covered here except in passing).

An irregular but supposedly monthly Hold 'Em cash game with even smaller stakes (only a $10 buy-in and nickel and dime blinds) brings together four to eight players for a more social game. The play is a little sloppier and slower.

Another monthly tournament takes place in a pub in a small city, but due to schedule conflicts and the location, few of the main characters ever play here, and only one regularly. This is a 12- to 24-player freeroll with a very small prize for the top one to three places. An under-the-table last longer bet is the bigger action, but only about half of the players usually participate. A Hold 'Em-only side game usually gets started as soon as a table is available.

The Cast

The following completely fictional2 characters will be appearing in this space, some more than others.

Main Characters

These players will recur regularly, and you'll quickly know them by just their initials:

PlayerAbbreviationStyle/Skill Level
Carlos the Crazy[CC]a maniac who likes to bet, bet, and bet some more; has suggested adding wild cards to the game several times
Elias the Eagle[EE]the best player in the game who usually knows what you have but truly wants everyone to get better at the game
Figaro the Fish[FF]a weak player who's not new to the game but never seems to get any better
Harriet the Hazy[HH]a lucky player who likes to bluff and do the unexpected
Joey the Juvenile[JJ]a young, impatient player who's the son of Benny the Book
Kieran the Keeper[KK]the pub's bartender, an intermediate player who's often called away to attend to his job duties
Leroy the Lion[LL]a very good player who can always figure out the best play after the hand has ended
Roderick the Rock[RR]a tight, solid player who usually runs deep in tournaments and is a stickler for the rules
Stan the Stat[SS]a numbers guy who always knows the odds and has a passion for sports betting and fantasy sports
Tyrone the Telephone[TT]a calling station who likes to see flops, turns, and rivers and always speaks in rhyme
Vincent the Veteran[VV]the group's senior statesman who prefers old-school games like seven-card stud
Yuri the Young Gun[YY]an online-poker prodigy who's quickly adapting to the live game

Supporting Characters

These players will often be at the table but hide in the background. Some don't even take part in the main game, so I'm going to have to describe them in detail again every bloody3 time they appear:

Al the Almost[AA]a good player who knows all the moves but tends to apply them at the wrong times
Benny the Book[BB]an ABC player who never gets out of line and thus can be read like a book
Deb the Duchess[DD]a strong player nicknamed for the resemblance of her play, not personality, to a certain "The Apprentice" runner-up
Gloria the Gorgeous[GG]an intermediate player who knows how to charm information out of you
Iggy the Improver[II]an intermediate player whose style matches whatever book he's currently reading
Mildred the Mouse[MM]a very timid player who can easily be pushed off of hands and is more like to call than raise
Nate the Natural[NN]a good player who's good at everything he does and often suggests obscure variants during the side games
Oliver the Overanxious[OO]an intermediate player who's incapable of hiding his physical tells
Patrick the Pickled[PP]a very loose player who's pretty uninhibited even when sober
Quincy the Quick[QQ]a good player who plays too fast for his own good and would rather be playing online
Umberto the Unlucky[UU]a good but unfortunate player who always seems to get sucked out on
William the Whale[WW]a wealthy businessman who always wants to play for bigger stakes and thus likes to straddle when possible
Xavier the Xenophobe[XX]a weak, tight player, who's afraid of everything and thinks all online games are rigged
Zane the Zany[ZZ]Harriet the Hazy's male counterpart, except that he isn't nearly as fortunate

Footnotes:

  1. At various times in my life, my social game of choice has been hearts, poker, chess, poker, Rummy 500, cribbage, poker, Daihinmin, poker, bridge, mah jong, and poker (specifically Texas Hold 'Em this time). The bridge phase was one of the longest, but I never got good. I've pulled off many successful squeeze plays but not a single one of them was on purpose despite having seven Victor Mollo volumes and another author's book on nothing but squeezes in my collection.
  2. Any resemblance to people I know, and people you know for that matter, is purely coincidental. You can't sue a fiction writer for libel, right?
  3. Victor Mollo was British; I'm not. But both my kids have adopted British accents for reasons only they and YouTube know, so I'll probably have one before the year is over since I hear it improves your poker skills.