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Erik Arneson is a highly respected board game expert, sharing his 20 years of knowledge on gaming strategies. He's the author of the book, "17 Games You Can Play Right Now," has been a featured speaker at the American International Toy Fair, and is the former Vice President of the Strategy Gaming Society.
To be a truly great Texas Hold 'Em Poker player, you need to be able to read your opponents, ascertaining when they are bluffing and when they really have a solid hand. But learning some basic strategies and general rules will go a long way toward making sure you can at least hold your own in a friendly game.
It may seem silly to be reminded of the following fundamental facts, but it's surprising how often players get swept up in the excitement of the game and forget the basics.
So, always remember these two things:
Usually, the first decision you make in a hand of Texas Hold 'Em Poker happens with your only knowledge being what your two cards are.
When you look at your cards, be careful not to reveal anything with your reaction facial or otherwise. Taking a sharp breath, no matter how quietly you do it, can tell a wily opponent all he needs to know to have an advantage over you. Keyword: emotionless.
How do you know if your cards are good?
It depends in part on how many players are in the game, but a general rule is that you should seriously consider folding before the flop if you have two non-pair cards, both less than 10. A more conservative player might fold if just one of the cards is less than 10; a more aggressive player might stay in with, for example, an 8 and 9 of the same suit (because those cards give you decent possibilities for a straight or a flush).
If the big blind (a forced bet designed to ensure that every hand has a pot) is low enough, it may be worthwhile to pay in so that you can see the flop even if you don't have particularly strong cards in your hand. But don't abuse this exception to the rule it can get you into trouble more quickly than you imagine.
A lot of Texas Hold 'Em strategy is based on the cards in your hand. You must be willing to suffer through a series of poor hands (e.g. 5-8, 2-6, 4-9) without getting impatient. The good hands will come, eventually, and you'll be in a better position to take advantage of them if you don't waste your chips trying to get something out of nothing.
After seeing the flop, don't be afraid to cut your losses. A common mistake made by novices is to decide, "I'm already in this hand, so I might as well play it out." Wrong.
With seven players at a table, two pair or better will generally be the winning hand. If you don't have the high pair after the flop (e.g. if the flop is K-9-5, the high pair would be two Ks), and you're not in a good position for a straight or a flush, you should probably get out of the hand.
However, remember that as the number of players goes down, so does the potential of a strong hand so if you're at a table with just two other players, it could pay off to be more aggressive.
If you're first to bet after the flop, don't be afraid to check. This can work to your advantage in two ways. First, if your hand is on the weak side, you might be able to see one more card without having to put more into the pot. Second, if your hand is strong, you could convince an opponent or two that it's weaker than it really is.
Also known as The Turn and The River, respectively, the fourth and fifth community cards give you two more chances to either get out of the pot before you lose even more money or increase your winnings.
At this point, it's likely there will only be one or two other players still in the pot with you. The best advice here is to be cautious. After fourth street, don't stay in the pot hoping for a straight or flush, unless you can do so on a check (that is, without putting more chips into the pot). Although there will be times when you would have drawn the straight or flush, they will be outweighed by the times you wouldn't.
The bottom line is this: Don't allow yourself to get sucked in too far with a weak hand.
That said, there is a point where the investment you've already made virtually dictates that you hang in there. It's useful to measure this in terms of the percentage of your chips. For example, if you've already committed 40 percent of your chips to the pot, another 5 percent isn't that much. This is a gray area, so once again the best advice is to be cautious.
Poker strategy is everything. Anyone who says otherwise is kidding themselves. Yet, it’s unbelievable how many poker players ante up for a war of attrition against seasoned poker veterans without any strategy in mind. It’s like getting into a jousting contest without metal body armor in place that would simply never happen. But it does happen, and it occurs with increasing alacrity. Too many poker players are way too eager to hop into the ring without any training, skills, or knowledge of poker rules, nuances, and betting behavior. As the old saying goes: If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there. Unfortunately, the ‘strategy-less’ poker player invariably ends up being relegated to the rail.
Now, you can put your fears to rest. 888poker USA has compiled a detailed poker strategy guide to help you understand everything that you need to know before you enter the murky depths where poker sharks, whales, and fish lie in wait.
Suit up we’re about to begin!
Isn’t it amazing that so few people understand the differences between tactics and strategies. Let’s break it down: tactics are short-term oriented, while strategies are long-term oriented. That’s the most important difference between the two. The individual plays that you make during a round of poker are your tactics. The strategy is your overall game plan.
There are basically 5 strategic areas that you should focus your attention on while you’re playing Texas Hold'em cash games. Tournament strategy for Texas Hold’em differs considerably from cash game strategy, and there are a host of other tips that determine how to play in tourneys.
If you ask 5 different people, chances are you’ll get many different answers about the best poker strategies to adopt. Fortunately, there are many overlaps, and this is where we’re going to focus our attention. The top 5 strategies for novice poker players, and intermediate-level poker players include the following: Opening Hands, Bet Sizing, Limping, Folding, and Positioning.
Once you’ve mastered these 5 Texas Hold’em poker strategies, you’ll be able to incorporate many other strategies into your overall game plan. Luckily, these strategies will set you on the path to Texas Hold’em glory. Let’s get started!
Remember, poker is a battle royale. When you prepare to don your battle armor, be sure that you’ve got a premium opening hand to protect you. Starting hands are 1 component of your overall poker game. Position is equally important when it comes to determining which hands you should hold, and which hands you should fold. The types of starting hands that you can play are typically much wider the closer you get to the button.
Don’t forget that the number of players in a hand is equally important. Your payoff for a hand may be less when you play against 6 players than when you’re playing against 1 player. Conversely, the same hand may be great for bluffing when you go into the heads-up contest because there’s only one other player that you need to convince that you’re holding the nuts.
Hand strength is but one factor to consider when deciding which opening hands to play. It’s equally important how that hand can generate income under any conditions. In a heads up poker pot, a small suited connector is much better to bluff with, but it has greater multi-way value. It is atypical that a suited connector will do well in heads-up, and even less likely that you’d be able to bluff with such a hand in a multi-way poker pot.
With that in mind, choose your opening hand carefully. It’s important to have an idea about how you are going to generate income post-flop. If you don’t have a clue how the hand you’re holding is going to make money Post-Flop, on the Turn and River, it’s probably not a good hand to play. Rather forget it.
When you’re playing NL cash games you can literally pick whatever you have available. Unfortunately, all that freedom comes with a caveat: you can go bust or get into debt very quickly. That’s why bet sizing careful bet selection is so important. This is one of the most important strategic rules of Texas Hold’em poker.
Bet Sizing in the Pre-Flop Stage of Texas Hold’em
If you need advice on how to size your bets correctly, look around you. What’s going on at your table? If the pre-Flop raise is 2.5 times the Big Blind, then you as a novice poker player should adopt this line. If you try to outsmart other players and raise a weird amount, it could work against you. Your bet sizing must be sensible to your opponents, since they understand the game and how it’s supposed to be played.
If you raise in unusual increments, you simply make it more difficult for other players to make decisions against you. If they find it difficult to size their bets during the post-flop stage, this may work in your favor. In the pre-flop stage, it’ll end up biting you in the behind.
Bet Sizing in the Post-Flop Stage of Texas Hold’em
Let’s take a look at what happens post-flop. If you raise in the pre-flop stage, a continuation bet is expected. You should always correctly size your continuation bets around 50% - 70% of the pot size. Your bet size also defines how strong your hand is. This is true when you’re playing poker at lower levels of the game. Many novice poker players consider a C-Bet (continuation bet) as a sign of strength. You will typically do well with these continuation bets regardless of what happens on the Flop.
Here’s the thing; you want the other players at the table to assume that you have them cornered. If your betting is too small, you will invariably end up facing a check raise, or a re-raise, depending on where you’re sitting at the table. If you bet too big, you may be stuck in a hand that’s not worth playing.
Clearly, there must be more to bet sizing than intuition. Here is an example about how to size your bets correctly:
Let’s say you’re under the gun +1 in a 9-Max game of poker with stakes of $1/$2 in an NLH cash game. If you’re dealt pocket Jacks and then you decide to raise the table standard of 2.5 times the Big Blind, let’s see what can happen. If this hand gets folded and then the Button decides to call, and then both blinds fold, the Flop may come down with the following combination: Ace of diamonds-6 of hearts-2 of spades. Clearly, the Ace has some clout, but you may feel that the Button player would likely 3-bet with an Ace. Had the button held a weak Ace, that player would have folded. If your bet is too small, a savvy poker player would definitely raise you, representing the Ace, and you’d get bluffed out of the pot. Now, let’s assume that you bet two thirds of the pot. What could happen? You could get your opponent to fold!
Clearly, poker strategy doesn’t always pan out. Sometimes your opponent will call you with that suited Ace. And if the board shows 7 of diamonds-8 of diamonds-9 of diamonds, and you are holding an Ace of spades-King of spades, a continuation bet (C-Bet) could be a waste of time and money. Fortunately, the right size continuation bet usually gets your opponents to fold and results in your winning the poker pot.
Bet Sizing Where Bluffs Are Involved
Few poker players can resist an attempt at bluffing. Let’s assume a pot size of $20 and you assume that there is a great chance that your opponent is going to fold. If you place a $20 bet, you could be in a spot of bother if you are wrong. This would be a weak bet size if the person opposite you decides to fold to a $10 bet. If you fail on the bluff, you’ll lose another $10 what a waste.
Bet Sizing When You Have the Nuts
Are you ready to turn things around? Let’s say you’re holding the nuts you got a great hand. Now you should always bet for value. Once you hit the River in a heads up contest and you’re holding an Ace of diamonds King of spades, and the board reads the following: Ace of clubs-King of hearts-7 of hearts-3 of diamonds-2 of spades. Perhaps you’re certain that the guy across from you is holding an Ace, at the bare minimum. If the pot size is $50 and you decide to bet $20, your opposition may call you with 2 pair. You possibly left some cash on the table. Your opponents may have called an additional $10-$20, clearly this is a mistake with bet sizing.
The most successful Texas Hold’em players are the ones who make fewer bet sizing mistakes. Now, remember that you won’t see what your opponent is holding before you place any bets. You must use the info available to you through betting behavior and the way the hand plays out to help you make the right decisions. As a case in point, a loose caller is far more likely to call you down with middle pair. When you’re holding a strong hand, you should aim for bigger value when you’re playing against tighter opponents who are more likely to simply fold.
Did you know that some of the best poker players online usually raise when they first enter a pot? This open-raising is typically followed by a call, a 3-bet, or a fold. It really depends on how they perceive the player who is open-raising.
The open limp is infrequently used by good-quality poker players. Usually, there’s only one case where limping gets you places. If a game is really passive, and you will see the Flop cheaply, possibly even with a suited connector with good implied odds, it’s worth limping. If action folds to you, your best play may be to fold your hand, or to raise. Raising actually puts you in control of the hand again and makes the next caller defensive. Remember, competition poker players tend to go hard at those who limp because they are perceived as weak. Most the time, this is actually true.
If you are in a multi-way pot and you’re doing it cheaply, perhaps with suited connectors, or small pocket pairs, try not to limp. In fact, avoid it at all costs!
Here’s another truism from the poker world. Poker is just as much about the bets you make as the bets you save. In other words, you should know when to hold, and when to fold. This is one of the most critical aspects of poker play, and a lesson that you should learn as quickly as possible. There are many reasons why poor poker players play badly. One of the biggest weaknesses is that they simply failed to fold weak starting hands.
Did you know that folding keeps your bankroll intact? This is unbelievable to many poker players, but not to poker aficionados. You can make so much more money in poker if you know when to fold, and when to hold. An example will clarify this:
If you’re playing a $1/$2 cash game, and one of the players gets dealt Ace-6 (unsuited) on the Small Blind. Under the Gun (UTG) +1 limps into the pot and the Cut-Off raises 2.5 x the Big Blind. If the player is holding an Ace, beware. Many poker players have been undone by weak Aces. It’s really foolhardy to play this type of hand to a raise, especially out of position. So, let’s assume that the player sees things clearly and follows this strategy. He/she folds their Small Blind and saves on another 2 x Big Blind call.
A player who successfully folds 10 x during a session of play can save 10 x $4, or $40. But, if that player calls with this type of poker hand x 10 and loses these bets that’s possibly $50 out of pocket overall.
Folding saves big league. Somewhere in the region of $40 in this case. Another benefit of folding is that it gives additional latitude to players who can be more aggressive when the situation is looking rosier. Loose calling from a poor position with a weak hand is a recipe for disaster. You will simply erode your stack and it’s just not worth the effort.
Fine tune your folding strategies and live to play another day.
Everyone throws the word position around. But what exactly is position? How does your position relative to other players at the table affect your game? Believe it or not, position is one of the key determinants of your success in poker.
There’s no doubt that players who pay careful attention to their position in the game early position, middle position, or late position can easily converts losing sessions of play into winning sessions of play.
Now that you know the 5 most important poker strategies for success, you can turn your game around and start to boost your bankroll in double-quick time.
Developing a working poker strategy takes time, and with that, skill. There are several factors that need to be considered in this process, including things like the players themselves, odds, and even table position. In Texas Holdem, all of these apply.
Due to the randomness of hands and opponent behavior, a bas i c grasp of the odds is crucial. Relying on luck will more than likely yield consistently negative results. One of the easiest strategies in calculating these odds is to take into account the number of unknown cards, and the number of known cards. If you have, say a 7 and an 8 of spades upon the dealing of your first two cards, and your objective is to fill a flush, you ll want to search for the next three cards in numerical order, all with the same suit. While some may be in the hands of your opponents , any of them displayed on the board should be considered. Play accordingly, only taking risks if you feel the value of the pot is worth it.
Another important factor in Texas Holdem is your physical position at the table, and the dealer s. Ideally, you want to be the player that bets closest to last, as you will have the most information, thus being able to make an educated guess as to what will benefit you the most, or potentially damage an opponent s hand. The dealer always bets last, and the player to his or her right, called the cutoff, is in the next best position. However, some view this as the strongest position at the table, as the cutoff has the ability to raise the bet, potentially knocking out the dealer. Those seated in the first few positions of betting are viewed as the weakest, seeing as they have the least amount of information at their expenses.
Keeping your play tight in the early rounds of Texas Holdem is playing safe, but also playing smart. Observe the behavior of your opponents to best gauge their style of play, and look for moments where you can take advantage of these strategies. Those who play too aggressively may produce fairly big bluffs early on. Always vary your style. Starting out conservative, then getting aggressive once you have a feel for your opponents can dismay them into folding.
Other ways of measuring the confidence of your opponents involves reading their tells. These are involuntary tics or movements by players that may give away their hands. Acquiring the skill of reading tells does take time, but is an extremely valuable strategy. Some giveaways from players include repetitive gestures like shifting their seats, touching their faces upon receiving a new hand, rapid eye movement, or a change in voice, hence why many poker players wear sunglasses, hats, or refrain from speaking entirely. Often times, people will enact an opposite strategy, showing tells that directly contradict their hands; another important consideration. While paying attention to these signs can benefit you, it s vital to remember that your opponents are doing the same to you. Refrain from making any of the movements you yourself are searching for in other players.
Strategies in Texas Holdem are necessary in developing instinct and skill, bettering your chances of winning. Always be able to adapt depending on the environment in which you re playing, and you will be able to employ an arsenal of poker strategies in any game.
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