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Texas Holdem Strategy

TEXAS HOLD ‘EM STRATEGY

Texas Hold ‘em is easily one of the most popular poker variants played today and once you have a handle on the game, it’s time to learn and implement strategy that will maximize your wins and minimize your losses. In addition to the strategies mentioned here, you should also read our section on general poker strategy.

STARTING HANDS

The first strategy you’ll use when playing Hold ‘em is to make a list of starting hands that you’ll play (read our page on starting hands). Your starting hand is the two personal cards you’re dealt before the flop (also called your ‘hole cards’). There are premium cards that you should play (such as a pair of Aces) you need to be aware of what hole cards tend to win more often and add them to your starting hands list. When you get hole cards that aren’t on the list, fold. There’s no such thing as a bad fold, and it’s no good to play more hands than you should, so be strict with only playing your premium starting hands.

The following are good starting hands for beginners when playing Limit poker:

1. A-A
2. K-K
3. Q-Q
4. A-K suited
5. J-J
6. 10-10
7. 9-9
8. 8-8
9. A-Q suited
10. 7-7

Once you get more practice and have played more hands (try Poker Stars for free online poker), you can add more hands to your starting hand requirements. You’ll find that your position relative the dealer button can influence your starting hands, as explained below.

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POSITIONAL ADVANTAGE

To put it simply, you can play weaker hands the later your position and vice versa. Depending where you’re sitting in relation to the dealer button, you’re in ‘early position’ when you post the small and big blinds (and perhaps one person to their left, depending on how many people are playing), in ‘middle position’ when you’re in between the aforementioned players and those who are in ‘late position,’ the players who act last.

When you’re in early position, you should only play strong hands since you have no idea what the other players’ cards are since they act after you. Middle position players can ease up a little, but not as much as the players in late position, who have the best advantage since everyone acts before them. This means you can ease up on your starting hand requirements and play less-strong hands.

BLUFFING

Poker isn’t an interesting game if you never bluff. If you become too predictable that you never bluff, people will fold if they see you playing a hand aggressively. When you have the nuts (the current strongest hand), you want to get the pot as high as you can, which you can’t do if there aren’t many players left to contribute. So just to throw people off so they can’t figure out if you have the nuts or not, you need to bluff every once in a while so they think you’re a loose player and will call some of your bets and raises. Read our section on bluffing to get an understanding of how it’s done.

PRE-FLOP

This is when you assess your starting hands and decide if you want to call the blinds in order to see the flop. Put another way, you need to look at your two hole cards and decide if they’re worth putting chips into the pot in order to see the flop and stay in the game. If your hand is exceptionally strong, such as paired Aces, Kings, Queens, Jacks and Ace-King suited, you should raise no matter what position you’re in.

THE FLOP

Once the flop is dealt, you must make a decision whether you have the nuts and will stay in the game, or do you think someone else might have a stronger hand? If you think someone does, check if nobody has bet yet or fold if they have. Once the flop has been dealt, you’re looking at 71% of your hand, which has only a small chance of improving with the Turn and River cards.

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CHECK RAISING ON THE FLOP

‘Check raising’ is when, at the beginning of a betting round, you first check, and then raise when the action comes back to you a second time (in the same betting round). If your hand is good enough to raise with, you shouldn’t check the first time in case everybody else checks you will have missed the opportunity to place a bet and get chips in the pot and you will have given everybody a free ticket to see the flop (and increase the likelihood that a bad hand, which might have been folded had you bet, suddenly improves). So if you have the goods, bet don’t try to be sly and trick everybody into thinking you have a weak hand by checking as you may miss an opportunity to get chips in the pot.

The only time you should consider check-raising is if somebody raised before the flop and that person bets after you: there’s a good chance they might place a bet once the flop comes down. But if nobody raised the bets pre-flop, you have no way of knowing if anybody has a really strong hand worth betting on.

THE TURN

By the Turn, you should only be in the game if you have a decent hand that might win the pot. If you don’t, you should have folded after the flop and not waste your money, especially since bets have doubled on the Turn and River. Bankrolls take the biggest hit by calling too much on the Turn and River (and not bad beats on the River), so protect your chips and fold or check after the flop if your hand is average.

THE RIVER

Like the Turn, you should only be in the River if you’re certain you have the nuts. You can also try check-raising on the River if you’re pretty confident a player after you is going to bet, but be careful not to do this too much in case you’ve misread an opponents’ cards and he doesn’t bet. If it looks like you have the nuts, raise heavily and force people to spend a lot of money if they want to stay until the showdown. If the raise is too much for them, they’ll simply fold, thus increasing your chances of winning the hand.

PRACTICE

This is the most important strategy of all: practice! It’s simply not enough to read about poker strategy you need to get out there and use it if you’re going to improve. There are so many online poker sites you can pick from, but make sure the one you select has free tables for you to practice on without costing you a penny. Poker Stars is one of the first online gambling sites available and their longevity is evidence that they make their customers happy. They have excellent online teaching aids to help you learn Hold ‘em and once you’re comfortable with the game, they have tournaments starting every few minutes.

COMMON GAMBLING ERRORS TO AVOID

1. Drinking too much. Most casinos will serve you free alcohol as long as you’re gambling in their establishment. Better gamblers drink non-alcoholic drinks so they can pay attention to the game and not get drunk.

2. Playing when you’re hungry, tired or in a bad mood. If you’re feeling any of those, you shouldn’t play anymore and call it a night. You’re more likely to make costly errors when you’re not feeling great since your concentration is compromised.

3. Not observing the odds. If you ignore the odds, you’re playing weaker, risky hands and will lose more money more often. Get to know the odds of different hands and safeguard your bankroll!

4. Increasing bets to cover your losses. This is also called ‘chasing losses’ and is a mathematically poor thing to do. Also, if you’re losing more than what you had decided would be an acceptable loss prior to starting the game, then it’s time to stop.

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