How to Play Texas Hold’em

Choose the Right Games

A simple way to a higher win rate is to find good games. This part of winning poker strategy is as important as ever since more and more people learn Texas Hold’em strategy.

How many hands are played in an hour?
Poker rooms show table statistics which tell you how many hands are played in an hour. When this statistic is either clearly higher or lower than at the other tables, something weird might be going. (And weird is usually good for you.) But remember to take into account how many are playing at the table, since the rate is bound to be higher when only a few play than when six play.

How high is the average pot size?
A high average pot size tells you that someone’s likely splashing money around, and wouldn’t we all like to get a piece of that? A low average pot size may be good for you, too, since you’ll likely be able to steal blinds often.

Are there short stacks or full stacks?
Players who, like me, play with a full stack, prefer to play with other full stacks. So what I’m looking for is a table with full stacks and, in general, a lot of money in play. The more short stacks, the less skill affects the outcome, as short-stackers only look for chances to go all-in.

Do you know the opponents?
Always try to play against the ones you have notes and statistics on. Adjusting to these players’ styles is faster as you already know what to look for and expect. Be careful, though, since dedicated players study poker and do their best to fix their leaks, so a couple of months old notes and statistics may not hold true anymore.

Are there any good seats available?
The best seat of the game is on the direct left side of someone who you feel is the most exploitable opponent at the table. If there’s only one extremely exploitable player in the game, all the other players are solid and you fail to get a good seat, it could be best to look at other games.

Play with Exploitable Opponents

The old saying “If you’ve been playing poker for half an hour and you still don’t know who the patsy is, you’re the patsy” holds true now as much as it ever has.

When most players sit down to a table, they just start playing a game of Texas Hold’em without paying attention to who they’re playing with and why. Your mission, which, as discussed, begins before even sitting down to a table, is to constantly look for players to exploit, target and make money from. (Ideally all the opponents are exploitable, but that’s rarely the case.)

Being alert, ready to find out about any exploitable playing patterns is even more important at poker sites like Bovada Poker where all players are anonymous, since you’re unable to have notes on anyone after the session.

Doing this consists of learning two things:

  1. How to identify an exploitable opponent.
  2. How to exploit the opponent.

How to Identify an Exploitable Opponent

The following characteristics are common for players with little idea of how to play winning Texas Holdem poker:

  • No sense of hand values.
  • Plays too many hands.
  • Hardly plays a hand.
  • No sense of positional awareness.
  • Tilts easily.
  • Inability to adjust.

You’ll know what “no sense” and “too many” mean soon enough.

Once you’ve identified a target opponent, start taking notes. As much as possible. You may not need them rightaway, during the same session, as the opponent’s actions are still fresh in your memory.

But guess what?

You want to be able to exploit the opponent, as often as possible, time after time. Having an extensive list of notes will help you to do this faster.

Additionally, use Smart Buddy to get notified when target opponents come online and to find them. Little-by-little you’ll gather together an extensive list of people to play against (with plenty of notes).

How to Exploit the Opponent

Answering this topic would be like answering “how to play Texas Holdem and win”… since exploiting opponents’ tendencies is what Texas Hold’em poker strategy is all about. And each opponent is unique (although most easily exploitable players have similar tendencies).

Therefore it’s impossible to write a definite answer to this question, however, I’ll do my best asthe rest of this page is dedicated to explaining the basics of winning Texas Holdem strategy, which will help you to exploit all of your opponents.

And now, on to the advice.

Play from Late Positions

After finding at least one opponent to win money from, you need to take a seat. The seat should be one that allows you to play from a “late position” against the target opponent as often as possible. Therefore the best possible Texas Holdem position is to the direct left of the target opponent.

But playing from a late position (mainly “cut-off” and “button” positions) is crucial against any opponent. In fact, one of the ways to recognize a less-skilled opponent is to look at how well the player understands position strategy in Texas Hold’em.

Why to Play from Late Positions?

Just knowing that late position is better is not enough, right? You need to know why it is so? Here are some reasons (I’m sure there are more) to get you started.

  • You’ll act last post-flop.
  • More information on your opponents than they have on you.
  • Controlling the pot is easier.
  • Blind stealing is easier.
  • Getting “free cards” post-flop is easier.
  • Even playing suited connectors is easier.
  • … do you need more?

Play Straightforward Poker

By now, you should know the following:

  • Which tables to play at.
  • Which opponents to target.
  • Which seat to take.
  • Which positions to (mainly) play from.

Now, there’s one important to question left to answer:

How to play Texas Holdem poker?

It’s quite essential, don’t you agree?

If you’ve only watched Texas Hold’em from movies and seen it played on TV, you likely have the wrong idea of how to approach the game. Televised poker shows you the flashy things, such as huge bluffs, which at that time happened to pay-off.

Why Straightforward Strategy Works

In day-to-day poker games, you’ll make money by playing straightforward poker. (The higher the stakes, the more individualized your strategy has to be.)

  • Opponents pay little attention.
    Tricky poker moves work from time-to-time because opponents that follow you, take notes on you and do their best to figure out how you play Texas Hold’em, are unable to expect tricky poker from you. But at micro-to-low stakes, when most opponents fail to pay attention to your actions, it’s best to play straightforward and forget trickyness.
  • Opponents are clueless.
    Often, players have the wrong idea of how to play poker strictly because of what they’ve seen on television. These opponents expect you to bluff when you bet and have something huge when you check (to lure them into betting, which would give you the opportunity to check-raise). The easiest way to exploit these prejudices is to bet when you have a strong hand.
  • Opponents focus on their hands.
    Bluffing, check-raising… all the tricky moves are usually reserved from when the opponent thinks you’re either weak or strong. At the lowest stakes, opponents pay more attention to their own hands, regardless of what you’re doing. Therefore tricky plays, again, prove to be useless and of more harm than help most of the time.
  • It’s how you extract value.
    When you have a strong hand, you bet. When the opponent bets and you have a strong hand, you raise. That’s how you get money into the pot and avoid giving your opponents “free cards”. It works. Tricky plays rarely do.

Note: As you move on to higher stakes, your decisions become more individualized. But at micro-to-low stakes, having a general Texas Hold’em strategy of playing straightforward poker is a fantastic idea.

How to Play Straightforward Poker

Here are some basic instructions on how to play straightforward poker and win. I’ll write a separate page on the subject in the future:

  • Avoid tricky plays such as check-raising.
  • Value bet often.
  • Resist the temptation to bluff in most cases.
  • Use notes and online poker statistics.
  • Steal blinds from late positions (especially in tournaments).
  • Play tight and aggressive in general.

Avoid Beginner Mistakes

Knowing how to play Texas Hold’em and knowing how not to play it are both equally important. Here’s what I consider ten of the most common mistakes in Texas Holdem strategy:

  1. Big calls on the river with a weak hand.
    Most players at the lowest stakes haven’t got what it takes to make big bluffs on the river. Unless you have a great read on an opponent, rather lay down your hand than make big calls with weak hands, especially if (and be truthful about it) you just want to believe calling is a good idea instead of having reasoning behind it.
  2. Big calls pre-flop, hoping to hit a jackpot.
    Understanding poker odds is necessary so that you could recognize when you’re about to make horrible calls (but also to recognize horrible folds). Calling pre-flop, ready to lay down the hand unless you hit is a strategy that only seems to fit for pocket pairs (more about that lower), otherwise it’s generally unwise to risk a lot of money with a hand clearly weaker than your opponent’s.
  3. Playing too often out of position.
    No mistake is more common betting money into the pot from out-of-position, which was explained more thoroughly earlier on this page.
  4. Disregarding reads and notes.
    You know that your opponent is the kind who plays with a tight range of hands, rarely does anything crazy and still you make a “hero” call, expecting him to bluff with a check-raise? You have notes and statistics for a reason!
  5. Bluffing with minimal/no outs.
    Beginner poker players often bluff way too often (or, conversely, not nearly enough). The first one is the more serious problem, especially since these players seem to think the fewer the outs the greater the bluff. Avoid complete bluffs to your best abilities; semi-bluffing makes more sense.
  6. Failing to ask (enough) questions.
    You get answers by asking questions. Mindless decisions (“maybe I’ll just call…”) without answering “why am I calling?” are common mistakes in Texas Hold’em. Serious players should always ask questions; from themselves and from others. The more often the better.
  7. Risking too much money.
    All the Texas Hold’em poker strategy in the world won’t help you if you risk too much money per game. A good Texas Hold’em bankroll strategy would be to never risk more than 2% of your bankroll in any one game.
  8. Obvious betting patterns.
    An obvious but (surprisingly) common betting pattern is to bet more with strong hands and less with weak hands – which in a way makes sense – but is too predictable when you play against someone who follows your actions at all. It’s better to have one bet size that you stick to.
  9. Making decisions against better judgement.
    Some players know how they should play, what they should do, and most importantly, what they should not do. Due to being too tired, on tilt, or some other mysterious reason, they make unprofitable decisions even though they know better. Always quit playing should you find yourself doing any of this.
  10. Playing “fit-or-fold” Texas Hold’em.
    The odds against hitting a pair or better on the flop are 2:1. In other words, you’ll flop nothing two times out of three. For the sake of your bankroll and learning how to play winning Texas Hold’em poker, never allow yourself to be on auto-pilot, simply playing “fit-or-fold” poker. It’s ineffective and makes you an easy target.

Learn Betting Strategies

I’ve written down some characteristics of Texas Holdem betting strategies and tactics. I’m working on more precise and in-depth explanations (which deserve their own pages):

  • Value bets.
    Value bets are (sort of) the opposite of bluffs (you have a good hand and you want an opponent to call). Learning to bet for value is the most important betting concept to learn for beginners players.Always look for opportunities to bet for value and remember: value bets are easier to pull-off on the river because opponents have no need to worry about you betting even more on the next street in case they call now.
  • Continuation bets.
    Means continuing betting on the flop after having raised pre-flop. Plenty of online poker statistics can assist you with this tactic.Low-stakes players often fold to continuation bets, therefore deciding not to continuation bet is usually a poor idea. Look for dry flops when continuation betting and remember: the more you continue bet, the more inclined opponents are to call you.
  • Re-raises.
    Use re-raises (or “3-bets”) to bet for value, steal pots and isolate exploitable opponents. Many online poker statistics that can help you with re-raising decisions, too.A few pointers: loose players make good re-raise targets (when betting for value), short-stackers make bad re-raise targets (unless you’re willing to go all-in) and you should include weaker hands to your 3-betting range – not just strong ones – to keep the opponents guessing.
  • Bluffs.
    Bluffing is about risk vs. reward. This is how the minimum success rate (“MSR”) required for a successful bluff can be calculated: BET/(POT+BET)=MSR.In order to succeed, you need to learn how to “sell” your bluffs, how to represent hands and hand ranges, never bluff because you want to be “flashy”, always bluff the minimum the opponent folds against and remember that semi-bluffing is a much better option than bluffing without outs.
  • Block bets.
    Block betting is a good idea if you predict that the opponent bets if you check but likely folds if you bet. Therefore you “block” the opponent’s betting attempt.Block bets allow you to decide the size of the bet, give the opponent an opportunity to fold and are usually made out of position to stop an opponent from betting. Remember: checking encourages betting from others; even a small bet can discourage opponents from continuing in the pot.
  • Float bets.
    Float bets are sort of “bluff calls”. You may call an opponent’s bet, expecting to have him fold to your bet on the next street.The requirement for a successful float bet is to expect an opponent to often bet with air / weak hands and not to be strong enough to continue betting on the next street. (There are good online poker stats for this one as well.)
  • Isolation bets.
    An important concept as well; used to isolate exploitable players all to yourself, but also to drive excess players out of the pot (in case you have a hand that’s hard to play profitably in multi-way pots).

Stay Patient

Winning players need patience every single day of their lives even outside of poker; not being “under the influence” constantly, taking the time to select the right table, post-session reviews, etc.

In fact, here are a few examples of where you especially need patience, and it will make all the difference in the world:

  • Bankroll management.
    As mentioned before, no amount of knowledge on how to play Texas Holdem will be sufficient unless you learn to manage your bankroll with patience. You need to do it 100% of the time… not 99%. Read about poker variance to learn to appreciate bankroll management.
  • Table selection.
    A subject that has already been written about on this page. Nevertheless, it’s worth reminding that you’ll need patience when looking for the right kind of games to play.
  • In-game decisions.
    Sometimes you’ll just have wait for the right moment. Having a spotted an exploitable player, it might be tempting to play any hand against the player, even from out of position. It’s essential to resist the temptation, keep your head cool and look for the right opportunity. Playing than you know is the right way to play only brings you closer the opponent’s level.
  • Grind.
    As Denzel Washington said, “In any profession it gets to be a grind.” Poker is no different, and possibly the hardest part is keep grinding in the same games week after week while paying attention to every hand.
  • Studying and improving.
    You’ll have a hard time learning new things unless you’re willing to study poker; analyze your plays, read books and articles, discuss plays with other players, watch videos, etc. You may not feel up to it each day but it has to be done.

Improve… All the Time

Want to move up to higher stakes? Then you have to work, every day, to learn how to play Texas Holdem better than you did yesterday. Internet is a fantastic resource for a poker player, although 95% of the stuff is outright dangerous to read.

Here are some productive things to do:

  • Always reason your decisions in a poker game.
  • After playing, study your plays and learn from them.
  • Discuss your plays with other poker players.
  • Read as much as possible. Forget what makes little sense.
  • Trust your instincts.
  • Join a poker training site; watch the professionals.

Should you ever be interested in learning more about winning at gambling, visit my guides on US online poker, card counting and slot machines.

Online Resources

Read and watch everything you can get your hands on. Forget most of it, remember what matters. (By the way, I may add poker training site reviews in the future.)

Texas Hold’em Strategy Books

Although there’s plenty to read online, here are a few solid books about Texas Hold’em strategy to get you started. I’ll possibly write book reviews in near future, but here’s all that needs to be said about these books: read them.

  • The Theory of Poker by David Sklansky.
  • Harrington on Cash Games by Dan Harrington.
  • Super System I and II by Doyle Brunson.
  • Sit n Go Strategy by Collin Moshmann.
  • Tournament Strategy (vol. 1-3) by Dan Harrington.
  • Book of Poker Tells by Mike Caro.

Texas Holdem Software

What I look for in Texas Hold’em poker software is the ability to…:

  • Track results (both yours and your opponent’s).
  • Analyze those results.
  • Calculate equity with ease.
  • See the stats of your opponent live.
  • Get notified when the right opponent comes online.

Based on the criteria above, following Texas Holdem software applications have made a significant difference to the way I’ve been able to analyze, study, make money from and, in general, learn how to play Texas Hold’em poker:

  • Hold’em Manager (for stats tracking, live display).
  • Equilab (for equity calculations).
  • Smart Buddy (for notifications).

If you want to read more from me, make sure to bookmark this page, as I’ll add more advice, tips and information in near future.

Thanks for reading.