Advanced Texas Hold ‘em Strategy


Once you’ve figured out basic and intermediate Texas Hold ‘em strategies, it’s time to move on to more advanced theories. As is the case at any level of sophistication, you’ll want to adapt complex strategies to your own natural style. But for those who have mainly spent their formative poker hours learning to value hands properly and avoid dangerous situations, the next level of poker thinking involves reading and understanding your opponents on a deeper level and employing more aggressive tactics.

Doyle Brunson’s Super System

Any discussion of advanced Hold ‘em strategy has to begin with the Holy Bible of power poker, Doyle Brunson’s Super System. Originally published in 1979, the book was actually a collaboration that includes sections by other poker legends like Mike Caro and Chip Reese. However, it was Brunson’s section on No-limit Hold ‘em that made the book such a masterpiece.

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Of all the ways Brunson’s work changed the game, it was his explanation of “Power Poker” that truly broke new ground. He showed that you didn’t need the goods to bet, instead detailing a strategy where it was the amount and timing of your bets – not the cards or making that one, great Steve McQueen-esque read – that made the difference between winning and losing. He also explicated the now common notions of playing position and building your stack by winning small pots so you can use it as equity to gamble on a draw later in the game.

Other Advanced Strategy Resources

There are several other books that provide advice to take your game to the next level. Some of the most well-known are No Limit Hold ‘em: Theory and Practice, by David Sklansky & Ed Miller; a classic co-authored by Dan Harrington & Bill Robertie – Cash Games, and Harrington’s series - Harrington on Hold ‘em; and  Mike Caro’s Book of Poker Tells by Mike Caro, which is an excellent primer on reading opponents.

You can also take a look at Big Fish’s Poker Books article for more suggestions. Or, if you want to discuss poker strategy with other players on the web, you can go to forums like Card Runners and Cards Chat.

Reading Your Opponents, and Being Unreadable

Observation is as important in poker as knowing the order of hands. By watching your opponents closely you can pick up a specific tell, like a facial tic or tapping of the finger, and get an overall impression of their attitude and style of play – the cards they play, how they act when they’re winning, when they’re losing.

Another advantage to observing opponents is that it might clue you in on your own tells. The more aware you are of other people’s mistakes, the easier it is to correct your own. Self-awareness can be just as useful as observation.

Varying the hands you play and how you play them is yet another necessary strategy for throwing your opponents off. Previously, you may have always played ace-king or pocket tens the same way every time you saw them. When playing against good players that practice will make you very readable.

As you get more comfortable with your game, try different tactics with the same hand depending on position and timing. Try re-raising before the flop with pocket jacks, to avoid seeing a flop full of overcards. Try calling a raise with ace-king, so no one can put you on a hand that big. Then change it up the next time, hiding or over-representing your strength as the situation calls for.

You’ll also need to be willing to play garbage hands, like 8-5 offsuit, under the “any two cards” theory. Sometimes, it’s not the cards you’re playing, it’s the people. If you have a good read on someone, and a positional advantage, you may want to jump in with anything, just to see if you can hit a flop or outplay your opponent.

Advanced Mathematical Theory for Hold ‘em

Using math in poker, including incredibly complex ideas like Game Theory, can vastly improve your game. Of course, it is also one of the most difficult concepts to grasp. Thankfully, much of it involves simple memorization – knowing which hands have how much of an advantage over others, what your odds are of hitting your draw, etc.

A better understanding of how to utilize math will also help you get a better handle on important concepts like pot odds (the ratio of the size of the pot to a contemplated call) and fold equity (a calculation made when short-stacked in a no-limit or pot-limit game that determines the equity you gain when an opponent folds to your bet).

There are also a number of resources that can give you basic odds and percentages to work off of, like the article in this guide, odds calculators that are widely available on the internet and the book Texas Hold’em Odds and Probabilities: Limit, No-Limit, and Tournament Strategies, by Matthew Hilger.

Advanced Bluffing Strategies

While many poker players will offer one piece of advice on bluffing – don’t – it has become a necessary tactic as the game has evolved in the past decade or so. Since you’ll have to bluff at least occasionally, there are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind.

  • First, take stock of the atmosphere of your table and each opponent you’re playing against. If there’s someone at your table who calls down nearly every bet, wait until you have a good hand to get involved with them. There’s no use trying to push an immovable object.
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If you choose to bluff, make sure you know how to read your opponents.

  • Second, be ready to fully commit. Too many players start bluffing before or after the flop, then lose their nerve on the turn or river. If you’ve got a read on someone, and think you can push them off their hand, stick with it, even if it means risking a large percentage of your chip stack.
  • Third, take a moment to analyze strength and weakness. If the table is showing weakness on a particular hand, or simply seems weak in general, that should be a signal to you that the time is ripe to bluff.
  • Finally, make sure there is enough equity in the pot to pursue your bluff. You don’t want to start throwing a bunch of money in the middle when there isn’t anything in there to steal. If you’re going to bluff, be sure to do it on a hand where it is worth your while.

For further information, check out Big Fish’s Post-Flop Strategy article.

Advanced Raising Strategies

The raise is the most effective tactic in all of poker. It feels good to say. It feels good to shove a bunch of chips in the pot. And it feels especially good when it forces your opponents to fold, or, in the event you have the nuts, when they call. The two most prevalent raising strategies that would be considered advanced are the re-raise and the check raise.

Re-Raising

Re-raising is the most intimidating move you can make at a poker table. It usually involves a lot of money, so right away you’re going to get people’s attention, and it is almost always construed as a sign of extreme strength. Because of those factors, many people refrain from re-raising unless they have the nuts. But if you really want to take your game to the next level, look to re-raise at every reasonable opportunity.

Is there a big pot where the initial bet was small, and it was followed by another relatively small raise? If you sense even a little bit of weakness, jump in with a re-raise. Do you think someone else is trying to push you off your hand? Come back over the top of them. Even if you don’t take the hand down right there, you will have a much clearer picture of what your opponent is holding.

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You don’t always have to wait until the next round to raise again.

Check Raising

Then there’s the check raise. Interestingly, it was the biggest change Brunson made to the Hold ‘em section between the original Super System and the updated 2004 version, Super System 2. Originally, he advised against it. But years later, once the game had changed, mainly in reaction to his first book, he found that it had become a useful tactic.

Because the check raise is thought of as another very powerful move it can also be used to bluff. However, it gets the most utility when there are multiple players in the pot, you are in early position, have a very strong hand and use it to protect yourself from getting drawn out on.

For instance, if you’ve flopped a set, but there is a straight or a flush draw on board, check, let someone bet their draw or top pair, then when it comes back around to you put in a raise that will make the rest of the table choke. If you don’t take the pot down right there, you’re at least taxing people for trying to chase you down.

While all of these theories and techniques are important to becoming an advanced Hold ‘em player, the most effective way to become a master at the game is through experience. By taking these ideas and combining them with the lessons you’ve already learned from hours of play, the dream of finding yourself at the World Series of Poker, or sitting in front of a big pile of chips in an online or local cash game, can become a reality.