Texas Hold ‘em Strategy

As they say, “Poker takes an hour to learn and a lifetime to master.” The “lifetime to master” aspect of that equation stems from learning the innumerable strategic variations you can employ and then developing your own distinct style.

Texas Hold ‘em has become the most popular form of poker in recent years, and that rising popularity has led to thousands of books, websites and private teachers claiming to unlock the secrets of the game or, at least, give you enough of an education that you can go out and make a few bucks. Many of them are worthwhile resources, but it’s always going to take a lot of live experience to become a winning player.

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Rules, Hand Rankings, and Terminology

If you’re a true poker novice, you’ll want to explore some of the other pages on this site before delving into Hold ‘em strategy. You can find primers on poker rules, hand rankings and terminology that will give you a basis from which you can start building your poker knowledge.

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Hold ‘em Odds and Probabilities

Before you start playing Texas Hold ‘em, you’ll probably want to get at least a bit of a handle on the odds and probabilities of certain hands and draws. Some of the math might seem a little daunting at first, and it will probably take quite a bit of live play experience before you truly understand what all the numbers mean, but by memorizing the most common scenarios you will have a better understanding of the game as a whole.

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Hold ‘em for Beginners

If you’re new to the Texas Hold ‘em craze, you’re going to want to stick with a simple strategy. Mainly, that means playing what’s known as “tight,” which is another word for conservative. You’ll only want to play premium starting hands, usually ones that include at least two face cards (preferably suited), and pairs of eights or higher.

If you do follow that strategy, you’ll want to carry it through to the flop, turn and river, avoiding making large bets or raises unless your premium starting hand has turned into two pair or better. By sticking with a conservative strategy early on, you will be able to avoid taking large losses and pick up the kind of experience you will need as your skills develop.

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Hold ‘em for Intermediate Players

Once you’ve worked your way through the initial stages of playing Hold ‘em you will be able to open your game up a bit and start playing a little more aggressively. That means a wider range of starting hands and greater willingness to mix it up once you see a flop.

Some common intermediate strategies include incorporating suited connectors (two cards that are both of the same suit and have the ability to make a straight, e.g., six-seven of diamonds), playing position (making more aggressive plays when on or close to the dealer button) and bluffing (though, you’ll probably want to avoid that for the most part until you’ve gained more experience).

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Cash Games vs. Tournaments

There are two formats for Texas Hold ‘em – cash games and tournaments. In cash games, you bring a bankroll and decide how much of it you’d like to put in play. In a tournament, you pay the buy-in amount and play until you’re either knocked out or you are the last one standing once all other players get knocked out.

Each format requires remarkably different strategies, almost to the point where they’re hardly the same game. To find out more about those differences, check out Big Fish’s article on Texas Hold ‘em cash games vs. tournament play.

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Pre-Flop and Post-Flop Strategy

With their widely varying strategies, pre-flop and post-flop play could also almost be considered two different games. Before the flop is dealt, you have far fewer variables to account for, but more players to assess.

Once the flop comes out, and is then followed by the turn and river, you’ll have to factor in all of the possible hands on the board, while attempting to read your opponents and figure out how their previous actions can inform you about what they’re holding.

Other Strategic Considerations

Texas Hold ‘em is such a rich and interesting game because there are so many layers to consider at almost every juncture of the game. While the topics and categories listed above cover some of the most important basic strategies, they really just scratch the surface.

Among the many other factors you’ll have to consider as you develop your Hold ‘em skills are stack size, table size and position.

Whether you have a lot of chips in front of you, an average size stack or you’re nearly down to the felt, you’ll have to vary your style of play accordingly. The general rule is the fewer the chips, the more conservative the play. But that is hardly the limit of your options, as you can see in this article on the topic.

You’ll also want to take the number of players at your table into consideration. If you’re playing in a brick-and-mortar casino or online, it’s very likely you’ll be playing at full tables of nine or 10 people, but when you find yourself facing fewer opponents, you’re going to want to open up your game a bit. For a deeper discussion of the topic, see this article.

Your position in each hand is vitally important to how you play, especially as you get more advanced in your thinking and play. The later your position, the more options you will have to choose from strategically, and vice versa. But position has become one of the keys, if not the key, to playing the modern version of Texas Hold ‘em, so you’ll definitely want to delve deeper into it, starting with this article.