Texas Hold'em is arguably the most popular form of poker. It is widely considered to have the most strategy of all poker games, yet the rules are quite simple. Here is how a hand of Texas Hold'em is played:
The five cards on the table are community cards. Your hand is formed by taking the best poker hand you can by using any five out of the seven cards (5 community + 2 hole cards). But remember, all the players have access to the community cards. When played for money, there is a round of betting after a round of cards is dealt (so four rounds of betting in total).
No, there is no such thing as three pairs. Only your best five-card poker hand counts in Texas Hold'em. Example:
Victor's final poker hand
Stephen's final poker hand
In Game Selection and Your Best Game, we went over factors that will help you choose a poker game. Hopefully, these ideas will help you find games where you are more skilled than your opponents. But in addition to the relative skill level of you and your opponents, the types of poker games will lend themselves to certain edges.
Limit Hold'em lends itself to a smaller edge. You are limited by how much you can bet, so fish are protected against making blatantly idiotic moves like calling all-in with bottom pair when you hold top set. Think about it mathematically. The bets are a mere fraction of the pot. So most of the time people call with a solid draw, they have good odds for the draw. Suppose you are playing a $1-$2 limit game (with no rake).
Three players besides you and your opponent see the flop. You bet and he calls through the river. How much did your opponent expect to lose? Excluding the expected preflop loss, your opponent did not expect to lose that much. The pot going into the flop was $5. He called $1 so the pot was $7 after the flop. He then called $2 so the pot was $9 going into the river. Let's see how much your opponent lost in terms of expected value on each of the postflop streets. His expected value is his expected win (chance of winning * pot) minus his bet.
While he actually lost $5 on postflop betting, he only expected to lose $3.96. So essentially, for every dollar he bet, he lost $0.79. Keep in mind this is one of the worst possible situations in fixed-limit Hold'em. Rarely is one dominated in a small pot. Most of the time when people make incorrect bets in limit hold'em, their losing edge is much smaller.
If this hand was played in a no-limit hold'em game, your opponent would have lost a lot more money. Your edge over him in terms of expected value would also have been greater. This is because your bets are a larger fraction of the pot. Assuming pot-sized bets were made beginning at the flop, this is the amount in terms of expected value that your opponent would lose:
Flop: (bet of $5):-$4.04
Turn: (bet of $15): -$12.06
River: (bet of $45): -$45
This time, he made bets totaling $65 and expected to lose $61.10. Not only did he lose more money, he expected to lose an even higher percentage. For every dollar he bet, he expected to lose $0.94! That's a much bigger edge than the one in fixed-limit hold'em simply because the bets are a larger fraction of the pot. Please note that this example did not include implied odds. In that sense, it is an imperfect example. However, it illustrates the point that when you play no-limit, the edges can be huge under certain situations, whereas in fixed-limit they generally are not nearly as huge.
Does this mean that no-limit ring games are superior to fixed-limit ring games? Not necessarily. Because the edges can be so huge in no-limit games, most players tend to stay away from them unless they are good at playing no-limit hold'em, especially at higher stakes. Also, even poor no-limit players are wary of betting their money in situations like the one above. People will not throw their money away in situations where they expect to lose 94 cents on every dollar they bet, whereas they would lose 79 cents on the dollar in a Limit game. At no-limit hold'em, being caught as a huge underdog in a big pot is disastrous, so few people who survive to play no-limit hold'em make such critical errors. However, poor players will tend to stay at limit hold'em and continue to bleed their money away slowly.
Basically, a few big fish can greatly raise the expected value of a no-limit hold'em game. You will be able to find yourself in a few situations where your edge is huge and you can win a huge pot. It is possible to make huge, disastrous mistakes at no-limit whereas it is very hard to do so in a limit game. People tend to make more common, smaller mistakes at limit, so one cannot take too great of advantage of an opponent's huge error. Obviously a soft game is preferable, but the addition of one huge fish will alter the expected value of a No-Limit game much more than it will a limit game.
So when you think about your edge in a limit or no-limit game, realize that one's edge at a mo-limit game is much more dynamic. A player's edge at limit tends to stay in a certain general area, while a no-limit hold'em edge can vary greatly depending on the play of a few players. In the example of the K4 versus AK hand, you will more than likely win money in situations like those at limit (unless you play in a tough game). However, you may or may not win any money from your opponent in no-limit games. If you are able to extract huge bets from players with top pair and no kicker in no-limit hold'em games, then you may be able to retire from your day job a little earlier. But sometimes people will not pay you off at all,so your expected gain is contracted. Basically, the really big mistakes your opponents can make are either bigger in no-limit or they do not exist at all, and this will greatly determine your expected win or loss from a game.
Nonetheless, there is the possibility of a more general edge at low-stakes no-limit hold'em games. This is because these games attract so many poor players that the addition of one or two more poor players does not significantly alter the ecosystem of the game.
This section will give you the basic strategy for longhand limit hold'em (eight or more players). This section is intended for the beginner, so he or she can win at the lower limits ($2-$4 or lower).
This is where most beginners make mistakes. They simply play too many hands. What beginners fail to recognize is that longhand limit hold'em is a game of patience. As boring as it sounds, you literally can just wait to be dealt the quality hands, and just win with those.
So what are the good hands? David Sklansky, a poker expert, groups hands into eight categories. I'm going to simplify his method a little bit for you. The main difference between my ratings and his ratings is that I don't give preference to suited cards. The only reason I do this is that beginners tend to play suited cards too much. Being suited is nice, but it's just a small bonus, it doesn't change the actual value of the cards as much as many beginners realize.
These are the best hands, bar none. You should raise or reraise with them preflop. If you hold AA, you especially want to jam as much money into the pot as possible.
Category I hands should almost always be played. The only exception is if you hold AK or JJ and you are positive that someone has AA or KK by the way they are raising (in other words, the person is a very tight player, but is acting like a maniac preflop). These hands generally should be raised from any position and you want to get a lot of money in preflop. However, for AK you need to hit an Ace or a King. So don't get in a raising war with one person because that person probably has a pocket pair already.
These are good hands, but they aren't amazing. You generally need help from the board. When facing multiple players in low-limit, you will almost always need to hit a set with TT or 99 to win.
Category II hands should generally be played. These hands work better with fewer players in the pot, so you should raise to try to knock people out. But these hands can be folded if there has been significant action before you. If a player raises, another player re-raises and a third player makes yet another re-raise, you can be quite confident that one or more of them have your hand dominated.
These are good hands. However, be careful playing AJ, AT, KJ as these hands are vulnerable to losing to a higher kicker (i.e. if an Ace is on the board, but someone else has AK, you would lose because he has a higher kicker).
You should play these hands more often when they are suited and when you are in late position. When they are suited, they have a higher chance of winning, especially in a multi-way pot. When you are in late position, you will have a better idea where you stand among other players. If there has been heavy action before you, you should consider folding because someone might have a hand that dominates yours. However, if everyone has folded to you or there is just a limper or two, a raise is probably in order.
Category IV hands are very different. You want a large, multi-way pot, because these hands miss the flop often. However, sometimes these hands are amazing (if you hit a straight, flush, or trips). Therefore, you want to be paid off big when you actually hit something with these hands, which is why you want a lot of people in the pot.
You call a bet on flop, 9 comes on turn, and then you jam the pot. With these hands, you want to commit as few chips as possible preflop, while hoping that many people go into the flop. If you are the dealer, and one guy is in with a raise, fold. However, if you are the big blind, and 5 people have called a raise, go ahead and call and see the flop.
Once you hit the flop, you will be in one of four situations:
1. You are winning but have a beatable hand. For example, you have top pair plus top kicker or an overpair.
You want to jam the pot and knock people out. Thus, you want someone to bet to you and then to raise if you are in early position. If you are in late position and no one has bet, you must bet to encourage some folds.
2. You have a boss hand. You have three-of-a-kind or maybe even a full house on the flop. There is no reason to knock people out, because you will probably win (unless you have trips and there's a flush draw out there; then you need to make them pay). In these situations, it's generally best to wait until the turn to jam the pot, but jam the pot on the flop if a scary draw is out there.
3. You have the second-best hand.
In this case, treat the hand as a drawing hand or simply fold, unless you really believe that you may have the best hand at the moment (this is unlikely in a larger, multi-way pot because someone is bound to have a King).
4. You have a drawing hand.
For these hands, you must use outs and pot odds.
5. You have nothing.
You are clearly beat. Just fold at the first bet.
One thing to always keep in mind are the number of players in the pot. This affects the types of hands you should play, and the likelihood that you hold the best hand.
In this example, you should be more careful if you are up against 6 players than if only one or two are in the pot. If there are many players, and if there is a lot of action (raising), you are probably beat by someone holding a Queen. However, if you are only up against one or two opponents, you still could very well have the best hand.
Those are the basics of longhand limit. If you play tight before the flop, there really aren't that many tricky situations you will encounter.
Understanding how to play shorthand games (six or fewer people) is important to becoming a winning poker player. Most postflop play in longhand games involves critical shorthand concepts. If you are an internet player, you will find that shorthand games are very popular at online poker rooms. In fact, most high-limit games are played shorthand.
One of the most important skills in poker is simply playing in the right game. This is a very under-appreciated weapon in a poker player's arsenal. Unless you just want to practice, there's no reason to play against professionals! The best way to examine a game is to watch how much betting and raising occurs. If there is a lot of raising and folding, stay away! If people limp in a lot preflop and then just call bets, join the game! The reason you want to play against passive players is that selective aggression is the key to winning at shorthand.
So what types of starting hands should you look for when playing shorthanded? Many articles have been written about this, but I'll briefly summarize what I believe are the playable hands.
One thing to remember is that hand values are relative, so a hand can be good under some situations and total trash under others. For example, if there has been a lot of action, like a raise, a reraise, a call, then a cap, I would fold anything besides AA, KK, AK, QQ, and JJ. You should always think about what the other guy has and guess whether you have a better starting hand than him before entering a pot.
This depends on the raiser. Reraise a maniac with any pair or A9+, because you'll probably be winning at the flop. This sort of player could easily be raising with A4, so you want to isolate him, even when holding a hand like 66. Against other types of players, reraise with strong hands like AA, KK, QQ, JJ, AK, AQ (although you may want to smooth call with JJ). You should consider just calling with AK and AQ because it does very well 3- or 4-handed. If you hit top pair with one of these hands, there is a good chance you will get paid off if the pot is 3- or 4-way.
Suited connectors and small pairs are only playable under certain conditions. If people are not aggressive, it may be possible to limp with these hands and play multi-way pots. If there are four or fewer players in the game, there will not be any multi-way pots. So when the game is very short, suited connectors have very little value. For small pairs, you want to play a heads-up pot if the game is very shorthanded. Thus, if you are in early position, you should usually fold small pairs. If you are on the button and everyone has folded, you should raise with a small pair.
When you have a made hand, bet it. Whenever you have a hand that is top pair or stronger, you should usually just bet. If your opponent raises you, you should probably respond with a reraise. Your opponent may be trying to buy himself a free card on the turn by raising you. Or he may have a weaker hand and is trying to raise for value in his eyes. Nevertheless, generally the best move is to bet or reraise with top pair and good kicker or better.
However, if you make a pair, but it's not the top pair, you have a decision to make. This decision will be highly situational, but here are some general tips. First, you must analyze how strong your hand is relative to the board.
It is unlikely that someone holds a nine. You should bet this hand if it is checked to you and probably call down if someone bets at you. Let's look at another example.
In this situation, your hand is extremely weak. You should fold this hand on the flop. Basically, measure how good your hand is against other likely hands.
Another important idea revolves around when to fold your hand. If you are going to fold, you want to do so earlier in the pot. For more discussion about this topic, check out "When To Fold" on the Expert Poker Player section.
Always know how many outs you have, or the number of cards that will make you a winning hand. But don't be too liberal when counting your outs.
In this example, you cannot count the Ace as an out. After all, someone could easily have AK or hold a Jack.
Flop bluffs. If you are the preflop raiser, the flop is a very good time to bluff.
Suppose you raised preflop, and it is heads-up on the flop. Your opponent checks to you. Bet! You have nothing, but he probably has nothing, too. Go ahead and try to steal. In pots that are contested between just you and one other player, often mere aggression is enough to win the pot, so your cards don't matter as much.
Semibluffing. Semibluffing is betting when you don't have a made hand yet, but you are on a strong draw.
You have a flush draw. Go ahead and bet. Not only do you have a good chance of hitting, you might steal the pot right here.
Other Bluffs. These don't work too well at fixed-limit, but they do work at times. Suppose the flop is checked and a Queen comes on the turn. Go ahead and bet. Your opponents are likely to fold unless they hit a draw or they have a hand themselves. Please realize that some opponents will call you down with Ace high. Against these players, don't bluff much. Instead, value bet often, and win a lot of chips whenever you have any sort of hand against them.
This section will provide tips for some troublesome situations in shorthand fixed-limit games.
Small pocket pairs work best in a large, multi-way pot (you're hoping to flop a set) or heads-up. Therefore, your preflop strategy should reflect this. If you're on the button, one guy has raised, and another has folded, your best strategy would be to shut out the blinds and make it heads up. So in this case, reraise. However, if you're the big blind and three other people have already called the big blind, it's best to just check and hope to hit a set on the flop.
Note: Don't use the reraise to make it heads-up strategy against a very tight player. There's a good chance he has a higher pocket pair. In these situations, your opponent will dominate you. For example, you do not want to reraise when you hold 8 8 and the other player holds 10 10. The reraise move only works if you think your opponent has two unpaired cards or a lower pocket pair than you.
If you're in a multi-way pot, the answer is simple: fold if you don't hit a set, jam the pot if you do. The only exception is if you hit a weird flop, like 552 or 666 when you hold like 77. In this case, you might have the best hand and could consider betting or calling one bet.
If you're heads-up, it gets a little tricker. If the flop is mainly low cards, bet at it. Your opponent probably has nothing. However, if the flop is AQJ, you're probably toast. You can try to bet at it (in case he has a low pocket pair also), but if you encounter any resistance, you must fold.
Flop bluffs work best against one or maybe two opponents. The method is fairly simple.
Suppose you raised preflop. You have nothing on the flop, not even a flush draw, but your opponents may also have nothing. Go ahead and bet at it, you might steal the pot right there.
If they just call you, you have a decision. They may have Ace and a low kicker or they may have something like K 9. In either case, you're losing. You should generally check and fold. Do this about 80% of the time. However, you don't want them to be able to crack your bluffing strategy by just calling you on the flop and then seeing what you do on the turn.
Because of this, I recommend slowplaying occasionally. For example, suppose you have A 9 at this flop. You can bet the flop, then check-raise the turn. In other words, you must punish them for just calling on the flop. People should never be allowed to just call with a second-best hand if they hope you're bluffing; they should be forced to raise to see where they are. If you suspect that they just call you with the second-best hand, you should bet until the river when you have the goods, but don't always check-fold when you don't. You should sometimes bluff on the turn too (but most of the time, don't).
I'm not a huge fan of slowplaying because I like to run flop bluffs, and flop bluffs are only successful if you actually bet with the goods at the flop. However, sometimes it's best to just wait to jam the pot. I like to slowplay in multi-way situations when I really have the goods.
In this example, I have the stone nuts. I'll generally wait for a bet if I think one will happen and then raise it. Slowplaying and jamming the pot on the turn can be very profitable in multi-way pots, but I don't recommend it in heads-up situations. In this situation, someone with a King may call my bet but probably will not make a bet himself.
Slowplaying is successful when:
Slowplaying a set with a flush draw on board is dumb because you could be allowing them to develop a hand that can beat yours without having to pay to do so. You should think, what can they develop that won't beat me, but will still make them bet so I can raise them? Don't slowplay just because you have a good hand. Slowplay when the two conditions above are met.
This is a troublesome situation. You may have the best hand or you may be toast. However, the situation is pretty simple. If it's checked around to you, check. After all, what will people call you with? The only thing people will call you with that can't beat you is A7 or maybe a pocket pair (few will call with this hand, though).
So, when you're in this trouble situation, you have to consider two factors: What will people call you with that won't beat you, and what are the chances they have the better hand? The higher the board pair, the higher the chance they have the trip. If you have K J, AAJ is far more scary than J44. I would treat the AAJ with caution and play it passively, while I'd bet at J44 and be fairly aggressive.
That brings up the question: What do you mean by 'play it with caution'? Well, if I have K J and someone bets at me with the board AAJ, he may have QJ, so I'd go ahead and call. But if someone bet, I called, someone else raises, I'd get out. I would also be prepared to fold if they bet again on the turn.
Maniacs can be a real pain in shorthand. However, they are generally best dealt with by just calling (but raise them if you hold a very strong hand). They will increase the variance of the game, but you will win more in the long run. For example, in a $100-$200 game, I was dealt Q Q, a nice hand. Anyway, someone calls, the maniac raises, I reraise, the maniac caps and there is one other normal player in the pot. The flop comes A K 4. This is one of the worst possible flops for me. I go ahead and bet, the normal player folds, and the maniac raises me. Normally, I would fold, but this guy was so crazy that I decided to check-call to the river. I won the pot. The maniac had 5 3.
Sometimes, when your opponent is on a flush draw, and you have top pair, they will attempt to check-raise on the river. If you put them on a flush draw, and then the flush card hits on the river, don't pay them off. Just check down the river. Think about the math. If you are in position and check the river, you save yourself 2 big bets (4 small bets). There was probably a raise preflop and a bet on the flop and turn. So you put in a total of 5 small bets. By checking the river, you save yourself almost half the money you would have lost.