Joined: Mar '09
Location: United Kingdom
Age: 61 (M)
About This Guide
This eBook is meant to make you familiar with the basics of the game of poker in
general, and Texas Hold’em poker in particular: its rules and the basic strategy
concepts involved. Hold’em is extremely easy to learn, but it is almost infinitely
difficult to master. In order to be a good poker player, you need to master the
mathematical side of the game as well as the psychological and strategic one.
This eBook will cover Texas Hold’em rules in detail, and corroborate them with
strategy every step of the way. You’ll learn about position, about cash-game and
tournament strategy, about different player types (tight, passive, loose, aggressive)
about pot odds and the basic math behind them. Reading this eBook will
certainly make you a better player, but remember, in order to truly improve, you
need to put in many hours and days of play, because nothing substitutes
experience when it comes to Texas Hold’em. Introduction - Texas Hold’em
About Texas Hold’em
Texas Hold’em is a community version of the game of poker which has taken the world by storm since about 2003. The game has of course been around for much longer, but the true popularity explosion began in 2003, when an online qualifier – Chris Moneymaker – won the WSOP’s Main Event, taking down a huge multi-million dollar prize. That event, coupled with the WPT’s televised tournaments, turned poker into a pop-phenomenon. Moneymaker’s victory also proved that online poker could indeed be the way to unbelievable riches for just about any average person.
The most popular Texas Hold’em version is the No Limit (NL) one, featured by most high profile live and televised events. As a poker variant, Hold’em is characterized by a much more aggressive variance than other variants like Omaha and Stud. This favors beginners over the short-run, which makes the game even more appealing to the masses.
A community-card poker variant, Texas Hold’em features two hole cards handed out to each player at the beginning of a hand. The cards are dealt after the blinds have been posted by two of the players, one of whom pays the SB (Small Blind) and the other one the BB (Big Blind). The blinds are compulsory bets. After each player receives his/her hole cards, a betting round begins. Players have the option to call the BB, to raise it or to fold.
After the first betting round, a card is burnt and three community cards are dealt face-up onto the table. This is called the flop. Players are supposed to make a 5card hand with their two hole cards and the three community cards on the board. The flop is followed by another round of betting. A 4th community card is then dealt to the table after the dealer burns another card. This one is called 4th street or the “turn”. The turn is followed by another round of betting, which is then followed by yet another community card: the “river” or 5th street. The river is followed by the showdown which decides the winner of the pot.
Rules: How to Play Texas Hold’em
Learning how to play shouldn’t take a normal person more than 10-20 minutes. The rules are simple and straightforward, and if you watch somebody playing, or just sit in on an online table, you’ll probably learn it without any additional explanations. Mind you though, that the rules do not even represent the first step towards becoming a reasonable poker player.
Before we move on to Texas Holdem’s actual rules, let us take a look at why – as a beginner - you should choose Hold’em over Omaha, Stud or other – more exotic – poker variants.
Hold’em has a much higher short-term variance than any of the poker variants I mentioned. This means that the luck factor will have a much bigger say in the outcome of a hand than in Omaha or Stud. This fact gives rookies an undeserved short-term edge, making them capable of holding their own against experienced opposition. This is the reason why you should definitely play Hold’em instead of Omaha or Stud when you take your first steps in online poker.
Texas Hold’em – like Omaha – is a community card game. This means there will be cards dealt to a table for all players to see, cards which they’ll all have to use as part of their 5-card poker hands.
A game of Texas Hold’em begins with the designation of the dealer button. This little button that moves from one player to another in a clock-wise direction on every hand is the catalyst of all the action that takes place at the table. The player sitting “on the button” is the one who does the dealing. The position of the dealer button also determines the position of the Small Blind (SB) which is on the immediate left of the dealer, and the Big Blind (BB) which is on the immediate left of the SB. The BB and the SB are forced bets (players don’t have a say in whether or not they want to make them) and they are called “blinds” because they are placed before any cards are dealt, in the blind. Specialists call the blinds the catalysts of all Texas Hold’em action. Without the blinds, the game would degenerate into a game of tag, where the player with the best possible hand would be the only one to ever see any action.
The blinds provide a reason for players to act on starting hands other than A,A (a pair of Aces), whether in defense, or in an attempt to steal the blinds. If the blinds were ridiculously high, there couldn’t be a game either. Provided the blinds were high enough, the whole game would degenerate into a lottery as every player would play just about any starting hand right to the finish. This logic is explained by the pot odds, which I’ll try to explain later on in this eBook. What the difference between the two above-presented extremes suggests is that the smaller the blinds are, the tighter you should play (you should act on fewer and better starting hands), and the bigger they are, the looser you should approach the issue.
Once the blinds are posted at the Texas Hold’em table, the dealer hands each player two hole-cards (or pocket cards) which are dealt face down so that no one but the player in whose possession they are can see them. After the deal, players get a general idea about how their eventual 5-card hand will shape up. The A,A is obviously the best pocket hand, because it is – in itself – an already made hand. The worst pocket hand in Hold’em is the 7,2o (where the “o” means “offsuit” because its odds for making a flush, a straight or any other reasonable poker hand are the worst. Following the deal, a betting round commences. Even though the bulk of the action is not supposed to take place on this betting round, it too is extremely important in the overall equation of a hand (you’ll see why later).
During this “preflop” betting round, players have the option to either just call the BB (hoping to see a “cheap” flop), to raise it, or to fold their hand “mucking” it and saving the chips they would’ve spent on calling the BB. Being aggressive preflop will result in fewer players seeing the flop, which means an automatic odds-increase for all those still in the hand. Those players who call a preflop raise and fold on the flop will leave dead money in the pot, which is another excellent way to increase the odds of those who remain in play.
After the preflop betting round, the dealer burns a card and deals three cards face-up onto the table. This is called the “flop”, and these community cards represent the first batch of the total of 5 community cards that will hit the table before showdown. Players will make their hands using their two pocket cards and the three community cards on the board.
The flop is followed by a betting round too, in which players can bet, fold, call, raise and re-raise, according to the strategy they’re following. The dealer then burns another card, and deals another community card (face-up) onto the table. This card is called the “turn” or 4th street, and it is followed by yet another betting round. At this stage, players have to make their 5-card hands using any combination of their 2 hole cards and the 4 community cards on the table. This means they can elect to use only 1 of their hole cards, and all 4 cards off the table.
The last community card (the 5th) is called the “river” or 5th street. This card is followed by a betting round too. Players make their hands using any combination of the community cards and their hole-cards. The last betting round is followed by the showdown, when players show their hands, so that the dealer can determine who won, according to who made the highest valid poker hand. The pot is raked before it is awarded to the winner of the hand.
Starting Hands - Playing Pre-Flop
Starting hand selection and different preflop strategies are all meant to increase the EV+ you get on a specific starting hand. Starting hand selection is less important in high stakes games where experienced opponents match skills, but it is extremely important in low stakes/limit games where all the rookies like yourself play. Starting hand selection and preflop strategy are both influenced by a number of different factors.
According to the fundamental theorem of winning poker, whenever you play a hand the same way you would if you could see your opponent’s hole cards, you gain value. Whenever you play a hand differently, you lose value. Since – in a fair and fraud free environment – nobody will ever be able to take a peek at his/ her opponents’ hole cards, you should settle for the next best thing, and reformulate the theorem like so: whenever you play positive EV (expected value) situations, you gain value, whether you win a particular hand or not. Whenever you play negative EV, you lose value, regardless of the fact that sometimes you get lucky and win.
The mistake most rookie players make when it comes to the EV is that they sit around trying to spot EV+ situations and then moving to exploit them. Starting hand selection is about passive EV exploitation.
Regardless of what you may read in advanced poker strategy articles about how starting hand selection is unimportant for high stakes professionals who play the player rather than their cards, you should study starting hand charts and you should stick with it. As a rookie, it is the best way to maximize the value in your bets, and as such it should become an essential part of your game.
At high stakes tables, starting hand selection will indeed yield to opponent reading skills and to “playing the player”, but as a beginner you’re not likely to play at high stakes tables, and at lower limits, starting hand selection means a huge edge.
One of the most common mistakes rookies make is that they play too many hands. They are made to believe this is the right approach by the professional players they see on TV (who play the player and not their cards in high stakes games), and by all their opponents who see a flop on every rag and apparently hit something time and time again.
Probability of Being Dealt a Quality Starting Hand
Pair preflop Suited Connectors (2/3, KQ, ...) AA, KK, QQ, JJ AK preflop AA or KK preflop AKs preflop
0.3% 0.9% 1.2% 1.8% 4.0% 6.0%
Starting hand selection is also influenced by other – strategic and mathematical – aspects of the game. Your position at the table influences starting hand selection, in the sense that you’ll play more starting hands from late position and fewer from early position. The implied odds that you get on your low pairs when you’re well stacked is also a factor that will make you play starting hands you would’ve mucked under different circumstances.
Whether you’re playing at a full table, in a short handed situation or in a heads- up confrontation will also alter your starting hand selection radically.
At a full table, you should only play premium starting hands because the number of likely opponents going on to see the flop with you is high. Under such circumstances, you can even have your A,A, K,K, Q,Q, or J,J cracked easily, and therefore you should adopt protective measures when you have such hands in your pocket. At short handed tables, premium hands can be played differently and even less than premium hands can be taken to a flop. In a heads-up situation, the whole equation is turned upside down. Given the mathematical odds that you get for your starting hands when confronted by a single player only, you should pretty much play every reasonable starting hand.
Tournament hand selection is one thing, cash game hand selection is a different matter altogether. In tournaments, the constantly escalating blinds put you under pressure all the time. Given the fact that the pot odds tell you to play tight when the blinds are small and loosen up when they get big (in relation to the average pot size that is) you should be very flexible when it comes to starting hand selection. The relation between your stack size and the size of the blinds should be your primary clue here.
In a cash game, the blinds stay on the same level, there’s no pressure on you: all you have to do here is make sure you’re adequately stacked, and play your best.
As a general guide-line, you should always raise with A,A or K,K regardless of your position. Remember, while with such hands you’re pretty much guaranteed to have the best hand at the table preflop, they too need protection, hence the need for a raise.
Q,Q, J,J and A,K suited call for a raise or a flat call from all positions, depending on the reads you get.
A,Q, K,Q, A,J and 10,10 are also hands you should raise on from just about any position – again – depending on the reads available.
K,T, Q,J and other such hands are hands that you should generally call on. These hands are stronger when they’re suited of course, but you’ll need to exercise caution on them most of the time.
As I said above, starting hand selection is about passive EV+ exploitation. A good poker player cannot wait for the EV+ to come about though. There are ways one can get out there and actively influence the EV.
Preflop betting is the player’s main tool in this respect. Let’s say you’re at a 10handed table, and you get a pair of Ks in your pocket in early position. What you want to do here is to protect your hand. While before the flop your hand is indeed most probably the best hand at the table, if you allow a whole bunch of other hands to go to the flop with you, it may lose its edge quickly.
Therefore it is recommended that you raise on such hands, in order to limit the number of players who see the flop, and make your other opponents pay for the cards.
Those who are intimidated by your raise and fold automatically increase the mathematical odds you get for you K,K. Those who decide to call will put money into the pot, thus increasing your pot odds. After the flop, some of the folks who called your preflop raise will decide they do not want to continue in the hand, and they’ll fold leaving “dead money” in the pot. Such dead money is the Poker Gods’ gift to players who remain in the hand.
In conclusion: the primary goal of preflop play is to improve the mathematical odds for your starting hand by aggressively betting into you opponents. Some starting hands justify a slow approach (those carrying implied odds like small pairs), in which case your preflop strategy will be edged towards seeing a cheap flop.
Remember that under different circumstances, you may want to play differently preflop on the same starting hand. If you’re looking to trap someone in a short handed game, slow-playing a monster hand may be the right way to go.
The number of outs (or that of the unseen cards in a deck that will help you make your hand) is the basis for all odds calculus in poker. The outs will tell you your mathematical chances for making a certain hand, but they’ll also give you a mathematical recommendation on whether you should fold, call or raise.
The outs are those cards from the deck that will complete your hand or improve it, potentially turning it into the best hand at the table, or at least into what you believe is the best hand at the table. Knowing your number of outs is extremely important, as this piece of information is the basis of almost all mathematics involved in the game.
On one hand, your number of outs can give you the odds of your making the hand you’re looking for, on the other hand, when you compare these odds to your pot odds, you will get a clear mathematical indication as to whether you should fold, call or raise.
Remember that all these “mathematical” guidelines do not take the psychological factor into account, so in a situation in which mathematics suggests you should make a given choice, you may want to go down a different road based on decisions you make taking other factors into account.
CARD COMBINATIONS ODDS Any two cards suited 23.53% Any hand with a pair or an Ace 20.36% Ace with less than a Jack offsuit 8.14% Any two cards offsuit connectors w/ max straight chance 6.33% Any Pair 5.88% Ace with less than a Jack suited 2.71% Two Tens thru Two Sixes 2.26% Any two cards suited connectors w/ max straight chance 2.11% Ace–Queen or Ace-Jack offsuit 1.81% Two Fives thru Two Twos 1.81% Two Kings thru Two Jacks 1.36% Ace–King offsuit 0.90% King–Queen offsuit 0.90% Ace–Queen or Ace-Jack suited 0.60% Two Aces 0.45% Ace–King suited 0.30% King–Queen suited 0.30%
CARD COMBINATIONS ODDS Hitting at least a straight if you have an open ended straight flush draw after the flop 54.12% Reaching a flush with 4 suited cards after the flop 34.97% Flopping a set on the flop and going for full house or better 33.40% Having no pocket pair and trying to pair either card on the flop 32.43% Being dealt any suited cards 23.53% Getting two pairs on the Flop and going for a full house or better 16.74% Being dealt at least one Ace pre-flop 14.93% Holding two suited cards and two or more of that suit will flop 11.79% Holding a pair and flopping a set 11.76% Being dealt a pair 5.88% Being dealt AK 1.21%
Let’s take things one step at a time though and take a close look at how your number of outs determine the odds of your hand being “filled up”.
Let’s consider an easy example: you have 4-card flush on the flop. At his point, you decide to determine the odds of a flush coming about on the turn, based on the total number of unseen cards and those amongst them that will make your flush happen.
Because there are 5 cards you can see on the table (the 2 in your hand and the 3 community cards on the table), the total number of unseen cards will be 52 (the number of cards in a deck) – 5 (the cards you can see) = 47. The number of cards that will help your flush is 9. That’s because there are 4 sets of 13 same suited cards in every deck, and out of those 13 cards you can already see 4. 13-4=9, that is your number of outs.
Because out of the 47 cards 38 will not help you, and 9 will, you may a well say that your odds of making your flush are 38 to 9 against. Divide that equation by 9 and you’ll get the base result of 4.22-1.
One can make such calculations for every hand taking the number of outs as a starting point. In this respect, one can compile a chart detailing the odds in percentages (to make it easier to assess for most people).
For our above example, 4.22-1 against could be translated as: out of a total of
5.22 cards, 1 will help you make your flush, and 4.22 will not. If all 5.22 cards would help you, you’d have 100% chances. Therefore: 5.22……………………100%
X = 1X100/5.22 = 19.157
You will make a flush in the above mentioned situation 19.157% of the time. You need to keep in sight that the above detailed calculus is valid only for your turn card, but – provided it misses you, you’ll get one more shot with similar odds on the river. That means your overall % chance to make your flush on the turn OR on the river is 19.15X2=38.3% (this is not the correct mathematical way of calculating the chances of making a flush on the turn OR on the river, but it is easy-to-calculate and a good approximation).
You can choose to learn such odds charts by heart for all numbers of outs, but there’s a simpler way that will give you a good approximation of the above detailed odds. Just take your number of outs and multiply it by 2 if there’s only one more card to come or by 4 if there are 2 cards to come. Note that this will not give you an accurate result but it will give you a close enough one to make a decision on.
For our above example (9 outs) the odds with one card to come are 9X2= 18 (pretty close to 19.157%). With two cards to come it’s 9X4=36 (again, pretty close to the real number of 38.3%).
One mistake that players often make when determining the odds for their hands using the number of outs is that they fail to take extra outs into consideration. While you may be looking for a flush, remember that under certain circumstances you may also be hit by outs for a straight a set or two pairs, hands that could also become pot winners.
Determining your course of action based on the odds of making a winning hand
The odds calculus presented above carries a special significance: it holds the key to the ever present question: should I call, fold or raise?
By comparing your pot odds with the odds of making your hand you’ll gain a definite mathematical answer to that question. Let’s say you’re on the flop holding a 4-card flush (like in the above example), there’s a $50 pot and you’re faced with a $10 raise. What do you do?
First, you take a look at your pot odds. It takes you $10 to take a whack at a $50 pot, right? That means you get 5-1 payout for your money, in conclusion, your pot odds are 5-1. Making the above presented calculus, you arrive to the result that the odds of making your flush on the turn are 4.22-1 against. Since those odds are better than the pot odds you get, you should definitely make the call – speaking from a mathematical perspective.
Making a $10 raise is not mathematically justified, because it ruins your pot odds making them 5-2, or 2.5-1. 4.22-1 against is worse than the 2.5-1 pot odds, and therefore such a move is not justified.
When you make your decisions based on such mathematical tricks, always remember that the result you get is only valid for the turn. On the river, the odds on your hand remain the same, but the pot odds can change a lot. The odds for the turn and the river are called Effective Odds and cannot be accurately calculated since the human factor has a decisive role in them.
Unlike other, non community-card poker variants, Texas Hold’em is a positional game. Players’ position in relation to the dealer button and the blinds has a theoretical and practical impact on the odds they get for their starting hands. Having to act after an opponent carries obvious advantages on later streets as well. In a cash game involving good players, one can quite literally track it as the money follows the dealer button around.
Position is beyond doubt one of the most often overlooked aspects of poker strategy, at least when it comes to beginners. In online poker, the problem is usually so bad that if you notice anyone at your table playing more aggressively out of the button or the cut-off, you can almost consider that player one class above the rest.
Yes, poker is a positional game as well as a betting one. The dealer button is the point of reference here, which moves around the table in a clock-wise direction. The position of the dealer button determines the position Big Blind (BB) and Small Blind (SB). You may have heard the blinds being called the “catalysts” of poker. They are indeed the source of all action at the table, and because of this fact, players’ position in relation to the BB and SB gives birth to a set of strategic advantages and drawbacks.
“Stabbing at pots when out of position can be very lucrative. In tournaments, I’ll open-raise out of position fairly frequently because I think there’s a lot of power in being the first one to fire at the pot on the flop. I pick up a lot of small pots that way.”
Being “in position” means to be among the last players (or preferably the very last one) to act. This position offers obvious advantages as a player enjoying this privilege will see all his opponents act before him. Poker is a game of partial information, and being in position will offer you a wealth of such information. Being “out of position” means to be among the first to act. The choice for these players is only bit easier than for the blinds. Basically, the player under the gun (UTG) is acting about as blindly as the BB and the SB. For that reason, he loses out on the odds he gets for just about any starting hand.
Let’s take a 10-handed table and run a little analysis of the positions of the players. The SB and the BB are on the immediate left of the dealer button, in that order. The player on the immediate left of the BB is sitting under the gun. This is the earliest position, and it’s rather easy to tell by its name that it’s not exactly an enviable situation.
The four players who come up on the left of the UTG are in middle position. From the point of view of the advantages or disadvantages conferred by position, these guys are in a rather neutral situation. The three players coming up on the left of the middle position guys are in late position. The last to act is the dealer who will enjoy an obvious advantage this way over just about anyone else. The player on the immediate right of the dealer is called the cut-off.
The dealer is in the best position to launch an attack on the SB and BB, and the player in the cut-off can cut him off by launching his own blinds-stealing shenanigans.
The influence position has on the odds adjacent to any given hand is not just a theoretical one. Let’s consider an actual example to make things clear. If the player Under the Gun has a K,J he has to act on it considering the possibility that everyone at the table will call. Of course people may fold, but at this point in time, our player has no way of knowing that, and he must assume that there are 10 opponents his hand will have to go up against. In this situation, his K,J has around 40% chance to be beaten by one of the hands it goes up against.
If he is sitting on the button though, and everyone folds to him but the BB, the chances that his hand should lose out to an opponent’s are reduced to around 16%.
Players sitting in the BB and the SB get the advantage of good pot odds in the first betting round, but regardless of that, because of the forced bets that they come with, these positions are statistically the biggest money losers. Having position on one particular player means that you act after him most of the time, that is, you’re sitting on his left. This can be an advantage or a disadvantage, depending on the type of player you’re up against.
Let’s say you have position on a hyper (or super) aggressive player who becomes a thorn in your side extremely fast. If you have position on him, you can wait for a strong hand and trap him on it with minimal losses. If he has position on you, this becomes more difficult.
Playing Styles - Tight, Aggressive, Super Aggressive
Being able to read the style of a person you’re playing against can offer valuable clues to what sort of strategy approach you need to adopt in the given situation. Tight passive, tight aggressive, loose passive and loose aggressive players can all be countered successfully provided you know what you’re up against. Make sure you mix up your playing style though or you risk becoming predictable.
According to how many starting hands a player likes to act on and how he likes to push his stack around, he/she can be categorized into tight or loose and passive or aggressive. Being tight means that one doesn’t like to play many starting hands (thus avoiding the mistake most rookies make of playing way too many starting hands for their own good), being loose means one likes to act on a much wider range of starting hands than a tight player.
Being passive or aggressive is about the betting habits. A passive player is a calling station: he doesn’t like to take the initiative in a hand and mostly just calls. Betting and raising are tools he seldom ever resorts to. Being passive is generally regarded as a negative trait, one that is common among weak players.
Aggressive players are not afraid to bet, raise or even re-raise. They do whatever it takes to make sure they get the best odds for their hands, regardless if that involves putting pressure on their opponents. Still other players are addicted to push their opponents around and to ruin their odds time after time. These guys are called super-aggressive players.
Players who are too loose can be categorized into loose passive and loose aggressive. The loose passive player is someone who can’t stand to be sidelined. He craves action on every hand, although lacks the courage to commit on anything, or to assert dominance in any way. These guys are the “calling stations” good players like so much. There’s tons of money to be made on these guys. Since a “calling station” will call on just about any marginal hand, your chances of beating him on solid hand are pretty good, and because of his style of play you can “milk” your good hands against him to the maximum. Don’t count on a “calling station” being around for too long though. They usually bust out of tournaments early, and get felted in cash games pretty fast too.
If you identify a player as being loose-passive, you need to hammer your advantage home against him through bets and raises he’ll likely call despite the odds involved.
The loose-aggressive guy is a gambler. This player sees action on almost every single hand he’s dealt, and he’s not afraid to put pressure on others despite acting on a bunch of rags. You
should not make this style your own unless thrills are the only reason you’re in the game. Playing a loose-aggressive style will make your stack go through wild ups and downs and it will have you felted sooner or later if you stick with it.
How to play against such a player? Due to the importance the luck factor gets in Texas Hold’em, eliminating or felting such a loose-aggressive maniac can be a handful. Practice solid hand selection, and trap him when you have a good hand going: the hands that these guys play are most of the time weaker than what you’ll play with solid starting hand selection. If you happen to be hit by a bad beat when trying to keep them honest, don’t tilt. They do not stand a chance against solid hand selection over the long-run.
Tight players can be classified into tight passive, and tight aggressive. Being tight and passive is usually a sign of weakness and of lack of understanding of the game of poker. Some rookies go down this road and become what the poker community knows as “rocks”. These “rocks” love their stack and they cling on to it to the best of their abilities. They only ever commit on very solid hands, and they’re only likely to call on such hands too. They’re always ready to yield to strong betting. Some players become such rocks at the end of a series of bad beats when they grow to believe that they cannot possibly win a hand anymore. By acting passive on their solid hands though they give other drawing hands free cards and often end up being miraculously outdrawn, a fact which further fuels tight passive ways. These guys last longer in tournaments than the hyperaggressive bunch, although due to their conservative ways they don’t ever stand a real chance of making it deep into the money. Being tight-passive is just about the worst attitude you can have when playing in a STT or MTT. Due to the fact that they fail to make the most of their strong hands, tight-passive rocks will have a hard time making money in the long-run in cash games too. Given the fact that the object of poker is to make money, breaking out of the tight-passive rut should be a priority for all players. Play aggressively against a rock like this. He’s basically begging to be bullied around, and he will not fight back. He’ll give up equity on every hand he plays. Beware of this guy when he begins shooting out bets, exercise careful hand selection and do not be afraid to slow-play against him every now and then.
Tight aggressive is the kind of style recommended by most specialists as the “good old solid way to play the game”. Being tight on the hand selection and extremely tight on the flop, a tight-aggressive player will act decisively whenever he thinks he has a realistic shot at the best hand after the flop. Some tight aggressive players aim to take down several smaller sized pots avoiding to commit their entire stack if possible, others have no problems shoving all-in when they believe they’ll take the pot down.
The problem with being tight aggressive is that it requires a lot of patience, something most online players are not well endowed with. Also, a few hours of such solid tight-aggressive play can be ruined by a maniac who gets lucky and hits a runner-runner in a single hand. Tight aggressive play can be extremely frustrating, but it is the best way to make money in cash-games in the long run.
In tournaments however, the tight aggressive coin may buy you nice chip-ups early on, but as the deep money approaches, you’ll need to break out of the pattern. Tight aggressive players can be countered well once you have a read on them. A bet or a follow-up bet from this guy means he’s probably got the goods, otherwise you can bully him around and steal his blinds relatively well.
In conclusion: adopting one of these playing styles as your own should never be done in a rigid manner. Be prepared to break out of the molds of your style when the situation requires it, otherwise you’ll just become predictable, which equals a death sentence for your stack.
Basic Odds for The Flop, Pot Odds, Implied Odds, Playing on the Flop
The pot odds, the odds that you get for your drawing hand and the implied odds are in a direct relation with the expected value and ultimately, your hourly rate. Knowing how to calculate your odds will allow you to spot EV+ and as you probably know, you should only strive to play such EV+ situations.
In order to make you understand the significance of odds in poker, we need to go way back and tackle the concept of expected value first.
Let’s say you and a friend of yours decide to flip a coin for $1 stakes. The odds adjacent to the flip itself are 50-50 which means neither of you enjoys an advantage. Your chances of hitting your heads or tails are just as good as that of your buddy of hitting his. You may win several bets in a row or lose several ones, but at the end of the day, you’ll both be stuck with the same $1 you started the day with. The expected value in this case is 0 for both of you, because of the even odds.
Let’s say you do the same coin-flip, but you only wager $1 against your friend’s $2. In this case, because on average you’ll always win one bet and lose one, you’ll lose $1 on your first bet and win $2 on your second. That leaves you with a $1 profit, which means that your expected value for a bet is $0.5. This way, it is no longer senseless for you to play, as all you need to do is speed the game up as much as you can to maximize your hourly rate.
“Limit your bets to about half the size of the pot to make sure you’re not giving them the right odds to call.” Andy Bloch
Let’s consider that you and your friend wager your $1 on a soccer game. Your friend wins if team B wins, you win if team A wins or there’s a tie. Because out of the 3 possible outcomes you have 2 covered, one might as well say out of 3 consecutive bets you win 2 and lose 1. That gives you a $1 profit after each 3-bet sequence (on average of course) because you win $1 twice and you lose $1 once. Your expected value on every bet is again a positive one and it is $0.33/bet.
This is the system that European bookmakers used to have in place, where they held this sort of edge over their bettors. Casinos work in a similar manner, and possess a small edge (called the house edge) on every wager made on their games.
There are two essential conclusions in all the above theory:
1. Your expected value depends on two things: the amounts of money wagered, which can be translated to poker as the pot odds, and the type of bet that you’re wagering on, that is, the odds that come with it, which are the same as the odds that come with your hand in poker. 2. Every time you play with a positive expected value (like in the above presented examples) you win a little bit of money, regardless if you happen to lose on a particular hand despite the odds. Every time you play with negative EV, you lose a little money, even if you get lucky and win on a few such EV- hands. Let’s elaborate a bit on the first conclusion, because it is of utmost importance to determining your mathematical course of action in a hand.
Because you only want to play EV+ situations, and because the EV is dependent on your pot odds and the odds you get for your hand, by comparing the two, you’ll find out if a given situation is indeed an EV+ one for you (and thus worth playing) or not.
The pot odds are extremely easy to determine: you just take the amount of money already in the pot and you divide it by the sum it costs you to stay in the hand. This way, you’ll get a X-1 result. The odds on your hand are determined through your number of outs, pitted against the total number of cards in the unseen deck which will not help you. The odds you get this way, will be of a “Y-1 against” format. As long as Y<X in the above two equations, you have EV+. As soon as X<Y you have negative EV.
You need to avoid playing EV- situations at all cost because the phenomenon that’s behind your losing money on such situations is much more complex than you’d think. Let’s consider the above coin-flip example again. Your friend is confronted with a 50 cent negative EV/bet (when he bets $2 against your $1 on the coin-flip). If he keeps on playing though, strangely enough, the practical edge he’ll be up against will be bigger on every bet he plays. The theoretical house edge that he plays against is 25% ($0.50 on every $2 bet), and that will remain deceitfully constant. He’ll lose that much on average regardless what happens. Now watch what happens when he comes into the game on a $10 bankroll.
He places 5 bets on which he loses 5X0.5=2.5 dollars. That’s your 25% edge right there. 2.5 is 25% of the $10. So far so good. He then decides that he still has $7.5 left, he may as well play on. He places 3 more bets, on which he loses $1.5. His total losses at this stage equal $2.5 (lost on the first 5 bets) +$1.5 (lost on the last 3 bets) = $4 which is 40% of his initial $10 bankroll. If he keeps on coming back for more, he’ll eventually lose all his money. Of course we could re-write the whole thing with your buddy coming into the game on a mere $1 bankroll, in which case we may as well state that he’ll start struggling with an ever bigger disadvantage following his very first bet. This is exactly what happens to you when you play with EV- in poker.
This is why it is important that you know your EV on every hand you act on. Be careful however: using the above detailed EV calculation method on the flop will only give you your odds for the turn. You can approximate your odds for the river card as well, but that will not be an exact number anymore, because you never know how your pot odds will shape up after the turn (your opponent may bet or may just check). These odds are called effective odds.
The implied odds that you hear so much about take the potential winnings into account. In a short handed game for instance, playing low pocket pairs is a good choice despite the fact that you’ll lose more times on such hands than you’ll win. This would make it a negative EV play, however, when you lose on such hands, you’ll usually lose tiny sums, and when you win, you’ll take down monster pots which will more than make up for your losses and knock the EV+ back into the game.
As a general rule, the flop should be played tight. If you have a hand (or at least a nice draw) on the flop, bet it, if not muck it right away. Your final showdown hand is around 70% made on the flop, so putting money into the pot in hopes of a runner-runner hitting doesn’t make sense.
Sometimes you’ll have to bet the flop despite holding only a bunch of rags. When you feel that the preflop raise that you made could be hammered home with a second bullet on the flop (you sense weakness on the part of the other players), it makes sense to fire again.
Playing on the Turn
Since your single aim in poker is to make money, do not commit the mistake of checking the turn, bluffing on it or raising to intimidate those holding better hands. It’s too far in the hand for such shenanigans. Bet into your opponents when holding the best hand to pot commit them, fold if all you have is junk and call on hands which are strong but you suspect they may end up being the second best at the table.
The 4th community card is rather suggestively named “the turn”, because it is the actual turning point in a hand. That is the point when a player finds out how much he/she is going to make on his/her monsters.
I’m not going to talk a lot about how to handle a weak hand on the turn, because – unless you missed a nice draw or just had your good hand counterfeited by 4th street – you really shouldn’t be present on the flop with rags. If – for whatever reason - you happen to get there on a poor hand, do not hesitate to fold it unless your opponents decide to give you another free card.
While the general advice for playing the turn is about betting good hands aggressively, calling on reasonably strong hands and mucking any sort of junk right away, things are a tad more complicated.
Being aggressive on the turn is recommended while checking is not because it is assumed that you’re a non-professional player who plays for peanuts. In such games – or I might as well say: in the overwhelming majority of online poker games - you should avoid checking indeed. Checking on the turn is done with the intention of trapping an opponent, misleading them into thinking you have zilch when you’re in fact holding a monster. In most low stakes amateur games though, this move will seldom yield any value, as the player doing the checking will only lose a potential bet through it.
The object of poker is to make money, and since you’re generally going to lose on more hands than you’re going to win, you’d better make sure you milk your winning hands to the maximum.
Whenever you have a hand which you assume is the best one at the table, your goal should be to get your entire stack into the pot and to have it called. To that end, the turn is a crucial point in play because you can pot-commit your opponent there. If you’re successful in pot committing your opponent on the turn, the river will be a simple formality to get him all in. This is the reason why you should be aggressive on the turn, however, if you have a good read
on your opponent and you know that checking is what it takes to get him pot committed, you need to do that. The goal is to get him neck deep into trouble on the turn, regardless of the tools you use to achieve it. It is an extremely common mistake among rookies to play weak hands through the turn out of “inertia”. They get caught up in the gambling aspect of the game and often keep calling on rags in the hopes that a 2 outer will land on the last two streets. You need to exploit these mistakes to the maximum, and the turn is the best opportunity for it.
Many of these same rookies will find no shame in calling you on the river too, once they’ve made it “that far in the hand”.
Never try to bluff a calling station on the turn. Some people attempt this move because they find it extremely exciting to make such movie-inspired moves, but it is generally inefficient and it will cost the bluffer a lot of money.
Raising on a weak hand is also something rookies will often attempt to make their opponents believe they’re holding a better hand. Needless to say, “this far in the hand” such moves usually backfire and cost the wise-guy a lot of money.
In conclusion: remember that the turn is the turning point of a hand. If the flop is where the strength of a hand is decided, the turn is where its financial strength is determined. Play the turn wisely and you’ll be cruising on the river.
Betting on The River
Because you have a wealth of information available on the river, both regarding your showdown hand and the board texture, making a decision should be easy at this stage. Make sure you bet all your monsters to make your opponents pay for the showdown. Save fancy moves like check-raising because they’ll only cost you money.
The river is the very last community card in Texas Hold’em. By the time the river card (5th street) is dealt, you know exactly what hand you’re going to show down, and you’ll also be able to correctly assess the board texture in its entirety. These facts make for an easy decision making on the river. The problem is a simple one: if you’re seeing the river, you have to have a good hand, or a draw that you missed. If you did indeed miss a draw, folding is your only option, unless your opponents let you see the showdown without a bet. Do not commit the mistake to call a bet on rags out of anger or inertia. Sure, you’ll lose all the money you put into the pot previously – which is still a mistake: one that you committed earlier - but there’s still some damage control you can do.
“In No-Limit Hold 'em, it can be difficult to know what the right play is on the river when you're out of position with a marginal hand. In my experience, if you think your hand is good enough to call with, you should consider betting the river if you don't think your opponent will try to bluff.” Andy Bloch
If you’re playing in a low limit game where the pot has escalated in a spectacular fashion, sometimes you might want to make that call rather than the fold. The size of the pot in relation to that of a single bet is often so big, that the pot odds that you get justify a call on just about any two pocket cards.
If you arrive to the river holding a strong hand, you should bet. If you managed to get someone pot committed on the turn, you need to finish the job, if not you need to attempt to squeeze more money out of your opponents.
Do not go for some fancy footwork attempting a check-raise at this stage. If an opponent folds to your bet on the river, he would’ve probably just checked had you checked to him.
By betting, you’ll also trap some players who will call you on hands like an Ace high or a bottom pair just to keep you honest if you were bluffing. By checking instead of betting, you’d miss out on all this free money.
Keep a very keen eye on the board texture. The last card may hit someone for a flush (which is easy to read) or a straight (which is not). An Ace is also bad news on the river, because many people will commit (especially in low limit games) on any Ace–rag pocket hand that they get.
If you win, do not show your hand unless you really have to. I know sometimes the temptation is huge to show your opponents that they’ve fallen for your bluff, but the truth is you’re giving away information whenever you show your pocket cards to your opponents. Normally, you want to make your opponents pay for this sort of information.
Ask any good online player and he’ll tell you: the money is in the tournaments. Take a look at just about any online poker room and you’ll find that the tournament tables are always many times more popular than the cash ones. There’s a good reason for that: tournaments give you a bigger bang for your buck, and they’re often more profitable too.
Once you nail the basics of Texas Hold’em strategy down, you’ll realize that the best way to build up a bankroll is through tournaments. Every online poker room features a wide variety of tournaments these days, and tournament tables are usually much more popular than cash tables. Tournaments – both live and online
– usually feature NL Texas Hold’em, but Omaha, Stud Razz, and other poker variants are played too with different structures (Limit, PL, NL etc). In order to become familiar with tournament strategy, you first need to learn about a few basic concepts. The buy-in is the money you need to pay in order to register for the tournament. Your buy-in will be included in a prize-pool, out of which money shall be given out to those who finish “in the money” (ITM). Together with the buy-in you’ll also pay a tournament fee (usually around 10% of the buy-in) which goes to the poker room as cumulated rake, since none of the hands you’ll play in the tourney itself shall be for real money chips and thus they won’t be raked either.
The blinds in poker tournaments go up in set intervals. The blinds structure tells you how fast these blinds will go up. According to how fast the online poker room increases the blinds, tournaments can be categorized into regular, speed and turbo tourneys.
The initial stack that you get at the beginning of the tournament represents your tournament life. Once you run out of chips, you bust out.
Some tournaments feature optional re-buys, through which a player who’s been busted out can get back into the action, by paying out a set sum again and receiving a fresh starting stack.
Tournaments can be single table ones (STTs or SNGs) in which only a maximum of 10 players take part, or multi-table ones, in which thousands of players play, distributed at several tables.
STTs (Single Table Tournaments) feature a much smaller buy-in/likely winnings ratio, but the individual odds for reaching the money are much better. MTTs have excellent buy-in/payout ratios, but an individual is much less likely to make it to the money.
The bigger the buy-in you have to pay out at registration, the bigger the prize- pool will be for tournaments. Industry leading online poker rooms organize guaranteed prize-pool tournaments. These GTDs – as they’re also known – run on a weekly or daily basis and the poker room provides the prize pool, regardless of how many players sign up and how much money their buy-ins add up to. If player buy-ins surpass the guarantee, the prize-pool will be increased.
Tournament strategy is radically different from general (cash game) poker strategy. While the tight aggressive approach may work wonders at low limit cash tables, tournament players need to be extremely flexible about their playing style. In a tourney, the object is not to squeeze money out of a fish that you’re lucky enough to have at your table. In a tourney, you have to survive. Survive for long enough and you may just take down the big prize, but winning money here is not just about finishing first. You will win money as long as you finish ITM, and in large tournaments that could mean tens of positions off the winner.
The best possible way to sum up efficient tournament strategy is through a system that poker-master Dan Harrington (here on the right) has devised.
Because of the continuously escalating blinds, the relationship between your stack-size and the sum of the BB and the SB should dictate your strategic
approach in different moments throughout the tournament.
In the beginning, when the blinds are small and you have more than 20 Ms (BB +SB = M) you should play tight aggressive. You should only play premium hands when out of position and good ones when in position. At this stage, you can afford to play optimally. As the blinds go up and your stack stays the same-size or it shrinks, you’ll have to adapt your strategy to the new rigors of the environment. When you have between 10 and 20 Ms in your stack, you begin to see your options narrow. At this stage, you need to steal blinds, you need to get something going, which means you have to loosen up your starting hand requirements.
When your stack falls below 10Ms, you’re beginning to feel the pressure that larger stacks around the table subject you to. You’ll still have most of your strategic tools available however if you do not add to your stack fast you’ll soon relinquish your grip on them.
When your stack falls below 5 Ms, you’re in trouble. You can’t bluff anymore, you can’t steal blinds anymore, and thus you‘re robbed of some of your most important tools for survival. An interesting phenomenon also occurs: your opponents begin to gang up on you, adding extra pressure on you to force you out of the game.
Once your stack is below 1 M, all you can do is wait for a reasonable hand and shove all-in. Something like Q,9 will be a reasonable hand at this stage. What you want is to have only one other player in the hand you commit your last tournament breath on. Thus your odds get a boost and you give yourself a real opportunity to pull through.
In every tournament, play tightens up on the bubble. A savvy player can turn this into an advantage. Beware though that the general tightness disappears as soon as the bubble bursts. In the closing stages of a tournament (when you’re already deep in the money) you’ll have to loosen up more and more to keep up with the blinds. During this stage, the luck factor becomes a major player in the equation.
If you play in online tournaments, Texas Holdem’s NL variant is what you’ll mostly play. If you decide to test your luck at the cash tables, or to take your online tourney experience to the live tables, you’ll come face to face with the Fixed Limit version.
In NL poker, the amount of money (or tournament chips) a player can bet is unlimited. In Fixed Limit poker, there is a set limit to how much one can bet on every street.
Some of the strategic differences between Limit Hold’em and NL Hold’em are obvious: in NL Hold’em you can protect a hand very efficiently, in Limit Hold’em you’re pretty much deprived of this option. Bluffing is much more difficult if not downright impossible in Limit Hold’em. On low limits, everyone will pretty much call just about any starting hand to showdown, so that means, your starting hand standards should be tightened up seriously. In Limit Hold’em, the mistakes that you make will never have a deadly serious consequence on your bankroll. In NL Hold’em, one small mistake can cost you your entire bankroll that you’ve been building up through painstaking work for months. The important thing when you switch between NL and FL Hold’em is to get into the right mindset that the peculiarities and inherent differences between the two variants require.
Here are a few examples of various poker strategy moves in action. The check-raise is used to trap opponents, but as you’ll see from the example below, it is also a way to protect your hand.
Let’s take a look at a couple of actual situations in which poker strategy is applied.
Let’s consider you are in the Big Blind holding a Ks,3c. Three other players decide to see the flop with you. The flop falls Kh,Jh,3d and you’re in an excellent shape: you’ve just hit two pairs, and you know that you’ll get good money off some guy who’s just made top pair. When your turn comes, you know the person with the top pair will try to protect his/her feeble hand by betting, so you just check. One of the other players bets, another one calls and the third player folds. You raise, to which the bettor answers by coming over the top. The other player folds, and you call his all-in. The turn and the river do not change anything, and you win.
In this situation, your use of the check-raise didn’t just get you one of the players to go all-in, it also averted a potential source of danger by forcing the third player in the hand to fold a drawing hand.
Your hand was good, but it was not unbeatable. You just swatted two flies with one swipe: you defended it on one hand and you hammered your advantage home on the other.
You’re holding Q,J in the Big Blind, you get 3 callers and the flop comes Q,6,4. You know it is well possible that you have the best hand at the table, but you also know it doesn’t take much to beat your flimsy top pair. By placing a small (BB size) bet in this situation, you’ll probably get the other players to call you and give them a chance for completing their draws. If you place a sturdy bet
though, you’ll probably make them all give up their draws and fold, which will add an otherwise uncertain pot to your stack.
Once again, you’re holding A,K in the BB. You make your raise and chase everyone out but this one guy who calls you. The flop comes 9,9,J: it completely misses you. You decide to fire a second bullet (make a continuation bet) and your opponent folds.
Sometimes a second bullet is not enough to shake off a pesky caller. In online poker tournaments it often happened that I had to place bets following the flop, the turn and the river to make an opponent fold right before the showdown. It is quite unbelievable that some people would call a raise all the way to showdown just to fold there, but there is a logical explanation to this sort of behavior.
The guy may be chasing a flush and when he realizes the last card didn’t help
him, he folds it.
Whatever strategy move you decide to pull on your opponents, make sure they’re good enough players to understand the small hints you’re sending them in order to set them off balance. A player who does not understand that you have a strong hand (when in fact you don’t) will not react accordingly. In very small stakes Fixed Limit games, strategy will take a back-seat to coin-toss calls on account of the favorable pot odds all players get.