Texas Hold'em Poker Strategy

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The game of Texas Hold’em has been over complicated throughout the years. This is why many amateurs fail to make a profit in cash games. It is important to understand that imitating a play you saw by a professional, on a high stakes table, will almost certainly result in failure.

People have forgotten the basic poker strategy, as it was played 20 years ago, in its pure and simple form, expressed in a variety of books for Doyle Brunson’s Supersystem to Dan Harrington’s Harrington on Hold’em. In modern low stakes cash games, the field is filled with amateurs, which are just begging to pay you off. Complex moves, plays and bluffs sometimes get in the way of the main idea, which is to make a profit.

Playing basic poker strategy is perfect for beginners aiming to make a profit, and for advanced players keeping their variance low whist playing the loose low stakes. This how-to guide should provide all the basic information you need to achieve the strategy, from the minute you cash-in to the time you cash-out.

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Buy-In

The first aspect of playing basic Texas Hold'em strategy is how deep to buy-in to the game. Many of you may opt for the simple 100 big blind buy-in, but don’t forget that buying-in deep or short has its advantages and disadvantages, and if used correctly can be used in order to obtain larger profits.

Playing the Short Stack (50 Big Blinds) | When buying-in as a short stack you have the advantage of doubling up easier than other players. The reason is that deep to your low stack, after a couple of bets, your opponents become committed to calling your all-in. Despite the fact that they know they are probably behind. The disadvantage is that you don’t get a chance to see raised flops with suited connectors and small pocket pairs, which could pay off.

Playing the Big Stack (200 Big Blinds) | When buying-in as a big stack you have two main advantages, one being that you can act as the big stack bully and you can afford to play coin-flips pre-flop or follow-up draws post flop. A big stack bully will raise with a wider range pre-flop putting your opponents in difficult position. Playing coin-flips is expensive, but when you hit its worth it.

What to Consider Pre-Flop

Unfortunately, we cannot analyse the complete array of pre-flop play and situations you will find in Texas Hold’em. There are literally hundreds of books out there trying to explain this exact factor alone. Instead here are the main things to consider pre-flop:

Competition | The first thing we should mention is that you should try not to get involved with the professional players on the table. Get involved with the amateurs, which are more likely to pay you off when you have a hand. It is highly advised that you sit back for the first couple of rounds and study your opponents. Try to pick up some tells, how they act when they are bluffing, how they act whilst they have got a genuine hand. You should be able to tell the fish from the sharks after the first couple of rounds. Two factors that will help you identify the amateurs from the pros are amateurs complain a lot and play a lot of hands. For more help on spotting the professionals you may check out the “7 signs you are playing a professional poker player” included on this website.

Position | The second factor, which you should acknowledge, is position. Position, in poker, is the advantage you gain when playing an opponent who has called pre-flop out of position, where the player who holds position gets the opportunity to act last. This allows the accumulation of information from his opponents, either by physical tells or by his act of checking or betting. So try to restrict your range of pre-flop holdings to the dealer seat, cut-off, or a late-middle position. This way you will always have the post-flop advantage against your opponents.

Starting Hands | The third and most important factor that determines pre-flop play is the range of holdings you choose to enter pots with. To be successful in basic Texas Hold’em cash game strategy, you have to be very selective on your starting hands depending on a variety of situations. Once you familiarise yourself with the range of possible match-ups and the chances of them being dealt, you’ll be in a better position to decide how much to bet before the flop.

Useful Pre-Flop Stats

Here are some of those vital statistics that will help you get your games off to the best start.

Starting Hands | The first thing to consider is how often you are likely to get the best cards. The top starting hands in poker aren't common - the odds of receiving a big-suited hand (jacks or better) are 54.3 to 1, and the odds of receiving a big-suited pair (tens or higher) are 43.2 to 1. It's a good strategy to wait for these hands in general, but be aware they might not come for 40+ hands, so when the blinds are high, don't hold out for aces and kings.

High Cards | The next thing to consider is the actual strength of your high cards. To help you understand your hand strength, compare the five possible combinations you might start out with. Each of these considers the likelihood of one two-card hand beating another.

  • A pair against two lower cards (e.g. 8-8 vs 7-6) is 4.9 to 1 to win, the best starting hand odds in the game. If you have a high pair, you're in a great position. If you have two unpaired cards and you think your opponent has a high pair, you're in a lot of trouble. No matter how high your cards, if they’re lower than your opponent's pair you’re going to struggle. KQ suited or a 7-2 combination, for example, are almost equally bad against a pair of aces.
  • A pair against any lower pair gives the next highest odds, at 4.5 to 1. In this situation (e.g. J-J vs 10-10), you’re likely to face a big pot, so be wary of playing a big hand against a suspected higher pair when you’ve got a small pair.
  • A pair versus one higher card and one lower card (e.g. K-K vs A-7) gives the next best odds, at 2.5 to 1. If you have the pair it's good to push your advantage, but be wary of high cards on the flop.
  • A pair versus two higher cards is even more dangerous, leaving you with only a 1.2 to 1 advantage. Even a high pair like 10-10 would have these odds against KJ. With such a thin advantage, it's almost always a bad idea to stake a lot of chips pre-flop.
  • For hands without pairs, two higher cards have a 1.7 to 1 advantage over two lower cards (e.g. AK vs QJ), whilst a single higher card and a single lower card has slightly lower odds at 1.5 to 1 (e.g. AQ vs KJ). Again, these are slight advantages, so don’t overplay your hand before the flop.

This information should help you choose which cards are worth playing, and start you thinking more about what your opponents might be holding.

Post-Flop Play

In order to achieve maximum success in this basic poker strategy, you must be efficient in playing a correct pre-flop game. Two important lessons you should remember is that you shouldn’t bluff a calling machine and secondly don’t try to value bet the pros. If a professional feels your value betting weak he will attack you with a re-raise that you can’t call, and if you’re betting into a calling machine amateur he will keep calling you down with nothing and win.

Don’t try to semi-bluff in multi way pots with draws, this will usually require you shooting a second blank on the turn if the draw doesn’t come in and this can be quite un-profitable in the long run. Don’t try to make hero calls with small or medium pairs against amateurs. Remember, amateurs are allowed to have a hand once in a while also.

When to Quit

When to leave the cash game is probably the most important factor that will determine your profitability as a poker player. As a modern day trader, knowing when to close the trade is equally if not more important than knowing which trade to open and when.

There are three reasons which you should have in place in determining how and when to quit the game.

  1. When you start making mistakes due to the fact that your psyche has been affected due to previous hands or from playing too many hours.
  2. When the table has dried up; i.e. the fish have tightened up and are not giving away any more money.
  3. You have reached your profit goal, whether that is 50, 100 or 200 big blinds.

With practice available online for free, or at small stakes, try different combinations and see how those odds translate to real games.

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