In this section, we begin with starting hand requirements and playing after the flop.
Advanced Starting Hand Requirements
In the game of Texas Hold'em, many different factors influence almost everything you do. Some are facts, and some are educated guesses. One of the most influential considerations in a Hold'em game is how your opponents play. Their playing style should cause you to adjust your starting hand requirements. Here are two examples -- both extreme -- to illustrate this point.
Example 1: Somehow you find yourself playing Hold'em with Doyle Brunson, Phil Ivey, Howard Lederer, Phil Hellmuth, Gus Hansen, Johnny Chan, Daniel Negreanu, T.J. Cloutier, and Chip Reese. These nine players are arguably the best poker players in the world. Basically, you have no chance to beat them in this game in the long run.
Your starting hand requirements should be significantly tighter than your normal selections. You should probably play nothing worse than a pair of tens in this game because you know that all of these players can outplay you after the flop. When you enter a hand, you want to know that you have one of the best hands, if not the best hand, going into the flop. This game is a tight/aggressive game, filled with outstanding players, and is the least profitable situation to be in.
Example 2: You are playing with nine tipsy college kids who are practically telling you what their hands are after the flop through their actions. Every time you are beat after the flop, you lay down your hand because you can tell by their actions that they have stronger hands, and every time you have the best hand, they pay you off by calling all your bets until the end. In this game, you can loosen up your starting hand requirements because you always have a good idea where you stand and can collect the maximum amount with your good hands. This is what is usually called a loose/passive game and can be the most profitable situation to be in.
As you can see, the way your opponents play is something you should always be aware of. In addition, starting-hand selection is not the only area of your game that this will force you to modify.
Play After the Flop
How you decide to play a hand after the flop depends on what you have and what you may end up with after the last two community cards are in play. It also depends on how many other players are still in the hand, how they play, and your position and table image. If you have nothing on the flop and it looks as though you won't win even if you hit part of your hand on the turn or river cards, your best option is to check or fold to a bet. For example: You have K-Q, and the flop comes A-3-6. In all likelihood, at least one of your opponents has an ace, and it is possible one of them has two diamonds. Even if a king or queen hits on the turn or river, you probably will not win the hand. This should be an easy fold to any bet.
What do you do if you hit part of the flop? Let's use the same starting hand as above: K-Q with a flop of T-J-6. You have flopped an open-ended straight draw and hold two over cards ("over" refers to cards in hands that are higher than the highest card on the table). Any ace or nine will give you the best hand (a straight), and any king or queen may give you top pair.
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This is a good hand for a semibluff.
Another example is if the flop is A-Q-7. You have middle pair -- a pair containing the second highest card on the board -- (which could be the best hand) with a backdoor flush draw and a backdoor straight draw. In this situation, checking and calling one bet to see what the turn brings is recommended.
One last example: You have middle pair with nothing else from a flop of A-K-8. Player A will often bet into this flop to see where he/she is. If another opponent reraises, Player A often folds unless that opponent is a very loose player. If, however, you are last to act and it is checked to you, take a free look at the turn to see if your hand improves.
Checking to see the turn for free, however, may not always be the best play. The other option is to raise. Often when you raise in this situation, no matter what comes on the turn, your opponents will check to the raiser (you), and you can see the river for free. The added advantage is that it only costs you a small bet because you bet before the minimum bet doubles on the turn. Good poker players are aware of this advanced play and sometimes use it.
Now let's take a look at those situations where you hit the flop. In most low-limit Hold'em games, fancy plays, such as check raising (to check and then raise if an opponent bets), fail to gain much, if any, advantage. For this reason it is recommended to bet when you think you have the best hand. Continuing with the example below: Your hole cards are K-Q, and the flop is K-8-6.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
This is a safe hand to bet.
The times that you hit a really big hand on the flop give you the opportunity to play a few different ways. In most low-limit games, it is best just to bet every chance you get as someone holding the second best hand will pay you off by calling you through the river. If, however, you hit a monster (great hand) and there are two or more opponents still in the hand, you may be able to extract extra bets if you play correctly. As in most situations, it pays to know how your opponents play. Let's look at a situation and technique that can win you extra bets with your best hands.
Let's say you hold a pair of nines and the flop is A, A, 9. You have flopped a full house, and it is likely that one of your opponents holds an ace for trips. Many times in this situation it is correct to check or call instead of raising on the flop. For one thing, if none of your opponents holds an ace, whenever you bet, they will all fold unless they are very poor players. If you check on the flop and everyone checks behind you, just bet on the turn. You have lost nothing, and possibly someone has picked up a draw to a second best hand. If someone bets into you and there are players behind you, by just calling instead of raising, the players behind you may call the single bet but may fold if you raise. In this situation, the player who bet into you will almost always bet into you on the turn because you showed weakness by just calling on the flop instead of raising. After a bet on the turn, you can either raise, or if you are fairly certain of a bet on the river, just call, and then raise on the river. Remember that the bets on the turn and the river are twice what they are on the flop.
After the flop comes the turn and the river. Advanced strategies for playing the fourth and fifth cards are discussed in the next section, as well as what you should do if you flop a "monster."
For more information about Texas Hold 'Em Poker and other variations, try the following links:
- To see all of our articles on poker rules and advice, go to our main article on How To Play Poker.
- Some Poker Basics are essential before you sit down at the card table.
- For a more complicated version of hold 'em, learn How to Play Omaha Poker.
- Get to know the previous "most popular game in poker", in How to Play 7-Card Stud Poker.