How to Play Texas Hold'em Poker

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Texas Hold'em is currently the most popular form of poker by far. It is a game that has all the elements that make poker such a wonderful pastime. There are opportunities to bluff, gamble, apply mathematical skills, get lucky or unlucky, use strategy, and possibly win large sums of money.

Hold'em is offered in virtually every card room and is on many Internet sites. Meanwhile, an increasing number of poker players play Texas Hold'em at home. In this article you will learn how to play, the differences among the various limit games (limit, no limit, and pot limit), and basic and advanced strategies. There's a lot of information to get through, so move on to the next section where we will begin by examining the basics of Texas Hold'em Poker.

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The Basics of Texas Hold'em

Texas Hold'em is a very complex game, and there is a lot to learn. In this section, we'll reveal the bare-bones of the game.

Texas Hold'em is usually played with nine or ten players at a full table with a rotating blind system. A blind system is designed to generate money to put into the pot and stimulate betting. There are two types of blinds, the big blind, which is equal to the minimum bet at the table you are playing at, and the small blind, which is half the amount of the big blind. For instance, if the table minimum is $10, then the big blind would be $10 and the small blind would be $5. The players who have to contribute these blinds rotates on position to the left after each hand. In tournament play, an additional forced bet, called an ante, is also sometimes used in addition to the rotating blind.

After the blinds and antes (if applicable) are placed, each player is dealt two down cards (called hole cards). Then each player starting with the player to the left of the big blind has an opportunity to call (place an amount of money equal to the previous player's bet) the big blind, raise the bet (to place a bet higher than the previous player's), or fold (resign from the round of play). When the action (or betting) gets to the player in the small blind position, he/she can call the partial bet they initially placed, raise the bet, or fold. The player in the big blind has the option to raise or check (to decline to bet) if there are no raises as he/she already has a full bet in the pot. Any player who calls the big blind and has the pot raised behind him/her then has the option to call the raise or reraise the pot.

Card Abbreviations and Hand Rankings

A Ace
K King
Q Queen
J Jack
T Ten
9 Nine
8 Eight
7 Seven
6 Six
5 Five
4 Four
3 Three
Pair of aces
AK Ace and king
Q9s Queen and nine,
suited. (The "s" means suited, so if it were Q9 without the "s," that indicates the cards are of different suits.)

Ranking of hands
Royal Flush
Straight Flush
Four of a Kind
Full House
Three of a Kind
Two Pairs
One Pair
High Card

Most limit Hold'em games have a three bet limit per round (hence the name limit), which means there can be only three raises per round of betting. In this case, "round" refers to a series of checks, bets, calls, raises, and folds during a single session of betting or nonbetting. After the first round of betting, three community cards (called the flop) are placed face up in the center of the table. A second round of betting is now conducted starting with the player to the left of the button (dealer). Each player still active in the hand may check or bet. After a bet, each player may call the bet, raise, reraise if there was a raise, or fold.

The fourth community card (called the turn or fourth street) is then placed face up in the center of the table followed by another round of betting. In most limit games, the amount of a bet on the turn and river (last community card) is double the amount in the first two rounds.

Finally, the last community card (called the river or fifth street) is placed face up in the center of the table, and the last round of betting is conducted. After all bets have been placed, a showdown occurs, which simply means that players still in the hand show their hole cards to see who wins the pot.

Players can use any combination of their hole cards and the community cards to form the best five-card hand possible. Players can use both of their hole cards and three community cards, one hole card and four community cards, or all five community cards.

Players who use the five community cards to form their best hand can usually win only part of the pot or lose as everyone can use all five community cards. An example would be when the board shows AK-Q-J-T, then everyone left in the hand will split the pot as the board shows a royal flush, which is the best hand possible.

As we have already begun to mention in this section, there are different varieties of Hold'em games, depending on the amount the players are allowed to bet. In the next section, we will discuss these different games and the differences in play.

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Playing Limit, No-Limit, and Pot-Limit Hold'em

Before you can start playing at a Texas Hold'em table, you need to know a little bit about the different variations of the game. Here are some brief descriptions of limit, no-limit, and pot-limit Hold'em.

Playing Limit Hold'em

Limit Hold'em is played with a fixed
blind structure and fixed betting limits on each round. The big blind is usually equal to the smallest size bet, and the small blind is half the big blind. The first two rounds of betting use the small bet, and the last two use the large bet. For example: In a 2/4 (2 dollar/4 dollar) limit game, the small blind is $1, the big blind is $2, the first two rounds of betting are in $2 increments, and the last two rounds are in $4 increments.

Pineapple Poker
There are minor variations on the usual rules of of Texas Hold'em that you might like to try. These versions vary the number of cars you receive at the start of the hand, and they take their name from a sweet tropical fruit.


Pineapple is played exactly like Texas Hold'em except that each player receives three hole cards and must discard one before the flop. The betting for that round is prior to the discard.

Crazy Pineapple
Crazy Pineapple is played exactly like Texas Hold'em except that each player receives three hole cards and must discard one before the turn card is dealt. The betting for that round is also prior to the discard.

A few card rooms offer spread limit Hold'em. Spread limit Hold'em is stated as 2/10 or something similar. The blinds are the same as fixed limit: For example, in the 2/10 games, the small blind is $1, and the big blind is $2. The difference is that all other bets in spread limit may be anywhere from $2 to $10. The only additional rule is if a player reraises another player, the raise must be at least the size of the previous raise. In brick-and-mortar card rooms, the smallest limit available is usually 1/2 or 2/4 and the largest can be 10,000/20,000 or higher. Most recreational players play 1/2, 2/4, 3/6, 4/8, 5/10, or 10/20. As a general rule, the higher the limits, the better the competition.

For beginners, some Internet sites offer stakes as low as .01/.02, as well as the option to use play money and risk nothing at all. Some professional poker players play only limit Hold'em and make a very good living at it. Becoming a profitable limit Hold'em player is about starting
hand selection, understanding pot odds, and discipline, as well as understanding betting patterns. Each of these elements of Texas Hold'em is discussed in detail later in the following sections.

Playing No-Limit or Pot-Limit Hold'em

If you watch poker on television, no-limit Texas Hold'em is probably the format you are watching. It is most often used in tournament play, but it is also offered in many card rooms as a ring game (nontournament game). In no-limit, players still post blinds according to a set schedule depending on the house rules and often are required to place antes as well. What makes no-limit different from limit is that placed bets after the blinds can be for any amount up to the total amount a player has on the table.

In a no-limit tournament, making just one mistake can knock a player out of the game. No-limit also allows many opportunities for better players to
bluff opponents out of a hand. Often a player who goes all-in (raises with all of his/her chips) is called by someone who doesn't have as many chips. In this case, if the player who started the hand with more chips loses the hand, he/she gets back any amount over what the other player had to start the hand. For example: Player 1 goes all-in with $200, and player 2 calls but has only $100. Player 1 loses but gets back $100, and they play out the next hand for the remaining $200 ($100 from player 1 and $100 from player 2) in the pot. (No-limit Hold'em is discussed in greater detail later in this article.)

The betting in pot-limit Texas Hold'em is not as structured as limit Hold'em but not as risky as no-limit Hold'em. The rules for blinds remain the same, but you can bet only up to the amount that is in the pot. So, for players who want more freedom in their betting than is allowed in limit Hold'em, but want to stay away from the kind of
action involved in no-limit Hold'em, pot-limit Hold'em is the preferred game of choice.

Now it's time to get into the finer points of Hold'em strategy. We will begin in the next section with one of the most important elements of any poker game --
position and starting hand selection.

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Position and Starting Hand Selection

In this section the basic strategies involved in becoming a winning Hold'em player are discussed: position and starting hand selection. If you are a new player or a player with some experience looking to take your game to the next level, mastering the concepts in this section will start you on the right foot or greatly improve your game.


The position at which a player starts a hand will have a great bearing on how the hand is played. The best position in Hold'em, whether
limit, no-limit, or pot-limit, is the dealer position (often called the button). The player with the button is the last to act in each round except for the first round of betting (the big blind acts last in the first round). The reason this is such an advantage is that the button gets to see what everyone else does before he/she has to act. This leads to opportunities to steal a pot with a marginal hand and allows good players to win the maximum amount with their good hand. It also allows the good players to minimize their losses in certain situations.

The worst position is the player to the left of the big blind (often called
under-the-gun). Your biggest decision in Hold'em is the first one you must make: whether to play a hand or not. On average, profitable players enter the pot with better hands than other players. Before you enter a pot, you want as much information as possible. When under-the-gun, you have no information about what any of the other players are going to do. This puts you at a distinct disadvantage. For these reasons, you can often play weaker hands the closer you get to the button. Let's assume that the small blind is in seat 1, the big blind is in seat 2, and the button is in seat 10. The players in seats 3, 4, and 5 are in early position, seats 6 and 7 are in middle position, and seats 8, 9, and 10 are in late position. You will learn in the next section that some hands can be played in the middle or late positions that cannot be played in the early positions.

Table position
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
Here is an example of table position.

Starting Hand Selection

If your goal is to become a winning Texas Hold'em player, this section is invaluable. As stated above, the most important decision you make as a Hold'em player is whether or not to enter the pot (or play for the pot). Almost all losing Hold'em players play far too many hands. Winning Hold'em players see the
flop only between 20 and 25 percent of the time. Let's think about that statement for a minute. Considering the fact that 10 percent of the time you will be in the big blind, which will often let you see the flop for free, if you are to be a winning player, you won't enter many other pots -- only one to one and a half on average each round other than when you are the big blind.

Many players will
call a half bet in the small blind with any two cards. After reading this article, hopefully you won't play this way as it can cost you considerable money in the long run. This one error, when done repeatedly, can be the difference between winning and losing.

Many professional players play more hands than recommended, but their post-flop play and ability to read other players is superior to most people's abilities. This allows them to outplay their opponents and make up for the difference in starting hand composition after the flop.

The following recommendations are also geared toward low-limit Texas Hold'em, such as 1/2, 2/4, 3/6, 4/8, and 5/10. Of course, some 20/40 games play like 5/10 games, and some 5/10 games play like 50/100 games. Getting a feel for your opponents is important when you consider your starting hand requirements.

We will discuss what hands can be played from each position under a variety of circumstances in the next few sections. You should refer to these sections often and eventually memorize them as you gain experience. As with everything in poker, rarely is any decision set in stone. The following pages contain solid guidelines to help you understand what to look for in each position. Many things will go into each decision you make, such as who enters the pot before you, if the pot has been raised, how loose or tight the other players are, and your table image. What is important to remember is that these guidelines are a good starting point, but through experience you will tweak them to best fit your playing style. Move on to the next section to get started.

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Early, Middle and Late Positions

Knowing which hands to play and which hands to fold is quite complicated and depends on many variables. Here is a quick guide for what to do with your first two (hole) cards.

Early Position

The following hands are recommended in early position (seats three, four and five):

AA -- A pair of aces (hole cards often called pocket rockets) is the best starting hand in any form of Texas Hold'em. Unless you are a seasoned professional, it is recommended to always enter the pot with a raise when you hold a pair of aces. If you raise and are reraised, raise again. This does two things that are favorable for you: It gets as much money as possible into the pot, and it will often force small drawing hands, such as suited connectors (for example 4-5) and small pairs to fold before the flop. Your goal with pocket rockets is to play either heads-up (against only one opponent) or, at the most, against two opponents. Three or more opponents greatly reduce your chances of winning a hand, even if you have the best starting hand.

A pair of aces is the strongest possible starting hand.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
A pair of aces is the strongest possible starting hand.

KK -- A pair of kings (often called cowboys) is the second best starting hand in Texas Hold'em. Just like pocket aces, you should always raise with pocket kings when you enter a pot. Your goals are the same as with pocket aces with the additional goal of hoping to force out opponents who hold an ace with a small kicker. With pocket kings, any flop that contains an ace can be dangerous to you since many low-limit players play any hand containing an ace.

AKs and AK --The third best starting hand in Texas Hold'em is AK whether suited or not. This is one hand that has a rule that is set in stone: You must raise before the flop with AK. You must force as many opponents as possible to fold before the flop when you hold AK.

This is a drawing hand (meaning the hand needs communal cards to become a winner) and must be protected. Drawing hands must almost always improve to win. Made hands, such as high pairs like AA, KK, and QQ will often win even if they don't improve. Of course, you hope to see at least an A or K on the flop whenever you hold AK. An additional benefit of raising before the flop is that even if you don't hit an ace or king on the flop, your opponents will often respect your pre-flop raise. They will let you see the turn for free by checking after the flop to see what you are going to do.

QQ -- Pocket queens are a strong starting hand. Some players may enter the pot with a raise and sometimes they will just limp in (call) to see the flop. This is a double-edged sword. You may raise to force out opponents holding an ace with a small kicker or opponents who like to play a king with a suited kicker, or you may limp in and hope that neither an ace nor king is in the flop so you can win extra bets from the above-mentioned opponents. How you play pocket queens depends on how well you know your opponents' playing styles and on your position. If a player holds them in middle or late position and is the first one in the pot, they should almost always enter with a raise. Any time you hold them, and an ace or king hits on the flop, you are probably beat, especially against three or more opponents.

JJ -- Pocket jacks can be dangerous to inexperienced players. Because they look good before the flop, many players enter with a raise. The problem is that any ace, king, or queen on the flop forces you to play defensively, and if you face more than one opponent, you are likely to lose. For this reason, unless you think you can isolate an opponent, you should limp in (to enter a hand with a call before the flop) with pocket jacks. Try to look at pocket jacks the same as any other pair below queens: as a drawing hand. Of course, if the flop brings nothing higher than a ten, you should bet aggressively until you're convinced that someone has a better hand.

AQs, AQ, AJs, KQs --These hands should be played from any position, even calling a single raise before the flop. The exception is if a very tight and strong player raises from under-the-gun, then you should consider folding. You should fold everything except AA, KK, and AK if a tight player raises and is reraised before the betting gets to you. Otherwise, these hands are very strong. When you do hit one of your cards on the flop, opponents will often bet as well (give you action) while holding a smaller kicker. A kicker is a card that breaks a tie between two hands. For instance, if you hold an A-A-5 and your opponent holds an A-A-2, your 5 is the kicker that beats the 2. This is the best situation to be in. This is why solid players rarely play aces with kickers below a T, especially from early position.

AJ, ATs, KQ, KJs -- Depending on the ability of your opponents, you should often fold these hands when you're under-the-gun. You can play them from the fifth position and sometimes from fourth position. These hands are strong, but sometimes an opponent will have a higher kicker when the flop hits you.

Middle Position

The following hands are recommended in middle position (seats six and seven):

TT, 99, AT, KJ, QJs -- These are drawing hands and will almost always need to improve to win. You should rarely call a raise with these hands. With the pairs (TT and 99), you are hoping to flop a set (three of a kind, also called trips). The other three hands can and do win when the flop hits you, but even if you have the top pair after the flop, you may not have the top kicker. With these hands, you should often bet after the flop if you do hit something in order to get an idea of where you are in the hand. If you bet and are reraised, depending on the opponent, you will usually lose. Often though, this bet after the flop will win the hand, and even if it doesn't, it can set up a bluffing opportunity on the turn.

Late Position

The following hands are recommended in late position (seats eight, nine, and ten).

88, 77, 66, 55, 44, 33, 22 -- Your main hope is to flop a set with these pairs. As with all of the hands here and below, you should rarely call a raise from a solid player. Most drawing hands prefer to have many opponents so that when you hit your draw, you will be able to collect more than enough money to pay for the times you don't.

KT, QJ -- These two hands usually need to end up being part of a straight, two pairs, or trips (three of a kind) to win a very big pot. If there are a lot of opponents in the pot in front of you, and if you do hit a pair on the flop, there is a good chance you will be out-kicked (an opponent has a better kicker).

For this reason, don't rely too heavily on them just because they are face cards (kings, queens, and jacks are called face cards). Fold them if the action has been raised and reraised in front of you.

A9s, A8s, A7s, A6s, A5s, A4s, A3s, A2s, K9s, QTs, JTs -- With these hands you are hoping to flop a flush or flush draw. Rarely play these in any position except the button. Note that often the A9s through A6s are not as strong as A5s, A4s, A3s, and A2s since the latter can be part of a straight.

Now that we've examined the different positions, it's time to consider how your play will differ if you are the small or big blind. We'll examine those different blind strategies in the next section.

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Small and Big Blinds

If you are in the small or big blind, you have already contributed money to the pot. So when the bet comes around to you, many questions present themselves. Do you check? Raise? Fold? Those questions are addressed in this section.

Small Blind

The small blind is a unique situation in that you already have half a bet in the pot. This means that you can see the flop for a discounted price. For this reason, you will see the flop in an unraised pot with any of the above
hands and QT, JT, K8s, K7s, K6s, K5s, K4s, K3s, and K2s from the small blind. As in a few of the recommended hands above with the suited cards, you are hoping to flop a flush or flush draw; and with the QT and JT a straight, straight draw, two pairs, or trips.

This is a good time to discuss the blinds. Once you have posted a blind, the money is no longer yours. Many players feel that because they have money in the pot, they must protect their blind.

This thinking will often lead to playing far weaker hands than your opponents, and basically you will be throwing good money after bad. An example of this is if you are in the big blind and hold 2/7 unsuited. This is the worst possible starting hand. If the post is raised before you can act, you must fold. In a raised pot, you have such a minuscule chance of winning the hand with 2/7 that putting any more money in the pot will most often be costly. Another way to look at this is even if you had the opportunity to see the flop for free, you will rarely win a pot holding a hand as weak as 2/7.

You can also be psychologically trapped if the flop gives you a pair on one of your cards. Now because you have a pair, you want to stay in the game, so you continue to throw money into the pot. In all probability, however, another player has your pair with a higher
kicker because most players would not call the big blind with two low cards. If you hit two pairs, trips, or even a full house, the probability of winning increases to the point where it would be worthwhile to continue, but the possibility of losing always looms.

It's easy for most players to release the worst possible
hole cards when the prospect of winning is low, but what if your hole cards are J9 at the small blind, you call, and a J or an 8 and a 7 are flopped? You have a pair and you have a chance at an inside straight. These types of hands can make you a loser in the long run if you stay with them against strong players. Remember, after the flop, you will be the first to bet -- the worst possible position, so you have that against you as well. Using this same reasoning, don't call the half bet in the small blind without a decent starting hand.

Big Blind

When you are in the big blind, you will often have the opportunity to check
and see the flop for free. This is usually a good play, especially if you hold a hand not mentioned above. There are, however, a few hands that you should raise with in the big blind. AA, KK, AKs, and AK should all be brought in with a raise to build the pot. An exception is if only one or two players have entered the pot, you may check with AA and KK in order to disguise your hand and give your opponents an opportunity to hit something on the flop. This can be dangerous because sometimes an opponent who limps in with a small pair may hit a set on the flop.

In this section we discussed the most important concept in becoming and staying a winning Hold'em player -- starting hand selection. The hands listed are not the only hands you will ever play in Hold'em.

As you gain experience and learn how certain opponents play and learn to read different situations, you will be able to play many different hands many different ways. The important thing is to give yourself a fair chance to win or at least break even while gaining experience. If you are dedicated to following the guidelines, you will be well on your way to becoming a successful Hold'em player.

Now that we've covered basic strategy, it's time to move to more advanced concepts. In the next few sections, we will learn more detailed strategies that will help you become a better Hold'em player.

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Advanced Strategy: Starting Hand, After the Flop

The advanced strategy is designed for the player who has some experience at Texas Hold'em and wants to take the next step. Over the next few sections, we will discuss specific strategies and tactics for the following: advanced starting hand requirements, play after the flop, play on the turn, play on the river, flopping a monster, stealing the blinds, stealing the button, raising, isolating an opponent, bluffing, and player categories, as well as a short discussion on no-limit Hold'em.

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.

Bet this hand
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
This is a good hand for a semibluff.

Note that if a king or queen does come, it may give one of your opponents a straight or a pair with a higher kicker. Nevertheless, this is a perfect opportunity for a semibluff. You may get an opponent with a better hand (say a pair of nines) before the turn to fold. In addition, even if your bet is called, you have an excellent chance to improve to the best hand.

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.

Bet this hand
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
This is a safe hand to bet.

You have top pair with a good kicker. If you are first to act, bet. If someone bets into you, raise. Only if a solid player reraises you should you consider folding this hand. The only hands that are ahead of you at this time are trips or a player that had AK in the hole. If the player who reraises you raised before the flop, he/she may hold AK, but if there was no pre-flop raise, it is unlikely anyone holds AK.

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."

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Advanced Strategy: The Turn, The River, Flopping a Monster

So you've got a decent starting hand, you've seen the flop and most of the table has cleared out of your way. Now it's just you and maybe a few other players still playing as the turn and river cards come. Strategies for handling the poker hand's vital stretch run are discussed in this section.

Play on the Turn

Most of the time, the way you play your hand on the turn should be straightforward. Your hand is well defined because you can see six out of the seven cards that you will be able to use. It is easy to see if there are any possible flushes or flush draws, straights or straight draws. Note that most straights are made when high cards are on the board since more players play two face cards than two small cards (unless they are playing low-suited connectors, such as 6-7).

Here are some questions to ask yourself when deciding how to play on the turn. Do I have the best hand? If I hit the draw, will the draw make my hand the best possible hand? If I have the best hand now, what cards can come on the river that will beat me?

One very important thing to remember is when you have the best hand -- but a miracle card on the river can beat you -- don't let your opponent draw to it for free. This may sound like a contradiction to the advice above about maximizing your winnings with a strong hand, but it's not. You should check in order to draw more bets only when you have a completely unbeatable or almost unbeatable hand. If, however, when you have the best hand, but the board is scary in that a miracle card can beat you, you must bet. For example: You hold A-Q and the board shows A-Q-8-7.

You hold top two pairs
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You hold top two pairs, but any heart or club could
give one of your opponents a flush to beat you.

You hold the top two pairs and probably have the best hand at this point. Any heart or club, however, could give one of your opponents a flush to beat you, or another high card could give another opponent a straight. You must bet into this board so your opponents won't see the river for free. For now you are a favorite against any flush or straight draw in this situation. To be a winning player, your goal is to get money into the pot in situations where you are a favorite over and over again. While it is true that occasionally your opponent will hit the card he/she needs to beat you, over the long run your wins and losses in these situations will follow the odds and make you a winner.

Play on the River

With one exception, which will be discussed shortly, when you believe you have the best hand on the river, you should bet and/or raise. Low-limit Hold'em is full of players who will consistently call with second, third, and even fourth best hands because they are afraid of getting bluffed out of a pot.

Until you have thousands of hands worth of experience, don't get fancy on the river. Just bet your best hands, and check when you aren't sure. If you check and there is a bet behind you, even if you think that you are likely beat, it may still be correct to call.

Now, an explanation on the exception mentioned above. If you know a player will try to bluff you on the river, you should check, and when he/she bets, you should raise. This is called a check-raise and can be a powerful tactic. The important word in the above sentence is "know." If you're not at least 90 percent sure that he/she will bet, you should go ahead and bet. Some players always bet on the river. Once again, pay attention to how your opponents play, and you will be far ahead of most recreational players. The biggest mistake new players make involving the check-raise is that many of them become too fond with using it, thus giving up bets trying to do it. There is always a chance that the player behind you will check, when that player would have called a bet.

Flopping a Monster

The term "flopping a monster" means that the flop fits your hand perfectly. For example: Your hole cards are 8-9 and the flop comes T-J-7 to give you a straight flush.

Because these kinds of flops are extremely rare, not too much time will be spent discussing these situations, but you should have an idea on how to extract the most money from your opponents when you have a monster. Seasoned players always check or just call when they have a monster and someone else bets on the turn. The hope is that someone will bet into you on both the flop and the turn. If everyone checks on the flop, the card that comes on the turn may give someone a second best hand, and hopefully they will pay you off. Note that in order for checking to be the correct play, there should not be any cards that can come on the turn that you would fear. In the above example, even if the Q hits on the turn, an opponent would have had to start with A-K to have you beat. If this does occur, you would have to pay them off because the odds of this happening are so slim. In a perfect world, one of your opponents will bet into you on the river, you will call, and one will call behind you.

The reasons you don't raise on the flop are twofold: You want as many people to call as possible to maximize the pot, and -- because the bets double on the turn -- any raising should be done on the turn or the river. If there are players who act behind you, you should call only on the turn if you are bet into. If one of the players behind you raises and the opponent in front calls the raise on the turn, then you can go ahead and reraise. Your hopes are that at least one of your opponents will hit a second best hand and cap the betting on the river and even on the turn -- if you are lucky.

So far we have discussed advanced strategies for betting the flop, turn and river. But what about betting strategies for stealing blinds and stealing buttons? Those topics are discussed in our next section.

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Advanced Strategy: Stealing the Blinds and Button, Raising, and Isolating

Being successful at Texas Hold'em requires a great deal of cunning and deception. In this section, we will discuss sneaky tactics like stealing the blinds and buttons.

Stealing the Blinds

Stealing the blinds or attempting to steal the blinds is when a player in late
position, often the button, is the first one to enter the pot and raises with the hope of the blinds folding to the raise. For this to work, you must study your opponents and know how they play. Some players will defend their blinds by always calling a raise. Obviously you can't steal their blind if this is the way they play.

Stealing the blinds happens much more in no-
limit Hold'em than in limit Hold'em because you can make a large enough raise in no-limit to often drive the blinds out of the hand. Unless the blinds are extremely tight, I don't recommend trying to steal blinds very often without a solid hand. Moreover, since many players attempt to steal blinds from the button, most players don't respect a raise from this position and will call with marginal hands. For this reason, experienced players like to try a steal occasionally from one seat to the right of the button.

Stealing the Button

As previously discussed, being last to act is a great advantage in Hold'em. Stealing the button is when a player in middle to late position enters the pot with a raise hoping to force the players between him/her and the blinds to fold. Once again, observe your opponents in order to have an idea if this can work. By this time you may be tired of reading that you must study your opponents. Nonetheless, to be a top-level poker player it is a skill you must continually develop.


There are only two reasons to raise in Hold'em: You raise to build the pot, or you raise to reduce the field against you by forcing opponents to fold. A good example of raising to reduce the field is when many players see the
flop and you hit the second or third best pair with a chance to draw to a better hand. For example: You hold K-J and the flop is Q-J-3.

You have a middle pair
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You have a middle pair with a flush draw and a
straight draw, and a good chance of winning the pot.

You have a middle pair with a draw to a flush and a backdoor draw to a straight (that is, two draws to make the straight). You should always bet into this hand if many players want to see the flop and you are the first player to act. Occasionally you may win the hand at this time because all your opponents fold, but often players holding a queen or better will call in this situation. Others will fold because you are showing strength by betting. If you are raised, this usually means someone has a set or top pair with a good kicker. When you are raised, it is almost always correct to call the raise since there are many cards that can help you, such as any diamond, any jack, or any king.

A situation in which you are raising to build the pot is when you believe you have the best hand and a player bets into you, you call, a player behind you raises, and the first player calls. You can raise in this position, and most of the time both opponents will call your raise because they have invested two bets.

Isolating an Opponent

One reason to reduce the field with a raise is to isolate an opponent. By raising at a particular time, you may get everyone to fold with the exception of one opponent. The ideal opportunity to do this is when an opponent raises the big blind before anyone calls and you are the next person to act. Your
reraise will often force everyone else to fold, thus isolating the initial raiser. This creates three advantages for you: You have position; you are playing heads-up; and you have shown strength. Do this if you have a strong hand and/or you feel you can outplay your opponent after the flop.

In the next section, we will cover one of the most exciting aspects of poker --
bluffing your opponents.

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Advanced Strategy: Bluffing

Bluffing is when you bet with an inferior hand hoping to cause your opponents to fold. There are very few good opportunities in low-limit Hold'em to bluff. Players at that level will call with almost anything because they are afraid to be bluffed out of a hand, and they populate low-limit Hold'em. As you advance to higher limits, including no-limit Hold'em, bluffing becomes an important weapon in a good player's arsenal.

What is most important for a beginning player to know about bluffing is that it is practically impossible to bluff more than two opponents out of a hand. There are, however, two bluffing situations that can improve your game: the
semibluff and bluffing when a scare card hits.

A semibluff is betting into a
pot when you don't know if you have the best hand but have a chance to improve to the best hand. For example: Your hole cards are J-T and the flop is T-8-7.

©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
Semibluffing with a pair of tens and several
draws can be a valuable strategy.

It is recommended that you bet into this pot as a semibluff. You have second pair (a pair of tens) and could be behind in the hand to a straight, a set, or a pair of jacks. The important thing to remember is that you can improve to a flush, straight, trips, or two pair on the turn or river. Your bet in this situation can result in four outcomes with three of them being good for you:
  • Everyone may fold, and you win the hand.

  • All but one or two opponents may fold, eliminating some drawing hands.

  • An opponent may reraise your bet.

  • All of your opponents may call.
The only result that is not immediately beneficial to you is the fourth one -- everyone calls (often called "flat calling"). Of course, if everyone folds, you win the pot. Eliminating opponents or reducing the field is also beneficial to your hand. You may be asking why being reraised in this situation is a good thing. The reraise provides you with a tremendous amount of information. Unless you are playing with a very loose player who raises every time he/she plays a hand, you are almost always beat at this time if you are reraised. This means that you now know that in order to win the hand you will have to improve on the turn or the river. You will use this information to decide if you want to call the reraise and also how to play your hand on the turn and the river.

It is almost always correct in limit Hold'em to call this reraise. The reason that flat calling is not a good outcome is you gain no further information. It does have a silver lining, for it builds the pot for the times that you do hit your hand on the turn.

Remember the discussion about maximizing your winnings; that is, call with the best hand (especially with a monster) in this situation in order to maximize the pot and save the raising until the turn when the bet size doubles. Making plays like these and realizing that your opponents, at least the good ones, are capable of making these plays will separate you from the average poker player. Many times it is correct to bet into a pot to gain information in this way. As you advance in skill level, you may even raise an opponent who bets into you on the flop as a semibluff to find out how good his/her hand is and possibly set up a bluff on the turn or river by showing strength. This play is not for beginners because it can cost you a large amount of money. So don't use it regularly until you have many hours of experience.

Bluffing when a scare card hits is another advanced play that many professionals use, especially in no-limit Hold'em. There is one rule that should always be followed when using this play: Never try it with more than one opponent in the hand. The chance of success is so small against two or more opponents that it will cost you money in the long run. Here's an example: Your hole cards are
A-T and the flop is T-K-4. The turn brings the 6.

Scare Card
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The 6 is the scare card because it opens up the possibility for a flush.

At this point you may have the best hand, but you may be up against a pair of kings or better. If any club hits on the river, this can be a good time to bluff. The club on the river makes a flush possible, and if you bet on the river, you are representing that you hit it. Notice that you have the ace of clubs, so even if your opponent has two clubs, he/she knows that you could have a higher flush. Also, an opponent holding a king is not happy to see the possible flush on the board. Another reason this is a good time to try this is that only one of the clubs was on the flop, so an opponent who started with two clubs probably folded his/her hand if they didn't have any other draws.

It is important to remember how the hand was played out because if everyone
checked on the flop, a player holding two clubs got a free look at the turn. This is an example of why betting into the flop as a semibluff is often correct. In this hand, if you had bet into the flop, any opponent holding two clubs with no other draws should have folded. Of course, in some low-limit Hold'em games, your opponents won't fold when they are supposed to. This is why you should never try this tactic against more than one opponent. When you do use it, you should be certain that your opponent is capable of folding if a scare card hits. Some players will never fold in this situation, and if you can identify them, you will save money by not trying to bluff them.

When bluffing, it is important to know who you're bluffing against. The different types of players are covered in the next section.

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Advanced Strategy: Player Categories

Because the way players play is important, it is helpful to place them into categories. Some players find that by attaching names with categories it helps them recall how each opponent plays. Here is a list of different playing styles followed by suggested names for each type of player. It is important to remember that any player may change from one playing session to the next and that some players can even change within a playing session. A poor player may improve over time, and a good player may be having a bad day. Therefore, it is a good idea to use the beginning of each session to re-evaluate any familiar opponents while you evaluate new ones.
  • Tight/Aggressive -- You should strive to become this type of player. Tight/aggressive players don't play many hands, but when they do play a hand, it is played very aggressively. They often enter the pot with a raise and will push the action by betting and raising until shown that they are beat. Every time a player bets or raises, it forces other players to make decisions, and whenever players must make a decision, they may make a mistake. Tight/aggressive players capitalize on this tactic by providing opportunities for their opponents to make these mistakes. The name assigned to these players is "Solid." Experienced players usually respect their bets and raises because they seldom enter a pot with a poor hand. Meanwhile, solid players are capable of folding a good hand if they are convinced they are beat. When a solid player is quiet and constantly observing everything at the table while using the advanced strategies discussed before, the name assigned to them is "Professional." A game with too many solid and/or professional players is not a good game to be in.

  • Loose/Aggressive -- Loose/aggressive players play too many hands, usually raise, and are very difficult to bluff. These players can be dangerous because it is often difficult to guess what their hole cards are (often called putting them on a hand). Thus you are seldom certain where you stand in a hand with them. For this reason it is important to keep your starting hand requirements tight so you are often in the hand with better cards than loose/aggressive players. Most loose/aggressive players try to play the correct way, which is tight/aggressive, but they simply play too many hands. At times loose/aggressive players have long winning streaks because like tight/aggressive players, they force their opponents to make decisions and mistakes. The problem is in the long run, loose/aggressive players will be losing players because of their starting hand selection. Many good poker players -- referred to as "solid" -- will at times slip into loose/aggressive play by lowering their starting hand requirements. Most of these players correct this in time, but it is something to keep an eye out for, especially if they are not having a good session. The name assigned to the loose/aggressive player is "Overly Zealous." The overly zealous play many hands and always raise if they are in a hand. A true overly zealous is impossible to put on a hand since he/she can and will play anything. Thus they are very dangerous in the short run. In the long run, a solid player will end up with all of the overly zealous's money as long as the solid player can survive the short-term financial swings.

  • Tight/Weak --Tight/weak players usually have a fairly good idea of proper starting hand selection and stick to it. They rarely raise unless they have the absolute best hand, and they prefer to check and call to see what is coming next. The biggest problem with this type of play is that tight/weak players rarely protect their hand (by betting or raising to narrow the field) and are often beat by a player who hits a draw or miracle card. Tight/weak players may show a small profit in games full of poor players because of their proper starting hand selection, but solid players will run over tight/weak players. The tight/weak players are called "Semi-Weak."

  • Loose/Weak -- Loose/weak players do all the wrong things while playing poker. They play too many hands. They check and call when they should raise. And they always call on the river with second, third, and often worse hands. These players are referred to as "Calling Stations." Poker players call them "Fish." Calling stations will always pay off your good hands, and you should often try to isolate them to take advantage of their weak play.
Before we conclude our look at Texas Hold'em, we will look at advanced strategy for no-limit Hold'em in the next section.

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Advanced Strategy: No-Limit Hold'em

At one time no-limit Hold'em was offered only in tournament settings, but it has recently been offered in many card rooms as a regular ring game.

Most no-limit ring games have a set buy-in (for instance, $200) or a range of buy-ins (for instance, your buy-in might be for any amount between $200 and $400). Of course, if you lose all of your chips, you can buy back in. The games have a
blind structure and minimum betting structure just like regular limit games. A game may be called $200, 1/2 no-limit, which means that the buy-in is $200, the blinds are .50 and $1, and the minimum bet the first two rounds is $1 and the last two rounds is $2.

Because of the structure of no-limit, upswings and downswings are magnified. For this reason, if you decide to play no-limit Hold'em, you may need a large bankroll -- especially to start with.

No-limit ring games like these can be profitable for the better players. A strong recommendation is to play extremely
tight when you first sit at a table until you get a feel for your opponents. These games allow solid players to use all of their tools in areas such as bluffing, pot odds, psychology, and solid game skills. Drawing hands go down in value and made hands (such as pocket pairs) go up.

For players who have a solid understanding of pot odds, no-limit Hold'em can be a gold mine. Because of the ability to place any size bet, you can manipulate pot odds to force your opponents to pay too high of a price to draw to their hand or make the price low enough that it is correct for them to
call when you want them to. This fact alone makes the understanding of the correct use of pot odds imperative to anyone hoping to be a successful poker player.

Tight/aggressive play is the only way to be a successful no-limit Hold'em player. Good players rarely call in no-limit. They almost always fold or
raise. This doesn't mean that you should never call; it just means that as you gain experience, rarely will you find yourself behind at the beginning of a hand. Instead, you allow your opponents opportunities to make mistakes because of this aggressive style of play combined with tight starting hand requirements.

While playing no-limit Hold'em, your first instinct will probably be to move
all-in when you see pocket aces. In a typical game, this will win you the pot, but you will likely win only the blinds since everyone else probably folded. When you have a great starting hand such as AA, KK, AK, or QQ, your goal should be to raise enough to make all but one or two opponents fold. Then, if you are reraised before the flop, you can move all-in. Winning the most pots in a session is nice, but winning the most money is what counts. For this reason you must consider how to maximize your winnings with your best hands. The strategies concerning checking, raising, and check-raising are all tools you can use to make money at the poker table.

Texas Hold'em is a game that is simple to learn, but difficult to master. These tips should provide you a nice base for a lifetime of poker fun. Good luck!

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