Texas Hold'Em Poker Strategy

   Any poker (except Caribbean), including Holdem, unlike other casino games, is the game between players, not with a casino. It will be told further about base principles and strategy of the game, but do not forget about the role of psychology. You cannot win without strategy. Without understanding the psychology of your opponents you won't win much. Poker is money game.

    "Any two cards may win the pot" - such phrase are frequently told by Holdem players. It is definitely true, it's possible to win with any cards. Having 2-7 (mixed suit), it is possible to receive on the Flop, for example, three 2-s, and after the turn and the river you can win with the strongest hand. However, probability of such event is very insignificant, and playing with all such a two-card combinations, total loss will significantly outweigh such rear victories. Let's look two card combinations to find out when it is necessary to play the game and when to Fold at once.

    In Texas Hold'em the order of trade is defined by Button and not varied in a course of one play. Therefore the position in trade is one of determining factors of the game, and some cards which should be folded in early positions, can be played by last position players. The later your course, the more information you have, and poker is a game of the information. Certainly, incomplete, but information. Therefore from the base strategy of the game we'll consider the place of a player with respect to the Button: with 9 players on the table, first four places to the left from button are considered as the Early position, the fifth to seventh players - in the Average position, and the eighth and the ninth - in the Late position.

    Despite of a huge variety of card combinations in poker, there are only 169 variants of starting two-card hands. Certainly, we do not consider the suits of the cards, e.g. K hearts J hearts  we consider the same as K diamonds  J diamonds. If on the flop we get three hearts, the first combination is more favorable, but as long as you cannot predict the next street cards, these hands are equivalent.

    All of these 169 combinations can be divided into five categories: the pairs, the next cards, hole cards, same suit next cards and same suit hole cards. If you have not a pair your two cards may be same or mixed suit cards, be next or have a "hole" of one or several cards between them. It is obvious, that with the next cards there are more chances of receiving Straight, and the more the hole the less the probability of receiving Straight. With the same suit cards the size of the hole does not matter for receiving Strait, however, the senior cards are more preferable due to other reasons.

So, with these two-card hands you should enter the game (Call) in an Early position:

 Pairs: 7-s and higher

 Same suit: A with K, Q, J or 10
 K with Q, J or 10
 Q with J or 10
 J with 10 or 9
 10 with 9

 Mixed suit:   A with K, Q, J or 10
 K with Q or J

If you play in the 5th/6th/7th position (9 players game) you are in Average position and you should Call having:

 Pairs: 5-s and higher

 Same suit: A with K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7 or 6
 K with Q, J, 10 or 9
 Q with J, 10, 9 or 8
 J with 10, 9 or 8
 10 with 9 or 8
 9 with 8

 Mixed suit: A with K, Q, J or 10
 K with Q, J or 10
 Q with J or 10
 J with 10

Playing in Last position, you have advantage, and consequently the assortment of combinations is extended:

Pairs: all.

 Same suit:   A with any card
 K with any card
 Q with J, 10, 9 or 8
 J with 10, 9, 8 or 7
 10 with 9, 8 or 7
 9 with 8, 7 or 6
 8 with 7 or 6
 7 with 6 or 5
 6 with 5
 5 with 4

 Mixed suit: A with K, Q, J or 10
 K with Q, J, 10 or 9
 Q with J, 10 or 9
 J with 10, 9 or 8
 10 with 9 or 8
 9 with 8 or 7
 8 with 7

    All these recommendations, being precise enough at first glance, actually do not require exact and blind execution, and they are not absolutely optimal, as, for example, base strategy in blackjack. "Any Two cards may win", although, they may lose too. Moreover, you should follow these recommendations providing the Pot was not increased, i.e. nobody Raised on the previous hands. With an increase of the pot the strategy varies a little, and the psychology starts playing the big role.

    If nobody at Early and Average positions stays in the game than you can try so-called "attack on blinds" or Raise at the Last position (it is not necessary with the strongest hand) aiming to win blindly put bets. In this case, Blinder should follow the usual strategy of the game in Early position - Call with the corresponding cards otherwise - Pass.

    If somebody Raised on Early/Average positions before You, you should expect your opponent to have a strong hand. The majority of experts agrees that simple call is not optimal in such position. The weak hand, certainly, should be Folded, and with average cards the Raise in response is justified - Re-Raise. Opponents may throw off the cards and the victory (together with blinds) will be yours. Call is recommended only with very strong hand with the purpose to continue trade and to increase the amount of money in the pot.

    When should you Raise yourself? Hold'em is aggressive game, and it is impossible to win a lot of money by simply accepting other's bets. Sometimes it is necessary to take initiative in your hands. It depends on psychology and your opponents experience, but usually it is worth to Raise with a pair of A, K, Q, J or 10, with same suit A with K, Q or J, or K with Q, and also with mixed suit A with K or Q, or K with Q.

    Already mentioned "Attack on blinds" (Raise in the Last position when nobody Called) can be made with any Pair, A with any card, K with Q, J, 10 or 9. Thus there is a hope that blinders will fold, and if someone will continue playing, after the Flop you have a good chance to have the strongest Hand.

So, the first round of trade has passed, we do not Pass, and remaining opponents have not Raised. It's time for the Flop.

    Game after the Flop is considerably less formalized than it was before. Certainly, the subsequent two community cards may change the situation, but after opening the Flop the player can see 5/7 or 71 percent of his possible cards. And this right has been acquired during only one round of trade - to see the remaining 29 percents one has to pay much more. Therefore the first advice: if the Flop has not coincided (has not improved your hand) - Pass. Sure it does not concern the situation when all opponents have told Check, and it's silly to miss an opportunity of receiving something for free (the fourth community card, the Turn). Therefore, Check on early positions, but if some of the opponents Calls - Pass immediately. Exception should be made only if you have a large Pair, and the Flop most likely does not go to anybody. However, one should play very cautiously in order not to encounter with the large bet those "any two cards" which may win. The world of poker is full of Heart-breaking histories about a pair of A, that have loosed an enormous large sum to absolutely empty hand, which has managed to build the second weak Pair on the River. However, to raise the pot to some large size even with the highest pair on the bad Flop (the Flop has not improved your hand), one should play too self-confidently. And self-confidence in poker is the direct way to poverty.

    Generally, you should not play the weak pair (7-s and lower) if your cards have not improved on the Flop and, especially, if large cards have opened. Though, when bank is big enough and you should put a relatively small bethearts, you can try. In general, in boundary situations your decision should be determined by the ratio of the bet to pot, and also the presumable force of your opponent's hand.

    The Flop may coincide differently. If in five cards one have Royal Flush, Straight Flush, Four-of-a-Kind, Full House or Flush with the greatest possible senior card in the hand, one should worry not about a win or loss, but about how to collect more money to the pot from the opponents. Those, who with a Four-of-a-Kind after the Flop afraid the Turn and the River may bring the higher Four-of-a-Kind to the opponent, should better choose another hobby. For example, embroidery.

    But, unfortunately, similar coincidences are seldom (for our hands, but not for "the enemies"!). More often he Flop does not give you anything (I repeat again - Pass at once) or gives a vague hope for Straight or Flush. In this case the advice is the following: Pass if you do not have four cards from Flush or bilateral Straight. The probability of buying two necessary cards on the Turn and the River is minimal. After the Flop you should only play four-card combinations, then you will have two rounds ahead to receive one necessary card.

    Certainly, with four-card Flush it is necessary to take into account the force of your hand - there is a probability of presence of the same suit cards in your opponents' hands. For example, same suit A-Q on hands is a good combination to continue the game. If the fifth card has the same suit your Flush will be the highest (though, pay attention to the opportunity of Straight Flush at a contender hand), A or Q gives a strong Pair. Theoretically, there is a chance of winning without coincidence, you can win by simply having the highest cards, when nobody has a pair or other combinations, just dissimilar cards of mixed suit.

    The situation is more promising when you see several variants of the further improvement of your hand. Let us assume, you have 10  hearts and 9 hearts, and the Flop brings 9 spades,  8  clubs and 7 hearts. The table's highest Pair was formed, potential four-card Straight and three hearts, which do not give you a serious hope for Flush in absence of other cards, but in this case they become additional argument. Here it is necessary to play and to play aggressively - now the position is pretty good, and there are a lot of chances for improvement. One more similar example: your hand is A clubs J clubs, and on the Flop A hearts 9 clubs and 4 clubs. You have good chances to win even without the further improvement with a pair of A, any clubs transforms a hand into the highest Flush, J gives two pairs, and A gives the senior three (in poker a terminology - Set).

    As it was already mentioned, one should take into account the hand that the opponent theoretically may have. For this purpose after the Flop and further one should look, which two cards give the maximum combination. If these cards in our Hands - that is fine, and if not, whether they are at our contenders? It is possible that the Flop coincides only with such a Pair of cards, that nobody would began to play. Though "nobody" sounds too strongly, opponents are very different. Understanding of the game of your opponent, skill of reading the cards based on his actions, in Hold'em, and in any kind of Poker, not less, and even more important, than the base strategy.

    The general rules of rise of the bet, e.g. when to Call or to Raise, coincide as a whole with those described in previous Chapters. Once again I shall repeat, that the goal of the game is winning not the maximal number of pots but the maximum sums. Holdem is aggressive game, strong hands come not so frequently as it would be desirable. And in this case, you should squeeze the maximum out of your opponents. Therefore not to Raise with the strongest hand when it is clear, that the contender will Call, is under-win i.e. lose. On the other hand, the same mistake is lifting the bet too high and frightening off the contender.

    The game after the Flop has one more rule: having rather strong hand you should not give opponents an opportunity to be improved cheaply. Nobody knows what the Turn and the River will bring, and the opponent probably will improve his cards and win. If now he can be frightened and forced to Pass then the bank is ours. If he will answer the large bet, then, at least, the following cards will be quite expensive for him. And who has precisely told, that these cards suit him?

written by Oleg Granovsky,
first published: Magazine "Casino Player", Russia, #5, June 2001,
translated by SmartPlayers.net, August 2003.

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