# Texas Holdem Practice

If you want to become the best Texas holdem player you can,

you only have a few choices. You can read and study as much

material as you can digest, and you can practice.

The best players do both.

When you want to study you can get a great start by reading

all of the pages we’ve included in the Texas holdem section.

Then you can find suggestions for Texas holdem books on our

books page.

But every player needs to start practicing in order to use

the skills they’ve learned from books, magazines, and web sites.

Keep reading to learn the best way to start practicing Texas

holdem.

## Free Practice

Free is one of those buzz words that seem to get people’s

attention. Marketers use it to grab attention and have tried to

build the belief that free is always better. It’s no different

in the online poker world.

While free Texas holdem practice can be good, it’s not always

better than playing for real money. It may be cheaper, but just

because it’s cheaper doesn’t mean it’s better.

When you play holdem for the first time or two playing for

free is a great way to learn the rules, how the flow of the game

works, and get used to the pace of the game. But once you learn

how to play and how the game works, playing free games can

actually hurt your long term ability to win instead of help.

You can sign up for one of the hundreds of online places that

offer free Texas holdem games or you can gather a group of

friends and family to play a game. If you have a choice between

the two options, opt for the live play with friends and family.

The problem with playing free games, especially online, is

the play of your opponents is usually so poor that it can hurt

your ability to win in the long run. While it’s true that a good

player will be able to beat the free games, this doesn’t mean

that learning to beat the free games is the best way to learn

how to beat real money games.

When you get a group together to play consider offering a

small prize of some sort for the winner or top finishers and use

chips just like you would in a poker room. The prizes don’t have

to be big, just something worth playing your best to win. The

simple idea of playing to win something tends to improve the way

everyone plays.

You’ll still see poor players make bad plays, but you

probably won’t see near as many crazy plays as you do on the

online free money tables.

If you’ve never played Texas holdem before, or haven’t played

in a poker room or casino, you should know that they don’t offer

the chance to play for free. The only places to play free are

online or if you create your own game.

But when you transition to real money play online poker rooms

offer much lower stakes than live poker rooms, so even though we

don’t suggest wasting much time playing for free, when you

decide to try your hand at real money play the online rooms

often are the perfect place to start.

## Real Money Practice

Whenever you possibly can, practice while playing for real

money instead of for free. Even if you play for less than a

dollar buy in it’s better than the free money tables. The play

is still quite poor at the lower levels, but it’s better than at

the free tables and as you earn to beat the low limits you’ll

build skills that help you beat the higher limits as well.

Online poker rooms have low limit games, often starting at

.05 / .10 or lower. Yes that’s a nickel and a dime. So for a

dollar or two you can practice for real money. This way you

won’t break the bank while improving your skills.

The lowest limit games available in most live poker rooms and

casino is $5 / $10 and the lowest buy in no limit games are

usually at least $100 buy in’s.

Online play is a great way to get started, but don t be

afraid to try some low limit live games as soon as you start

winning on a consistent basis. Many players find the live game

even more profitable than online play because you can see your

opponents and hear what they say and how they say it.

## Positive Expectation

In order to be a winning Texas holdem player you need to

understand outs and odds and how to use them to help you win

more than you lose.

The basic premise of winning poker players is to get as much

money into the pot as possible when they’re the favorite to win

a hand and put as little as possible into the pot when they

aren’t the favorite.

Another habit of winning players is finding positive

expectation situations and maximizing the amount of money they

put in play in these situations.

Odds and outs are a key part of understanding and using these

two things to win more than you lose.

Of course you don’t always know when you’re the favorite and

when you aren’t, but the more you play and practice the better

you’ll get at determining where you are in each hand.

Before we continue discussing odds and outs you need to

understand what a positive expectation situation is and how to

recognize it. A positive expectation situation is one where if

you played the same hand or situation an infinite number of

times you’d win more than you’d lose. This can present itself in

a large number of ways, with some ways being clear and some

requiring some computation to see if they’re profitable.

If you have pocket aces and get all in against a single

opponent who holds pocket jacks this is a positive expectation

situation. You’ll lose the hand occasionally, but in the long

run you’re going to win considerably more than you lose.

The easiest way we’ve found to figure out positive

expectation is consider playing the exact same situation 100

times. Calculate all of the money already in the pot and how

much more is going in, both from you and your opponents, then

determine how many times you win the hand, and compare how much

you win on average per hand over the 100 hands. If the number is

positive it’s a positive expectation situation.

This may sound complicated, but once you do it a few times

you’ll find that it’s fairly easy. And most of the time, you

don’t need to know the exact numbers; you just need to know if

the situation is positive or negative.

In the example above of pocket aces against pocket jacks, you

don’t need to know the exact numbers to know that you’re going

to win more in the long run than you’ll lose in this situation.

You also know that the player with the jacks is going to lose

more than they win in the long run. So the player with pocket

aces is in a positive expectation situation and the player with

the jacks is in a negative expectation situation.

Let’s work through an extended example using every step so

you can see how this works. We’ll start with a fairly simple

one.

You start the hand with a pair of kings and have $500 in your

stack. A player moves all in with a pair of queens and has a

larger stack than you. You call and everyone else folds. The pot

has $1,000 in it so every time you win you win $1,000. You have

to contribute $500 to the pot every time you play this

situation. So if you played it 100 times your total amount

risked is $50,000.

In this example the kings win a little over 81% of the time.

This means that I you play this situation 100 times you win 81

times and lose 19 times. When you win you win $1,000 so over 100

hands you win $81,000. When you consider your total investment

of $50,000, you win $31,000 in profit over 100 hands.

Divide $31,000 in profit by 100 hands and your average

profit, or expected value, for each time you play this hand is

$310. This is clearly a positive expectation or positive

expected value situation.

Consider the player with the pocket queens. They also have to

invest $50,000 over 100 hands, but they only win 19 times, for a

total return of $19,000. The difference between the $50,000 and

the $19,000 is $31,000 like the player with the kings, but in

this case it’s a negative $31,000. So their expected value is a

negative or minus $310 per hand.

It can get complicated when you try to determine your

expected value in different situations.

You have the queen of clubs and jack of clubs and the board

has the ace of clubs, king of clubs, nine of diamonds, and the

six of hearts. Your opponent has been betting aggressively the

entire hand and you put her on at least a high pair, and

possibly three o a kind. The pot has $1,000 in it and your

opponent just moved all in for another $800.

This means that you have to determine if it’s more profitable

to call the $800 or fold.

The most difficult thing most players deal with in this

situation is you have to consider the current pot amount, but

you have to ignore the fact that part of the money in the pot

was put there by you. It doesn’t matter who put the money in the

pot. After you put the money in the pot it isn’t yours unless

you win the pot.

In this example, if you play 100 times it costs $80,000 to

play. When you win you get back $2,600. In order to quickly see

if this is a positive expectation play you can divide $80,000 by

$2,600 to get 30.77, which is the number of times out of 100 you

need to win the hand to break even. So if you win the hand 31

times or more you show a positive expectation.

The way you determine how many times you’ll win is by

figuring out how many outs you have. In this example you’ll win

with any of the nine remaining clubs or the four 10’s. But

remember one of the 10’s is a club so you can’t count it twice.

Any of the clubs give you a flush and the 10’s give you a

straight.

Before we continue, if your opponent has three of a kind and

you land a club that pairs the board, in this case a nine or a

six, it will complete a full house for your opponent, beating

your flush. But you’ll also find that occasionally when you pair

one of your hole cards on the river that you’ll beat your

opponent holding a lower pair. So in the end these two thins

cancel out. You can make some guesses about w often each of

these things can happen and include them in your positive

expectation calculations, but we don’t recommend it until you

have the basics covered where you always figure them out

perfectly.

Back to the example, you have 12 cards that win the hand for

you and the deck has another 34 cards that don’t win the hand

for you. This means that 26% of the time a card you need will

land on the river and 74% of the time you’ll lose. The odds are

determined by doing a ratio of goo against bad. In this case the

odds are 34 to 12 against you. This is reduced to 17 to 6, or

roughly 3 to 1. 3 to 1 is actually 25%, which is quite close to

26%.

So out of 100 hands you win 26 times for a total of $67,600,

but remember your total cost is $80,000, so this is a total loss

of $12,400 over the 100 hands. This is an average expected loss

of $124 per hand.

If you ask most players if this is a positive expectation

play they’ll say that it is and they show this by making the

call in this situation all of the time.

It doesn’t matter what cards your opponent holds or which

cards have been discarded. Any unseen card is included because

in the long run every remaining possible card will be in each of

the remaining spots in the deck an equal number of times.

If this example isn’t complicated enough for you, you also

need to consider if the poker room where you’re playing has a

high hand of the day jackpot or prize. This is because once out

of every 46 hands you’re going to hit a royal flush, when you

land the 10 of clubs on the river, which adds some expected

value to the hand. If this prize is big enough it may move the

negative expectation situation to a positive one.

To further complicate the situation the players that make

this call aren’t necessarily wrong. Remember when we said that

you can’t consider the money that you’ve already placed in the

pot when making a positive expectation decision? You need to be

able to estimate the positive expectation at each step of the

hand, and depending on what happened on the flop and turn, you

may have determined the profitable play was to make a call on

both the turn and river, even if you missed on the turn. So even

though it’s a negative expectation play on the river, it may

have been a positive expectation play on the turn.

Before you start panicking and decide the math just isn’t

worth the trouble, don’t worry. Eventually you do need to know

most of the stuff we just covered to win at the highest levels

of Texas holdem play, but today you need to focus on the more

simple building blocks of outs and odds.

## Exercises

You have to understand outs and odds in order to make

profitable decisions and advance to determining positive

expectation situations. Here’s a group of exercises to help you

learn how to determine outs and odds. After you work through

each of the exercises you can see the correct way to solve them

in the next section. Try to solve them yourself before reading

the solutions.

**Exercise 1:** You have a king and queen in your hand and the

board has a jack, ten, six, and seven. How many outs do you have

to hit a straight and what are the odds of hitting the straight?

Any ace or nine will complete your

straight. This is called an open ended straight draw because a

card at either end completes your straight. This means you have

eight outs and only one card left to be dealt to the community

cards. A total of 46 unseen cards mean that eight cards help you

and 38 don’t. This makes the odds 38 to 8, or 19 to 4, or 4.75

to 1. In percentages, you have a 17% chance of hitting your

straight with one card to come.

**Exercise 2:** You have a seven and an eight and the board has a

10, jack, and three. How many outs do you have to hit the

straight and what are the odds?

In this hand you need a nine to complete

your straight. This is called a gut shot straight draw. The deck

has four nines, so you only have four outs. Four outs leave 42

cards that don’t complete your straight. This makes the odds 42

to 4, or 21 to 2, or 10.5 to 1. This is only an 8.7% chance that

you hit your straight on the river.

**Exercise 3:** You hold two hearts and the board has two hearts

and two clubs. How many outs do you have to hit your flush and

what are the odds?

Each suit has 13 cards, so you have nine

outs to hit your flush. This means there’s 37 cards that don’t

complete your lush. The odds are therefore 37 to 9, or 4.11 to

1. This also means you’ll hit your flush draw 19.5% of the time.

**Exercise 4:** You have four to a flush with an ace and a king

in your hand and four cards on the board. You’re sure you’ll win

the hand by completing your flush or if you pair either your ace

or your king. How many outs do you have and what are the odds

you win the hand?

In this hand you can win by hitting any

of the nine cards to complete your flush or any king or ace. You

can win with any of the three aces or three kings remaining in

the deck, because your ace and king are of the suit for the

flush. This means you have 15 outs, leaving 31 cards that don’t

help you. The odds are 31 to 15, or 2.07 to 1 and you’ll hit

your hand 32.6% of the time.

**Exercise 5:** You have two pair but think your opponent hit a

flush on the turn. How many outs do you have to hit a full house

and what are the odds?

When you have two pair it means that you

have four outs to make a full house. Each of your pairs has an

additional two cards to make three of a kind to go with the

other pair. Notice that you also have four outs to hit a gut

shot or inside straight draw, so the odds and percentages are

the same. The odds are 10.5 to 1 and the percentage of times you

hit your hand is 8.7%.

**Exercise 6:** You have the king, queen, jack, and ten of spades

with only the river to come. The poker room has a royal flush

jackpot that is at $5,000. You have to call a bet of $50 to see

the river. Considering nothing else in the hand except the

information you just received about the royal flush jackpot,

should you call or fold?

In this exercise you’ll hit a royal

flush one out of every 46 times, because you have 46 unseen

cards and one of them is the ace you need to complete the royal

flush. This means you’ll hit the royal flush 2.17% of the time.

You have to make a $50 bet and you win $5,000 when you win. So

your cost to make the $50 wager 46 times is $2,300 and you win

$5,000 the one time you hit your royal flush. This means your

profit over 46 hands is $2,700. This means on average you make

$58.70 every hand. You determine this number by dividing the

profit of $2,700 by 46 hands to get your expected value.

**Exercise 7:** You have an ace and a king and your opponent has

a pair of sevens and you’re both all in before the flop. None of

the cards share the same suit. Who has the best chance to win?

*You can determine the answer to this question mathematically,

but it’s not really fair to try to force you to do it. You can

quickly find the answer using a free odds calculator about 100

times faster than doing it long hand. The key is understanding

hands like this without having to run the numbers every time.

You’ll quickly learn how hands like these compare as you look up

different combinations.

The percentages change depending on the

suits of the cards, but in this situation where none of the

suits match, the pair of sevens wins 55.25% of the time and the

ace king wins 44.47% of the time. The reason the two percentages

don’t quite add up to 100% is every once in a while the hands

will tie. This happens when the five board cards form a better

hand than either player can form.

Most players make the mistake of assuming that two over cards

against a smaller pair is a toss-up or 50 / 50 situation. While

it’s close, this is clearly not the case. It’s important to

understand a few things about this situation if you want to be a

long term winning player. In the long run you’ll make more per

hand playing ace king than a pair of sevens, because most of the

time you don’t play them against each other. In other words,

against an unknown hand the ace king is a better hand than a

pair of sevens. This may not make sense to some people, but just

because a hand is better against another individual hand doesn’t

mean it’s better in a heads up situation.

**Exercise 8:** What are the odds or probabilities that you

receive any single card in the deck for the first card in your

hand? What about the second card in your hand? How does this

work out to receiving any particular two card starting hand?

What about a pair of aces as your starting hand?

The deck holds 52 cards so your chance

of getting a single particular card, like the ace of clubs, is

one out of 52 cards. Your chances of getting any ace for your

first card are four out of 52 cards, or one out of every 13

times. Once you receive your first card, the chance of getting a

particular second card is one out of 51. The deck has 51 unseen

cards remaining after your first card.

The chances of receiving a particular pocket pair are

determined by there being four of the cards for the first card

out of 52 unseen cards, and three of them out 51 remaining cards

after you receive the first one.

So looking at this as a fraction you have a 4 / 52 chance at

the first card being an ace and a 3 / 51 chance of the second

card being an ace if the first one is an ace. If you work this

out and reduce it you end up with 12 / 2,652 which reduces to 1

/ 221. This means that you’ll be dealt pocket aces one out of

every 221 hands on average.

If you want to know the chances of receiving any pocket pair

you multiply this by 13 because there are 13 ranked cards, two

through ace. This means that one out of every 17 hands you’ll be

dealt a pocket pair on average.

**Exercise 9:** After the flop you have four to the best possible

flush, the pot has $200 in it, and your single opponent moves

all in for $75. What do you think you should do? Now try to

determine the outs and odds and how they work across both the

turn and the river.

This hand is different than the others

we’ve been discussing because instead of just the river to come,

you have both the turn and the river. This means you have two

chances to hit your flush. So we need to determine your chances

to hit the flush on the turn and then your chances to hit it on

the river if you don’t hit it on the turn.

You have nine outs out of a total of 47 unseen cards before

the turn. This makes a ratio of 38 to 9, which is 4.22 to 1. If

you don’t hit your flush on the turn you have nine out of 46

unseen cards on the river to hit the flush, or a ratio of 37 to

9, which is 4.11 to 1. This creates a situation where you’ll

complete your flush roughly 35% of the time one either the turn

or river. The computation for this is a bit complicated, so it’s

best to simply print out a chart and refer to it. You’ll quickly

memorize your chances in these situations.

Now that you know how often you’ll complete your flush you

can determine if it’s profitable to call. Remember the easiest

way to see the profitability on average is to see what happens

if you play the hand 100 times. In this case you’ll win the hand

35 times and lose the hand 65 times.

Your total cost to continue in the hand is $7,500, which is

$75 time 100 hands. The 35 times you win the hand your return is

$12,250, which is the pot size of $200, your opponents bet, and

your call of $75. This is clearly a positive expectation

situation, showing an average win of $47.50 per hand.

**Exercise 10:** A player moves all in for $100. You have a

pocket pair of queens and everyone else folds. You know this

player is a solid tight player and probably has at worst a pair

of jacks or ace king, but likely has a pair of aces or kings.

You decide there’s at least a 60% chance she has aces or kings.

From a positive expectation standpoint what should you do?

While it may be tempting to start a

long list of calculations, this example is quite easy. You know

that at least 60% of the time your hand is dominated, so you’ll

show a negative expectation by making the call. Even when your

hand is dominated you’ll win occasionally, but you’ll also lose

occasionally when you have a better starting hand, so the

important number to determine if this play is profitable is the

60%. You don’t need to know any more about the hand to determine

folding is the correct play.

**Exercise 11:** A player moves all in for $100. You have a

pocket pair of queens and everyone else folds. You know this

player is a loose unpredictable player who likes to trap with

big hands and bully with less than great hands. You decide

there’s at least a 70% chance she has a worse hand than you like

a pair of jacks or lower, or an ace jack. From a positive

expectation standpoint what should you do?

Using the same common sense as the last

exercise, you’re going to have a dominant hand 70% of the time,

so this is an easy call. The problem is against an unpredictable

player can you ever be 70% sure of their range of hands?

**Exercise 12:** You have a pair of sevens in your hand, or

pocket sevens, before the flop. How many outs do you have to hit

a set and what are the odds you’ll hit a set on the hand by the

end of the hand.

You have two outs, consisting of the

other two sevens in the deck. The first card on the flop offers

50 unseen cards and two sevens, the second card on the flop has

49 unseen cards and two sevens of the first flop card wasn’t a

seven, and the third flop card has 48 unseen cars and two sevens

if you still haven’t hit your set. The turn has 47 unseen and

two sevens and the river has 46 unseen cards and two sevens if

you still haven’t complete your set.

The math behind the computations involves working with huge

fractions, but in the end you’ll hit a set on the flop one out

of eight times and by the end of the hand one out of every 5.2

times. This means roughly 19.2% of the time you’ll hit a set by

the end of the hand.

The reason odds are so important is because you can use

something called pot odds to determine if a call is a profitable

play. If the ratio of the amount of money in the pot compared to

the amount of money you must call is better than the odds of you

winning the hand in the long run the play is profitable, or a

positive expectation play.

## Tips

As you’re practicing your Texas holdem skills there are many

things that you need to think about and consider in relation to

practice with the cards. Holdem is played with a deck of playing

cards, but it’s won with your mind, and that means using every

tip, trick, and tactic that you can to win more money than you

lose and beat your opponents in any way possible. Here are a few

tips to consider and use.

### Bankroll

Your bankroll is the total amount of money you

have to play Texas holdem. Most players just use the money in

their pocket and don’t physically set aside an amount for their

bankroll. This is a mistake. You should always keep your

bankroll spate from your other money.

If you need to add money to your bankroll then recognize what

you’re doing and make a conscious decision to do it. On the

other hand, when you win and want to use some of your winnings

for something other than your bankroll then make a conscious

decision to do that as well.

By keeping your bankroll separate from your other finances it

makes it easy to track your progress at any time. It also is a

great feeling when you go on a winning streak and you take some

of your profit out the first time.

One area that’s almost never discussed is how tipping the

dealers has a direct impact on your overall profitability. By

keeping your bankroll separate there’s no way around seeing what

tips do to your profit.

You start a long playing session with $1,000 and end up

taking a few bad beats and end the day with $1,020. While being

up $20 isn’t terrible, you also realize that you tipped over $20

throughout the course of the session.

No one can tell you whether you should or shouldn’t tip, but

you do need to be fully aware of how much it costs you,

especially if you ever want to try your hand as a professional

poker player.

The other thing you need to consider about your bankroll is

making sure you have enough to withstand the normal ups and

downs associated with Texas holdem. Even the best holdem players

in the world have ups and downs and have losing sessions. Most

players have losing weeks and months from time to time, even

while showing long term profits.

You have to have enough money to ride these waves both from a

practical standpoint as well as a mental one.

If you don’t have to worry about having enough to keep

playing it helps you mentally while playing. But if you find

yourself thinking about your bankroll while playing you probably

don’t have enough.

Play at a lower limit than your bankroll would normally allow

you to play.

Normal bankroll recommendations vary, but having between 20

and 30 buy in’s for a no limit game and between 200 and 300 big

blinds for limit games are fairly common suggestions. This means

if you play a no limit game with a $500 buy in you need $10,000

to $15,000. We suggest having at least $20,000 until you have a

winning track record of at least 12 months.

When you play as a limit player at 20 / 40 it calls for a

normal bankroll of $8,000 to $12,000. We recommend at least

$15,000 for this limit. Having too much money is not a problem

for holdem player; not having enough is a problem.

One unseen benefit of having extra money in your bankroll is

if you run across a game at a higher limit that has players you

know you can beat it allows you to take a one-time shot at the

higher limit with a fraction of your bankroll without putting

you in danger.

You normally play $500 buy in no limit and have a bankroll of

$20,000. You walk into the poker room and see a $1,000 buy in

game running and four of the seats are filled with players you

beat on a regular basis and two of the other seats have drunk

businessmen in them. The game looks ripe for the picking, but

you know that even in a great situation like this you can still

lose in the short term. But your extra bankroll lets you take a

couple buy in’s, $2,000, and have a seat.

Even if the worst possible thing happens and you lose both

buy in’s you still have a bankroll of $18,000 for your regular

game.

### Psychology

Entire books have been written about the

psychology of poker so we can’t cover everything here, but we

want to give you a quick overview. For a more detailed look at

the psychology behind texas holdem, you can go to our page

dedicated on the subject.

Everything that happens while

playing poker has an impact psychologically on the players.

How you handle things at the table and how you think about

the game away from the tables goes a long way toward your

eventual success or failure.

One of the best ways to handle the things that Texas holdem

throws at you is having a solid understanding of how odds and

outs work. While you were studying the exercises above you

probably noticed that even when you have a strong draw you tend

to lose more often than you win.

With a flush draw you win nine times on the river but lose 37

times. So it can be frustrating to not hit your flush draw for

the third straight time, but it’s no reason to let it change the

way you play.

No matter what happens at or around the table make sure you

stay focused on finding positive expectation plays and making

them. Play by the numbers and eventually you’ll come out on top.

### Mindset

Working hand in hand with psychology, your mindset

both at the holdem tables and away from them plays a large part

in your long term success or failure. The best players have make

a conscious decision to do whatever it takes to be the best

Texas holdem player possible and followed through on that choice

with massive amounts of action.

It’s not enough to say you want to be a winning player. You

have to decide to do it and ten take action. And once you start

you never give up no matter what. This is the level of

dedication and mindset required to beat the game in the long

term.

Do you have what it takes and are you willing to do whatever

it takes?

### Competition

The level of competition you face while playing

holdem will have a great deal to do with how much money you make

or lose. If you play with a group of players who are better than

you it may help you become a better player, but you’re going to

lose money while you’re playing. On the other hand, if you

always play with players who are not as good as you you’ll win

money in the long run.

The actual mix in most games is a few players will be better

than you and a few will be worse. But this shouldn’t ever stop

you from trying to find games with players worse than you. This

alone will increase your profits from playing Texas holdem.

### Tells

Tells are anything a Texas holdem player does to give

away the strength of their hand or what they plan to do. You

need to be aware of the other players at the table including how

the act and how they talk. Are they doing or saying anything

that can help you beat them?

On the other hand you need to be aware of how you act and

talk at the table. Make sure you aren’t giving any indication of

the strength of your hand or what you plan to do.

We have an entire page dedicated to Texas holdem poker tells

so please check it out for a complete discussion.

## Conclusion

When you want to be the best Texas holdem player you can

possibly be you need to practice as much as possible. Start with

free practice options and advance to real money practice as

quickly as possible.

Go over the practice exercises on this page until you know

and understand them as well as possible. Then deal hands out and

try to determine the best way to play them and look at the odds

and outs for different hands.

The most important thing is to never stop learning. Once you

have everything on this page down you should investigate the

rest of our Texas holdem section. It includes a complete

education that can help players of every skill level.