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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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%.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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 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.
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.