Texas holdem poker is the most popular card game in the
United States. It’s also hugely popular in Europe and other
countries. Omaha has a firm foothold in other countries, too,
but Texas holdem has a big following just about everywhere.
If you want to be a winning poker player, it’s almost a given
that you’ll need to learn at least the basics of Texas holdem
strategy. After all, you’ll be able to find more games (and more
weak players) at those tables than anywhere else.
Texas holdem strategy is a huge subject, too. We have
literally dozens of pages on various subtopics related to the
subject. Below we provide brief introductions to many of the
strategic concepts you need to understand. In almost every
instance, we link to a comprehensive page devoted to that
Low Limit Strategy vs High Limit Strategy
The strategies you use when playing for lower limits differ
from the correct strategies at higher limit games. As a general
rule—and make no mistake, there are exceptions—you’ll find more
unskilled players at the lower limits than you will at the
What does this mean for your strategy?
For one thing, it means that a more direct approach to the
game will often be rewarded. We can sum up this direct approach
in 2 sentence:
Get the hands. Then bet the hands.
What does that mean?
First of all, it means don’t bother trying to play second
rate hands. Don’t spend a lot of time trying to bluff. Unskilled
players have a hard time laying down hands, and bluffing only
works if your opponents are willing and able to fold.
Second, it means that when you do get good cards, start
putting your money into the table. Bet or raise. Don’t
cold-call. Don’t check. Get paid off for your hands.
Finally, keep in mind something called “the schooling
effect”. Lots of players at this level are calling stations.
This means that if you have a speculative hand, like suited
connectors, you can often get enough other players into the pot
to get paid off big when you hit a strong flop.
When you start playing in higher stakes games, you have to
get more creative in order to win. Skilled players are likely to
notice if you’re playing ABC poker, and they’ll be able to take
advantage of that. So you’ll have to learn how to mix it up.
Microlimit strategy is another aspect, too. The same
strategic concepts that apply to microlimit games, only more so.
It’s important to know how to play from the blinds. In fact,
the blinds are some of the most important positions in a Texas
holdem game. Correct blind strategy is a complicated subject,
Here are some of the basics:
What most players concern themselves with is defending their
blinds. A situation that comes up often is that everyone will
fold before the action gets to the player before the blinds, and
you’ll wind up with some aggressive player who will raise into
you when you’re in the blinds. They might be holding nothing.
You’ll need to be paying attention to your opponents’
tendencies when deciding whether or not they’re just trying to
steal your blinds. It’s okay to fold when someone raises you in
the blind, especially if you have junk.
But it’s not okay to fold EVERY time someone raises your
Sometimes you need to call and then raise on the flop.
And sometimes you need to re-raise their raise before the
Some of this depends, too, on what cards you’re holding. If
you have a solid hand (like KK or AA), and someone raises into
your blind, don’t be afraid to try to get them all in.
In fact, premium hands almost play themselves in this
situation. As long as you avoid slow-playing, you’ll be fine.
It’s the more speculative opening hands, like low pairs and
suited connectors, where you have to start making decisions.
And the best guideline to making those decisions is your
knowledge of your opponents’ playing tendencies.
If you’ve done ANY reading at all about playing styles in
Texas holdem, you’ll know that players are often categorized
according to how many hands they play and according to how often
they raise or bet.
Players who play a lot of hands are called “loose”, and
players who play only their best hands are called “tight”.
Players who bet and raise a lot are called
Players who call and check a lot are called “passive”
Most experts agree that tight-aggressive play is the winning
formula, especially at lower levels. This means you should focus
on playing good hands, and betting and raising when you have
You’ll also find plenty of players who do well with a
loose-aggressive style. They play a lot of hands, but they bet
and raise so often that they win a large number of pots without
If you win enough smaller pots, you can use that money to
“freeroll” your way into hands where you have more speculative
holdings. This is an especially important strategy to think
about when you get into higher limit play.
Understanding the odds and probability involved in Texas
holdem are a critical skill. The most important aspect of this
to understand has to do with comparing the odds of hitting your
“outs” and the pot odds being offered.
The first concept to understand is the concept of “outs”. An
“out” is a card that will complete your hand and give you the
You have 2 cards in your hand, both hearts. And the flop also
has 2 hearts on it. So you have 4 cards to a flush.
There are 13 hearts in a deck of cards. 4 of them are already
out there, so 9 of them are left in the deck. And there are 47
cards left in the deck.
Those 9 cards are your “outs”. Those cards will give you what
you need to have a winning hand. (Assuming that you have the top
flush at the showdown, anyway.)
You can compare those odds to the odds that the pot is
offering you to decide whether or not to call a bet.
In this case, the odds of hitting the hand you want are 9/47,
or about 1/5, or 4 to 1. But you get 2 chances at it.
Suppose there’s $100 in the pot, and it only costs you $10 to
call and stay in the pot. You’ll lose 4 times for every time you
win, but you’ll win 10 to 1 on the 5th time. Overall that’s a
Comparing pot odds to the odds of hitting your hand is just
one example of probability in action during a Texas holdem game.
Another factor expert players consider is how likely it is
that other players will fold. You have to take this into account
when making decisions, too.
If you’re playing against a super-tight opponent in the
blinds, and you estimate that there’s a 90% chance he’ll fold
against any raise, raising is almost always the correct play
But you can’t estimate these kinds of odds unless you’re
playing close attention to your opponents’ playing tendencies.
Preflop and Postflop Playing Strategy in Texas Holdem
The first 2 cards you’re dealt in a hand of Texas holdem are
your hole cards. That’s considered your “preflop” hand, and you
need a strategy for how to play them. We’ve seen estimates that
suggest you can break even if you master preflop play, even if
you’re only an average player after the flop.
We mentioned a tight aggressive approach, earlier. This holds
especially true when playing before the flop. It’s also
important to take into account position when you’re playing
It’s easy to find a lot of suggestions about which hands you
should and shouldn’t play from various positions before the flop
in holdem. Our favorite way to think about these hands is to
Here are some categories of preflop hands to think about:
High pairs are 2 cards of the same rank that are ranked 10 or
higher. The higher they’re ranked, the better. Aces and kings
are super hands to play preflop, but the value of these pairs
drops dramatically when you’re looking at queens, jacks, or
Most experts recommend raising from any position with a pair
of aces or kings regardless of what your opponents have done.
But you need more judgment when dealing with a pair of queens or
jacks. If you’ve seen 3 players before you bet and raise
repeatedly, those queens might be an underdog. Some of this
depends on your opponents’ tendencies, too.
Smaller pairs are legitimate starting hands, too, but you’re
hoping for them to improve on the flop. The higher the ranking
of the lower pair, the better off you are. A pair of 9s isn’t
terrible, but a pair of 2s borders on worthless. That’s because
even if you hit another 2 on the flop and make your 3 of a kind,
there are a lot of other potential 3 of a kinds that could beat
Suited connectors can be some of the most interesting
starting hands to play. These are 2 cards of the same suit which
are also close in rank. The 10 and J of spades would be
considered suited connectors. These are speculative hands,
because you need them to improve in order to win. But they have
lots of potential—you could make a flush or a straight, for
example. And if the suited connectors are high enough in rank,
you might even wind up with a big pair.
Big-little suited is even more speculative, because you’re
missing some of the straight possibilities. The higher the
cards, the better. An AK suited or an AQ suited is almost as
good as a pair of queens or jacks, but an A4 suited is pretty
speculative. Everything needs to go right in order for you to
win a hand with those cards.
The tendency is to want to bet and raise with your really
strong hands before the flop, but with more speculative hands,
you want to check and call, hoping to get into the hand cheap
with a lot of other players so you’ll get paid off if you hit
Who has acted before you and what they did is also super
important to your decision here.
We have entire sections devoted to preflop play, starting
hands, and starting hand charts. All of these topics are closely
Tournaments require a different strategy than ring games,
because the goal is to be one of the last men standing in a
tournament. In a ring game, you can play forever, and the chips
are worth what the chips are worth.
But in a tournament, the values of the chips change as the
game continues. The blinds increase on a regular basis during a
tournament, too, so your strategy has to change based on the
size of your stack versus the size of the blinds.
Some Texas holdem players specialize in tournaments. Others
prefer ring games. The thing about tournaments is that they have
a higher variance. Some players like this, but others prefer a
steadier stream of winnings.
Here’s what we mean:
You might play in a dozen tournaments with an average buy-in
of $100 each. You might only place in the money in one of them,
but you also might win $4000 in that one, so you’re profitable.
But it took you a while to become profitable.
A ring game player, on the other hand, might play steadily
and win $1000 a month consistently 5 months out of 6, having a
losing money only occasionally.
Your temperament will determine which is better for you.
We have sections about tournaments in general and about sit
in go tournaments specifically, too. (A sit n go is a specific
type of tournament that’s most prevalent on the Internet.)
The psychology of Texas holdem covers multiple subjects. For
one thing, understanding what your opponents’ emotional
tendencies are can be a big edge in any Texas holdem game. If
you know that one player likes to be the sheriff (he calls a lot
of hands to make sure you’re not winning money by bluffing),
you’ll know the best way to extract the most money from him.
If you know that a player makes bad decisions when he’s mad,
and if you notice what makes him mad, you can subtly manipulate
his anger to take advantage of those bad decisions. In fact,
this is a serious phenomenon called “tilt”.
A player who is tilting is putting money into the pot because
of anger, not because it’s the mathematically correct play. It’s
easy to take advantage of players with that tendency.
Understanding your own psychology is just as important. You
have to know when you’re on tilt. You also need to know how to
avoid tilt to begin with. If you realize you’re on tilt, it’s
time for a break. You might even need to take the rest of the
night off from playing poker.
Tells are another aspect of poker psychology. Tells are
subtle physical clues as to what kinds of cards your opponents
are holding. Most players have tells. And most players aren’t
good at spotting them.
Entire books have been written about spotting tells at the
poker table. Tells are only one aspect of Texas holdem strategy,
but they’re a “sexy” aspect of it. Some players, especially
beginners, spend too much time and energy thinking about and
trying to spot tells.
We have pages devoted to Texas holdem tips and Texas holdem
advice, too. These are a great way to get introduced to some of
the more basic concepts in holdem.
We can provide you with a couple of quick pieces of advice
and a few tips, here, too:
Tip #1: Read Books
You’ll find a lot of really great books with
in-depth treatments of poker strategy. The Theory of Poker by
David Sklansky is essential reading for any poker player,
regardless of which game you’re playing. Super/System by Doyle
Brunson (and others) is also worth reading, especially the
sections about limit and no limit holdem. Anything by Ed Miller
is worth your time, too. And those are just for starters. Expert
Texas holdem players are almost always well-read Texas holdem
Tip #2: Take Notes
If you’re playing online, you should use the
note-taking function in the poker room software to take some
notes on your opponents. If you’re playing live, you should keep
a journal and write about what’s going on. You should keep book
on your opponents, but you should also track your results and
how you got them. Texas holdem is a thinking person’s game. Few
things clarify your thoughts on a subject better than writing
Tip #3: Get Aggressive
Good players bet and raise. Weak players
check and call. You can find loose aggressive players who are
profitable, and you can find tight aggressive players who are
profitable. What you can’t find are passive players who are
profitable. Loose passive players are calling stations, and they
lose money right and left. Tight passive players are rocks, and
they lose money, too—just more slowly than calling stations.
Tip #4: Play Tight
If you’re a beginner, you probably need to play
fewer hands. As you grow more proficient, you can play more
hands. You might even be the type of player who can succeed as a
loose aggressive player. But we don’t recommend that as a
starting goal. That’s something to experiment with once you’ve
mastered tight aggressive play.
Tip #5: Start Small
If you’re new to the game, play for stakes you
can easily afford. Microlimits online are a great place to
start. If you’re playing live, start with the lowest stakes
limit games you can play. You can move up in stakes as your
bankroll grows and as you become more confident in your skills
as a player.
Tip #6: Talk
Find some buddies who can talk intelligently about
playing Texas holdem, even if they’re only online buddies. You
can find excellent discussions of poker strategy on various
forums. Two Plus Two is one of our favorites, although they’re
not as friendly toward newcomers as we would hope.
Tip #7: Detach
Being detached from the outcome of each hand is a
crucial mental skill that many players can’t master. If you’re
getting mad about results all the time, you’re going to have a
hard time playing correctly. How do you become detached from the
outcomes? Pat yourself on the back for making the correct play,
regardless of the results. You might also spend some time
studying meditation techniques. These can help you get your
emotions under control.
Tip #8: Stay Sober
There are no advantages to being drunk at the
poker table. Alcohol impairs your judgment, period. It’s better
to just stay sober. We know players who “pretend” to be drunk at
the table in order to take advantage of other players. But most
of them are not really pretending. If you smell like booze,
you’re probably drunk.
Tip #9: Ignore Televised Poker
A lot of players try clever fancy
moves at the poker table because they’ve watched too many
episodes of World Poker Tour. Here’s the secret about those
shows: they’re heavily edited. Most poker hands are boring in
the extreme. They show you the most exciting ones. But it’s easy
to get confused and think poker is played one way based on what
you’ve seen on television, but it ain’t necessarily that way in
Tip #10: Think
We mentioned this before, but Texas holdem is a
thinking person’s game. If you want to succeed, you need to pay
attention to what’s going on, even when you’re not involved in
the hand—which is going to be most of the time, because most of
the time you won’t have playable cards. Think about the numbers.
Think about what cards the other players might have when they’re
making their decisions. This will go a long way toward improving
Our best Texas holdem advice?
Don’t get suckered into thinking you’re a great player just
because you’re on a winning streak. This is the biggest mistake
most new players make. Texas holdem is a high variance game.
We have an entire section devoted to advanced strategy for
Texas holdem players. We won’t get into a lot of detail about
advanced tactics on this page, but we will say that advanced
strategies only start to matter when you’re playing other expert
You don’t need advanced strategy to beat novice players.
Solid ABC poker is good enough to beat novice players.
But once you start dealing with thoughtful, expert players
with lots of experience, you have to start taking things like
game theory into account. You have to start bluffing and
semi-bluffing occasionally. Deception becomes more important.
(We also have a section explaining Texas holdem and game
Raising with your good hands and folding your bad hands is
good enough to win when you’re playing novices, but when you’re
dealing with advanced players, you need a more multi-dimensional
We don’t recommend cheating at Texas holdem. It’s an easy
enough game to beat if you play honestly—if you’re willing to do
the work of becoming an expert player. And the risk-reward ratio
for cheaters is awful.
In Las Vegas, cheating in a casino is a felony.
In fact, we’re firmly convinced that cheating at gambling is
a bad idea for lots of reasons. Karma is one of the significant
If you don’t want to get cheated, don’t try to cheat other
players. Being a good player is more fun and more satisfying,
And there’s not much risk involved in becoming an expert
New players think that bluffing is a more important part of
Texas holdem strategy than it actually is. There are several
things to keep in mind about bluffing. Most of them just flat
out have to do with the math.
Let’s look at an example of a situation where you might want
The first player to act bets. The 2nd player to act raises.
Player 3 re-raises. A couple of players fold, so now it’s your
turn to bet. (This is preflop.)
Trying to bluff these 3 players doesn’t make a lot of sense
from a mathematical standpoint. They’ve all indicated a strong
hand—sure, one of them might be bluffing, but all 3 of them?
After all, the good cards have to be somewhere.
Let’s look at another situation. You’re the last person to
act before the blinds, and everyone has checked. (Again, this is
You fire off a raise.
But you don’t have good cards. You’re just hoping that
everyone else has weak cards.
What are the odds that the player in the small blind, the
player in the big blind, and all the other players who checked
have weaker hands than you do? And even then, what are the odds
that if they all have weaker hands that they’re all going to
fold? Or that some of them won’t improve?
You then have to compare those odds with how much you’re
going to get paid off if they do all fold. There would have to
be a lot of money in the pot.
Let’s say you assume that each of these 4 players at the
table have a 50% chance of folding in the face of your raise.
50% X 50% X 50% X 50% = 6.25%. That’s the probability that
they’ll all fold in the face of your raise. That’s about 15 to
So to make that a profitable bluff, you’d need to have at
least 15 units in the pot for every unit you bet. With that much
money in the pot, even some of the less sophisticated players
are going to stay in just in case their longshot comes through
Semi-bluffing, on the other hand, often makes a lot more
sense. This is when you bet and/or raise even though you
probably don’t have the best hand, but you still have a chance
at drawing to the best hand.
An example of this is when you have 4 cards to a flush on the
flop. You figure your opponent has a high pair. He’s the
favorite to win, but when you add together the chance that
you’ll outdraw him with the chance that he’ll fold in the face
of your bet/raise, you have a positive expectation situation.
You have a 33% chance of hitting your flush (roughly). But
suppose you also have a 30% chance of him folding. You don’t
need a lot of money in the pot to make that a bet worth making.
We have an entire page devoted to the subject of bluffing and
Earlier we mentioned that there’s a difference between
tournament strategy and cash game strategy. We want to reiterate
that here and point you toward that section of our site.
Your goal when playing in cash games is to maximize the
amount of money you win per hour. That might seem obvious, but
when you’re mapping out a specific strategy for a specific game,
you need to start with what winning looks like. In cash games,
it means maximizing the amount won on average per hour.
Contrast this with strategy during a tournament. Your goal
isn’t to maximize the number of chips you win per hour. Your
goal is to maximize your return on investment on the entry fee.
The chips have no real value. Another way to look at it is to
say that the value of the chips varies based on where you are in
If you’re “on the bubble”, which means that almost everyone
has been eliminated except for the players who are going to land
in the money, a short stack of chips might be “worth” a lot more
than your starting stack of chips.
This has interesting implications for your playing strategy.
Coaches, Coaching, Trainers, and Training – Where to Get
Texas Holdem Lessons
We’re not convinced that everyone needs a poker coach.
Coaching is probably not a bad idea if you’re serious about your
game, though. The distinction between a Texas holdem coach and a
trainer is probably not great—we don’t know of any training that
differs in any significant way from coaching. In fact, we’re
confident in saying that the two words are synonymous in this
Where to get Texas holdem lessons?
We’re not convinced that you need them, but if you’re looking
for a poker coach who gives lessons, we suggest taking a look at
some of the more reputable poker forums online. Get to know some
of the players there, develop some relationships, and when you
start to get comfortable with some of these folks, ask someone
for a recommendation.
We offer more observations and tips about finding poker
coaches and lessons on a page devoted specifically to that
Really you can ask multiple questions about betting options
in Texas holdem:
When should you fold?
When should you bet?
When should you call?
When should you check?
When should you raise?
When should you bluff?
None of these questions, including “when should you fold”,
have definitive answers. Some situations are clear folds—if
you’re out of position before the flop and you have 27 offsuit,
you should probably fold. If you’re in late position facing lots
of callers, and you have pocket aces, you should almost
The goal is to get your money into the middle of the table
when it’s a positive expectation move to do so.
The other goal is to avoid putting money into the pot when
it’s a negative expectation move to do so.
We go into a lot more detail about when to fold in Texas
holdem on our main page.
Texas holdem is a lot of fun. Luck’s a big factor, but Texas
holdem strategy is the difference between long term winning and
long term losing.
We’re constantly expanding this section. Entire books have
been written about some of these concepts. We’ve tried to
provide comprehensive explanations of each off these concepts,
but we might have left out a detail here or there.
If you see a mistake we’ve made, or if you think we should
add something to cover the subject more completely, please contact us and let us know.
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