Texas Hold Em: Tips, Strategy And Hands

Tips and strategies for playing Texas Hold'em.

With televised championship poker being all the rage -- not to mention, the movement to add poker to the Olympics -- Texas Hold'Em, a mainstay of casino card games, has enjoyed renewed popularity.

You've seen it before. Each player gets two cards. Then the dealer shows three open cards on the table (the flop), followed by a fourth (the turn) and a fifth (the river). You get to use any five cards of the seven (your two plus the five community cards) to make up the best hand you can to beat the other players. The intervening bets, raises and bluffs, of course, are what make the game interesting exciting to players and spectators alike.

Like most pure variations of poker (and unlike, say, Caribbean Poker), the dealer simply deals. You get to pit your skills against the other players. Your odds, therefore, are based entirely on the abilities of the players --- yourself included -- and the draw of the cards. You can win really big, or lose everything. Unlike many other casino games, you're probably less likely to keep fishing more money out of your pocket once you've sized up the competition and determine his or her comparative strength.

Since this is an article about tips and strategies, there's your first tip: Size up the competition. If you were playing against four slot machines, you would be safe to go with the straight odds on each machine. But people are unpredictable and, if you're lucky, flawed. So tip #1 is to keep your eyes and ears open and to be merciless to your own ego in evaluating the other guy. If you think you'll lose your shirt, you probably will.

Traveling clockwise around the table from player to player is a white disk labeled "DEALER". It's also called "the button". If you're not already familiar with its purpose, it keeps track of the designated dealer. In casino hold'em, this is not the actual dealer, but rather the player to whose left the cards are dealt. The position of the button will be an integral part of your strategy at the start of each round. The same can be said about the two blind bets, which start off and seed each round of play.

The blind bet is initiated by the player to the left of the designated dealer (small blind). The second player to the left raises with another blind bet (big blind). At that point, the cards are dealt. Unlike an ante, players call or raise the blind as they would any other bet. Since both blind bets are compulsory, they are considered "live blinds", meaning the small and big blind bettors can raise against their initial blind bets even when no one else has. Tip #2 is to understand how the button and blinds contribute to the play of the first round of each hand.



Example:

Let's say there are seven players in a $3/$6 game of hold'em. The button is placed in front of you, making you the designated dealer. You know two things right off the bat: First, you have some position strength. After the two blind bets, you will see your two "hole" cards and then four players will bet (or fold) before you need to decide. The second thing you know is that the two blind bettors still have the option of raising. This can be further to your benefit because a subsequent raise may leave you again in a position of strength as the last to react to the raises. Contrast this to the position of the first player to the left of the blinds. The best information he has is that he already knows what the minimum bet must be -- the amount of the big blind. His decision during this round is probably the most difficult.

One more point about betting position. In hold'em, the first bet of each round always goes to the first active player to the left of the dealer button. The blinds are not a factor after the initial round of betting. So if that button is sitting in front of you, you get to bet last on every round of this hand. This is always a great position to be in for assessing the apparent strength of the other players.

Texas Hold'em has many similarities to 7-card stud. Both involve two hole cards followed by a series of four or five open cards with intervening rounds of betting. There are, however, different strategies. This stems primarily from the fact that you're sharing the community cards -- including the last card (the "river") which, in 7-card stud, would be your final down card -- with every other player. Because you only get to see a maximum of seven cards, you're severely limited in your ability to deduce which cards have been dealt already and which cards remain in the deck. This also means that with more available cards, there can be many more players at the table. Competition can get very stiff and very unpredictable. Perhaps then, tip #3 should be to find a table where a manageable number of opponents are playing. Go back to tip #1 if you have forgotten what was said about sizing up the other guy.

No matter how many players are at the table, hold'em play tends to go very quickly. You'll need to pace yourself to keep from running through a stack of chips in a hurry. If your hand is weak, don't think too long about whether to fold. The round will end soon enough, and a new one will begin. You can always catch a better hand later. Don't squander your chips just to stay in a game. Play the draw only if there's no apparent signs of strength around the table.

Key to your decision to stay or fold -- especially during the last round of betting after the river has been exposed -- is your ability to find the "nuts". The nuts are the best possible hands that can be made using the five community cards. Since each player has only two of their own cards to work with, the community cards usually (but not always) hold the key to the winning hand. Identifying the best possible hand and then comparing it to your own hand can make a huge difference in your playing strategy.

Example:

Assume the following community cards: A-c J-c 8-s 5-h 4-d

That Ace and Jack of spades combo looks like a nice beginning to a royal flush. But three hole cards are needed so that simply won't happen. In fact, no flush is possible. Straight to the Jack? Nope. Straight to the 8? That's possible. So is 5-4-3-2-A, but that would not beat the 8-straight. Neither would three Aces, which would be the third highest possible hand. However, both straights need to be filled on the inside, reducing the odds of both. Those trip Aces are starting to look pretty good. In fact, any high pair (tens or better) are worth staying in for...unless of course someone else at the table has already demonstrated their strength by way of aggressive betting. Wouldn't it be nice to have a pair of Aces in your hand now? Or better yet, a 6 and a 7!

One final note to you who are about to take the pot with an 8-high straight. If that strong bettor also has a 6 and a 7, then you get to split the pot, since you also share the high card, which is the Ace. Oh well. At least you didn't lose that hand.

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