Tue, May 28, 3:14am by Charlotte Lee
Last Updated Tue, Feb 4, 6:43am
These days the most popular poker variant is Texas holdem, thanks to its use as the game of choice during the World Series of Poker. This is the game used during the WSOP’s main event, and thanks to an explosion in the game’s popularity in the late 1990s and early 2000s, it is sometimes the only game played in tournaments or ring games at head to head poker websites and in the smaller poker rooms in casinos and other gambling venues around the world.
Learning to play the game is the first step towards building a solid strategy for playing it. For beginners just starting their Texas holdem play, there is no point in trying to play deceptively or attempting to bluff or even read your opponents. Until you get a good handle on the game, strategy is fairly simple. Bet good hands and fold bad ones.
Early on, developing a strategy simply means learning the rules and playing as often as you can. That’s how you’ll learn to read other players. The more flops you see, the better you’ll be at reading them. The same goes for reading your opponents and learning to use psychology and bluffing to dominate the other guys at your table. Start by learning the rules. Develop your understanding by playing a ton of games. Then dive into more complex strategy.
A blind is nothing more than a required wager. Blinds are used to increase the size of pots. Think of a blind as an extra ante – each game has two of these forced antes per hand. Since blinds rotate among players, an average game (with 9 or 10 players around a table) means each player posts a blind twice every nine or ten hands. Two blinds exist – the big blind and the small blind. A big blind is considered a full-sized bet, while a small blind is always half of the big blind. Since games are always categorized by the size of the blinds, it is important to understand how blinds work. Those signs over the game that say something like “$5/$10” are indicators of the size of the blinds; in this example, the small blind is a $5 bet and the big blind is a $10 bet.
Play begins with two cards dealt to each player face down. These are known as your “hole cards,” or sometimes your “pocket cards” and they are important since their value is what you’ll base your initial bet on.
The position of the dealer, marked in live casino games and online versions by the dealer button, determines the order of betting. The player to the left of the button makes the first bet. This player is also in the small blind position and has the first choice of calling, raising, or folding a hand. Calling the bet means matching the big blind’s size even though they’ve already laid the small blind ante. Folding means ending your play this round, tossing your cards in and declaring that you fold. Even in fold situations the small blind bet is lost. Raising at this point requires increasing the size of the pot beyond the size of the big blind ante.
If the player at the small blind position doesn’t call or raise the bet pre-flop, the big blind position player doesn’t have to increase the pot to stay in the game, though that player can choose to raise if they want to.
After the player in the big blind position makes his move, the option to either call, raise, or fold moves around the table to the other players. After all bets pre-flop are made, it’s time for the flop itself.
The point in each game when the dealer lays the game’s first community cards (three of them) is called the flop. These cards are “community cards” because all players can use them to improve their hand.
The flop is critical to game strategy because it contains the most information about the other player’s hands. Post-flop activity is sometimes the most active part of a hand – plenty of bets, raises, and folds take place at this point of the game. The first player to take action post-flop is the player to the left of the dealer. He can choose to raise or call. Once a bet is called by all players still in the game this betting round ends. A player who bets when all other players fold is the winner and the game starts over with a different dealer.
When the dealer turns over a fourth community card, this is called the turn. Another round of bets begins. Since more information is revealed by the turn, another round of betting is necessary.
After the turn and its betting round, the dealer reveals the fifth (and final) card held in community; at this point all of the cards used in the game have been dealt. Another betting round takes place post-river, after which the showdown begins. If more than one player is still in the game after the first four rounds of bets, the showdown commences.
At this point, each player shows their hole cards and a winner is determined. The description above makes the game sound pretty simple; when you sit in on a real hand, the psychology involved in the game becomes apparent.
Beginners need not worry about all this psychological stuff – bluffing, reading tells, and getting in your opponents heads can wait for later.
At this stage in your understanding of the game, it is enough to watch how hands are improved during the flop, river, and the turn. Try to work out what your opponents are doing with each of their actions and work to improve the value of your hand at the same time. Once you can accomplish these two feats with relative and regular success, you’re ready to move on to more complex holdem strategy.
When it comes to new poker players, the most common and easily fixable error made is playing far too many hands. While it cane be fun to get into the action as often as possible, playing marginal and bad hands will only cost you money in the long run. Big pocket pairs like AA, KK and QQ play well all the time, as do big suited hands. Any hand with two big unsuited cards can also be good, but usually only in small pots, as they’ll usually only make top pair.
Other hands that are very playable include low pairs like 66, suited aces such as A?8?, and suited connectors like 9?8?. These hands don’t always play well when the stacks are small, but if you and your opponent are deep stacked, they can easily win you a huge pot when you flop a big hand. If you can get in cheap in late position, unsuited connectors (T?9?) and suited one- and two-gappers (like J?8?) are also playable.
One of the most important concepts that new players regularly fail to recognize and understand is position. Being “in position” on a hand – that is, being the last player to act on each betting round – is a huge advantage, as it gives you the most control possible over the size of the pot, as well as the most information possible about your opponents’ hands before you have to make a decision. If you’re the last to act, you always have the option to check or call in order to keep a pot small, or to bet (or raise) in order to make it bigger. This also allows you to safely play a wider range of hands, as you can play more marginal holdings if you already know your opponents haven’t been betting and raising in front of you.
In contrast, being out of position puts you large at the mercy of your opponents when it comes to pot size, and means you’ll be acting before you get to see what your opponents do on each hand. When out of position, players (especially those new to the game) should stick to only playing premium hands – and even then, you’ll want to be more cautious than normal.
The majority of the time, you should be putting pressure on your opponents by making bets and raises, rather than checking and calling your opponents’ bets. By playing aggressively, you build big pots when you have the best hand, often earn free cards when you have draws, and can win pots that nobody else wants even when you don’t have a hand. Essentially, being aggressive will always give you a better chance of winning any pot you’re involved in, and will force your opponents to pay for staying in hands against you – forcing them to make the tough decisions.
On the other hand, if you’re playing low-stakes no-limit hold’em, it’s likely that most of your opponents will be playing rather passively. This makes their aggression stand out even more than usual. If a typical opponent starts betting into you, they’ll almost always have a real hand: passive players rarely bluff, so don’t count on catching them in one by making a heroic call with a hand that can’t beat them unless they have nothing. Instead, be willing to back down to aggression unless you are against an opponent who regularly plays aggressively, or if you have a truly strong hand that can beat even most “good” hands.
If you watch televised poker, you’ll be amazed at the huge bluffs that top players frequently run against each other. There are two reasons why you shouldn’t try emulating this. First of all, they’re actually not bluffing nearly as much as you think they are, as the edited versions of the sessions that are shown on TV are focused on only the most interesting hands. Secondly, even if you saw exactly how often great players bluff against each other, it would still be wrong to bluff at that frequency.
Why’s that? Well, it’s mostly because your opponents at lower limits will tend to call far too often with weak hands. That’s exactly the type of opponent that you don’t want to try bluffing: they’ll too frequently call you with hands they “should” fold, thus beating your bluffs. Essentially, your frequent bluffs will be making their “bad” calls into good ones!
Instead, you should punish theses players by making value bets with good hands. If nobody has played back at you, a hand like top pair, top kicker is well worth betting on the river. Chances are that many of your opponents will decide to call just to see what you’ve got. This is the most effective way to punish other players for never folding weak hands!
Are there several bets and raises going in on the turn or river? Chances are that your top pair hand isn’t good. In fact, if the raising is getting heavy in a game of weak, passive players, then you might even have to suspect that two pair or a set (if a flush or straight seems likely) can’t hold up, and that it’s time to fold. Big hands will ultimately win the huge pots you run into, while hands like top pair are better for winning smaller pots in which you’re the only real aggressor.
Similarly, if there’s a lot of money going into the pot preflop, you’re going to have to assume that one of your opponents has a big pair or a hand like AK. Depending on just how much money is going into the pot (and just how tight your opponents are), it’s possible that you might need KK or AA (or even just aces!) to call a huge all-in before the flop. For smaller all-in amounts, remember that having a pair or a big ace puts you in great position, while other good hands like small suited connectors really don’t play well in these situations.
Finally, one of the most important tips we can give to new players is to avoid the temptation to correct or berate your opponents. It can feel really good to tell a player they made a terrible call after they get lucky and hit a one-outer to beat you, but that’s really the wrong way to go. Not only could you potentially be educating a player who you will likely beat in the long run, but even worse, you might destroy the mood at your table. This could cause players to tighten up or even leave, which will definitely hurt your earning potential.
“Freezeout” is a term used in online poker rooms for events where you have one stack of chips, with no re-buy or add-on option. When a player loses all their chips, they are out of the tournament. Freezeout events work just like most land-based poker tournaments do, including most televised poker shows. The World Series of Poker Main Event is the world’s most famous freezeout event, but the term is used in online card rooms, too.
It’s best to play a tighter style in the early stages of these events. A lot of weak players are going to be in the field. Many of these players are going to be on draws. If you tighten up your game, you increase the chances you survive into the middle phase of the tournament, when it’s time to make your move.
A fine line exists between tight and too tight, so remember you have to survive, but also build a chip stack for later. Even playing tight/aggressive, you’ll need some luck to move on. That means you’ll have to put your neck on the line a few times. Pick your spots and hope your opponents don’t draw what they need.
In the middle stages of the event, you’ll want to loosen your play style. Most of the bad players are going to be eliminated by now, though some move into this stage by sheer weight of numbers. Most of what’s left are good players, so bluffs and especially semi-bluffs have a chance of working.
Find a spot to steal on average every one time around the table. This preserves your chip stack. Try to find spots you can increase your chip stack, too. Being the low stack is dangerous in this stage.
If you become the low stack on the table (or close to it), when you have a good hand, so all-in and try to double up. Someone is likely to sense weakness and call that all-in bet, so understand when you go all-in that your tournament life is likely to be at stake.
Towards the middle-to-late stage, players are going to tighten up considerably. At a point, finishing in the money is going to become more important to many competitors than building up their chip stack (depending on circumstances). If you have a solid chance to finish in the money, play aggressively and take advantage of these player’s tightness to build up your chip stack.
Aggression is important in this late stage. The blinds become enormous and many players are just hoping to survive. The longer many stay in the tournament, they more money they make. For many, survival is most important to them.
Observe and try to figure out which players you can push around. Stealing the blinds is important at this stage. When making the final table becomes a possibility, many players become even tighter. Use this against them.
Rebuy tournaments are much different than freezeouts. Players don’t worry about surviving in the rebuy period (at the start). They know they can pay for a new set of chips, so they play with aggression.
Many players play loosely, hoping to get lucky and build up a big chip stack for the middle part of the tournament. Unlimited rebuys take this to its logical conclusion. Players are known to see 80% of the flops, hoping to catch a flop. Daniel Negreanu is known to have used 48 rebuys in one WSOP unlimited rebuy event back in 2006.
Many players don’t have that money to spend, so they play a semi-loose style. They want to have a decent hand, but they may not be as selective as they would be in a freeze-out event. Don’t play the hand you have almost no chance of winning. Don’t make massive overbids.
Play like you might in a cash game where you know you can buy more chips, but you’d just as soon not. Add-on events have similar strategy, because players know they have a chance to refill and replenish their chip count.
When you play a freeroll tournament, you’re certain to see a lot of fish. Bluffing has no effect. They got into the tournament for free and they’re willing to take the chance they’ll double up and have the big chip stack at the table.
In this situation, it’s better to play tight and only get into the action when you have confidence you’re ahead. Let the fish eat one another and try to catch the surviving big fish later.
The one strategy which is always in fashion is to play the odds and make sound decisions. When players are ahead most of the time as they bet into the pot, they’re going to be successful poker players. Learn strong and weak poker hands, then learn everything in between.
Know the pot odds when you decide to call or, better yet, raise. Individual tournaments and single hands may not go your way, but when you put yourself in the best position to win on a consistent basis, you’ll succeed over the long term. Playing intelligently doesn’t assure you’re win any given hand, but smart players are winning players.
The standard prize pool for a sit n go tournament is 50% for 1st place, 30% for 2nd place, and 20% for 3rd place. When deciding on a strategy, it’s best to determine what your overall outlook is going to be. Some gamblers try for 1st place, seeing it pays 2.5 times more than a third place finish. By this logic, you finish out of the money more, but you have more margin for error, if you push it. If you pay in 11% to the point each tournament, you need to win once every 4 to 5 events (though that’s hard to do). Assuming you’ll occasionally strive for 1st and end up 2nd or 3rd, a more realistic goal is to win once every 7 turbo events (or roughly 14% of the time) to be profitable. Again, that’s not easy, but good players should win more than 10% of the time. If you choose this grand strategy, aggression is your watchword.
If you prefer to place in the top three, then your strategies are going to be less aggressive. Many of your tactics will be based on survival. You’re hoping to make the cut. These players play tighter and hope to grind out wins here and there while opponents knock each other off. If you use this strategy, your aim is to finish in the top three every other sit’n go or, more realistically, every 2.5 turbo events.
At the start of a Texas holdem sit and go event, observe your opponents early on. Take down a few notes and sketch a quick profile of these players. If you play at this site a lot, see if you already have a scouting report on any of these players. Use any available site stats to draw a profile on them. Get in your head which play aggressive, which play tight, and which are simple maniacs. Get a general idea of the makeup of your table. This allows you to be flexible with your strategy.
If you have several aggressive players at the table at once, it’s best to tighten up your hand selection. Let these people pick on another off. A couple will go out quickly and a couple of others will have a big chip stack. Take advantage of aggression if you have a top hand, but otherwise stay out of the way.
If you sense that most of the players are playing cautiously, it’s a better idea to play with some aggression. The quicker you sense that you can steal blinds, the better it is for your chip stack. If most or all opponents seem willing to get out of the way and survive, use this to build up a large chip stack.
Whether you play tight or loose, be aggressive when you bet. Don’t simply call, because this makes you reactive. If you aren’t comfortable making a wager with the hand you hold, it’s usually best for you to fold. When you pump money into a marginal hand, you set yourself up for failure. Be bold and decisive once you get in the flop. Raise or get out of the way–don’t sit in the middle ground.
Once a few players lose, it’s common for gamblers to become more conservative. When 4, 5, or 6 players remain in a SnG tournament, they can see themselves finishing in the money. They tend to play more selective and go into survival mode. This is when targeted aggression helps you steal the pot and maintain your chip stack. The blinds get bigger at this stage, so you’ll need to steal blinds to maintain what you have.
This is especially true after the maniacs and aggressive players leave the field. Right after a couple of big all-ins, this is when players tend to become conservative. This is a perfect time to start stealing blinds, especially when you’re betting in position.
The closer you get to the bubble of making money on the game, the more aggressive you should become. This plays into your opponents’ natural tendencies and gives you a chance to build up your stack as you approach an endgame situation.
Every hand can be the most important hand of your tournament. Given the compact nature of sit & go tournaments, you could say that’s doubly so in this form of online poker. But each tournament has a few crucial points. One is the dividing time between “in the money” and busting out in 4th place, which is a waste of money and time. Other crucial phases are not as easily noticed.
One of the crux points of a turbo poker tournament is after a big kill-off. Imagine several of the aggressive players have a series of showdowns. Within a few hands, one or two go all-in and lose. These people are eliminated, while one of the aggressors has a massive chip stack now. In this situation, it’s natural for everyone at the table to take a deep breath.
The players who weren’t aggressive become more cautious, as they a big new stack of chips along with the consequences of showing too much aggression. The person with the big stack might bull ahead, now that they have their big stack. If they decide to consolidate or switch strategies for a bit, they might become less active for a few hands. In many cases, this is a point in the tournament where a lull ensues. This could be a good time to steal the blinds on a hand or two.
How you react should be determined by circumstances. If you have the big stack sitting behind you, it might not pay to bet into the pot. If you see the chip leader sit out of a hand and your turn comes, that might be a good time to push the others out of a pot or two.
Thus we come around full circle again to my original tip. Be adaptive to circumstances. Don’t have one rigid strategy. Shift gears when it appears you need to. Mixing things up helps throw your competition off and lets you use the reputation you’ve gained in the turbo event to good effect.