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Texas hold’em has become an extremely popular game in casinos around the world. It’s easy to play, allows you to interact with other players without forcing you to play against the casino, and good players can even earn a living by honing their skills and competing in major tournaments.
That said, Texas holdem is a tough game to master, and worries about “poker sharks” can intimidate many new players, keeping them away from this wonderful game. And while it is true that you shouldn’t jump right into a high-stakes game without knowing you have the skills to handle it, a low-limit game at your local casino or an online poker site like Intertops won’t be filled with sharks. Instead, most of your opponents will be casual players who have a basic knowledge of the game, but fairly limited skills.
Still, it helps to know a little more than just the rules before you start playing. With that in mind, here are a few key tips to get you started on the right foot when playing Texas hold’em. These tips aren’t going to be enough to win the Aussie Millions, but they will give you a leg up against the average player who hasn’t thought much about the strategies and tactics that are critical to playing this game.
One of the most important concepts that new poker players have to master is that of aggression. It’s very tempting to call more often than you bet or raise; after all, calling is safer, keeps the pot smaller, and lets you feel as though you’re in control of the situation.
In reality, though, it’s the aggressive player who has more control over every hand. By making bets and raises rather than calling with strong poker hands, you’ll put your opponents to the test and constantly make them make difficult decisions — which gives them even more opportunity to make big mistakes. When you’re the one betting, you can win in two ways: you can have the best hand, or you can force your opponents to fold.
Sometimes this style will burn you, causing you to lose money you could have “saved” by simply calling. However, in the long run, this controlled aggression will allow you to win more money than you lose, helping you show a profit.
Everyone knows to bet when they make a big hand like a full house. But what about when you have a hand that’s probably best, but leaves plenty of room for your opponents to potentially have an even bigger hand? These are hands where players often check and call (or even fold), when in reality, you should still be betting until your opponents give you a reason to stop.
We don’t mean that you should be betting with a small pair when several overcards are on the board, or when it seems likely that your opponent has just made their flush draw. However, it’s important to bet with hands like top pair, good kicker on the flop to ensure that you’re getting full value when you do have the best hand. A top pair hand will usually be good, and in a low-stakes game, players will often call to the river with much less, allowing you to earn a few extra dollars by playing them aggressively.
When we talk about being aggressive, we mean in situations that warrant it. That doesn’t mean that you should be playing every hand you receive, as most starting hands simply aren’t worth trying to play. Be sure to play your big pairs, your big cards (like ace-king and ace-queen), and suited connectors (hands like 87 suited or even though with small gaps, like 97 suited). Suited aces (like A5 suited) are also valuable, and unsuited connectors (like 98 offsuit) are playable, too. But don’t play junk unsuited hands, even when they contain a tempting ace or king.
When you watch poker on television, you’re likely enthralled by the amazing and audacious bluffs that professional poker players pull off against each other. Of course, the television highlights make it hard to realize that these bluffs are actually far less common than they seem, and professionals resort to such complex moves because their opposition is so strong, and they must work hard to keep them off balance at all times.
In a typical low-limit or casual game, there’s no need to try outlandish bluffing. Sure, there are times when it seems pretty clear that a bluff will likely win you the pot, and in those cases, it makes sense to throw out a bet even when you hold nothing in your hand. But in the vast majority of cases, it’s much better to simply value bet your good hands and stay out of the action when you don’t have cards that can win at showdown.
This is related to the last tip, and is just as important. As great as it feels to catch an opponent in a bluff, you should realize that your opponents are usually telling the truth: an aggressive bet from an opponent (especially considering that most casual players are rather passive in their play) almost always means that they have the goods, and that you should back off unless you have a monster hand yourself.
Of course, this doesn’t apply equally to all players. It’s important to keep an eye on your opponents and figure out which ones like to bluff far too often. You can often induce those players into making bluffs at bad times, allowing them to build big pots with nothing in their hand. You can also call with relatively weak hands against these players more often, as you’ll find out that they had nothing at showdown a surprisingly high amount of the time. Just keep in mind that even the most habitual bluffer will sometimes have the goods, and that most low-limit players don’t fit this mould.