Millions of people try their hand at Texas holdem poker, yet only a small percentage figure out how to consistently win. I’ve been playing Texas holdem for close to 20 years, and have been playing poker for around 40 years, so I’ve seen, and sadly made, just about every mistake you can imagine.
It took me at least five years before I was a decent Texas holdem player. This is because I simply didn’t know what I didn’t know, and I had to learn almost everything through trial and error. But you can benefit from all of my mistakes, because I’m going to share a simple plan with you.
If you take the time to read and use the information in this simple shortcut guide to Texas holdem strategy, you can cut years of painful learning off of your journey. You only need to master four things to start with a good chance to win on a regular basis.
You’re still going to need to invest a great deal of time and effort to be good enough to compete at the top levels, but this doesn’t mean you can’t win while you’re learning. Start with the four main sections below, and once you master each of them, you can learn what you need to work on next in the final section.
Starting Hands Rule
Though Texas holdem strategy can be complicated, it all starts with the hands you decide to play and the ones you decide to fold. The simple fact is that the best starting hand in each hand of play has the best chance to win. On the surface this makes sense, but very few holdem players seem to use this knowledge to their advantage.
The most costly area of almost every Texas holdem player’s game is playing too many hands. The players who tend to win the most are the ones that enter the pot with a better hand on average than their opponents. Once you understand and start using this fact, you’re going to start winning more. And the fact is that there’s only one way to start using this information.
I know that it gets boring folding hand after hand and you just want to get into the action. But in my experience, it’s a great deal more fun to win than to play a bunch of hands. You need to immediately start tracking how many hands you play as a percentage of total hands you could play.
At a full table of 8 to 10 players, you should play no more than 25% of your starting hands, including the blinds. In many games this percentage should be 20% or lower if you want to win the maximum amount. For comparison, most Texas holdem players play 30 to 40% of their starting hands.
When you play over 20 to 25% of your starting hands, there’s simply no way you can be playing a better hand on average than your opponents.
Consider this from a slightly different viewpoint.
If you enter a hand with pocket queens against an opponent with pocket jacks, you have a very high chance to win. You won’t win every time this happens, but in the long run you’re going to make more than you lose.
If a third player is also in the hand with ace 10, you’re still going to win more than you lose in the long run. You won’t win as often as when there are just two of you in the hand, but the hand is still profitable on average.
If you’re the person with ace 10 facing an opponent with pocket queens and one with pocket jacks, you’re going to lose more than you win in the long run.
This appears to be simple when you look at it this way, but most Texas holdem players don’t use this knowledge when they decide to play weak hands. The fact is that when you play hands like jack 10 or eight nine suited; the odds of you having the best hand when you enter the pot are small.
The truth is that once you learn more about proper Texas holdem strategy there are some hands you can play for a profit that aren’t the best hand when you enter the pot. But you need to reduce the number of hands you play until you start winning. Then you can start adding some of these special hands once you learn how to play them profitably.
Hands with small pocket pairs or middle pairs like pocket seven, eights, and nines can be played for a long term profit in no limit Texas holdem. But you have to play them a specific way. You have to play them for set value, maximize your wins when you hit a set, and minimize your losses when you don’t hit a set.
For now, focus on only entering the pot with your best hands, shooting for somewhere around 20% of the time. This alone will improve your long term results a great deal over playing 30 to 40% or more of the possible hands.
Find the Best Games
This is another thing that seems like common sense, yet almost no one does it. If you had the choice between playing Texas holdem against eight people who were better players than you and eight players who are worse players than you, which game do you think is going to be more profitable?
Of course you’re going to win more against the weaker players. So why do players ignore the competition when they pick a game?
This takes some time to build a knowledge base of what to look for in your opponents, but it’s well worth your time to learn how to spot weaker players and tables filled with them. If you have trouble finding games with weak players, consider starting your own game and only invite weak players.
The best Texas holdem game isn’t the one with professional players. It’s the game where you look like a pro and everyone else looks like a fish.
Protect Your Bankroll
Your bankroll is important because if you run out of money you can’t take advantage of profitable opportunities. If you walk into a poker room and find a game filled with weak players you want to take advantage of the opportunity. But if you don’t have enough money to play in the game you can’t take advantage of the opportunity.
You also need to understand that no matter how good you are as a Texas holdem player, sometimes you’re going to lose. This means that even profitable players have to have a bankroll large enough to let them ride out the short term variance that causes swings in your bankroll.
If you play $500 buy in no limit Texas holdem, you should have at least $10,000 for a bankroll. As you’re learning how to win, 30 times is an even safer number.
If you’re struggling to win at one limit or level, don’t be hesitant to move down a level or two. This improves your bankroll ration and usually let’s you play against weaker competition. You need to protect your bankroll as much as possible, especially until you learn how to win on a consistent basis.
Controlled Aggressive Play
If you read much about Texas holdem strategy, you’ve probably read that tight and aggressive play is the way to win. While this is good advice for the most part, you can’t use uncontrolled aggression. This can be just as costly as passive play.
In the first section I covered starting hand play. If you follow the advice I gave, you’re going to be playing tighter than most of your opponents. This takes care of the tight part of the equation.
The reason why aggressive play is usually better than passive play is because it gives you another way to win and it puts pressure on your opponents, which can lead to them making mistakes.
The way aggressive play gives you another chance to win is because when you bet and raise you can win by having the best hand at the end or when your opponents fold. When you check and call the only way you can win is by having the best hand at the end.
But when you play aggressively without control, like betting and raising like a maniac even when you don’t have a decent hand, good players are going to take advantage of your aggression and stack you when they have a good hand.
You do need to play in an aggressive manner, but you need to learn how to walk the fine line between controlled aggression and pushing things too far. For now, play your best hands aggressively and look for select opportunities to use aggression when you have decent but not great hands. As you gain experience you’re going to learn when it’s best to be aggressive and when you should back off.
The Next Steps
Once you master the four things you learned above you should be able to win on a consistent basis. But if you want to play like a pro and continue improving, your work isn’t done. Here are some things that you need to work on mastering next.
Expected value – Expected value is the most important concept you need to learn about if you want to win as much as possible as a Texas holdem player. It’s not a simple or fast thing to learn, so I didn’t include it in the main sections above. But once you master everything I included above, start learning about how expected value works and how you can use it to improve your long term profits.
Pot odds – Pot odds are a fairly simple way to determine the long term profit or loss you’re going to get for staying in a pot. You used the odds of winning the hand and the ratio of the amount of money in the pot to the amount you have to invest to stay in the hand. Pot odds are a part of most expected value computations.
Bet sizing – Winning Texas holdem players learn how to maximize the pot size when they win and minimize it when they lose. The way to influence the size of the pot is by using proper bet sizing. It takes time and experience to learn proper bet sizing, but it’s a great help in maximizing your long term profits.
Position – Position is so important that I almost included it in the main sections of this page, but I wanted to keep the shortcut guide as simple as possible so you could get started quickly. The basic rule is that the later your position, relative to the dealer button, the more hands you can play. This means that in early position you should only play your absolute best hands.
It’s easy to learn how to play real money Texas holdem, but it takes a great deal of work to learn the best strategy if you want to be a long term winner. The fastest way to start winning on a consistent basis is to master starting hand selection and play in games you can beat. Though this sounds simple, few players take advantage of these simple steps.
Once you master these two things you can continue improving your strategy and decisions as you play. No one starts out winning on a consistent basis, but if you follow the simple steps in this shortcut guide you can start winning faster than most Texas holdem players.