Heading to Vegas for the weekend? Looking to try your hand at the game you’ve seen so often on TV? Have no clue where to start?
Here’s our 10-minute Texas Hold'em crash course to get you on your way.
Every couple months or so I'll have someone come up to me and tell me that they're going to Vegas for a couple days and they always ask me the same thing:
"What kind of poker tips can you give me?"
That question led to this article. So if you are going to give poker a shot, read this article first and your chances of success will improve greatly.
Editor's Note: This article assumes that you know the basics of how to play the game of Texas Hold'em.
If you're unsure of the rules and the way the game plays out, check out the Texas Hold'em rules first.
Is Poker Gambling?
The short answer is yes. The long answer is no, with a but.
Poker is gambling insofar as you can't control which cards you get, which cards your opponent will get or which cards will come on the flop.
But you can control when you put money into the pot.
By only putting money into the pot when the situation is favorable to you, and folding when the situation is unfavorable to you, you can win money in the long run playing poker.
You may still lose in the short term because of those uncontrollable elements, but if you regularly make better decisions than the majority of your opponents, you will more than likely make money.
The 30-Second Strategy Rundown
Texas Hold'em is a game about hand strength. Only the best hand wins at showdown.
So you want to plan to have the best hand at showdown before you put a single penny in the pot.
It all begins when you're dealt your two hole cards.
You want to play only the best possible hands before the flop because they make the best hands after the flop.
Generally you want to be playing around 18-20% of your hands at a full nine-handed poker table.
It doesn't seem like many hands, and it isn't, but it's the best way to show a profit.
Hold'em is often just as much about the hands you fold as the hands you play. If you play too many hands, you simply won't be able to profit.
You'll be throwing away too much money with weak hands to make it back with your good hands.
So play tight. Tight is right.
The Texas Hold'em games you find in the casino are generally very loose. A lot of players at the casino play 30% of hands or more.
When your opponents play weak hands before the flop, they make weak hands after the flop.
Weak hands are second-best hands, and your opponent's second-best hands are going to make you money.
Remember your goal. You want to have the best hand by the time all five community cards are out and the betting has finished.
There is no clear-cut answer as to what hand is good enough to take to showdown. It always depends.
But by playing tight you will ensure that you'll make more best hands and less second-best hands
During each hand you have to take into account the cards that are on the board and the possibilities that they offer.
Think about what type of opponent you're playing against and how the hand has played out.
Poker is a game of information. Be a sponge; soak up as much as you can and use it to your advantage.
Before you even see a flop you want to think about what hands you can make with the two cards you've been dealt.
Your goal is to make "top" pair (no other possible pair in combination with the board cards that can be higher than yours) after the flop with a very good kicker or better.
Or you want a hand that has a reasonable expectation of making a big hand (straight, flush, etc) on a later street.
Check out the hands below to see what you should consider as playable before the flop.
Monsters: AA, KK, QQ, JJ
These hands are already huge hands.
A single pair is often the best hand at showdown and these will often make an overpair to the board.
These hands are all extremely profitable and you should raise them whenever you are dealt them.
With AA-KK and even QQ you can and should re-raise.
Top pair hands: AK-AJ, KQ
These hands, when they hit the flop, usually make top pair with a good kicker.
Kickers are very important in texas holdem poker because two players will often flop the same pair and it comes down to the kicker to break the tie.
When you have one pair your kicker is almost always going to play.
For example, on a A♦ 3♠ 4♠ 7♦ 2♥ board, A♠ Q♠ will beat A♥ T♥ because the winning hand of A♠ A♦ Q♠ 7♦ 4♠ is better than A♥ A♦ T♥ 7♦ 4♠.
When you play tight you're going to be winning the battle of the kickers and your loose opponents will be paying you off with worse kickers.
Top-pair hands you can also play if there is a raise in front of you by just calling and seeing the flop.
If nobody has raised in front you should raise these hands for value before the flop.
Suited Connectors: QJs-89s
At the casino, many players play any two suited cards.
It's one of the biggest mistakes new players make and they bleed money seeing flops with worthless hands.
Concentrate your efforts on suited connectors because they can flop both straight and flush draws.
When they're suited and connected it doubles the likelihood that they will see a flop they like.
Being suited or connected on its own is not enough to see a flop. They have to be both.
Suited connectors are profitable because they win big pots when they make straights or flushes.
Though they do make big pot hands, they should often be folded to a raise unless the raise is very small.
These hands do very well when you can get in cheap. Look to flop a draw or get out.
Pocket Pairs: TT-22
These pocket pairs are not monsters.
Often with small and medium pocket pairs the flop will bring at least one overcard to your pair.
When you are holding 6♦ 6♠ and the board comes J♦ K♣ 3♠ your hand is practically worthless.
The bulk of the value from pocket pairs comes from when they flop a set (three of a kind).
Three of a kind is a big hand in Texas Hold'em and when you flop a set you should look to get all-in as fast as possible.
That said, small pocket pairs benefit from cheap flops as well.
If you can see a multi-way pot against a small raise that's fine too but your main goal is a cheap flop.
If you don't hit your set you're best off folding.
Ace-X suited: A9s-A2s
These are the only weak aces you should ever play.
The reason why A-Xs hands are playable and other ace-rags are not is because they are suited and can make the nut flush.
If you make the ace-high flush you're going to win your opponent's entire stack if he has a smaller flush.
That said, many players get into trouble when they flop a pair of aces, only to be beaten by someone with a pair of aces and a better kicker.
Remember your goal. You want to take a cheap shot at flopping a flush draw. You don't want to get involved with a pair of aces and a weak kicker.
A-Xs hands should not be played against a raise unless it's very small and there are many players. Cheap flops are the key.
All other hands should be avoided like the plague. It will just be too difficult to turn a profit playing any more than the outlined hands.
Over time as you get better at poker you can gradually add more hands, but when you're learning you want to keep things simple.
Good hands before the flop means good hands after the flop. Good hands after the flop mean easier decisions for you.
Keep it simple.
As soon as the flop comes out, evaluate your hand.
Look at the board, look at what hands are possible and how your hand stacks up.
Remember: you want to make top pair or better or have a reasonable chance at a big hand.
If you have a pair that's smaller than top pair and there's a bet, get out of the way and fold.
If you have top pair with a good kicker, call or bet yourself.
Entire chapters of poker strategy books are dedicated to playing on the flop so we're going to continue keeping it simple here.
Examine how the hand has played out and remember: top pair is a good hand, but if multiple people are raising it may not be good enough.
If you have better than top pair - two pair or a set for example - you should often raise to get value from worse hands.
A note on draws: A draw is when you can either make a straight or a flush on the next card.
Draws are big hands because straights and flushes are almost always good enough to win at showdown.
All draws are not considered equal however.
For example 5♦ 6♦ on a 7♥ 3♥ A♦ board only has four outs - the four 4s - and the draw is weaker still because the 4♥ may also give someone a flush.
When you need the middle card to make your straight it's known as a gutshot.
The better straight draw is known as an open-ender. For example 8♠ 9♠ on a 6♥ 7♠ J♦ board.
In this example there are twice as many outs as a gutshot.
Open-enders are much stronger than gutshots. Gutshots should seldom be taken past the flop unless you get a free look or the betting is extremely small.
Flush draws have nine outs (based on 13 cards of each suit in the deck) and are very strong.
You generally can call one bet on the flop and if you miss on the turn you should abandon hope unless the betting is small.
Usually by the time it gets to the turn there are only 2-3 players left.
When a player makes it to the turn he generally has at least some piece of the board.
If you have the lead in the hand (meaning you've initiated the betting) and the turn changes nothing you should often keep betting.
If the turn completes the flush or the straight draw you should often tread carefully.
If you bet and get raised, it's often best to just fold.
The last street, the river, is usually contested heads-up.
Use the information your opponent has given you throughout the hand to figure out whether you should bet or call a bet.
Each play your opponent makes tells you a little bit more about his hand.
If he raises before the flop, then bets the flop and the turn and now bets again on the river, he usually has a big hand.
Conversely if he raises before the flop, bets into you on the flop, checks the turn and checks the river, he's usually going to be weak.
Again there are thousands of different variables and going through all of them is impossible.
Use critical thinking to figure out what your opponent may have and act accordingly.
Position is one of the most important factors in Texas Hold'em.
Position refers to your position in relation to the dealer button, which identifies which player acts last during the hand.
Acting last is a huge advantage in poker because you have more information.
When you act last you know if your opponent wanted to check or bet. You get to see everyone's actions before you decide what to do.
Nobody can see the next card or showdown until you say. You are in complete control.
Because of that, when you're in position you can play more hands than you normally would because you will have the inherent advantage of acting last.
Poker's a long term game
Though poker is a game that you can beat in the long term, it's still gambling to some degree.
You make decisions and then random cards come out. You control when you put money in but you don't control the deck.
It's that element of luck that makes the game interesting but it's also that element of luck that can make the game extremely frustrating.
You can make every decision right the entire night and still lose the session. You can make every right decision all week and still lose.
Conversely you can see some idiot in seat 10 play every hand and win a ton. It's the nature of the game.
It's what keeps the fish (bad players) interested, so embrace it. Look at each situation individually and make the best possible decision.
If you do that every time you will be a successful poker player in the long term. Try to downplay the importance of short-term results.
And last but not least: Have fun. Poker's a fun game, so don't take it too seriously.
If you're ready to give it a shot online, check out our list of the best Texas Holdem poker sites here.
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