The Definitive Guide to Texas Hold’em Strategy
The focus of this blog is an in-depth view of Texas Hold’em Poker Strategy. Whether you’re just beginning and looking for basic strategy, or you’re a seasoned player looking for that next level, I believe there’s something here for everyone.
To make this blog easier to navigate, I’ve broken it down into four categories: basic, intermediate, advanced, and expert.
There are also several videos embedded throughout the blog, along with links to relevant articles, which cover topics, such as bet sizing, in further detail.
The concepts and strategies in this blog will apply to both cash games and tournaments.
If you enjoyed this post and would like to fast track your success, improve at hand reading, and outplay the competition consider joining our Pro Membership Programs.
Beginner Texas Hold’em Strategy
After you learn the rules of poker, you’ll want to adopt a simple strategy, which is both effective and easy to follow.
The simplest way to outplay your competition is to play stronger hands than they do.
For a simple yet effective strategy that you can use to make more money during your next session, watch this video. Even though I made this video four years ago (you’ll see how nervous I was!), all of these concepts still apply today.
As you’ve just heard, the most common mistake amateur’s (and pros) fall victim to, is playing too many hands. That’s why I’m going to focus the rest of the next two sections entirely on preflop play.
Deciding whether or not you want to play your hand is the first decision you make in Texas Hold’em; therefore, it’s often the most important: Preflop sets the tone for the rest of the hand!
While there is no one-size-fits-all poker strategy, in your next session, aim to play the following hands: 99-AA, KQs, AQ and AK.
If you commit to only playing these hands, you may be playing slightly too tight and not maximizing your win rate, but you’ll be starting out with a significant preflop edge over your opponents, and edges over your opponents increase the likelihood of ending the session with a profit.
You will also make it much easier to play your hands post flop, because all of the above hands “Flop” very well. Over time, as you become more comfortable with post flop play, you can expand your game to incorporate more playable hands, such as suited connectors and small pocket pairs.
I focus exclusively on starting hands in the beginning texas hold’em strategy section because it’s tantamount to understand opening strategies in poker. Once you have a solid foundation, then you can build on it.
The above outline is an extremely simple guide to choosing starting hands; however, for those looking for something more specific, please see the Intermediate Texas Hold’em Poker Strategy section.
Intermediate Texas Hold’em Strategy
As mentioned above, having a better understanding of preflop play is crucial to one’s success at the poker table.
Choosing to play a mediocre hand from a poor position—JT off-suit from early position, for example—will often lead to problematic situations later in the hand.
One can largely avoid tough postflop decisions simply by being more selective about which hands to play preflop.
It should be apparent that mastering preflop play is crucial. While it’s true that preflop play is an art that may take years to master—much like chess, where the standard play is to open E4 as white—poker has foundational principles that apply to all situations.
Beginning with a solid foundation of understanding and knowing what hands to play, and from which position to play, is a great place to start.
Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a simple system you could follow that, like chess, tells you which hands to play and from which position to play them?
And wouldn’t it be nice if you were also given the resources to adjust your strategy based on the nuances of your game and the tendencies of the opponent you’re facing?
That’s exactly what I’ve put together for you. The Quick Start Guide to Preflop Play is a 10 page PDF, equipped with preflop hand charts that tell you which hands to play and from which position, for both full ring and short handed play.
It also gives you an in-depth insight into how to adjust your strategy to the particulars of your game. I used to sell this content, but now I’m giving it away for free! I’m doing this for several reasons:
1. I’m striving to achieve my goal of having my free content be better than other poker site’s paid content.
2. I believe that once you see the value of my free content you will be more likely to try my premium paid site.
To get the Quick Start Guide to Preflop Play, simply enter your name and email in the form below, and I’ll send it over to you absolutely free.
100% privacy, 0% spam
Having a solid understanding of preflop play is imperative to continuing on to the more advanced strategy outlined in the rest of this article.
Improving at poker is a marathon, not a sprint. For many people reading this the strategy outlined in the Quick Start Guide will be sufficient for them to work into their game for the next few poker sessions.
My content is meant to be actionable and implemented. You won’t learn anything by reading. You must do.
It’s totally respectable to bookmark this page and come back to it at a later time after you feel like you’ve mastered the above.
For those whom are comfortable with the intricacies of preflop play and feel comfortable with the content thus far, move on to the advanced poker cash game strategy below.
Advanced Texas Hold’em Strategy
By now you should feel comfortable with preflop play and ready to move on to the more subtle nuances of Texas Hold’em poker strategy. I’m so glad you’re still here; this is where poker gets exciting.
CONCEPTUAL BASED LEARNING (CBL)
By now it should be obvious that there is no magic bullet to becoming a good poker player. It takes practice, patience, discipline, and a continual desire to explore and improve upon your weaknesses.
My goal for you at this stage isn’t to memorize theory and moves, but to improve your understanding of the essence of the game.
A poor chess coach would teach you to memorize the first 15 moves; a good coach would teach you to understand why it’s important to control the center board, enabling you to naturally understand the necessary development of the pieces.
I call this approach “Conceptual Based Learning” (CBL), and it’s the foundation of how I teach the game of poker. In the advanced section, we’re going to begin to explore important concepts in poker together, so your grasp and understanding of the game improves.
POST FLOP PLAY
Once you have preflop play well understood, you’ll need to understand how to think about post flop play.
Instead of merely advising you to use a basic exploitative texas hold’em strategy, such as continuation betting 100% of the time when you are the initial raiser, I’m going to show you how to think about the situation for yourself, so you can come to the best conclusion. We’ll explore some hand examples together so you can get some practice in.
There’s a simple 3 question survey I take before I make a decision at the table.
The first question I ask myself is: What am I trying to accomplish?
Continuing with the example above, let’s say you’re debating whether or not to continuation bet. This question helps me define what I’m trying to achieve before taking action. If I have nothing and am debating whether or not to bluff, this question highlights the act of betting: to get everyone to fold.
Once I’ve identified my objective—to get everyone to fold—the next question I’ll ask myself is, how likely is my play to succeed?
I then analyze the situation using logic to determine the probability that my play will show a profit.
I always follow this up with why?
If after analyzing the variables, the situation still looks favorable, I’ll proceed with a continuation bet on the assumption that it’s likely everyone will fold.
Here’s an example of how that looks in practice.
Hand Example #1
Let’s say that hero raises preflop in a $5/$10 NL Cash Game to $30,, from late position with Ts9s and the big blind (Villain) calls. They go heads up to a flop of Jc 4d 2s. Hero whiffed the flop, completely. The big blind checks and hero debates what to do. While many players would argue that the default play is to continuation bet, it’s imperative that we understand why.
Here’s the process:
What am I trying to accomplish?
Hero wants villain to fold.
How likely is my play to succeed?
Hypothesis: very likely.
Keep this simple.
1. Because hero raised preflop and villain just called; hero’s hand range is stronger.
Practically speaking that means hero can have QQ-AA, whereas villain can’t (because he didn’t re-raise preflop).
2. Villain defended from the big blind.
People typically defend with wide ranges from the big blind, making it very likely that villain doesn’t have a strong holding preflop.
3. The flop is unlikely to help villain.
This isn’t a coordinated board—there’s no flush draw, almost no straight draws, and it’s very hard for villain to have made two pairs. In short, there aren’t many hands that villain can continue with when facing a bet.
4. Betting is good for hero’s overall strategy.
Game theory plays an important factor when deciding what one’s overall strategy should be. In this exact situation, our hero will want to bet this flop almost 100% of the time (with his entire range), because of the reasons above. Betting the flop with all of our strong hands allows us to bluff with weaker hands; therefore, we easily win the pot.
5. Because hero has the lead in the hand.
Having the lead in the hand is important, but it’s far less important than many people think. Poker in 2017 is much different than poker in 2007, and it’s no longer enough to merely rely on having the initiative to justify continuation betting. With that said, it’s very unlikely our opponent will challenge us on a board like this because of the reasons identified above; as a result, acting as the preflop aggressor is very useful in this situation.
6. Hero can double barrel profitably on select turns.
When called, hero can continue betting if the turn comes any King, Queen, eight, or spade. Hero can also potentially win at showdown if he hits a Ten or Nine.
By having an internal dialogue and answering these questions in detail, it’s easy to see the merits of continuation betting. What I’ll often do if the situation is more ambiguous is play devil’s advocate and ask myself, why is this option bad?
In the case above, I struggle to find a reason why betting would be bad, other than the hand is weak and has little equity when called.
Hence, objectively, betting is the best play, here. It’s important to note that this internal dialogue doesn’t have to be long or complicated. As you’ll see in the following example, even in a much more complex situation, I can easily come to the right conclusion by using some simple logic.
While two players may have a rudimentary strategy of continuation betting, and the player who analyzed the hand using Conceptual Based Learning, detailed above, would come to the same conclusion as the player who always continuation bets the flop, when checked to, the player using CBL would do so for different reasons.
As you will see in the example below, understanding why one does something is crucial for making the correct decision, long term. Stick to the process and it’s far less likely you’ll make a mistake.
Hand Example #2
In a $5/$10 NL Cash Game, the Hero raises preflop from early position to $30, with AsKs, and gets called in three places: mid-position, button, and big blind.
The flop comes 9d 8d 6h. The big blind checks and our hero…? If we used the same rudimentary logic (continuation bet when we’re the initial raiser), we would end up making a poor choice and a losing play.
However, using the CBL approach we will come to the correct conclusion.
What am I trying to accomplish?
With no pair and no draw, I hope that everyone will fold and I will win the pot.
How likely is my play to succeed?
There are three other players in the pot and this board is extremely coordinated.
Without analyzing the specifics of each player’s range, it’s easy to immediately grasp that there are many hands which can continue on this board when facing a single bet. Furthermore, I have very little equity when called and cannot profitably bluff many turn cards.
I need not go into further analysis using more advanced concepts, such as game theory and range balancing, as the above reasons are plenty sufficient to determine that checking is the correct play. While it’s often fun to pontificate that from a game theory standpoint, most of my hands will want to check this board, I don’t need to bluff with hands like AsKs in order to be balanced, it’s far beyond what is necessary to determine the correct play here.
Keep it simple and leave philosophy for post game discussions.
Since this situation is crystal clear (checking is the best play), I need not analyze the opposite scenario and look for the benefits of betting the flop. I can simply check and give up, folding if someone elects to bet be behind me.
Hopefully, by now, you can see how the CBL approach will help you make effective decisions each time you’re faced with one at the poker table.
I strongly recommend adopting these principles and experimenting with them during your next poker session. Be comfortable with this approach before moving on to the expert Texas Hold’em poker strategy section.
If you’d like help and support during this phase of your poker journey, and if you’d like to join a community of aspiring players just like you, join my Pro Membership program on Conscious Poker. It’s absolutely free to join. The program includes the following:
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4. Exclusive poker strategy and training content in a members only area.
5. Plug into a community of aspiring players like yourself who are looking to improve at poker.
When you’re ready, you can move on to the expert poker strategy section below.
Expert Texas Hold’em Strategy
We’ve explored the inner workings of preflop play, and you’ve worked the conceptual based learning approach into your game.
If you haven’t already, I highly encourage you to bookmark this page and practice what you have learned before moving on to the rest of this section.
If you truly want to master expert poker strategy, the first adjustment I recommend to all of my clients and readers is to treat yourself like a professional poker player.
For most recreational players, that means changing their relationship with studying the game of poker.
To better understand how I believe this relationship should be, let’s look at the habits of professional football players. On Monday through Saturday football players practice, and on Sunday they play. That means roughly 85% of their time during the season is spent practicing. (In the offseason it’s 100% of their workday.) The same can be said largely about almost any other sport. If this is true on the professional sports level, then it definitely applies in poker.
Don’t worry if you’ve never studied the game before, or if this is your first time working through some of these concepts. With practice, this will all become second nature. The main software program I use is a poker equity calculator. While there are numerous poker programs available on the market, a $20 one-time purchase will often suffice for 95% of your calculations.
My preferred choice of poker software is PokerCruncher. For those who have never used a poker equity calculator, you can start by watching this quick tutorial video on how it works.
I don’t want you ever to take my word for why a certain move is the correct play, unless it can be backed up by math. In this section, I’m going to show you the pro analysis that I do following each session of poker that I play—in particular, when analyzing hands to determine the correct play.
Let’s continue using the example above. We concluded that continuation betting is the best play.
Now it’s time to prove it using numbers.
Below is a screenshot of the Big Blind’s defending range using PokerCruncher.
Highlighted in yellow are the hands in which our opponent typically defends preflop. In the upper right corner, you can see this range is roughly 30% of the deck. Don’t worry if your opponent defends wider or narrower than this range. While I understand ranges will differ from player-to-player and situation-to-situation, let’s accept this range as the default, BB defending range.
One suggestion I always recommend is to be extremely conservative when doing your range calculations. In doing so, if you still determine your play to be correct (in this case, determining that a continuation bet is profitable), then you can be sure it’s profitable in all situations.
In the example above, I aimed to give my opponent a narrower defending range from the BB, thereby making his hand range stronger, meaning there will be a higher probability that he calls our continuation bet, post flop.
Now we need to determine whether or not continuation betting is profitable.
First, we must determine how much we are going to bet if we bet at all. While I go into bet sizing in much more detail in my bet sizing blog, for now, it’s important to remember two things:
1. Our bet size should remain the same with all hands, thereby keeping our range balanced, and making our hand undetectable.
2. We should use a small bet sizing because the board texture is dry.
2b. Since we are going to be c-betting this flop 100% of the time, our range will include a good deal of bluffs. Keeping our bet sizing small allows us to risk less money to win the pot; consequently, we need our opponent to fold less often in order to show a profit.
Let’s say we are debating whether to bet $30 into a pot of $65. Because we are betting roughly half the pot, we only need our opponent to fold 1/3 of the time in order to break even. This is called our break-even point.
In this example we aren’t factoring in our equity when called; we are just determining our risk/reward ratio of betting the flop. We arrive at a 1/3 break-even point using the following math:
We bet 30 and get called. We lose $30
We bet 30 and get called. We lose $30.
Wet 30 and he folds. We win $65.
Accordingly, our bet needs to work slightly less than 1/3 times to break even.
In order to figure out how often our continuation bet will work, we need to figure out what percentage of the time our opponent will continue when faced with a half-pot bet. To do this, we need to figure out what percentage of his range will fold and what percent will call (or raise).
In the screenshot below, I gave the Villain a fair hand range for continuing when facing a bet. Note that continuing also means check raising, even if this means check/raising on a bluff. This is true because even if he check/raises (even with 65s, for example), he will still win the pot, because we will fold when faced with a raise.
The Villain’s continuing range is as follows.
Again, the BB’s actual flop defending range may be different than this. You can adjust these numbers in real time depending on your particular opponent, but just remember to be conservative in your estimations.
As you can see in the upper right corner, we estimate that the BB defends the flop with 12.7% of the hands. You remember that preflop, he defends with 30.1% of the deck.
To determine the BB’s defending percentage on the flop, simply divide the two numbers.
Defending on Flop Percentage = 12.7/30.1 = 42% of the time.
This means he will fold 58% of the time.
At this point, figuring out whether or not your continuation bet is profitable is simple. You need your bet to work 1/3 or 33% of the time to break even. Anything above that, you will show a profit.
Since we already determined that continuation betting (c-betting) will work 58% of the time, it means this c-bet is immensely profitable.
If you’d like to take this one step further, you can determine how profitable a bet is. This will come in handy in unique situations in cash games where you may want to give up a marginal edge in a huge hand (even though from a theory standpoint you should never do this), and in tournaments where factors like ICM give credence to passing up marginal EV situations.
I discuss these concepts in more detail in the respective cash game poker strategy and tournament poker strategy blog posts.
To determine how profitable this bet is, simply use the following math. Again, this assumes that the Hero has zero equity when called, which in fact isn’t true. As you can see in the screenshot, above, the Hero has 22% equity when called, so if the hand gets to showdown, Hero will win the pot 22% of the time.
Win% (Pot) – Lose% (Bet)
= 58% ($65) – 42% ($30)
= 37.7 – 12.6
Practically, this means that every time the Hero bets $30, he is showing a profit of $25.10, a pretty good risk/reward.
In short, Hero should bet this flop every time.
This is a real example of the pro analysis that I do following each session of poker that I play. I call this the 80-20 approach to studying poker. It’s the one exercise that you can do which will give you the most bang for your time.
If players committed to doing three of these exercises following each session they play, it would suck for the professionals because the average player would be much better. It’s powerful stuff.
By now you should have a solid understanding of Texas Hold’em strategy. For those who feel comfortable with the content, here, and are looking to take their game to the next level, with world-class poker strategy, our Membership Programs will be a great fit for you.
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