Practical Tactics in Playing Texas Hold Em Poker
After receiving pocket cards, you are immediately faced with a choice: play your cards and either raise or call the blinds, or fold. In making this choice, discipline yourself to:
- Play high cards.
- Play cards appropriate for your position.
As shown in the previous web pages, the majority of starting hands should be folded. Because premium and strong hands are rare and unevenly distributed, patience is required. You may play for two hours receiving garbage or you may get several premium hands in a row. It is important to develop the discipline to play the best cards, which at times requires long periods of waiting. Be wary of playing hands that seem stronger than they are. Having suited cards adds strength to your starting hand, but not as much as you might think. Flushes are rare hands, even when you start with two suited cards. Much of the money won in Hold'em comes from matching a high pocket card with a high card on the board to form a high pair, in combination with a high kicker.
Remember that before the flop, checking is not an option. To see the flop, you must call at least the big blind. Calling raises before the flop adds to your cost and usually indicates that the raiser has a strong hand. Only call raises before the flop if you have a strong or premium hand, and in most of these cases, you should re-raise.
When you have a premium hand, you should usually raise regardless of your position at the table. With AA and KK, you should re-raise. Raising from an early position tends to narrow the field and makes it more likely that your premium starting cards will win. Raising from a late position tends to build the pot since players who already called are less likely to fold. Your premium cards are less likely to hold up against many players, but you will win more money when they do. In either case, you benefit from raising.
With many players in the hand, you can play weaker starting cards. Drawing hands face long odds on winning, but if enough players contribute to the pot, the potential winnings make it worthwhile to enter with a drawing hand. For example, if you are in the last position and you have a connected straight-flush-draw like 5,4 6, and all the other players have called, but not raised the blind, entering is worthwhile. If the flop comes up 44 74 8, you have a well-disguised straight and could win big if the people holding high cards bet heavily. But the odds of hitting a flop that favorable are low. Therefore, if there are bets from the early-position players and folds from the mid-position player (which leaves only 3 or 4 players), you should fold, as well. The people who called in an early-position have good cards and you will not win enough money in this situation to justify playing for a long-shot draw.
When more players stay in the hand, or when there are more bets and raises, the pot gets large early in the hand. Large pots tend to protect themselves since players are less likely to fold when a great amount of money is on the table. When the pot is large, you should have premium starting cards or a draw to a straight or Ace-high flush. Again, for small pots, drawing hands should not be played since they don't win often.
Consider the following scenarios:
Scenario 1 You are dealt and fold the hand following the advice to play only high cards. The flop is . Betting is heavy after the turn and river cards and fold the hand following the advice to play only high cards. The flop is , and a large pot is awarded to someone holding pocket Queens. Your 5's full would have beat Queens and fives if you had stayed in the hand.
Don't regret your choice to fold a hand that would have been a full house: you made the correct decision. A miracle flop does not override the fact that over the long-run, playing low cards will cost you more money than you will win. Even your miracle flop is vulnerable to overcards on the turn or river. Had a Queen hit, the person with pocket Queens would beat you. You would also lose to opponents holding Jacks, 10's, or even 10, 5. While it is true that any two cards can win, to play profitable Hold'em, you must play high cards and fold low ones.
Scenario 2 You are dealt and you are in an early position. You call, and the player to your left raises. The next five people fold, and the player in the dealer position calls the raise. Then the blinds fold. Not wanting to fold after putting money in the pot, you call the raise. The flop is . There is a bet after the flop and you fold since your hand is now worthless. You need to catch two perfect cards to make the straight and it is likely that at least one of your opponents has paired the Ace.
You should have folded after the first raise. It costs too much to play for a straight or a flush in an early position, and against so few people, little money is won even if you hit your draw. The person who raised probably has a pocket pair or over cards, so you are an underdog from the start. Had you known about the raise and the small number of players, you would not have called the blind. From an early position, you can't know, so don't call.
Scenario 3—In last position, you are dealt . There are two callers ahead of you. You call, the small blind calls, and the big blind checks. The flop is . The small blind bets after the flop and you raise. The small blind calls the raise and then bets again after a turn card of . You call and then call again at the river to find the small blind takes the pot with a for two pair.
You should have raised pre-flop with KK. It is much less likely that the small blind would have called a raise with 9-7 off suit than call half a small bet to see the flop. If you do not raise with premium hands prior to the flop, the blinds can limp in with weak holdings. That means a flop of innocent looking garbage cards might be trouble for your KK. When you have hands like KK prior to the flop, raise and force your opponents to make decisions.
Summary of Pre-flop Play
These scenarios illustrate wishful thinking that you need to avoid. In short:
- Play premium hands from all positions. Raise, and call raises to stay in the game until the flop. With AA and KK, re-raise.
- Play strong hands from middle and late positions. Call the big blind, but use your judgment on calling raises.
- Play drawing hands from late positions. Only call the big blind if a large number of players remain (5 or more).
- Use judgment on calling raises, and remember that if many people also call the raise, it is correct to stay in the hand.
- Fold all other hands.