Texas Hold ’em Strategy

In Texas Hold ’em, the goal isn’t to win every hand. Instead, it’s to get the most out of a few hands you choose to play. This involves folding most of the time, and maximizing long run winnings on each round of betting you do play by making the best mathematical decisions.

Draw-outs, in which you draw cards that make your hand better than your opponent’s hand, are less likely in Texas Hold ’em than in stud poker because of the use of community cards, with only two cards dealt after the flop. So even more than in other types of poker, the trick in Texas Hold ’em strategy is to know when to play your cards and when to fold.

This will be determined by two factors – the strength of your cards and where you’re placed at the table.

Table Positions

In a typical game with nine players, the four players to the left of the dealer – including the two blind betters – are in "early" position, the fifth to seventh players are in "middle", and the last two players are in "late" position.

The player with the dealer button – a marker signifying the dealer position – acts last in every round of betting except in the first one. The button is passed clockwise around the table with each hand that’s dealt. A dealer button is also sometimes called a "buck" (hence the expression "pass the buck").

Players in the late position have an automatic advantage because they will have watched their opponents’ betting or raising behaviour before it’s their turn to act. They’ll have more clues about who may or may not be holding a strong hand, and can take a lot more risks than players in the early position.

When to Fold

A major difference between Texas Hold ’em and 7 card stud is that five-sevenths of your hand is defined by the flop – the first set of three community cards laid face-up on the table after only a single round of betting.

Even if you appear lucky with the first two cards you’re dealt, the flop may render them worthless. If the flop doesn’t strengthen your hand or offer a possible draw to a very strong hand, it’s time to lay down your cards.

Generally, don’t continue past the flop unless you have a strong pair and a good kicker (an unpaired side card), or the chance of a straight or flush draw with at least two opponents who haven’t folded, to ensure that the pot is worth winning.

Players often have the same hand except for their unpaired kicker. In this case, it’s the numerical rank of the kicker that determines a winner. In Texas Hold ’em, an ace and a king are among the best two cards you can hope to be dealt (after top pairs or the makings of a straight flush). Then if the flop includes an ace or a king, you have the top pair and the best possible kicker. For this reason, the ace-king combination is known as the "Big Slick".

For details of hands you should consider playing, based on their value and on your position at the table, see Texas Hold ’em: cards to play.