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Texas Holdem Strategy

Ronald Norris
US players are welcome

Position at the table

In Texas Holdem, a player’s position is a very important aspect of the game, which is frequently underestimated by novice players and always employed by the pros. Term “position” refers to the strategic consequences of a player’s position at the table, which is divided into three general zones: early, middle and late positions.

A player occupying a seat in the early position needs a stronger hand to raise or bet, than those, sitting in late positions, because if there are five players yet to act behind a player sitting in early position, there is a bigger chance that one of the subsequent players will have a stronger hand than if there were just a couple of players to act. Generally, a late position is an advantage, because a player can see how his earlier opponents act, which provides him with important information regarding their cards, while they have no idea about his hand. Position is one of the most vital key aspects of Texas Holdem. That’s why you need to understand the importance of this element and learn to benefit from your position at the table. In Texas Holdem, the importance of a player’s position goes far beyond ring games. In poker tournaments, where each player has a limited amount of chips, intelligent players use this commonly held knowledge as an advantage, because a raise with any couple of cards can steal the blinds, if done against passive opponents in the right time.

When to raise?

In Texas Holdem Poker, raising, unlike calling, has a potential extra way to win, because your opponents may fold and from a strategic perspective, an opening bet can be considered a raise.

The following is a list of general reasons for raising given by winning poker pros:

• You raise, when you have a strong hand and want to attract more money into the pot – raising to increase pot value.

• You raise, when you have a very strong hand and want to drive out your opponents, who, in other case, can improve their hands during next betting rounds.

• You raise, if you have a poor, or a drawing hand and want to mislead your opponents. A player that has a stronger hand may fold, misled by your raise.

• You raise, if you have a drawing hand and want to get a free card, because your opponent may check you during the next betting round, giving you a chance to get a free card and thus improve your current hand.

• You raise, if you have an uncertain hand and want to check the potential strength of your opponents, if you are called. You can use opening bets in later betting rounds in order to evaluate your opponents’ hands by being raised or called by them. Sometimes this can immediately win you the pot, because your opponents may fold.

• You raise, if you thing you have the second best hand and try to drive out worse players, who can improve their hands during next betting round, which can increase the expected value of your hand, giving you a better probability of success, if you will improve your hand during next betting rounds.

• You raise, if the previous player with a drawing hand bets before you, in order to make opponents behind you fold, even if they have better hands. This method is frequently referred to as “isolation play”.

When to call?

Winning Texas Holdem pros benefit from each action done during the game. No action must be done just to be done. Texas Holdem is a highly intellectual game, where, just like in chess, each move is filled with both obvious and hidden sense.
The following is a list of reasons to call a bet or raise.

• You call, if you have a drawing hand and want to see more cards in order to receive the correct pot odds.

• You call, when you have adequate pot odds to call, but lose equity on chips, contributed by you to the pot.

• You call, if you want to avoid a re-raise, because calling disables the raiser the option of re-raising.

• You call, if you have a very strong hand and want to conceal your power in early betting rounds in order to attract more money into the pot in later betting rounds.

• You call, if you want to manipulate pot odds by offering the players yet to act behind you more favorable pot odds, so they will also call. This technique, called smooth calling, may encourage other players in later positions to overcall, thus contributing to the pot. In Limit Texas Holdem, building the pot in early betting rounds can induce other players to call future bets during subsequent betting rounds, because of the better pot odds they’ll receive.

• You call, if you want to set up a bluff on one of later betting rounds.

Gap concept in Texas Holdem

In Texas Holdem strategy, the gap concept states that you need a better hand to act against a player who had already opened the betting or raised, than you’d need if you’d open the betting yourself. That means that the gap concept reflects behavior of the majority of players, who prefer to avoid open confrontations with their opponents that already displayed strength. Proceeding from this, the gap concept states that calling only has just a single way to win – by holding the strongest cards, while opening may also result in an immediate victory in case if other players fold.

Sandwich effect in Texas Holdem

The sandwich effect is related to the gap concept and states that you need a stronger hand in order to stay in the pot, if there are one or more opponents yet to act behind you. Staying in early positions, you will have no idea about how many opponents behind you will be involved in the pot (and how many fold), or whether you will have to call re-raises, so therefore you cannot calculate your actual pot odds. That’s why you need a strong hand as a compensation for such an uncertain situation.

Choosing between loose and tight play

Basically, the style of play in Texas Holdem poker is divided in two groups: tight and loose play. Loose players are usually playing more hands tending to act even with weak starting hands and tight players usually play few hands tending to act just with good starting hands.
The following is a list of statements referring to loose games, while their inverses are true for tight games.

Bluffing has lesser effectiveness in loose games, because loose players tend to continue playing even with poor starting hands, not to fold.

• Requirements to continue playing with drawing hands are lower, because the majority of loose players may also be playing with poor hands.

• Drawing to incomplete hands, like straights and flushes, is more valuable, because draws are often getting more favorable pot odds and a better hand is frequently required in order to win in multi-way pots.

Aggressive and passive play in Texas Holdem strategy

In Texas Holdem, the term “passive play” refers to calling and checking, while the “aggressive play” refers to raising and betting. Aggressive play is considered stronger than passive, unless passive play is used to trick your opponents, because it induces your opponents to make mistakes and because of the bluff value of raises and bets.

Hand reading and tells in Texas Holdem poker

Hand reading refers to intelligent guesses about your opponents’ cards based on given actions in the pot. In fact, “hand reading” is a wrong term in its direct meaning, because even winning Texas Holdem pros can rarely predict exact cards of their opponents. Instead of this, they rather try to narrow the probabilities down to a certain range of hands based on the previous actions of their opponents. The term ” tell” refers to a number of detectable behavioral or demeanor changes of your opponents, which give clues about their cards. Intelligent guesses about your opponents’ hands can help you avoid mistakes, induce your opponents to make mistakes in their play and even influence your opponents to take certain actions, which they wouldn’t normally take under the same circumstances. Broadly applied in live Texas Holdem games, the “tells” are sometimes underestimated by novice online players, while poker pros benefit from tells in both casino and online games.

Opponent profiling and table image

The “sharp eye” concept, suggested by Ronald Norris, states that from each behavioral change or tendency of your opponents you notice, you gain and on the contrary, each thing and even nicety you miss decreases your chances to win. Though live and online Texas Holdem games differ, the majority of methods and techniques of evaluation and opponent profiling are extremely useful in both branches of the game. By observing the patterns and tendencies of your opponents you can make more intelligent guesses about their cards. For example, if one of your opponents has been playing very tightly all the time and then enters the pot with aggressive raises, you can surmise that he finally got a really strong hand (better than average). The term ” table image” refers to your vision of the whole table (i.e. all of your opponents). Texas Holdem pros recommend sitting out a couple of games and build your table image before tossing your chips onto the table. On the other hand, you can leverage your own player profile by playing out of character inducing your opponents to misjudge your behavior and therefore make mistakes.

Equity in Texas Holdem poker

In Texas Holdem, the term “equity” refers to your expected share of the pot. A player’s equity is expressed as an expected value (pot value * probability of winning) or as a percentage (actual probability of winning). Loss in a player’s equity (frequently referred to as negative equity ) occurs when you contribute to the pot having a negative probability of winning (less than 1). For example, say John contributes $20 to the pot and has 2 opponents, which also put $20 each. Therefore John’s $20 bet gives him a chance to win $60. In case if his winning probability is 50%, then his equity in the $60 pot is $30, which means that John has a positive equity, because his $20 contribution is now “worth” $30, but if John has just a 10% winning probability, then he has negative equity, because his $20 contribution is now only “worth” $6.

In case if there are already some money in the pot, then John’s pot odds connected with a certain play can indicate a positive expected value, in spite of his negative equity.

Let’s take a look at this educative example taken from a common Texas Holdem game:

John has a Jack of diamonds and 7 of spades and Mary has a King of hearts and 6 of spades. The first three community cards are 5 and 6 of hearts and 8 of diamonds. If both John and Mary will play their hands to the showdown, then John has a 45% winning chance and Mary has a 53% winning chance. Also, there is a 2% chance that they’ll split the pot. Currently there is $51 in the pot. John decides to go all-in for $45 and he is sure that Mary is going to call him. In this case John’s implied pot odds for his all-in bet are 32%. Mary’s simple pot odds for the call are 32% too. Due to the fact that both players have a winning probability bigger than 32%, both call and raise have a positive expectation. However, due to the fact that Mary has a bit more equity (53%) in the pot than John (45%), John would have been better off playing this pot as cheaply as he can. When John went all-in for $45, he gave up the existing difference in pot equity on the amount of chips he put in the pot.

Short-handed considerations in Texas Holdem poker

If you are playing a short-handed Texas Holdem game (a game involving lesser than normal players), you have to switch to a rather loose play your play due to the following reasons:

• First of all there is a lesser probability that one of your opponents has a strong hand, since there are lesser players at the table and the majority of cards remain in the deck.

• Secondly, the share of the forced bets (blinds) in short-handed games for each player is increased, since there are lesser players who have to make forced bets (blinds), therefore waiting for good starting hands appears to be more expensive.

Structure considerations in Texas Holdem poker

The limit structure of the game, as well as the blinds and antes has a significant influence on Texas Holdem strategy. For instance, manipulating pot odds appears to be way easier in pot-limit and no-limit than in limit Texas Holdem games. In tournament games, when the size of the forced bets (blinds) relative to the chips stacks increases, the players have to play pots in order to avoid being bankrupt by antes and blinds.

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The given article covers the general concept of Texas Holdem strategy and requires further study of each item. It emphasizes key principles and hints a preferred sequence of items to study. You will find a lot of in-depth articles describing the niceties of each of these items on our site. Don’t forget that winning Texas Holdem pros never rely on luck – they exploit their knowledge, skills and experience to earn serious money playing their favorite game.

Read more about todays of online poker in US: The aftermath of Black Friday

Sincerely, Ronald Norris.

Also recommended:

  1. Expected Value and Fold Equity Explained
  2. Limit Texas Holdem Strategy for Longhand Games
  3. No-Limit Texas Holdem with blinds $1/$2: which strategy you should use?
  4. “Brave call” – the part of Texas Holdem strategy
  5. Limit Texas Holdem Strategy for Shorthand Games

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