Playing Style and Position
Basic Texas Hold'em strategy is to play tight-aggressive poker. Tight means playing strong hands and folding weak ones. An aggressive player will bet and raise, and only rarely call. Therefore somebody who plays tight and aggressive waits for profitable situations and consistently takes advantage of them. It's also important however to consider your opponents playing style and position.
There are 169 different starting hands in Texas Hold'em, but most of the profit comes from only a few of them, including big pairs like , and . Hands consisting of two high cards of the same suit (e.g. ) often bring significant profits as well, but are dealt them rarely. More often you will get weak hands such as , or trash hands like . If you have a weak starting hand and your opponent has a strong one, you are at a big disadvantage right from the start. Even professional poker players aren't able to make a long-term profit in these situations. It's therefore important to fold before the flop if you don't have a strong starting hand.
This playing style is called tight, as you are very selective and only play hands where you think you have an advantage. At a table with nine players you should only play 15 to 20% of the hands you are dealt. This means you should fold before the flop in four out of five cases. Some opponents won't stick to this recommendation and play almost every hand, which is a style of play known as loose.
Aggression is good in poker. It describes a style that involves frequent bets and raises, and calling rarely, in order to influence the game in your favor. That's why most successful poker pros play aggressively. It's very important to bet consistently when you are in the lead. If your opponents call, more money goes into the pot. That's exactly what you want, because you are the favorite to win the hand. If all opponents pass, this is also a favorable result, as you have ruled out the risk of losing the hand. By contrast, if you just check, the pot stays small and you offer your opponent the chance of improving their hand.
- Example of playing a hand aggressively:
You are holding , and your opponent has . The flop comes and $10 is already in the pot. You have top pair and therefore the best hand. Your opponent has a weak hand, but would make a straight if a hits on the turn. Compare these three possible outcomes:
- If you bet $5 and our opponent folds you are certain to win $10.
- If you bet $5 and your opponent calls, the pot becomes bigger. Since you will probably win, this is even better than forcing your opponent to fold.
- If you don't bet, your opponent will probably check as well. this means they get a chance to hit a without having to invest any money.
Therefore it's better to bet, regardless of whether the opponent calls. In this situation checking would be a mistake.
Some players don't bet if they have a good hand, because they don't want their opponents to fold. This is called slow play. However, slow playing is often a mistake, as it's almost always better to force the opponent to fold than to give them a chance to win the hand without having to invest money. If you have a very weak hand and you bet hoping that all your opponents will fold, you are bluffing. The option of bluffing makes poker a very exciting game. However, beginners should be careful and bluff sparingly. In most cases you should simply fold weak hands, instead wait for good hands and bet them.