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Introduction to Texas Holdem

The following is a beginners guide to basic Texas Hold'em strategy, moving from preflop selection to showdown. This will give a basic foundation of winning play that should be built upon by reading indepth strategy books like ones in our book review section.

Starting Hand Selection

Whether or not to play your starting pocket cards at all is the most important decision you will make each hand. Strong starting hands tend to stay strong or get stronger, while weak starting hands tend to stay weak. Solid starting hand selection is one of the first signs of a quality poker player.

Premium Starting Hands

Premium pairs, AA, KK, QQ, JJ, AK suited. These hands are worth raises and reraises from practically any position, and no matter what the action in front of you. Obviously AA can be played more aggressively than JJ in certain situations, but all of these hands are solid hands that can win pots by themselves with no improvement from the board, and should be played aggressively.

Strong Starting Hands

AQ suited down through AT suited, pair of 10's or 9's, AK through AJ offsuit, JT suited, and other two big card suited hands could be labeled as strong hands. Look to play these hands aggressively from middle and late position, when there has been no action in front of you. While all of these hands have nice starting potential, they generally need help from the board to complete a winning hand.

Playable Hands

Middle pairs like 77 or 88, middle suited connectors like 89s, Ace and any other suited card, JT offsuit, etc. These are hands that you are looking to see a flop as cheaply as possible. They should only be played from late position in an unraised pot generally. If you are facing raises, you will save money by folding these hands in most cases. Again, you are looking to see a flop cheap, and play if the flop drastically improves your holding.

Barely Playable Hands

Smaller pairs, small suited connectors like 45s, Kx suited, ATo, etc. These hands are very marginal. You will need massive help from the board to win with these hands, and could lose you alot of money if you make a mistake with them. Tend to fold these hands unless you see an extremely profitable situation unfolding at a wild table.

Remember, the stronger you start, the stronger you will finish. Play cards on the high end of this list, especially when you are just starting out, and you will greatly increase your chances of winning chips in low limit poker. See our Holdem Starting Hands section for more info on this topic.

The Flop

The flop is where most of your hand will be made. Your ability to read the flop will be key as you progress.

If you flop a good hand

If you had a premium pair dealt or you have top pair on the flop, you can continue to be aggressive. If you pair both of your hole cards for two pair, definitely look to be aggressive. Also pay attention to your kicker. If you hold AK, and the flop gives you another ace, you can play aggressively. However if you have a weak kicker, say you started with AJ, then you have to proceed more cautiously.

If you flop a draw hand

For example, with 4 to a flush or straight, you should use pot odds to determine whether or not to call. In some cases where there are many players in, you may even consider betting if you have the nut flush draw or the top straight draw. Be careful not to run players off however, as your hand needs improvement, and the more players in the better pot odds you will get to draw.

If you flop a great hand

For example: a set, full house, quads or nut flush, you can consider slow playing. The better the hand the more you can risk slow playing. If you flop a small set, you should probably bet out with it, as anyone who holds a higher pair in their hand can possibly hit a higher set.

If the flop does not help you at all

In this case, you should check and fold to any bets if you started with anything less than a premium pair. The chance that the final two cards granting a miracle hand is too small and hoping for cards is gambling, and we want to take the gamble out of our game!

The Turn

The turn is where the betting limits double. If you were hanging onto a marginal hand you should definitely dump it here. If you were slow playing a monster, this is where you want to start getting your chips in. If you have a 4 to it draw (4 flush or 4 to an outside straight), you still need to be considering pot odds when deciding to call or fold to a bet. If you had a smaller premium hand like JJ, QQ or AKs, and you have had no help or there are overcards and heavy betting you must contemplate that you are probably beat and consider folding here. If you feel you have the best hand you should be betting and raising on the turn!

The River

If you have paid thus far to see the river, there is generally enough in the pot that you will at least call one bet with any hand that has a remote chance of winning. If you have a busted draw and face bets of course you can fold, and if you still feel you have the best hand you should be getting as much money in the pot as possible. But facing a single opponent who bets on the river, you should almost always call, unless your hand is so weak or the opponent is such a non-bluffing rock that you know almost without a doubt that calling would be throwing away another bet. The reason why is simple enough. If you call and lose you have only lost one more bet. If you fold the winning hand then you have lost the entire pot. You only have to be right about the opponent bluffing a mere fraction of the time for the river call to be the correct play.

Conclusion

Again, this guide will give you a firm foundation in the basics of Texas Hold'em, but to continue growing and learning in the game of Poker you will need to invest in at least one good poker strategy book. The small amount of money you pay will be a fraction of your winnings if you take the strategies and concepts to heart and apply them in your game!