The element of chance plays a very small role in poker games
such as Texas Hold'em, where strategy is the cornerstone of successful game play. Multiple factors also affect which Texas Hold'em Poker
strategy to employ in different situations, such as Limit or No Limit Texas Hold'em; full-table, short-handed, or heads-up play; and ring game or tournament Texas Hold'em Poker.
Due to the differences in betting structure, the amount of strategy one can apply to Limit Texas Hold'em is considerably stunted compared to the room for deception and manipulation afforded players of No Limit Texas Hold'em. In Limit Texas Hold'em, betting and raising is capped. This allows players to limp in with a draw hand on excellent pot odds. However, No Limit Texas Hold'em presents the opportunity for players with strong cards to chase weak drawing hands out early in the round by altering the pot odds with a sizable raise.
While small stakes Fixed Limit Texas Hold'em is a fairly safe game in which to learn how to play Texas Hold'em, it is very difficult to turn a noticeable profit over time. Probabilities and odds, position, and semi-bluffs are Texas Hold'em Poker strategies that can be applied to both Limit and No Limit Texas Hold'em Poker. However, No Limit Texas Hold'em broadens the scope of opportunities to encompass true bluffing, stealing the blinds, and driving off drawing hands before they have the chance to limp in on the river.
Playing a Texas Hold'em Poker hand strategically requires an understanding of the full potential of the cards. Great starting hands in Texas Hold'em Poker fall into three categories; drawing hands, high pairs, and milking hands. Each type of hand requires a slightly different Texas Hold'em Poker strategy.
Drawing hands are incomplete "as is," requiring the community cards to improve before the hand has any formidable strength. Straights, flushes, three-of-a-kind, two pair, and full houses are all hands that are completed on the board. With Qs-Js in the hole, a flop of Ks-9s-Jd gives the player a "gut-shot" straight; a straight that requires a specific card somewhere in the middle to connect the straight. The turn and river give that player two more chances to hit a 10 that would result in a straight, or another spade for the flush - in fact there is a 47:1 chance that the turn card will be the 10 of spades, resulting in a straight flush. However, the player has already hit a pair of Jacks - not necessarily strong enough to win with, but another Jack or even a Queen would further improve this hand. Whether or not this hand is worth calling a raise is dependent upon the pots odds compared to the hand odds.
Big pairs are the highest known pair before the turn. Whether it is a starting hand of K-K with a flop of 8-3-J, or a top pair of A-Q to a 7-Q-10 flop (the hole Q paired with the highest card on the board), the big pair is a strong hand until opponents start hitting outs on the turn or river. The key to playing big pairs is to drive as many players out of the hand as possible with an aggressive - but affordable - raise.
Milking hands are completed hands that are difficult to beat. The nut hand is ideal, however, two pair or higher can be milked under the right circumstances (using other strategies such as position and observation to determine the relative strength of an opponent's hand). The nut hand is the best possible hand that can be formed from the community cards. With a starting hand of As-Qh, a board of 6s-Jh-Kc-3d-10s gives a player the nut straight, because it is the highest possible straight that can be formed. Another player holding Ah-Qd could only tie at best, thereby splitting the pot.
The reason it is called a milking hand is because the most beneficial way to play this hand is to let someone else do the betting and raising. Small, timid bets and check-raises can prompt a more aggressive player to drive up the stakes, unwittingly pouring chips into a pot they can't win.
The subject of position relative to the dealer button is crucial to Texas Hold'em Poker strategy. A strong hand can be easily crushed by a milking hand when played aggressively from early position. Successful Texas Hold'em players always take their position into account before gauging the appropriate action. Passivity in early position can prevent devastating losses, whereas aggressive betting and raising in late position can steal the blinds if opponents don't have a strong enough hand, or large enough chip stack to take their chances with a call.
The strength of a player's hand is directly proportional to their position in the betting cycle. Information gleaned from the actions of each player who takes a turn before oneself is a valuable commodity from which a player can draw a reasonable conclusion about their opponents' hands. The more opponents a player can read before it is time to act, the better their vantage point will be.
When playing a Texas Hold'em poker tournament
it is important to maintain a more flexible playing style than in ring games. Online ring games generally allow players to view statistics about the available tables, allowing one to select a table based on the apparent skill level of those currently seated. A loose, aggressive player may choose a table where players frequently fold, allowing perfect blind-stealing opportunities, whereas an experienced tight player can rake it in at a table full of loose players who view the majority of the flops.
Tournament tables, however, provide a mysterious setting in which players must observe and analyse each other on the fly. There are two primary approaches to tournament play. One is to go all-in immediately and attempt to knock out a couple of players in the first hand in order to gain a significant chip lead over the players who fold; whilst taking the risk of being knocked out of the tournament instead. This method is a shot in the dark that could easily cost numerous tournament buy-ins before ever pulling off a successful chip lead. This particular method requires a sufficient bankroll that can support burning through buy-ins in this fashion. However, once an significant chip lead is established, it becomes easier to steal blinds and bully less confident players.
A more pragmatic, and recommended, Texas Hold'em tournament strategy is to play tight in the beginning. If one of more players lead off the first hand by shoving all-in, without a monster hand it is best to simply step out of the way. Allow looser players to knock each other out of the tournament, reducing the number of players to a short-handed table. Aggressive betting on a strong hand in late position will help build one's chip stack, but avoid going all-in without the nuts in order to guarantee keeping one's seat.
Between three and five players, it is important to use any information gathered about opponents' habits and playing styles. Playing the position, loosening up a bit - though remaining flexible so as not to become predictable - and paying close attention to the board can carry a patient Texas Hold'em player into the final heads-up match.
Playing No Limit Texas Hold'em heads-up requires a completely different poker strategy. With only two hands, strong starting hands are less frequently dealt. Aggressive betting from the small blind will often result in the big blind folding. One must be flexible and observant of their opponent, but loose and aggressive play generally dominates a heads-up Texas Hold'em Poker tournament.