Texas Holdem strategy (both limit and no-limit) is the focus of this article. For information on general poker strategies, please refer to our Poker Strategies article.
In Texas Holdem, the two facedown cards you start with are the only cards that will distinguish your hand from your opponents'. Since all the rest of the cards in the hand are shared, your starting hand is perhaps more critical in Texas Holdem than in any other poker game.
Generally considered the best starting hands are A-K suited and pocket Aces (a pair of aces "in the hole", or facedown). In most cases, if you don't start with a pocket pair or a suited connector (two cards in numerical order and of the same suit) I would seriously question staying in. That said, I've been known to stay in, and win, with J-5 and 4-7. You never know; that's what makes it gambling, and ultimately you will need to develop your own Texas Holdem strategy.
Even the best of starting hands can lose. A flush can still be beaten by a full-house, and I've seen it time and time again. You can't completely avoid these bad beats, but here are some general tips in Texas Holdem strategy to help stack the odds in your favor.
Tip #1: Pairs are a dime a dozen.
If you start with a pocket pair, you really want to pull trips (three of a kind) on the flop to remain confidently in the hand. Every once in a while, you can pull a third (and maybe a fourth) on the turn and/or the river, but not all that often. You can waste dozens of dimes on losing pairs, even high ones.
Tip #2: Three to anything is nothing.
After the flop, Texas Holdem strategy dictates that you should not waste your time staying in if all you've got is three to a flush or a straight (ie. three spades, or 4,5,6 of different suits). With four to a flush or a straight I'm more likely to take my chances, though not always.
Tip #3: Watch that kicker.
If you pull a pair with one of the community cards, you have to ask yourself what if your opponent just pulled that same pair. In a tie your unpaired card (the "kicker") would determine the winner. Therefore, Texas Holdem strategy prescribes that A-10 is a much better starting hand than A-3.
Tip #4: Defend your blinds.
If you're in the big blind (you've placed the highest of the forced bets at the beginning of the hand), you may want to play a little bolder. You've already tossed in those chips. How much is it worth it to you to get them back?
Tip #5: Play the power position.
The later you are to act in a round of betting, the more information you can gather on your opponents. If you're on the button (last to act), you're in the best position of all. This is another good time to take calculated risks.
Tip #6: Don't be fooled by Hollywood.
The poker you see on television is fast paced and exciting because they've edited out the boring parts. Most of a poker game is boring parts, punctuated by rare, brief moments of sheer bliss or anguish. If your Texas Holdem strategy has you folding a lot, you're not necessarily doing anything wrong, especially if you're playing at a large table or in a multi-table tournament. Many tournament players that repeatedly make it the final tables do so because they had the patience and self-restraint to sit back and let their opponents slaughter each other. Then they'd strike when the field was significantly thinned out and weakened.
Tip #7: But don’t be too lax or too tight either.
First off, that makes you predictable, and as soon as you bet big on a great hand your opponents will fold. Secondly, total avoidance of risk and aggressive play is the easiest way to have your chip stack whittled away by antes and blinds.
Obviously, the Texas Holdem strategy tips outlined in this article are rather conservative in that they do not much account for bluffing, a favorite element of poker for so many players. Nor do they factor in pure, dumb, blind luck. They will, however, give you a footing in the rules from which, with experience, you can deliberately break. But if you're feeling lucky now, you're a risk-taker, you like to play aggressively, or you're simply ready to make a move on a fellow player, then by all means throw caution to the wind.
After all, Gus Hansen didn't win so many championships by following the rules – he has his own (fearless) Texas Holdem strategy!