I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to write about Texas Holdem. I guess it’s because I spend too much time playing the game instead of writing about it. Make no mistake, Holdem is a game of SKILL. Yes there is a component of luck involved, but in order to win consistently (and there are players that do that very profitably), then you can’t rely upon luck alone.
Regardless of whether you are playing in a live casino or on the Internet, here are some tips that will help you come out ahead.
Practice, Practice, Practice: Nothing will hone your skills better than experience. Before you break out your first dollar, play some free games on the Internet and get a feel for the different opening hand combos and styles of the different players. Make no mistake, playing in a free game will not be nearly the same as playing when there is money on the line. More players will be “all-in” pre-flop with garbage cards. It doesn’t matter. Your goal in playing these games is to acquire an instinctive feel for opening hands, position, reading the board, and reading players betting patterns. When I’m playing for fun (i.e. Play Money), I find that the players at PokerStars provide the truest play simulating real money activity. I prefer the 10-seat ring games and the 45-seat tournament games. These are closest to the types of games you will find in a live casino and give you a lot of good practice. You can also join in FREEROLLS. There are tournaments that don’t cost any money, yet you can win real money! What can be better than that? Freerolls are available at PokerStars, Reefer Poker, and a bunch of others that I will find and post. All you need to do is download the software, setup an account, then check the schedule. No deposit is necessary. Those will really test your skills!
Know the House Percentage: You may be able to fine tune your game to where you can beat the other players consistently, but you will NEVER be able to beat the house. The house percentage is a constant and will tear apart the best professional players if it is too heavy. If you are playing a RING GAME, then the standard rake in most casinos is 5% meaning that they will pull $1 out of the pot and rake it into their box for every $20 in the pot. If you have a full table playing a ring game, you can bet that the big winner at the end of the night will be THE HOUSE. That’s the price of playing poker as the saying goes. There is even a House Percentage involved if you’re into Tournament Play, however it’s a hidden percentage relative to the ring game.
Let’s assume that you enter into a tourney that costs $20 and is limited to 50 players, and the top 5 players win money: 1st – $400, 2nd – $225, 3rd – $100, 4th – $50, 5th – $25. Not bad you say. But if the house has collected $1000 in entry fees (50 x $20) and they are paying out $850 in prizes ($400+$225+$100+$50+$25), then the house retains $150 of the $1000 collected for a cool 15% rake. The bottom line is that if you have a choice of Live Casinos or Online Casinos to play at, then search for the LOWEST HOUSE PERCENTAGE before you lay your money down.
The 80/20 Rule: When you are playing a Fixed Limit Ring Game, you should statistically be folding 80% of your hands. Sure, you’ll hear players say “any 2 cards can be a winner” and “you can’t win if you fold”, but keep in mind that the objective in a Ring Game is not to win a single hand, but to walk away from the table at the end of your session with more money that you came with. The only way to do this on a consistent basis is to play HIGH VALUE hands at the right time.
The dealer gives you your 2 cards and the betting begins. When the bet comes around to you, your main decision is whether or not you will play the hand. 80% of the time the answer is NO. There are a lot of factors that come into play in making the decision besides the 2 cards you are holding. You need to be aware of your position. How many players have had an opportunity to bet at this hand before you and how many will still have the chance to RAISE after you have bet? This is very important and decides which column you need to consult when looking at the chart. Now that you know your position the question is will you play if: the pot has already been RAISED (R)? Will you play if the pot has been RE-RAISE (RR)? Will you just CALL (C) the blind? Will you FOLD (F)? And in those rare instances where you are the big blind and the pot has not been raised, will you CHECK (X)? Once the decision has been made to play, then you are in it for the long haul to see the flop, regardless of how many more time the pot is raised. The chart above is a good starting point to help you limit your play to the high probability hands that give you a fighting chance of taking down the pot.
Change it up a bit: If you’ve been playing for a while at the same table with the same players, you get to know who is playing aggressively, who is playing tight, and who doesn’t know how to play at all. And because you can tell these things about other players, you can be sure that they can tell the same thing about you. So, to keep the other players off balance regarding your game, it is good to change your style for a given hand every once in a while, even if it results in losing that hand because you will gain in the long run by keeping the other players guessing. If you play a tight game all of the time, then whenever you bet at the pot everyone will fold and your winnings wont amount to anything. Sometimes its good to get caught bluffing every once in a while (especially if your ahead), that way when you do have a MONSTER HAND the players will stay in the pot just to keep you honest and you’ll end up cashing in more than what you lost on your bluff.
Keep your Head On: Every table has at least one player that rubs you the wrong way for one reason or another. Maybe they are drunk and obnoxious, or they are pulling out a win on the river to often. It doesn’t matter what the reason is, just be aware that once they get under your skin they’ve already beat you. You will make irrational decisions when you are in hands against them to try to beat them. DON’T DO IT. STICK TO YOUR GAME or even better is to take a break. Once you lose your head, THE GAME IS OVER FOR YOU. Know the warning signs and act like the professional that you want to be.