Texas Holdem Advanced Strategy
Most Texas holdem books and strategy web sites are filled with general advice aimed at beginning and intermediate players. If you think about this it makes sense, because over 90% of the population of poker players fit into one of these categories.
It's also much easier to offer advice to the larger group because most of the players are so far from playing correctly that you can help them get huge increases in their results if you can get them to adjust their game in a few simple ways.
When you start looking for advanced Texas holdem strategy advice you can't find much, and what you do find rarely goes beyond the things being taught to low limit players.
The bottom line is that advanced Texas holdem strategy is hard to teach and it's hard to learn. Most players can't handle the concepts needed to excel at the top levels of play and will never dedicate enough time and work to getting to a place where they can.
The Theory of Poker by David Sklansky is one of the most important poker books that have ever been written. But if you read it before you're ready it may hurt you as much as help you. I know this because I read it early in my poker career and it didn't help me at all. I went back a year later and read it again and it was like a light bulb suddenly came on. I wasn't ready for the lessons the first time.
What you need to understand about the advice on this page is that you may not be ready to fully utilize it in your play right now. If you're not, don't feel bad or be ashamed. Simply come back and read it again in a couple months and a couple months after that until it starts sinking in.
And even the few that do reach a point where they can completely grasp the lessons needed for advanced play have a hard time finding someone to teach them. They usually have to learn by trial and error at the tables. This can be costly, but it helps reinforce the lessons as you learn them.
So if it's so hard to learn these advanced strategies and so few players need them, why would we dedicate an entire page to them? Because in the quest to have the best Texas holdem resource available if we didn't have advice for advanced players the quest would fall short.
We also are firm believers in providing as much solid information as possible and letting the players figure out what they can use and what they should wait on. If you can pick up something in these advanced strategies to improve your game by 1% it can mean thousands and thousands of extra dollars to you over the course of your poker career.
At the simplest level of play Texas holdem is about math. You use a deck of 52 playing cards and a set hierarchy of hand values so you can determine hand probabilities and odds in any situation. You don't have complete information because you don't know what cards your opponents hold, but you can even use mathematical equations to consider what you don't know and still come up with the best play from a mathematical standpoint in every situation.
You can even use math to determine the best way to play a hand before you even get your cards.
If you're in the small blind and haven't seen your cards yet and don't know anything about any of your opponents, the mathematically correct way to play the hand is to fold. This is based on studies that show on average you lose money from the small blind with an average hand. If you haven't seen your cards yet you have to work on the assumption that you'll have an average hand.
As you get more information you use the new information to determine the new best way to play the hand.
If you get your cards and look down to see pocket aces, instead of folding being the most profitable way to play, you need to raise in order to make the most money.
Any player without a learning disability who's willing to put in the time and effort can learn how to play Texas holdem at a respectable level. You can learn how to determine the best plays and if you work long enough and hard enough you can start winning more than you lose at the Texas holdem tables.
This isn't a guess or sales pitch. Plenty of players have proven this is possible, and you can do what it takes to be a winning player too. But if you're not to this point yet you need to start on some of our other strategy pages and come back to this one later.
So why would we start a section about psychology with a math lesson? The last time we checked math and psychology aren't very closely related.
You have to combine superior skill with the mathematical side of the game with an advanced ability to think about the game and your opponents at a deeper level than you've ever done before.
Have you ever heard that you need to play the players instead of the cards or in addition to the cards?
This is what we mean about Texas holdem psychology. You have to start playing the game beyond the basic levels. To do this you have to consider not only how you think about the game but how your opponents think and play and how everything that happens changes the way they play and react.
Playing Texas Holdem Like a Chess Match
If you hope to be a good chess player you have to be able to consider the current situation, how every possible move will change the possible future outcomes, and how things can change how your opponent will react.
New players concentrate on the current move possibilities but rarely think about the entire game, or even their next move.
As most player's game improves they start considering how one move might set up the next move or two, but thinking beyond one or two moves deep is rare.
But the most advanced Texas holdem players think about every decision and consider how it can alter and set up future situations.
In a pot limit game it's important to determine if you have a hand where you want to build a big pot or one where you want to limit the pot size. When you want to build a big pot you need to make at least a small bet on each round because every bet and call makes the possible bet on the turn and river bigger.
But if you have a drawing hand or other hand that requires a lower commitment you want to avoid putting any money in the pot on the early rounds so you can manage the risk verses possible reward.
This sounds simple, but unless you consider how every action is going to set up the end of the hand you'll frequently find that another player was able to manipulate the hand and pot size to fit their long term goals, not yours.
Another example is how you play certain hands against opponents who're good enough to track your play. If you always check to them on the river when you miss your draw they'll learn this is how you play and use it against you. They'll start betting on the river after you check even if they don't have a strong hand because you check every time you're weak.
But you can also build this belief in this opponent and then use it against them. Once they believe they know how you play the river you can start betting sometimes when you miss your draw, because they'll fold good but not great hands because they think you won't bet without a good hand.
Take a few minutes and think of some of the situations where thinking and planning like this can come into play.
When you start considering all of the possible applications at the holdem tables you can start seeing why you need to start thinking about poker like a chess game.
It's Not a Single Session, But It Is
Most poker players think about each time they sit down to play Texas holdem as a single session. If they play for three hours and then go do something else they had a single session. This isn't the way advanced Texas holdem players view the game.
Advanced players understand that you're in the middle of one lifelong Texas holdem game that doesn't end until you die. It doesn't matter if you play six hours a day for eighteen straight days, or sixteen hours a day for three days in a row, it's all just a small part of your single long session.
If you want to play at an advanced level you need to constantly be concentrating on making the best possible plays and putting yourself in the best possible situations to win the most money. Of course this involves doing everything you can to win during the current playing time, but your short term results don't mean anything as long as you're making the best plays.
If you get all in with ace king against ace queen and your opponent hits a queen and you lose a big pot it can make your balance for the day negative, but it has nothing to do with your long term profitability. You know that if you can get in that situation often it leads directly to profit.
Your expected value in any situation is the average amount you win or lose if you can play the exact same situation hundreds of times. At the most basic level, being a long term winner at the Texas holdem tables is simply about putting yourself in more positive expected value situations than negative ones.
What most players call luck is just short term variance and if you're in a situation where your expected value is $10 every time you play the situation, if you do it 100 times you'll win $1,000. Sometimes you'll lose and sometimes you'll win more or less than $10, but in the long run the expected value always end up where it's supposed to.
So remember that being an advanced Texas holdem winner isn't about the short session, but about the life long session. Then concentrate on setting up and exploiting positive expectation situations as often as possible.
Big Hand Poker
Some players seem to win a lot of pots and others can sit back and only win a few pots per day, but still show a long term profit. How can they still turn a profit when they only win a few hands in comparison to other players?
In a no limit Texas holdem game the blinds are $10 / $20 and the average stack size is over $2,000. On average, you have to post $100 per hour in blinds. The table is aggressive and has a couple loose players. You play a six hour stint and play extremely tight, looking for opportunities to win big pots while letting the other players fight over smaller pots.
This is a perfect situation to illustrate the big pot way to long term profit. Even if you folded every blind for the entire six hour stint and were able to break even on the few smaller pots you play, you still have the chance to win big. Folding all of your blinds costs $600, so you have to win enough to overcome this. Let's look at three big hand possibilities.
You see a flop with two other players, you have the ace and queen of clubs and the flop is king of clubs, jack of clubs, and 10 of hearts. You bet, one opponent folds and the other moves all in. You call and your opponent turns over an ace queen as well. Most of the time you're going to split this spot, but when you hit your flush you scoop the entire pot.
The next hand is when an early position player raises and you raise with pocket aces from late position. One of the blinds calls, the early position player moves all in, you call, and the blind folds. The early position player has a pair of kings and you win a huge pot.
On the third hand six players see the flop in an un-raised pot, including you from the big blind. You flop a straight, five through nine, so it's not easy to determine you have such a strong hand. You're able to build and win a nice pot, but aren't able to get anyone all in.
Even if you only split the first pot, stacked a short stack of $800 on the second hand won $400 on the third hand your profit for the day is $600. That's $100 an hour and all you had to do was break even on small hands and win a couple big hands.
And the up side is huge. What if you won the freeroll for $2,000 and won $2,000 on the second hand and won $1,000 on the third hand? All of these are possible with average stack sizes of $2,000. Now you won $4,400 for the day, or over $700 per hour.
What about if you had terrible luck on the smaller pots and only was able to win one big pot? Let's say you lost your $600 in blinds and another $1,000 on small pots. But you still were able to double up, winning $2,000 on a single big pot. You still make $400 for the six hours.
Of course it sounds simple enough for anyone to do it when it's spelled out like this, but don't you think it's realistic that you can find a single big hand to win in a six hour playing stint?
You just saw how you can still make good money playing Texas holdem by only winning one or two big pots a day, so why aren't you playing in a manner that gives you the best chance to win? Why are you playing so many marginal hands?
Win the War, Forget the Battles
This goes hand in hand with the last section, but it's so important if you truly want to learn advanced strategies that it needs to be covered in more depth or at least in a different way.
It doesn't matter how many hands you win. The only thing that matters is how much money you win.
This doesn't change anything that we discussed in the single session section. You still have to consistently put yourself in positive expectation situations but too many players focus on winning hands instead of money.
If you ask them what they want to do they always state they want to win money, but their actions at the table suggest they're more interested in winning hands than money.
Of course you have to win some hands to win money, but would you rather win 10 hands worth $100 each or one hand worth $1,200?
This is a mindset that you have to develop and work on if you want to use it to your advantage. Good poker players are competitive and want to win everything they touch. It's easy, even for the best players, to get too focused on winning every hand instead of winning the most money.
The problem with focusing on winning every hand is you start making plays that aren't the most profitable in the long run. When you miss your draw instead of folding and conserving your money for a more favorable situation you fire a bluff hoping you can force your opponent to fold because you want to win the pot.
Chips are Limited Resources
Blind play has been mentioned a few times, and it plays such an important role to winning poker players that an advanced strategy page needs to at least touch on it. Even though this section isn't titled with anything that looks like it has to do with blinds, they're a perfect example of the concept that chips are limited resources.
Advanced holdem players understand that sometimes it isn't about winning chips in a hand or situation, it's about learning which situations require the conservation of chips so you can use them to make more money later.
Building a big bankroll is important if you want to be able to win as much money as possible, but everyone has some sort of limitation to how much they can wager. Let's look at a specific example of how not conserving your bankroll costs you money.
You're playing in a no limit Texas holdem game with $10 / $20 blinds and are in the small blind four times per hour. In the eighth hour of the day's session you get all in against a player with a $5,000 stack and win. You only have a stack of $1,500 and you've completed the blind bet half the times you've been in the small blind and haven't won a hand from that position all day.
Most of the hands have been poor or average at best, but you think it's only half a bet so why not gamble a little?
So if you've played 14 hands for an extra $10 each you have $140 less than if you'd have folded all of them. So instead of winning $1,500 on the all in you could have won $1,640.
$140 is less than 10% of $1,500, but it's still a significant amount of money. And if you only did this once a week you end up costing yourself $7,280 a year. And if you do this four times a week instead of once you cost yourself $29,120 a year.
This is enough money to turn some losing players into winning ones. And this is how many players look at the small blind. They think it's only half a bet so why not?
This concept needs to be used in every area of your Texas holdem game, not just in the blinds. Though you need to try to have enough money to play in any favorable situation, you may need to pass on a small edge to have enough money to take advantage of a larger edge later.
If you have a situation where you're a 52 to 48 favorite and know that later you'll have a situation where you're a 60 to 40 favorite you want to be able to place money on each situation. But if you have a limited bankroll you may have to skip the first situation.
This discussion isn't meant for you to put too much emphasis on your bankroll. You want to have as big of a bankroll as possible, but it's almost as important to understand how to use your bankroll as a tool and how to protect it so you have the best chance to profit in the long run and in the maximum possible amount.
The Best Play Isn't Always the Best Play
After reading all of the preaching about always putting yourself in positive expectation positions you'd think finding contrary advice on the same page would be unlikely. But the truth is that the answer to so many Texas holdem strategy questions starts with it depends and this is an area where the lines are somewhat blurred.
At the lower levels and limits where the competition isn't very good the best play is always the best play. What this means is that you need to always make your playing decisions based on what the math says is the best play.
But at the top levels of play many of your opponents also know the best play and use this information to help them figure out what you have based on the situation and how you play. When this starts happening you have to occasionally make plays that aren't the most profitable from a pure mathematics standpoint so you can make more money in the long run.
It's possible we lost some of you with the last paragraph, but remember this is an advanced strategy page so a few of the concepts are difficult. Let's look at it another way.
While it's the most profitable way to play to raise from early position with pocket aces every single time you have them at the lower and middle limits, the way to get the most long term profit from pocket aces in early position at the top levels is to raise with them around 95% of the time.
The biggest problem with this is it's a fine line between altering your play just enough to throw off your opponents and doing it so much that you cost yourself more money than you make up for with the altered play.
Know Your Opponents
On the other side of the last section is you need to be the opponent who knows how the other players play their hands and what their playing tendencies make them do.
If you know a player always checks on the river when they miss their flush or always raises from early position with pocket kings and aces you know something you can us to make money when you play against them.
Some players never play anything worse than pocket queens from early position, so if they enter the pot in early position you can put them on a very narrow range of hands.
Every little thing you can learn and exploit is worth a certain amount of profit in the long run. The more of these small things you can exploit the more money you set yourself up to make in the long run.
The Small Edge
This is possibly the most important advanced Texas holdem strategy that you'll ever learn.
The best Texas holdem players in the world understand that if they can improve their game a fraction of a percentage it can mean huge returns in the long run. So they constantly search for any small edge they can possible find.
How much do you have to make a year playing Texas holdem to make what you consider a good living from the game? Some players would be happy making $30,000 a year playing poker, while others think $100,000 is a good living. Others might think anything less than a million isn't enough.
Here's a simple chart that shows how much a year in increased profit a player can get for a few different increases in their winning percentage.
|¼%||½%||¾%||1%||1 ¼%||1 ½%||1 ¾%||2%|
As you can see if a player is making $30,000 a year playing Texas holdem an increase of 1% is only $300, but even this small amount is valuable. The same 1% increase for a million dollar a year player is $10,000.
And the key is that these increases work much like compound interest. If the million dollars a year player can improve their game by 1% this year and another the next year and another 1% the following year they not only increase it on the million dollars, they also get the increase on the increase from the previous year or years.
Even if you only find one extra edge and never improve on it you can earn a great deal more over the course of your poker playing career.
If you're making $100,000 a year and increase your return by 2%, if you play another 40 years you've made an extra $80,000 over the course of your career.
A million dollar player earns an extra $800,000 over the course of their career with the same one time 2% improvement.
Plan for Everything
The best Texas holdem players are able to visualize and plan for almost every possible outcome of every hand they play in. They already know how they're going to react to a situation before it happens.
This gives them an advantage because it gives them extra time to determine the best play and quickly make adjustments if something out of the ordinary happens.
When you plan everything you start working as soon as you start looking for a table to join. You consider the current players and what you know about them. In order to plan everything out you need to be able to have an idea of how certain players play in certain situations.
Of course you plan for every possible way an opponent can play a hand, but by understanding the most likely way they react in certain situations it helps you focus more energy on building a profitable situation more quickly.
Before the hand starts you know you'll be playing from the button, which is the best starting position at the table. This means that you can play more hands from here than at any other position at the table. You also know that the blinds are both weak and tend to call from the blinds with a wide range of hands. This means that the odds of stealing the blinds are low, but it also means you can count on them putting more money in the pot if you need to build the pot.
The two players in early position are tight and aggressive and the two middle position players are not very good.
You receive ace queen suited and instantly start thinking about how you'll play it in every conceivable situation. If it gets around to you in an un-raised pot you'll probably raise, and if you have to call a small to medium raise you'll probably do so, unless there's a raise and a re-raise, opening the possibility of a push behind you. You also know that an ace queen suited plays well in a multi way pot and can play well heads up at times, but can also be easily dominated heads up.
As each player acts you receive additional information and adjust the possible paths the hand can take. When you see the flop you have additional information and new decisions to make depending on what can happen.
- What will you do if you face a raise?
- What if it's checked to you?
- What do you know about the remaining players?
As you work through a hand you need to be prepared for any possibility. The more you're able to plan for the more your long term results will improve.
Becoming a long term winner at the advanced Texas holdem tables is more about thinking than acting. Many self-help books suggest that you need to stop thinking about things so much and start acting right now. But if you want to learn the best advanced Texas holdem strategies you need to think.
If you simply study the strategy details you just finished reading and implement one thing you learned every month for the next year you'll be a much better holdem player. And even if you're such a good player that you just picked up an extra percentage you just saw how many thousands of dollars this can be worth to you over the rest of your life.
You learned two simple strategies that can make a huge difference in your long term profitability. The second was the small extra edge and the first was the big hand theory. If you don't do anything else from what you learned on this page make it a goal to find an extra 1% edge somewhere and focus on winning one or two big hands every day instead of battling over a bunch of small hands. These two tactics alone will advance your play quickly.
So what are you waiting for? Take action by getting started thinking right now.