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Texas Holdem Poker Strategy

Let's face it, most people are not playing low-stakes poker solely for money. They have aspirations about moving up to higher stakes games, or about making good money from their low-stakes games, but no matter what they say, they're also in the game because they enjoy the adrenaline rush, the excitement, and the camaraderie.

Folding hand after hand is no way to get an adrenaline rush, and therein lies your edge - if you're willing to play correctly.

In the starting hand chart section, you see each starting hand that you should be willing to play. If a hand isn't on that chart, you shouldn't be playing it at this stage of your hold'em career.

The listed hands aren't all playable at all times; if they were, there wouldn't be many reasons to break down into eight subgroups. The hands in groups one, two, and three are always playable in limit games from any position. All of the other hands are at least a little position-sensitive and sometimes very position-sensitive.

The blinds can face difficult first betting round decisions. Because they have been forced to put bets before they ever see their cards, it sometimes makes economic sense to call raises in the blind (called "defending" your blind) with weak hands, because they are getting a good price on their participation - the big blind might for example, only have to put $10 in too see the flop in a $125 pot.

If a blind hand connects with the flop strongly, the blind player can continue. If the hand misses the flop or only connects a little bit, the blind should get out because he is in the least favorable position of anyone at the table. He will be first to act for the final three betting rounds and that means three more times that he's going to have to act with less information than his opponents.

Generally, in a nine-player game, the nine spots are broken down into early position, middle position, and late position. As you might guess, the first three spots (the two blinds plus the under-the-gun player) are early position, the next three are middle position, and the last three, culminating with the button, are late position.

Of course, these labels are merely rough approximations. When you're the seventh of nine to act, you might technically be in late position, but your position is still significantly inferior to the player holding the button. This is why many players break the positions down still further, calling the fourth spot "early middle position" and the sixth spot "late middle position," and the like.

» From the small blind, for half a bet. You can play any hand from any of the eight groups and you can consider playing any connected cards (even 2 - 3). You can play one-gap connectors such as 10-8, 9-7, 8-6 or 7-5 (even better if they are suited). You get to look at the lot of hands from this position because it cost you so little to get into the pot. However, be prepared to get out immediately unless the flop hits you very well because you are going to be out of position for the next three betting rounds. If someone raises and it will cost you 1.5 bets, you probably should play only category seven and above and it is better to play only category six and above. The more players who enter the pot, the easier it is to play hands in this position.

» From the big blind. Obviously you can play any hand if player limp in and you get to see the flop for free; even if you have 7-2 off suit, the worst hand in texas hold'em, there's no law that prevents the flop from coming 7-7-2, so if you get a free ride, take it.

If you are forced to raise in the big blind, you can defend with any of the eight categories of hands; if you have a Category One, Two, or Three, re-raise, and after you gain a little experience, you can re-raise with Category Four as well.

» Under-the-gun. Stick with Group Five and above, limping with Group Five and raising with Group Four or above.

Note:
Limping is enter in a pot by calling the previous single bet, rather than entering via a raise.

» Middle position. Limp in with Group Six or Seven, depending on whether you're in early or late middle position. Bring the hand in for a raise Group Five or above. If someone else has already raised, call with Group Six and Group Five, and re-raise with Group Four.

» Late position. If you are the first player to enter the pot, raise with Group Eight, and if you are on the button, you can consider raising with lesser hands, in an attempt to steal the blinds. If one or more players are already in, limp with Group Seven Group Eight and raise with Group Six or better. If someone has already raise, call with Group Six and re-raise with Group Five.

Finally, although we have been examining texas holdem mostly from the rather narrow viewpoint of starting hands and starting positions, you should remember that when you play your starting hand, you get to see three cards at once and often for the price of only one small bet. Contrast that with what happens in the turn, when it costs you a double-sized bet (also called a big bet) just to see one more cards.

For that reason, the flop is said to truly "define your hand" in holdem. If the flop connects with your hand well (also hitting the flop well), you're probably in for the duration, unless some truly scary cards come off the turn and/or the river.

Beginning holdem players are well-advised to follow the "fit or fold" method of playing. That is, unless you start with a big pair and that pair either connects on the flop or a set or is higher than any cards on the flop (called, in that case, "an over-pair to the board"), you should throw your hand away unless the flop improves it. That means that you should strongly consider folding K-K if the flop comes A-X-X because, especially at the lower limits, players tend to play Ace-anything and once that ace hits the boards, your two kings are usually no good any more.

Even the mighty A-K, such a wonderful hand when it hits because no matter which card hits, you always have top pair, top kicker, is practically useless if the flop comes something like J-8-6. Somebody out there is probably playing middle cards or middle pairs and even through your A-K is a very promising staring hand, if it misses the flop, you have only ace high and only two cards yet to come in a situation when it's extremely likely that one or more opponents have some kind of pair.

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