10 Things Everyone Should Know About Texas Hold’em Poker (But Most Don’t)

top ten texas holdem

I love to play Texas Holdem. I’ve been playing for over 15 years and still get a rush from competing against the other players. But it took a long time for me to learn how to be a winning player.

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Here’s a list of 10 things you should know about Texas Holdem that I wish I knew when I started playing. You can quickly improve your chances to win by using the advice on this page.

1. It’s Easy to Learn but Hard to Master

Many gambling games are easy to learn, and Texas Holdem falls into this category. It isn’t as easy to learn as some games, but just about anyone can learn the basics in just a few minutes.

But if you want to become a good player it takes a great deal of work. Some people play holdem for years and still lose more than they win.

If you want to be a winning Texas Holdem player you need to maximize your wins and minimize your losses. This seems like fairly simple advice, but once you start playing you’re going to realize how difficult this is to accomplish.

Texas Holdem is a game played with incomplete information. You know the two cards you have in your hand and the value of all of the community cards. But you can only guess what your opponents hold by the way they play and what you know about them from previous hands.

This means that you don’t always know if you’re ahead in a hand or behind. But you can’t play too cautiously when you have a good hand in fear that an opponent has a better one because this doesn’t maximize your winning hands.

The way to start maximizing your wins and minimizing your losses is to start getting some experience, learn from your mistakes and past hands, and study the game as much as possible.

Here are a few basic strategies to help you get started.

  • Learn what pot odds are and how to use them.
  • Check and call when you’re drawing to a better hand to minimize your risk.
  • Bet and raise when you think you have the best hand to force your opponents drawing to a better hand to pay a high price to draw.
  • Always watch your opponents play, even when you aren’t involved in the hand, to learn as much about their strengths and weaknesses as possible.
  • Make sure your bankroll is big enough to survive downswings. With a big bankroll, you can afford to push small edges because you don’t worry about running out of money.
  • When you bet and raise you can win if your opponents fold or by having the best hand. When you check and call you can only win if you have the best hand.

These are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to being a winning Holdem player. Read as much about good strategy as you can, watch video of how the best players play, and always be working on ways to improve your play and your game will gradually improve.

The following sections on this page are filled with additional advice about how to win while playing Texas Holdem.

2. Everything That Happens Is Math

If you ask a hundred Texas Holdem players what makes it a game that some players can win while others struggle you’re going to hear a wide range of answers. Some of the responses may include:

  • Knowing when and how to bluff.
  • Being able to read your opponents.
  • Being aggressive.
  • Playing tight.
  • Using pot odds.
  • Being lucky.

These things are important, other than being lucky, but they miss the reason why Texas Holdem is a game that allows some players to learn how to be long-term winners. The reason I’m talking about is the same thing that eliminates luck from the equation.

Everything that happens at the Texas Holdem table is based on math. Anything that’s based on math and mathematical concepts eliminates luck.

Losing players hope to get lucky. The main problem with this is that hope isn’t a strategy. And winning players understand that luck has nothing to do with long-term results.

Here’s an example:

You’re playing a hand of Texas Holdem and are facing a single opponent after the turn. You hold the ace of clubs and queen of clubs and the board has the three of clubs, six of clubs, eight of spades, and the 10 of hearts.

Your opponent has been betting aggressively and at this point it’s apparent they have a better hand than you. But it also is highly likely that if you complete your flush on the river you’re going to win the hand.

With the makeup of the board, you can determine that the only way you can lose when you hit a flush is if the board pairs and your opponent has a set at this time. When they have a set and the board pairs it gives them a full house or four of a kind.

In most Texas Holdem hands you win when you hit a flush. You may also win the hand if you pair your ace or queen on the river. In the long run, the possibility of a full house or four of a kind is offset by the chances to win when you pair one of your top two cards, so it’s safe to assume you win when you complete your flush in this example.

At this point in the hand, you know the value of six cards out of the 52 possible cards. This leaves 46 unseen cards. Nine of these 46 cards complete your flush.

This is why luck has nothing to do with it.

If you play this exact same situation 46 times you’re going to win nine times and lose 37 times. Nine times you’re going to get one of the remaining clubs and the other 37 times the river is a card that isn’t a club.

These numbers are based on long-term odds and probabilities, but over thousands of hands the odds and probabilities always play out like they’re supposed to.

Losing players hope they get lucky and hit their flush on the river. Winning players understand the numbers and know they’re going to hit the flush nine out of 36 times. When you know the numbers you can compare them to the amount in the pot and how much you need to invest to see the river.

This comparison shows you if this is a profitable long-term situation.

When you understand the math behind the game you can find profitable situations to maximize your wins and avoid unprofitable situations.

The 52 card deck of fixed cards is the key to the math behind Texas Holdem. Immerse yourself into learning everything about the math and how it runs throughout everything that happens if you want to be a long-term winning player.

3. Starting Hand Selection for Dummies

Everything starts with your starting hand. These two cards have as much to do with your long-term wins and losses as anything and everything else that happens during a hand.

The player who starts with the best two-card starting hand wins more often than the player starting with a weaker hand.

Other things that happen alter the outcomes, but if you can start with a better hand on average than your opponent you win more hands in the long run. This is the basic building block or foundation of winning play.

In order to start with a better hand on average than your opponents means that you need to play fewer hands than they do. Every player has the same mathematical odds of receiving each of the 169 possible starting hands.

This means that on average if you play 169 hands that you’re going to receive the exact same starting hands as each of your opponents. Of course you’re going to receive them at different times, but in the long run, every player receives the same hands in the proper distribution.

When you realize why this is true you can see why playing fewer hands than your opponent improves the average value of the hands you enter the pot with. This is one of the big keys that winning Holdem players figure out before they start winning.

It seems like a simple idea, but most players play far too many hands. The exact number of hands you should play depends somewhat on how many hands the rest of the players at the table are playing.

If the rest of the table is playing 35% of their hands you can play marginally better starting hands on average if you play 34% of your starting hands. But if they play 35% you’re going to have better results if you only play 30% of yours.

Your results will usually be even better if you play 25% of your hands. On the other side of the coin, you can play too few hands and start costing yourself potential profit.

You need to be able to find a percentage of starting hands you can play in any game that maximizes your profit.

This isn’t easy to do on a game by game basis, so most good players develop a set of cards they play as a standard collection and then slightly adjust them up or down based on the other players in the game. You’re going to learn more about the importance of your position in another section later on this page, and when you combine your position with understanding the need to play fewer hands than your opponents you’re on your way to long-term profitable play.

4. Game Selection

When you play Texas Holdem how do you find a game? Most players go to a poker room and take the first available seat or log into their favorite online card room and join the first available table at the limit they want to play.

When you choose a game this way you’re at the mercy of chance when it comes to the playing ability of your opponents. If you’re a good player you can usually still win this way, but you aren’t maximizing your long-term profits.

If you want to maximize your long-term profits you need to find situations where you play against opponents who aren’t as good as you.

Let’s consider three available games based on the other players at the table.

At the first table, you see seven players who are better than you and one that is worse.

The second table has four players better than you, two that are about the same, and three that are worse.

The third table has one player better than you, one that is about the same, and six who are worse.

If you play on the first table it’s going to be hard to turn a long-term profit. You can probably break even or make a small profit on the second table.

But if you play at the third table you can turn a long-term profit.

It’s clear that if you have a choice that you should choose the third table if you want to maximize your long-term profits.

In order to do this on a consistent basis, you need to look for these opportunities and take them every chance you can. This also means that you need to learn as much as you can about your opponents and their abilities and learn how to accurately judge other player’s abilities.

This is difficult to do when you start playing, but as you gain experience and pay attention it becomes easier.

One of the things to remember is that most Texas Holdem players lose in the long run. So you want to avoid doing what most players do. Most players take the first available seat instead of finding the table that gives them the best chance to win.

5. Televised Poker Tournaments Don’t Show the Best Way to Play

The World Poker Tour and World Series of Poker have many televised events. It’s fun to watch the players compete for millions in prize pools.

But it’s hard to learn the best ways to play Texas Holdem by watching televised poker tournaments.

You get to see many big hands, but you miss all of the boring hands. If you play like you see on television you’re going to bluff too much and not pick up the small pots that help your long-term profit.

If you understand that the hands that get televised are only a small percentage of the overall hands played you can still learn from what you’re watching. Just make sure you always remember that you aren’t seeing the entire picture.

6. Position Matters

In the section about starting hands, you learned about the importance of playing fewer hands than your opponents. The math behind playing fewer hands is clear.

But you also need to understand the importance of your position in relation to the dealer button and how it changes your chances to win.

When you play from the early position you need to act before most of your opponents. This gives them more information when they act because they already know how you’re playing the hand. When you play in late position you get the additional information about how your opponents are playing.

Poker games force you to make decisions with limited information. When you have more information than your opponents it helps you make more money in the long run.

This means that you need to play most of your hands when you’re in a strong starting position. Combining strong starting hands with strong position is the recipe for long-term profits.

The strongest starting hands can be played from any position. Pocket aces and kings are profitable from any position. But good but not great hands need to be played in late position to be profitable.

You might be able to play suited ace 10 profitably from late position but in most games, it won’t be profitable from early position.

Position was the big thing that I learned how to use when I transitioned from a losing player to a winning one. I’d read about position before but didn’t understand it or use it to my advantage. As soon as I started using it I started winning.

7. It’s Not a Slot Machine

I remember reading something one time about how many Texas Holdem players played their hands like a slot machine instead of like a poker hand. I’m not sure who wrote it, but it may have been Ed Miller.

On the surface, it might be difficult to understand what it means, but if you think about it you’ll see it’s true.

A slots player puts money in the machine and hopes for the best. This is the same thing that many Texas Holdem players do. They put money in the pot without a plan and hope for the best.

They hope they hit their draw or hope their opponent folds. But they don’t base their hopes on anything legitimate. This makes them just like slot machine players.

You learned about the math behind Texas Holdem earlier, and this should help drive the point home about how important math is in the game. If you choose to ignore the math and don’t use it to help you win you might as well play slots.

Texas Holdem is a game that can be beaten by good players. Slot machines can’t be beaten in the long run. So it’s important to avoid treating Holdem like a slot machine.

8. You Can Be a Long-Term Winner

Some Texas Holdem players make a full time living playing the game. Many others supplement their income play poker.

This is possible because of the math that you’ve already learned about and because you aren’t playing against a built-in house edge like most casino games.

You pay a small percentage of the pot in each hand, called the rake. This means that if you can play better than most of the other players at the table that you can be a long-term winner.

This is good news if you want to win and are willing to do what you need to do to beat the game. This page covers many of the important things you need to know to be a long-term winner, but you really need to become a student of the game to maximize your profits.

Combine playing experience with study and constant evaluation of your game and skills and you can be a long-term winner. You don’t have to be smarter than your opponents, just a better player.

9. Most Players Don’t Beat the Rake

Though anyone can learn how to be a winning Texas Holdem player, most players can’t beat the rake. Beating the rake means winning enough to cover the rake.

The fact that most Texas Holdem players don’t beat the rake is good news for you. It means that if you build just a few skills that make you better than average players you can win.

It starts with something that you’ve already learned on this page. Watch and learn how most players play and don’t play like them. Don’t play too many hands and always be aware of your position.

Most Texas Holdem players don’t read books and articles about how to improve their play and don’t think about improving or how they play except when they’re actually in a hand.

10. Tight and Aggressive Play

I’ve touched on this in many of the sections above, but most good poker players play in a specific way. They play tight and aggressive.

Tight means that you don’t play as many hands as most of your opponents play. You earned how this gives you a mathematical advantage.

They also play aggressively when they do play. When you play aggressively it means betting and raising more often than checking and calling. When you bet and raise you can win the pot by having the best hand and when your opponent folds. This increases your chances to win.

When you check and call the only way to win a hand is by having the best hand at the showdown at the end.

Of course, smart players know that sometimes checking and calling is best, like when you’re receiving the correct pot odds to remain in the hand and are drawing to a winning hand. But overall you should play in a tight and aggressive manner.


If you want to be a winning player learn from these 10 things you should know about Texas Holdem. Winning players maximize their chances to win by using specific strategies.

Play fewer starting hands than your opponents, understand the math behind the game and your position, and choose the best places to play and you’re well on your way to long-term profits.

Petko Stoyanov
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About Petko Stoyanov
My name is Petko Stoyanov, and I've been a gambling writer for more than ten years. I guess that was the natural path for me since I've loved soccer and card games for as long as I can remember! I have a long and fairly successful history with English Premier League betting and online poker, but I follow many other sports. I watch all big European soccer leagues, basketball, football, and tennis regularly, and I keep an eye on snooker, volleyball, and major UFC events.