Is There Any Skill In Texas Holdem Poker?

Texas Hold'em is a globally popular skill-based game, played both online and offline, particularly thriving in the United States where it originated. Every year, thousands of players flock to the (WSOP), dreaming of becoming the main event champion.

Trick 1: Focus on Strong Hands to Win

The top trick for playing Texas Hold'em well is focusing on strong hands.

Many fail to profit at the poker tables primarily because they play too many weak hands.

From personal experience, if you're at a 6-player table, you should play the top 20% of hands; at a 9-player table, keep it to the top 15%.

Hands like 84o, T2o, K3o should definitely be folded pre-flop.

Concentrate mainly on hands like AK, TT, or JTs.

Playing these might seem boring, but discipline is key to long-term profitability at the table.

Trick 2: Entering Hands from Advantageous Positions is Key to Profiting

For example, in a 6-player game, positions include: UTG, UTG+1, CO, BTN, SB, and BB. UTG and UTG+1 are early positions, CO and BTN are late, and SB and BB are the blinds.

Skilled players know how to maximize position to earn the most money. Being able to act after your opponents gives you a great advantage. Data from Poker Tracker shows I make three times more money in the BTN than in UTG, even with the same hands. The results are significantly different due to the late position.

For instance, consider holding A♦T♦ in a $1/$2 game. You from the BTN, and the blinds call.

The flop comes A♥6♣7♣, a decent flop. The BB checks, the pot is $13, and you bet $10; BB calls.

The turn brings 5♦, not ideal if BB has 98, as they would have a straight. But it's not the worst card since it's not 5♣.

BB checks again. Based on BB's actions—just calling on the flop and checking on the turn—we can deduce a lot. Here, for , we might check back or bet to extract value from flush draws and weaker Aces.

Assuming we check, after the river, we can still react based on BB's action, having more information thanks to our . From this example, you can see how difficult it is for BB to decide first on every street. Positional advantage exists in every hand, making decision-making much harder for players in disadvantageous positions.

Trick 3: The Most Important Texas Hold'em Tip—Don't Tilt

Tilt, or losing control, is something all players understand, and nearly no player can completely avoid.

At the table, many “bloodbaths” are triggered by tilting, and a lot of money is lost this way.

Tilting is arguably one of the most costly mistakes a player can make.

Players have read countless psychology books and taken many classes to control this emotion, with some even trying therapies like hypnosis.

Poker is mainly about exploiting edges, and tilting is one of the fastest ways to lose that edge. Those who seek revenge for a loss almost invariably end up losing big. We must learn to properly handle fluctuations; the impact of short-term luck in poker is frustrating because we're not used to such swings in everyday life. Sometimes, even when we do everything right, bad luck can still punish us. We need to learn to accept these moments.

Mastering your emotions and improving your skills can help maintain a higher win rate and reduce fluctuations. Confidence from good play helps us cope with bad beats. More skilled players remain calm even when outcomes are unfavorable because they know their decisions were sound. Sometimes, poker rewards bad players and punishes good ones. If you're confident in your play, it's easier to accept losses and avoid tilting.

Trick 4: Only Play Against Rookies

This is one of the key factors to profiting at the poker table: you make money when you play against players who are worse than you.

For instance, in online poker, players with a VPIP (Voluntarily Put Money in Pot) of 40% are our targets.

While their wild play can sometimes hurt us, we have a long-term edge against them.

It's clear that most of our profits in Texas Hold'em come from rookies, not from tight, skilled regulars.

So, don't try to outplay the experts. Pick on the weaker ones!

Trick 5: Review Your Hand Histories

If you never analyze the hands you've played, you'll never identify your weaknesses and will struggle to improve.

The key to my continued profitability over more than a decade is self-reflection. I spend a lot of time studying my hand histories, identifying profitable strategies, and avoiding costly ones.

Trick 6: Learn Advanced Strategies

There's a common misconception about game theory: people think it only applies in difficult games against strong opponents. But in reality, game theory is useful against any player.

According to the Oxford Dictionary, game theory is “a branch of mathematics used to make strategic decisions when outcomes heavily depend on the actions of other competitors.”

Simply put, game theory helps us strategize regardless of our opponent's moves.

If you're new to game theory or only partly understand it, “Optimal Poker Play 2,” a 300-page introductory book on game theory, can help you make better decisions even when you're unsure of the “right play.” It also guides you in balancing play against weak opponents and strong competitors, sometimes even sparking infinite creativity for unique strategies.

Trick 7: Understand Your Opponent's Style

Spending a lot of effort for small pots is not worthwhile; it won't bring much profit.

Knowing how to play a hand correctly starts with understanding what your opponent holds. To know what they have, we need to know who they are and their playing style.

Online poker player types aren't too complicated; we can categorize them into a few groups with similar patterns from pre-flop to post-flop.

Common types include fish, TAGs (Tight-Aggressive), and LAGs (Loose-Aggressive). Most online players fall into one of these categories.

When playing online, we can classify opponents based on their data. Beyond raw numbers, we can also use other clues to understand opponents' strategies, like their betting sizes, favorite bluff hands, and typical bluff-catching hands. These details are not in the data.

Always be vigilant in observing opponents' actions. Information on their preferred bluff hands can often be gleaned during showdowns.

Trick 8: Always Play Your A-Game

Many players come to the table not in their best condition, for reasons like poor sleep, drinking too much, playing too tired, or feeling emotionally off.

Poker is mentally demanding. How can you expect to perform well if you're not even at half your capacity?

To win, treat the game like a professional athlete. Whether mentally or physically, come to the table in top form, ready to play your A-game!

Trick 9: Don't Just Wait for the Nuts

Don't just enter the pot when you have strong hands, especially against novices.

Some players rigidly adhere to textbook strategies and only play strong hands, making their ranges too tight. To balance this, sometimes it's worth playing weaker hands.

For example, hands like T8s, K9s, 54s, or A2s can be good to see a flop with if you're up against weak players.

Isn't this contradictory to Trick 1, which advises playing only strong hands? Yes, but if you wait only for strong hands, the novices' money will go to other players, not you!

Sometimes, if you have a positional advantage and your opponents are weak, consider playing more speculative hands like suited connectors or suited Aces.

Trick 10: Learn to Float

I'm not talking about entering pre-flop with weak hands and then stealing the pot when you miss on the flop. I'm talking about floating more on the flop.

That means if you miss the board but your opponent bets, don't fold too easily. Many players bet on the flop without strong hands, so after calling their flop bet, you can often steal the pot on the turn or river.

This strategy perfectly illustrates the role of positional advantage. With this edge, you can sometimes call with no hand strength and then use this approach to profit.

Let me give an example from a 5/10 game on PokerStars. I held A♣Q♦ on the button, facing a typical TAG in the UTG+1 position with stats of 18/15/2, having played hundreds of hands against him. He raised to $40 pre-flop, and I called.

The flop came J♣5♥4♥, and UTG+1 bet $60. I just called.

My call was based on the guess that UTG+1 either had high cards that missed the flop or a smaller pocket pair. Given his straightforward style, I felt if he had a hand weaker than top pair, he might give up the pot. Typically, against a c-bet like this, I might raise, but occasionally mixing in a float is a good strategy. If I call and a third ♥ appears, I can still represent a flush.

The turn was 7♥, and UTG+1 checked. The pot was $200, and I bet $180; he called.

Okay, my float didn't work, but the hand wasn't over. I guessed UTG+1 had an overpair or a strong top pair like AJ or KJ. Based on our past interactions, I believed he perceived me as a tight player, so I could still represent a flush on the river.

I rarely bluff, but when facing the right opponent (who plays tight), and he perceives you similarly, plus when the board is highly unfavorable for his range, it's definitely an opportunity to seize.

The river was 2♦, and UTG+1 checked. The pot was $560, and I bet $480. My opponent used his entire time bank before finally folding.

Considering he likely had a strong hand, my bluff was risky, but in his eyes, the chances of me holding a flush were too high, making a call too costly for him.

When we sense our opponents have weak hands, we have an opportunity to profit using a float strategy, even without strong cards. But this tactic is hard to master; if our float fails, we often have no backup plan, so use it cautiously.

When floating, choose tight opponents more likely to fold compared to others. This approach can easily make them feel uncomfortable, leading to tilt. Once an opponent tilts, if we hit a set against their middle pair, we can easily collect their chips since they might act irrationally, like going .

Trick 11: Be Confident

Confidence is crucial, both in life and at the poker table. My confidence comes from private effort, studying theory, vast practice, and the results of hard work.

Confidence helps me stick to my judgments and continue making optimal choices even when results aren't as expected.

Trick 12: Master the Art of Bluff Raising

Bluff raising is actually rare in practice, and if you never bluff raise, you're too easy to read. So, to confuse your opponents, you need to establish a bluff-raising range post-flop.

When facing skilled opponents, I love to bluff raise with draws or high cards, but I wouldn't do this against novices because of their curiosity and tendency to call.

Imagine you raise pre-flop with A♥Q♠ from the button and a TAG regular in the big blind calls.

The flop is K♦8♣3♥, and the big blind checks. You make a continuation bet, and he calls.

The turn is 10♠, and the big blind bets. What do you do?

Of course, raise!

Honestly, what is the big blind representing with such play?

At most, a weak Kx, right? After all, he just called pre-flop from the big blind, and this board texture connects much more with our range than his.

A turn raise is often enough to scare off such players. Even if it doesn't, we still have a chance to hit a straight or even top pair on the river.

Trick 13: Sometimes Be a Calling Station Against Aggressive Regulars

Yes, you heard right. I'm suggesting you sometimes be a calling station.

Because the opponent is a regular player, that means he definitely has some theoretical knowledge. Those who know theory have likely read plenty of articles or books, understanding the principles of aggressive play.

But you, having read the same theories, should know that playing aggressively doesn't always mean holding strong cards, because, like yourself, most of your bets or raises are bluffs. So, experienced regulars are probably following the same playbook.

The strategy against this style is simple: occasionally be a calling station when holding hands like top pair.

If the opponent is a novice, you might consider folding top pair against their large bets. However, if the opponent is an aggressive regular, top pair might be enough to call.

Trick 14: Steal Blinds Frequently

One of my common strategies is stealing blinds. Many players have a very low blind-stealing rate, so when the opportunity presents, you should steal more often. Your blind-stealing range can even include hands like T8s, K3s, or QTo, especially if two tight players are in the blinds.

Trick 15: Learn from the Best

We're fortunate to live in an era where we have many more avenues to learn poker compared to our predecessors. Sometimes, we can even learn from top-tier players for free.

Having good mentors is crucial for advancing your poker skills. If you don't have mentors, at least ensure the resources and learning methods you use are reliable. If you're exposed to unreliable information, your journey as a poker player can easily go astray.

Trick 16: Set Monthly and Yearly Goals

Everything succeeds with preparation and fails without it.

Like any endeavor, poker requires planning and goal-setting. It's best to set goals for yourself, either monthly or yearly.

For example, set a monthly profit goal or a yearly goal to move up from NL25 to NL100.

Having goals is like going to the gym; it gives direction to your daily efforts, making progress more likely.

Trick 17: Enjoy Playing

This is what I consider the biggest secret!

Besides making money, playing poker should also be a pleasurable process. You can only excel at something you love to the fullest!

Despite the multi-million-dollar prize for the WSOP main event champion, Texas Hold'em is still just a game. Isn't life all about being comfortable and happy?

If playing this game makes you feel stressed or tired, it might be better to switch to something else!

The ideal state is to both enjoy playing and make money. If you can achieve that, then playing isn't a job; it's a pleasure!

There's always winning and losing in poker; you can't always win and never lose, so our goal is simply to win more often than we lose.

If you maintain a good mindset, you're sure to win more often than you lose!

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