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At first glance, Texas Holdem should be a relatively easy game to fathom.  After all, there are five community cards that everyone at the table can use.  Despite the mystery of only the two hole cards it takes most players a long time to master the game.  Why?

A Good Holdem Player is an Amateur Psychologist

When you play at Juicy Stakes, you will be playing against players from all over the world.  There are many cultural differences between players and you need to be aware of all of them.  In a nutshell, it is a lot harder to figure out your opponents than most players imagine.  A lot of poker players think that, as far as fathoming opponents is concerned, we need only consider that opponent’s possible hands, his or her bluffing behavior, and the strength or weakness of our own hand.

This is woefully inadequate to making a sound decision “over the cards”.  People are a lot more complex than these three rather facile considerations.  As far as bluffing goes, here are the possibilities:

  1. Your opponent is a sharp player and bluffs cleverly.
  2. Your opponent doesn’t know what they are doing in terms of bluffing or any other aspect of poker.
  3. Your opponent can read you better than you know and can fake a bluff to get you to add to a losing pot.
  4. You are the sharp player.
  5. You are the player who doesn’t know what’s going on.
  6. You are the player who can get opponents to add money to a losing pot.

Now, add a second opponent on a pot and you have more than doubled the complexity of the hand.

Becoming a Student of Cultures

As we said, cultural differences are very important.  Try to know where your opponents are from and how their culture might affect their play.

Let us give you an example from a game far removed from poker: baseball.  After the Japanese surrendered to the Americans to end World War II, the United States military actually took over Japan for a number of years.  General Douglas MacArthur was put in charge of the military operation and he decided that to bring Americans and Japanese together, he would introduce baseball to Japan.

This worked wonders and there are many Japanese players in the American Major Leagues.  A Japanese player, Ichiro Suzuki, is considered to be one of the all-time great players in the American Major Leagues.  However, one aspect of Japanese culture that remained in Japanese baseball for at least two generations was the idea of not “losing face”.

So, when a player had the chance to advance a base or score, the American would take the chance even at the risk of being thrown out while the Japanese player would “play it safe” to avoid losing face.

Cultural differences do apply in every situation including Texas Holdem!

The Number One Texas Holdem Strategy is: Pay Attention

Good Texas Holdem players fold before the flop about 70% of all the hands they are dealt.  Some players pay very little attention to what transpires during those hands.  They are often marked by boredom as well.

A sharp player will notice that the folded opponent is not paying attention and is also giving signs of boredom.  That sharp player will file that information away and will use it to win a hand he might have lost or to pad the pot on a hand the bored opponent had no reason contending.

If we are looking for reasons why Texas Holdem is hard to master, the need to pay attention on every hand is one of the most important reasons.  Folding hand after hand can get very boring very fast.  Nevertheless, top players pay attention to every hand.

Players who start out at low stakes also pay close attention to every hand because this is where so much knowledge can be acquired.

Know the Rules of the Game

The rules of Texas Holdem are not all that complicated.  The area of most mistakes is in the betting rotation before the flop and after the flop.

In online games there is no real dealer.  A disc called the button moves in a clockwise manner around the table.  The person who is on the button is the virtual dealer.

The two players to the left of the button are the blinds.  The small blind posts a fixed ante and the next player seated posts the big blind which is two times the small blind.

Poker Strategy May Involve an Opponent’s Stack

When many people analyze a game, they talk about how many big blinds a player has in his stack.  That’s because you have to leave the table if you can’t cover the big blind.

Use the Betting Sequence to Your Advantage

After the hole cards have been dealt, the betting starts with the player to the left of the big blind.  This means that the big blind bets last before the flop.  The betting sequence will change after the flop.  Because every player has to at least call the big blind to stay in the hand, this single fact determines a lot of the betting before the flop.   Good Holdem players fold about 70% of their hands before the flop.

When we talk about position, we usually refer to the betting position before the flop.  A player who is not a blind can get out of any hand at no cost simply by folding.  This is common in early position.

Players who call the big blind without raising are said to “limp in”.  This is a pejorative term that indicates a player who is willing to call the big blind just “to see the flop”.  Most players in early position before the flop fold.

The next round of betting comes after the flop.  Now, the betting sequence starts with the player to the left of the button which is the small blind.  The first player to bet is the first player to the left of the button who is still in the hand.

The three rounds of betting after the flop all start to the immediate left of the button.

In betting, players can check, raise call, or fold.  Before the flop, everyone has to at least call the big blind.  Any player can raise.  When a player raises, everyone else has to at least call the raise.  If they don’t call the raise, they have to fold.

After the flop players can check until someone bets.  Then everyone has to match the bet, raise, or fold.

A great deal of the difficult strategy in Texas Holdem surrounds the betting sequence.

Poker Players Have to Evaluate Their Hand and the Possible Hand of Opponents who Don’t Fold

At this stage in the tutorial, we have to focus on one of the most difficult aspects of poker for new players or for many experienced players who have not devoted enough time to developing the ability to analyze hands.

It is obviously a lot easier to evaluate one’s own hand and, still, many players overestimate the value of their hand.  The value of one’s hand is a function of the hand’s potential and the betting activity around the table.  It is in the betting activity around the table that most new players wind up guessing instead of evaluating.

This is one of the biggest reasons you have to pay close attention to every hand including every hand that you fold out of.  We need to have some idea of what an opponent might have to justify his or her most recent bet as well as all of their bets in the hand before the most recent bet.

Until Next Time

Clearly the question as to why Texas Holdem is so hard to learn is too big a subject for a single short article.  We will continue the discussion next time.

In the meantime, play Texas Holdem and all of the other poker variations we offer at Juicy Stakes Poker.  One of our favorite poker “mantras” is: The more you play, the better you play.  This depends, of course, on learning how to be a better player on every hand!


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