36 Concepts You Have to Know to Win at Texas Holdem Poker (Updated) — the poker how to

Update 10/03/07: I came up with 7 new concepts that I had to add!

Have you ever wondered what concepts are important in a game like Texas Hold’em? I pondered this myself and decided to make a list and put it up here on my blog for all to see. Hope you enjoy it! And thanks to Tim Snell for the picture!

Player Types

1. The Fish – The player at the table who consistently makes bad calls and bad plays. Usually ends up leaving the game broke and happy (usually).

2. The Weak-Tight – A player who often has learned how to play tight poker. He has just read a few books and they advocate tight play so he plays tight but he has no imagination and plays a style that is too rigid and mechanical. This kind of player is often a winner at lower stakes games.

3. The Loose-Aggressive (LAG) – There are two types of loose aggressive players. Most of the loose aggressive out there are losing players, they play too many hands and think they can do it profitably. They can run well (be on the right side of luck) for awhile and win a lot but when things turn they go down. Then there’s the good loose aggressive player, these are usually the Phil Iveys which are very good. And they are good for a reason, they put in a lot of time at the tables and they learn to read hands exceptionally well. These are the great LAGs of poker.

4. The Tight-Aggressive (TAG) – The majority of winning players end up in this category. They play tight but they play aggressive. They pick their spots well. These players know when to fold and when to bluff. Also often known as “tough players” because they aren’t easy to extract money from. This is what you want to aspire to if you’re a new player.

5. The Hyper-Aggressive – Sometimes known as a maniac. A lot of players have trouble with a player who plays like a madman. Mostly its fear of him having a big hand when in reality he almost never has a hand that can stand pressure. Versus these kind of players you have to gamble it up more and figure out how he plays so you can own him.
Poker Terms

6. The Value Bet – Have you ever heard of this term? The value bet is a bet you think will get called by a worse hand. So if you have a pair of aces and you think your opponent has worse and you bet the river, that is what a value bet is. It is also sometimes referred as taking someone to “value town” icon_wink-6630408

7. The Bluff – A bluff is betting someone out of the pot when you have the worst hand.

8. The Semi-Bluff – Semi-bluffing someone is kind of like the bluff. You are pretty sure your opponent has you beat but you think he will fold sometimes and even if he calls you have a lot of outs. An example would be a flush draw + an over card on the turn versus your opponents weak top pair. He will have a hard time calling (unless he’s a fish) if you put some pressure on him.

9. The Check-Raise – Some people argue that the check-raise is unethical to poker. I disagree strongly, in fact I think those people should go and play some bingo. Poker is a game of strategy, the minds of humans are at war at the poker table. The rules are the rules, you have to be able to own people with a check-raise. It’s fun to check-raise people, makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. I almost forgot to tell you what it is. Check-raising is when you check, someone bets and you raise them. For example say you call in the big blind with two cards after your opponent on the button raised (he has position). Flop is something and you check, he now bets and you decide to check-raise. There’s nothing more to it than that.

10. The Slow play – Also known as sandbagging. Slow playing is when you flop a huge hand and decide to just call to the turn or river and raise them there. So you play it slow first but then in the end you kick them in the balls with a big raise (or a raise you think they will call).

11. Position – Having position on someone is crucial in big bet games like no-limit Texas Hold’em or pot-limit Omaha. What position enables you to do is act last in every round of betting. That means you will have more information than your opponent when you make a decision. Can you see how beneficial this is?

12. Deception – Being deceptive is fun when playing poker, because you get to trick people. Being deceptive means playing a hand in a way that fools your opponents. For example, if you normally raise pocket aces but just decide to call this time. That is regarded as a deceptive play. Be careful though and remember one thing—being deceptive is very rarely necessary. It becomes more and more necessary as you move up the stakes and start playing against tougher and tougher players. At the lower stakes you should play straightforward 95%+ of the time because the players are not that observant.

13. The Small Blind – Is the player who posts the smaller of the two blinds, in a $5/10 No-Limit game he posts $5 and is immediately after the button (i.e. immediately to the left of the button) and the reason you should play so tight from the small blind is because you will have the worst position during the whole round of play.

14. The Big Blind – This player posts $10 in a $5/10 game and is right after the small blind with the second worst position. Play tight from the blinds!

15. Under the Gun – Also known as UTG and refers to the player who is first to act (i.e. the one that is immediately to the left of the big blind.

16. Cut-Off – Refers to the player that just one off the button (i.e. immediately to the right of the button)

17. The Hijack – This is the seat immediately to the right of the cut-off, so two off the button.

Chip Stacks

18. The Short Stack (20-40BB) – With a stack this short you have to revert to playing big cards. You want to play hands that dominate other peoples hand-ranges. For example, if someone is going to call you with AK, AQ and AJ you want to get your money in with AQ or better. Because AQ vs a range of AK to AJ is about 50/50. And often times you will take the money in the middle when he has worse hands. This is just a hypothetical example to show you how it can be done.

19. The Medium Stack (80-100BB) – This is the stack that is prevalent in most online games. The max buy-in is usually 100BB and with these stacks big cards are often hard to play when you raise to 3-4BB pre-flop. An exception to this is if you manage to get more money in pre-flop, say 8-10BB, then it comes more straight-forward to play them. A remedy to this whole situation is to know your player, then all decisions automatically become easier.

20. The Deep Stack (200BB+) – Most players fear playing the deep stack because good players will put them to the test and often times you will not want to commit 200 big blinds without a very big hand or a very big draw. With a deep stack it becomes more important than ever to have good reads on the players at your table. The value of implied odds hands like 65s and pocket pairs go up and hands like AK and AA (unless you flop a set) go down in value.


21. Patience – What are most people lacking when it comes to playing winning poker? Patience. You have to know that when your goal is to win at Texas Hold’em or any game for that matter, you absolutely need to be patient. You will be folding most of your hands and even when you play a hand you’ll sometimes be folding when you miss the flop or the board develops unfavorably.

22. Table Selection – You have to choose games where you think you are a favorite to win. If you’re playing in very tough games it is unlikely that you will win in the long run. But if you table select well and choose the tables where the players are worse than you, and you do this consistently, then you will the odds on your side.

23. Bankroll Management – Another aspect that is disregarded or not applied. You can play the best poker ever, but if you are playing with a $3,000 bankroll at $5/10 NL then some bad luck can easily take all your money. You need to have at least 30 buy-ins for each level you’re playing. That means $30,000 for $5/10 NL which usually has a max buy-in of $1,000. Those are my guidelines and they’ve worked for over 3 years so far .

24. Tilt Control – This is at least as important as poker strategy itself. If you’re regularly tilting of several buy-ins because you are unlucky then you don’t have a very bright future in poker (unless you change that). How can you change that behavior? First you will have to start identifying how you tilt, when you tilt and how to stop it. The best advice I can give for people just learning how to control their tilt is to quit whenever you start feeling frustrated, angry or whatever your signs are.

25. Fancy Play Syndrome – A prevalent disease among poker players, this is more likely to happen to me when I take shots at higher stakes, because I think everyone knows what I have and I think they’re bluffing me off my hand, so I start calling more and trying to bluff them off of their hands, which never works. Beware of this one, play your normal tight game when moving up!

26. Knowing When to Quit – Here’s a big one. When you start playing bad you have to quit the game. You cannot linger and play through it because you are now playing worse than before and poker is a game of small edges. If you lose your edge and start playing bad then you are in bad shape and you are setting yourself up for losing some of that cash you’ve earned.

27. Playing for the Long Term – You have to be in it for the long term if you are a professional poker player. You will have stretches of severe bad luck. A month in the red when playing good is not unheard of but if you reach a stretch of that magnitude (depending on how much you play) then you might want to hire a coach or get a friend to do a check-up on your poker game. Just to make sure you aren’t suddenly playing losing poker.

28. Love to Learn – You have to love to learn to survive as a poker player. As the games are constantly changing and things that worked before suddenly stop working. These are the times you have to understand your poker concepts so you can adapt. I always advocate taking as much coaching from good players as possible. I’ve been at it for over three years and have never stopped learning. It still amazes me how much you can learn in this game or any poker game.


29. Reading Hands – Learn how to read hands. This is the secret to all poker. If you know what your opponent has and you know what to do to make the best EV (expected value) play then you’re going to crush whatever game you play in. Learning to read hands takes time so have patience with it. The best way to learn to read hands is to play and constantly keep your focus on your opponents. Learn how they play their weak, medium and strong hands. Learn their betting patterns, everything there is to know about them! The more you know the more information you have to make your decision when you’re involved in a hand with your opponent.

30. Be Selectively Aggressive – This concept can easily be misapplied. Everyone says “be aggressive”. What exactly does it mean? It means you have to know your opponents and you have to pick your spots to be aggressive. Sometimes raising is horrible compared to calling. I cannot go into more detail here because it would fill several pages. Just remember—think about what your opponent has and how you think he will react to a raise or a call.

31. Table Image – Be aware of your table image, this is more true at the higher stakes. If you’ve been involved in a lot of pots players are more likely to think your full of it. If on the other hand you’ve been folding for the last few days and you pick up pocket aces you are not so likely to get any action. When you’re aware of your table image you can adapt. You can play pocket aces strongly because people absolutely refuse to give you credit for a hand. You can also play them slowly if people put you squarely on aces or kings if you make a big raise or re-raise.

32. Planning – In poker you have to be able to plan for future situations. If someone is doing something vs. you all the time, you have to know the correct plan of action to take vs. him. Do you start playing back or do you sit back and make him believe you are doing, or is it something entirely different?

Last Words

33. Don’t Reinvent the Wheel – Read and learn from everything and everyone you can. There is no need to start playing without having read anything. I know many people who absolutely refuse to learn from anyone else. They want to “figure it out for themselves”. If your goal is to become a winning professional poker player then you have to use all the resources you can get your hands on. Remember that!

34. Goals – Have goals. Be specific about what you want. Do you want to be a winning mid-stakes poker player? Do you want to become the best in the world? Those two goals require different degrees of commitment. You have to be honest with yourself and put up a plan if you want to progress as fast as you can.

35. Be Honest with Yourself – Honesty is a must if you want to constantly evolve as a poker player. You have to be able to learn from your mistakes because your mistakes are your biggest teachers. I know many players who hide their faults and weaknesses; this means that they will never become good at poker. They will always struggle because if you hide your faults and never take coaching or steps to improve then your progress will slow to a halt. Who wants that? Apparently some do.

36. Have Fun – Poker is a game that is supposed to be fun. If you aren’t having fun while you’re playing and learning then the odds are that you won’t last very long. I could never have lasted several years and still be playing if I wasn’t enjoying the games challenges.

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