Tips to Improve Your Texas Hold'em Game

Published: November 21, 2013

You and your buddies get together for a game of cards. You, having watched every episode of The World Series of Poker on ESPN 2, consider yourself to be a professional in the making. However, by the end of the night, you get taken to the cleaners! What happened? Here are some tips to improve your skills in poker. I specifically focus on Texas Hold'em because that seems to be the game of choice around my area.

  1. Don't take serious poker tips from the World Series of Poker

    ESPN and the World Series of Poker have teamed up to make a show that has run for an inexplicably long period of time. Everyone who is familiar with the show is aware of Chris Moneymaker, an accountant turned millionaire with his win in 2003. The idea that an ordinary guy turned his fortunes around with one poker tournament is an attractive one. Since then, many people have turned to the World Series of Poker as a go to guide on how to play poker.

    My best piece of advice on this topic is to take play in the World Series of Poker with a grain of salt. There will be hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of hands dealt in the course of the tournament. ESPN simply picks and chooses the ones that will bring the most viewers. Basically, they want to show you the underdog hands that beat the clear favorites. Watching a terrible hand run into a big payout on TV should not translate into you playing a terrible hand and expecting to win.

  2. Understand the math

    If you ever take a class about risk or decisions under uncertainty, you will learn about key terms like "expected value." More importantly, you will understand that some lotteries or gambles will have a better payout than others.

    View each hand you play as a lottery or a gamble. A majority of the time, those hands that could lead to a monster payoff will require you to draw a card to complete a hand you haven't quite made yet, like a straight or a flush.

    I highly advise you to understand the concept of "outs," which cards remaining in the deck that will give you the winning hand. If you want a quick, decently accurate way of gauging the chance you hit any one of those "outs," multiply the number of outs that you believe to have by 4 prior to the turn and by 2 prior to the river. The number that you get is a relatively accurate percentage chance that you hit that out on the turn or river.

    Understand also, the concept of pot odds. I'll give a quick example. Suppose your opponent bets 1 dollar into a pot of 4 dollars after the flop. Additionally, suppose you are the only other person in the hand, and you have 10 outs. If you call your opponent's bet, you are wagering 1 of your dollars for a chance to win that pot of 5 dollars. Your opponent is giving you 1 to 5 odds on winning the hand. If you have at least at 20% chance (1 over 5), it is mathematically correct to call.  Since you have 10 outs prior to the turn, you have about a 40% chance to make the winning hand. Calling is the correct action.

  3. Understand the unpredictability

    Poker and all other forms of gambling are inherently unpredictable. If you want to do reasonably well at poker night with your friends, understand that poker is, above all things, unpredictable. You may suffer the entire night without winning a hand. You may be dealt the winning hand multiple times in a row. Instead of fearing the unpredictable, accept unpredictability as a truism and always play at a mathematically sound standard. Because poker is also about the people, you may be able to bluff your way to a winning night, even if you never hold the cards to win.

Poker is a fun, increasingly popular pastime for people to enjoy. I highly encourage you to play, whether you are betting pushups or money. I think the most important tip in this list is an inherent understanding of the mathematics involved. Gambling is a mathematically beautiful subject, and I believe a strong game supported by a fundamental understanding of risk and probability will lead to enjoyable results.  Remember never to gamble anything that you cannot afford to lose. These tips, although designed to help you improve, may not have instant results, either. In that case, I advise you to be patient and wait for the right hand.