Texas Hold’em: Playing to Win

In 2003, an unknown Tennessean named Chris Moneymaker won the World Series of Poker Main Event, and changed the game forever.

The aptly named Moneymaker first got into the WSOP through a $40 online satellite, then went on to bag $2.5 million at the table at Binion’s in Las Vegas. His victory kicked off a poker boom that continues today. In fact, as Moneymaker himself noted in an interview this year, when he first played in the ME, a total of 839 players participated. This year, some 7,000 or more players are expected to take part in the tournament, which will be played online this year due to Covid-19.

Texas Hold’em is the most popular poker variant. No longer just a weekend “fellas” gathering, this is a big-time business (some 70 million-plus standard decks of cards are sold every single year). So let’s break down some the basics and look at some winning strategies at the tournament tables:

  1. Play a lot of hands early. When the blinds are low, play more hands than you would normally play deeper in a tournament. It’s a good way to feel out your table and players. Make a few more calls from raises, and you’ll basically see more flops. This doesn’t imply you should be a donkey, a fish, or a calling station. Just try to get some chips so you have leverage to put pressure on smaller stacks. Which leads us to the second tip…
  2. Put pressure on smaller stacks. If you accumulate a lot of chips, do not sit on your stack. The object of poker is to get all the chips. You must put pressure on smaller stacks, if only to increase the likelihood that they’ll fold pre-flop to a raise or a C-bet.
  3. Punish limpers in the blinds. If I’ve got even an average stack, you’re in the small or big blind, and it comes back around to you with as few as two but more commonly three or four limpers, depending on my table I don’t even need to look at my cards. I’m shipping it. Unless you come across someone who limped with a big pair (which is rare), the limpers with any smarts or skill will fold. Why would they take the chance of calling a maybe bluff by wasting all or a big percentage of their chips on a flip?
  4. Learn how to play the power of position. Being in position to another player at a poker table means you’re on their left and/or act after them, unless you’re in the blinds. It gives you an incredible amount of versatility. The cards are irrelevant. I don’t even have to look at my hand if I’m in position, relative to you, to take the hand away and get it in my control.

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  1. Always be learning. Get a feel for your table mates. Watch the hands they call, raise, bet, or defend their blinds with. Take mental notes, in case you’re in a hand with them at a later time. Consume information like a sponge. It gives you the upper hand later.
  2. Put people on hands. This is one of the most important things you can do in poker. You must put people on a hand, meaning what you think they have. Many a time, I’ve laid down great hands because I know I’m beat. If you put someone on a hand that can beat yours, don’t be stubborn or fish and make a dumb call.
  3. If you sense weakness, pounce! If you’re in a hand with a novice, a nit, or anyone playing timidly to try to get to the river or showdown, be aggressive and see what the deal is. A float call on the flop or a check raise on the flop, both being out of position to take down the pot on a later street, is strong and highly advised.
  4. Your folds, reads, and bluffs are everything. Folds, reads, and bluffs separate good players from great players, and great players from the pros. Your reads are important but remember, we’re all human. Don’t call off your tournament life on a read that could be wrong. Live to fight another hand. Know when to bluff. Bluffing is the art of “misguidance,” but if your table image is aggressive, use it to your advantage, knowing you’re going to get called some of the time. Pick good spots, where you know the likelihood of getting a call is much less.

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Finally, poker is all about creativity. From your body language to your look, from your play to your table image. If you can keep your opponents on their heels and guessing at every one of your moves, you’ve got them in your control. You’ll eventually get all their chips or even better, they’ll just punt them to you. Game over.

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