The majority of the literature around poker tips revolve around aiding beginners or intermediate players. This makes sense - these are the players who need the most guiding hand when it comes to understanding the game. What’s more, these players have so much to learn that no instructor would easily run out of wisdom to impart. They could easily improve a beginner or an intermediate player’s game with just a few quick tips and tricks. This cluster is also the majority of players for a game like Texas Hold’em.
As it stands, advanced tips for a game like Texas Hold’em are few and far between. Once a player reaches this level of gameplay, such advanced concepts are introduced to the game that it makes it increasingly difficult to follow. Player’s aren’t just playing for fun. They’re trying to wrap their heads around advanced math, statistics and psychology and how the perfect combination of each will secure them a winning hand. Naturally, this takes time - more than the average poker enthusiast is willing to dedicate. If you want to see if you have what it takes to be an expert player, however, read on!
Given its solid connection to the world of numbers, math is the very basis of a poker game like Texas Hold’em. It hosts a set of immovable rules, the same for each player, that always revolves around a standard 52-card deck. The deck consists of the same four suits and 13 ranks. This makes for the perfect storm to begin calculations around odds and probabilities if you’re a numbers whiz. For instance, it’s impossible to divine which cards your poker rivals are holding and whether those cards are better than the ones in your hand. Still, the fact that each hand is based on the same 52 card deck means that relatively simple math can help a player understand the likelihood of opponents having specific hands. This will then heavily inform their playing strategy.
For example, if you start the hand with two aces as your hole cards, you know that the remaining 50 cards in the deck only have two aces. The remaining 48 cards consist of four of each rank below the aces. At the beginning of the hand, you don’t know where any of the other cards are located, but as the hand progresses you learn where some of them are. Continuing with the example, if the flop has an ace and two fours, you hold a full house. You also know the only hand at this time that can beat you is four fours. Because two fours are on the flop, the number of times a single opponent has the other two fours is 1 in 1,326 hands. This is such a small percentage of the time that you always play the full house in this example as if it’s the best hand.
Another example of the use of mathematics in Texas Hold ’em comes at the commencement of the game. Let’s say you’re in the position of the small blind and of course, your rival's cards are completely unknown to you. To add to this, the player hasn’t even looked at their cards yet. Well, mathematically speaking the best path would be to fold. Why? The player is occupying the small blind position with nothing more than mediocre cards - not a favourable situation to be in and the odds of success are slim. These are merely a few brief examples of how math factors into mastering the game of poker.
Many in the academic world consider psychology a “soft science” when compared to a clear cut and irrefutable subject like mathematics. Yet, in the world of poker, expert players must learn to marry these two elements successfully in order to take home the pot. This is a key element in mastering Texas Hold’em as an advanced player. While a keen understanding of math will help you get to grips with the game, psychology will aid you in understanding the other players and if done right, outplay them.
The first step in gaining insight into poker psychology is watching the other players and noticing their behaviour throughout the highs and lows of the game. Player’s have to pay attention to what cards their rivals are throwing out, and from this observation, decipher what they’re thinking, what they’re planning, and what they’ll do next. Bluffing also plays into poker psychology in a big way. Not only will player’s need to learn how to notice when other players are bluffing but they’ll need to recognise opportunities in the game for them to bluff rivals themselves. If bluffing is your game, learn more about it from our other blog posts.
Check-Raise More Frequently From The Big Blind
With the mathematics and psychology of Texas Hold’em under a player’s belt, it’s time to put pressure on opponents with checks and raises. If you fail to do this, it’ll be difficult to build up the balance of the pot. This is particularly true if a player’s facing opponents who routinely call on weak hands. Even though these hands are weak, they still have value and a player fails to raise, it’s easy for rivals to spot when a player’s holding a value hand.
We know it’s not always easy to know when you should check-raise (and when you shouldn’t) so we’ve outlined a couple of examples below. To note, we’ve discussed value hands and bluffing in our previous blog post here if you want more information. Check-raising is most typically recommended when a player believes they hold a strong hand. Still, the game isn’t just about check-raising when holding a value hand. Players also have to consider the value of a bluff of this kind. The best bluffs are hands that have decent equity and the potential to improve to a straight or a flush. These are generally gutshot straight draws, open-ended straight draws and flush draws. This doesn't mean that a player should check-raise with every draw they face. For example, they can check-raise straight draws, but only when they have a backdoor flush draw (which we'll discuss later in this post) while check-calling the ones without a backdoor flush draw.
Advanced Texas Hold’em players will make use of equity calculators at some point in their poker life. In recent years, these commercial calculators have progressed to include a range of features available to top players. These include equity training, equity distribution graphs and combinatorics (an area of mathematics primarily concerned with counting). They even allow players to store their ranges so players can access them at a later date. While this is by no means the entire functionality of an equity calculator, it’s an excellent kicking off point.
Unpaired Hands and Backdoor Flush Draws
In poker, a "backdoor flush" is when you have three of the five cards needed to make a flush with the turn and river yet to be dealt. If you have an unpaired starting hand with a backdoor flush draw, the best option for a player is to bet. This advice is particularly good if you have a favourable position over the other players at the table. For instance, A♥ H♥ is a favourable bluffing hand on a 4♤ 7♢ 7♥ flop. You have two hearts in your hand and one on the board, which means that you have a backdoor flush draw.
The reason why this is favourable advice is that betting on draw hands can become profitable bluffs on the turn quite often. If the turn provides you with a flush draw then you’re in a position with a lot more equity. This means it’s time to keep the pressure on. A double-barrel bet is usually the best next step here. With a little luck, a player will hit a flush on the river and take home the pot. If the turn completes your draw
Studying Never Ends
One of the most important things for experienced poker players to get to grips with is the fact that the studying of the game is never-ending. Even the greatest players in the world spend hours upon endless hours holed away strategising, studying statistics and using new technology like solvers to give them an unbeatable edge. If you want to learn more about the wonderful world of solvers, check out our previous blog post on the subject. Remember, every hand, every session, every opponent is an opportunity to put a player’s skills to the test and try out new methods.