How to Play your First Game of Poker

The ABC of Beginners Texas Hold’em poker by a pro.


When you’re starting out in Texas Hold’em, it’s best to stick with a tight pre-flop strategy and play only the best starting hands.  You should always bet when you hold big pocket pairs like AA, KK, QQ, JJ, and TT, also hands like AK and AQ.

If nobody else has raised in front of you, raise with these hands to a size of around 3x the big blind. These hands can comfortably be played from any position, and should always be played as a raise when the actions folds to you.

For example, if you’re in a tournament game with 100/200 blinds, raise a hand like JJ to 800-1000 if everyone acting before you folds. You’ll encounter players who just call the 200 blind (known as limping), but as a beginning player stay away from limping and always raise when you have a premium starting hand.

The pros on TV will raise with a wide selection of starting hands, but this should be avoided as a beginner. Stay away from hands like 85 suited and K8 off-suit when you’re starting out. A strong, tight selection of pre-flop hands will keep you out of trouble post-flop.


Poker strategyPOSITION

The seat directly to the left of the big blind is always the first to act pre-flop after the cards have been dealt, and the action goes clockwise from there. After the flop, the player in the small blind is the first to act if they’re still in the hand.

When you’re in one of the early positions (the seats directly to the left of the big blind), your starting hand selection should be at its tightest, as you have several players left to act after you. In the later positions, and especially on the button (the position directly to the right of the small blind), you can open up a bit and start including some hands like the lower pocket pairs, and suited connected hands like 98 suited.

When a player in front of you raises from early position, they are generally representing a strong hand. Keep this in mind when calling a raise, and don’t be afraid to re-raise with your monster hands like AA, KK, QQ and AK. Re-raising with these hands is a better strategy than calling and trying to trap, or slow play.


Poker strategyPOST FLOP

When you hit a big hand after the flop, go ahead and just bet, bet, bet. There will be a time to add some traps/slow plays to your game, but when you’re starting out just play as straightforward as possible.

For example, if you raise pre-flop with TT and the flop comes AT5, go ahead and bet/raise with your set of tens. The only time you might slow play a hand is when you flop something like four-of-a-kind or better, as these hands are virtually unbeatable and play well as a trap.

This strategy of tight starting hand selection and aggressive post-flop play is known as a tight-aggressive (TAG) strategy. Employing this strategy will keep you out of marginal spots post-flop and make decisions easy.

If you start playing marginal starting hands like K8, and a king hits on the flop, you’re going to be in a tricky spot. Sticking with premium hands like AK gives you the power to confidently bet your hand on that king-high flop.


Poker strategyPOT ODDS

Don’t get in the habit of chasing too many straights and flushes, as this is a recipe for losing. Familiarize yourself with pot-odds, and know exactly what the probabilities are of making one of these hands post-flop.

For instance, if you have four to a flush on the flop, the odds of hitting the flush on the turn are 19.1% or nearly 4-1. For an open-ended straight draw, your chance of making the straight on the turn is 17%. More pot odds detail to come in a later post.