Texas Holdem: Cash Game Strategy
While almost all of the television coverage of Texas holdem over the past 20 years has been of tournament play, millions of dollars are won and lost in cash games every day. Some players are able to play a profitable game in both tournaments and cash games, while others concentrate on one form.
General Texas holdem poker strategy is the same for both games, but some of the specific strategies have to be different if you want to win as much as possible. This page covers Texas holdem cash game strategy and focuses on the most important areas of strategy needed to maximize your chances of winning in the long run while playing ring games.
Because this is a strategy page it's written for players who already understand the rules and know how to play Texas holdem. If you're not sure about how to play or the rules see the pages in this section dealing with these things. You should also play a few hands before trying to digest the details on this page. You can join a friendly home game or play for free online.
General Holdem Strategy
This section covers important cash game strategies for both limit and no limit Texas holdem. After all of the sub sections in this section you can find specific strategy advice for limit and no limit games.
Cash game Texas holdem is won and lost with a strict consideration of your position at the table. Over the long run you play each position roughly the same number of times and you'll have the same hands in each position the same number of times if you play long enough.
This means you have no excuse to play poor hands out of position. Remain patient and wait for the correct hands in each position. By playing out of position you give your opponents a large advantage.
You should only play a few hands from early position and only a few more from middle position. The majority of hands you play in holdem should be from late position. The blinds are in early position so you shouldn't play many hands from the blinds, just like early position. Blind play is discussed more below.
Unlike in a tournament, in cash games you can choose which table you want to play. Focus on finding games that have players who aren't as good as you. Leave your ego at the door and take advantage of weak players.
You won't find any glory playing against better players. If you only play against worse players you'll be a winning player. This logic can't be argued, yet most players ignore the competition when choosing a table.
Even if you have to build your own private games or wait for a seat at a good table you'll be far better off in the long run by choosing the best place to play. Seek out players who aren't very good who have money and play whenever and wherever they're willing to play.
Many players assume poor players with money don't want to play against better players because it doesn't make sense to them. But history is filled with people with money who want to play against the best just for the chance to beat them from time to time.
Do a little research about the world's best backgammon players and how some of them travel all over the world to play against rich people. Backgammon, like poker, is won in the long run by the best players, but in the short term anyone can win. The thrill of beating the better player, even if it's just occasionally, is more than worth the long term cost to some people.
In addition, a great deal of money to you may mean nothing to someone else. You may be surprised at how much some people spend on entertainment. $100,000 to a billionaire is about the same as $10 to most of us.
Some Texas holdem players seek these types of people and go out of their way to engage them in a game as often as possible. They're going to play against someone, so it might as well be you. Always be on the lookout for opportunities.
No matter how good you play Texas holdem you'll go through ups and downs. Even the best players lose sometimes and can even have extended losing streaks. The nature of the game and dealing with incomplete information and odds means that sometimes the cards go against you.
In the long run things even out but you have to have enough bankroll to survive the low points so you can make maximum profit when the cards go your way.
This has nothing to do with luck. Even pocket aces lose sometimes. They win most of the time but your opponent will draw out on you from time to time. Even if they only have one out on the river they'll win one out of every 46 hands.
The common recommendations for the size of your bankroll suggest 200 to 300 big blinds for limit players and 20 to 30 buy in's for no limit players. We suggest doubling these suggestions until you have a long winning track record.
You don't ever want to be thinking about your bankroll while playing. By having an extra large bankroll you never have to worry about it while you're involved in a game.
When you go on tilt you start making decisions based on emotion instead of logic. One of your main jobs as a cash game player is to avoid this at all costs. Every time you make a decision based on emotion instead of solid information and positive expectation you cost yourself money.
If you make a single poor decision in every playing session based on emotion it can make you a losing player instead of a winning player. Always be aware of your emotions and stop playing immediately if they start changing the way you play.
In some ways tells are overrated, but in others they can be quite costly or profitable. Most players aren't good enough to pick up on tells, so in most games they aren't important.
But in big situations and pots they can be the difference between winning and losing a great deal of money.
The most important thing is to make sure you aren't giving any tells. Focus on avoiding giving tells until you never give any. Then you can start looking for tells in your opponent's play. Most players work on this backwards, and it ends up costing them money.
Psychology covers a wide range of things at the poker table, including some of the things in the other sections including tilt, mindset, and health. You need to always be learning about the game and your opponents and keep the mindset that you're open to improving your game.
Don't ever reach the point where you think you've mastered the game of Texas holdem. The best players are always looking for another small edge and open to learning new ways to win.
They also learn how to judge their psychological state so they can determine when they should and shouldn't be playing. Try to always be aware of your psychological state when playing and when thinking about poker.
You have to get enough experience to learn how to determine positive expectation and use it to your advantage. The opposite of this is how most players operate. They focus on immediate results to shape how they play.
If they call with a gut shot straight draw without the proper pot odds and win they think they made the correct play. If they make the same play again and lose they think they were unlucky.
When you know the most profitable long run play is the one you made, no matter the immediate outcome, you can continue making the best play in the future. You need to make the best play every time and ignore the results.
The fact is if you make the best playing decisions you'll be profitable in the long run.
Your mindset plays such a huge role in everything you do in life that it's no wonder you need to work on your mindset in order to be the best Texas holdem player you can be. Only by making the commitment to be the best cash game player you can be do you have the chance to be a truly great player.
Entire books have been written about mindset, but it boils down to one simple fact.
You either make the commitment to be the best you can be and do whatever is require to follow through or you don't. Nothing else matters at the end of the day. Ask yourself the following question and answer truthfully.
Are you doing everything in your power to be the best cash game Texas holdem player you can be?
If the answer is no you can either accept the fact that you'll never be the best player you can be or you can make changes.
The best Texas holdem cash game players in the world understand the numbers involved with the game. They understand outs, odds, percentages, positive expectation, and every other mathematical part of the game.
This doesn't mean they can instantly determine everything to 100% accuracy, but it does mean they know close enough to make the best play in almost every situation.
If you don't know and use the math involve with making positive expectation plays you need to immediately start improving that part of your game. Start with the simple steps of learning and using outs and pot odds. Once you've mastered them keep building on your knowledge.
When you play a particular hand or situation remember what you learned about the math and use it in the future. If you're not sure you made the correct play make a note and do the math after you're finished playing the situation.
One of the most overlooked areas of a player's Texas holdem strategy is their health and rest. Most players start playing when they're relatively young and think they can go forever on little rest, eating a terrible diet, and never exercising.
We just discussed the importance of your mind and the psychology behind a winning Texas holdem cash game player. In order for you to operate at the maximum efficiency with your mind your body has to be rested and in good enough health that it doesn't take away from your mind while playing.
While you are the only one that can accurately judge your health and how rested you are, you have to take a realistic look at your life and make any adjustments needed in order to maximize your ability to win.
- You don't need to lose weight to get healthier; you need to lose weight because it gives you the best chance to win. You can play longer at top awareness when you're healthier.
- You don't need to get enough rest because it's the best for your body; you need to get enough rest because it's the best for your holdem game.
- You don't need to exercise so you can live longer; you need to exercise because it helps you be more profitable at the poker table.
- You don't need to improve your diet, eat healthier foods, and watch every piece of food you ingest because it makes you feel better; you do it because it makes you a better player.
Once you make the commitment to be a winning Texas holdem cash game player you do whatever it takes to get better, and that includes taking care of your body.
Limit Texas Holdem Cash Game Strategy
To be a winning long term limit Texas holdem cash game player you have to approach the game as a grinder. You constantly have to be aware of situations where you can play with positive expectation.
This starts with entering hands with better starting hands than your opponents, determining your outs and chances to win on every street, using pot odds to determine if staying in a hand is profitable, and always raising with your best hands in order to get as much money into the pot as possible when you're the favorite.
You don't have the opportunity to put a great deal of pressure on your opponents and you can't get a bunch of cash in the pot at one time. So you have to focus on controlling the size of the pot starting before the flop.
When you have a strong hand that's likely to win at the showdown at the end you need to bet and raise at every opportunity. On the other hand, if you're drawing to a better hand you need to minimize the amount of money in the pot until you hit your hand while keeping the pot odds in your favor.
Focus on winning one to two big bets per hour on average and avoiding playing in situations with negative expectation.
Much of being a winning limit cash game player boils down to mathematics. The size of the bets are strictly controlled by the rules so you need to strengthen your ability to play based on the numbers. With a set number of possible cards to improve your hand you can always make rough determinations of your chances to improve.
When you play your best starting hands like pocket aces, kings, and queens in no limit games you can sometimes play them passively early and trap aggressive players. But in a limit game you have to raise with them from the beginning.
This thins the field and builds the pot. You don't want three or more opponents when you have a big pocket pair because the odd are that one of them will flop something to help them. Against one or two opponents these hands hold up well.
Just to be clear, you'll still play with positive expectation in the long run with high pocket pair against multiple opponents, but your variance will be much larger.
You also need to avoid playing as many speculative hands in limit Texas holdem because they don't win often enough to be profitable. The main reason for this is because you can't bet big when you hit your hand.
Speculative hands are small pocket pairs and suited connectors that don't have face cards.
Outside of high pocket pairs, most of your starting hands need to be face cards, preferably suited ones.
We discussed position above in the general strategy section, but winning limit cash game players always use position to their advantage. The ability to save a single bet per hour by playing in position can be the sole difference between a winning and losing player.
If you play 10 / 20 limit Texas holdem and are a break even player, if you can learn to save a single bet by using your position per hour you've instantly started winning around $15 per hour. This is the average between the best on the first two streets and last two streets.
If you're currently winning one big bet per hour, or $20, and can save a bet per hour you're now winning $35 per hour on average. By only playing 40 hours per week you've improved your weekly profit from $800 to $1,400. This is over $30,000 extra per year, and this is only playing at the 10 / 20 tables. If you're able to maintain your winning percentages and move up to 20 / 40 you're making a good living playing poker.
At the end of the day, if you base all of your limit playing decisions on increasing your hourly win rate you'll be making the correct decisions in every part of your game.
Another area that limit holdem players need to be aware of is how much you tip. We don't tell players how much to tip, or even if they have to tip, but you need to be aware of how much tips cost you every hour.
We tip for good service. If a dealer does a good job of controlling the game and keeps it moving along we suggest tipping a reasonable amount when you win a hand. A tip of $1 per winning hand is usually reasonable for good service. If a dealer does a good job an receives a $1 per hand they make somewhere between $20 and $30 per hour in tips.
The last area that many limit cash game players have a leak is their blind play. Too many players automatically make the half bet call from the small blind in an un raised pot. Every time you put a half bet into the pot with a weak hand you're basically giving away money.
If you play a 10 / 20 game from the small blind three times an hour and blindly make the completion bet it costs you an extra $15 per hour. This can completely wipe out your profit or at the very least cut it by quite a bit.
Though it may seem like a smart play because you get to see the flop for a half bet, you need to consider it strictly from a pot odds point of view.
In a 10 / 20 limit Texas holdem game you're in the small blind against three other players and have a pair of fours. The pot is un raised so you have to put an additional $5 in and the pot has $35 in it. So the pot odds are 7 to 1.
This means to break even you have to win the pot at least one out of every seven times. In addition, the rake is going to reduce the value of the pot. You only hit a set on the flop roughly one out of every eight times. This is clearly a position where the pot odds aren't correct to continue.
Of course the argument can be made that when you hit a set on the flop it'll be hidden and you may be able to get a few extra bets after the flop. But this is balance out by the times when you hit a set and still end up losing the hand.
But most players automatically make this call from the small blind every single time. Even worse, many players will call a single raise from the small blind with this hand. This is a terrible play and many players don't even realize it.
In a no limit game, depending on the stack sizes involved and your opponent's playing abilities, this may be a profitable play. But in a limit game it's a losing play.
Using the same example above but with a single raise, the pot has $65 in it and you have to put another $15 in. The pot odds now are 4.33 to 1.
A good rule of thumb is if you're in the small blind and the hand isn't good enough to enter the pot voluntarily from middle position you should fold. Some players go so far as to fold anything they wouldn't play from early position, or fold anything that isn't good enough to raise with.
From the big blind in an un raised pot you get to see the flop for free.
This is good, but you still have to get away from poor hands after the flop. If the pot odds aren't favorable you have to get out of the hand.
Flopping a pair out of the big blind, even if it's top pair, usually still leaves you behind in the hand if you started with a poor r average hand.
When the pot is raised and you're in the big blind you need to follow the same advice as in an un raised pot from the small blind. You're still going to be playing the entire hand out of position so fold all of your poor and average hands.
Sometimes the players in late position will figure out you fold most hands from the blinds and start trying to steal your blinds. Don't let emotion get involved when dealing with this. Keep folding your poor hands and wait until you have a good hand and win back your blinds at that time.
You won't find any honor in the misguided notion that you need to defend your blinds. The blinds are simply part of the cost of playing. Once you put them in the pot they don't belong to you anymore.
Focus on your blind play and figure out how to add an additional bet per hour to your winnings by saving the money by folding your blinds more often.
If you can figure out how to save a bet using position and by playing better in the blinds you stand a good chance of adding two bets per hour to your profits. This goes a long way to separating the winners from the losers in limit Texas holdem cash games.
No Limit Holdem Cash Strategy
Some players argue that the best Texas holdem cash game players are at the no limit tables so if you want to be the best you need to be playing no limit. While no one knows if this statement is true, playing against the best players isn't a winning player's goal. Your goal should always be to win the most money.
So if the best players are at the no limit tables shouldn't the limit tables be softer and easier to win at? The truth is you can find soft limit tables and soft no limit tables if you know what to look for and are familiar with some of the players seated at the table. We covered limit games in the last section, so here are some strategy tips for no limit Texas holdem cash games.
Limit games have a set betting limit so you can only win or lose a set amount on any given hand. No limit tables have rules that make it possible to win or lose an amount equal to your entire stack at the beginning of the hand.
This can be frightening for inexperience players, and it can cost poor players a great deal of money in a short amount of time. But if you learn how to play well, know how to use pot odds, outs, and understand positive expectation, and have the proper bankroll the no limit tables offer a chance to win a great deal of money.
But just like other forms of poker, no matter how good you play you'll experience ups and downs. Sometimes your opponent who called your all in with a four out draw will hit their hand. In the long run you want your opponent to make bad calls because that's how you make money, but it can be painful in the short term.
In the section above about tilt and the one about psychology we discussed making plays base on facts, not emotions, and we talked about controlling your emotions. The no limit Texas holdem tables test your emotions all of the time. They probably put you in emotional danger more than any other form of poker.
So one of the most important things to remember is you're playing one long game that doesn't end until you die. In the long run your strong hand is going to hold up the right percentage of the time, even if you have been drawn out on the last three hands.
You can play a wide range of styles and still be a winning no limit player, but until you become a consistent winner you should lean toward playing tight and aggressive. Tight starting hand requirements mean you enter the pot with a better hand than your opponents most of the time, which gives you a better chance to win.
When you play aggressively it forces your opponents to make more decisions. The more decisions they have to make the higher their chances of making a mistake. Every time an opponent makes a mistake it helps you win more money.
When you're playing no limit Texas holdem you have to always have your head in the game and be paying attention. Missing even the smallest detail can lead to a loss of your entire stack. If you're not willing to pay attention the entire time you're playing you probably shouldn't play.
See who raises from each position and the range of hands they raise with. Pay attention to who limps with big hands or tries to slow play their best hands. Pay attention and remember the players who chase draws when they aren't receiving the proper pot odds to continue.
The more you can learn about your opponents the better your chances to win in the long run. Even though no limit makes it possible to win and lose large amounts in a short period of time, the truth is that the game is still a long grind that requires winning players to make the best plats more often than not. Use every possible advantage you can find, including the playing tendencies of your opponents to help you in this life long grind.
One of the things that the best Texas holdem players live by, whether they consciously think about it or not, is maximizing the amount they win when they win and minimizing the amount they lose when they lose. This is more important while playing no limit Texas holdem than in any other form of poker.
You can win less than one hand per hour on average and still end a playing session as a winner. This doesn't happen often, but it's possible.
You play a six hour session at a no limit Texas holdem cash table. The blinds are 5 / 10 and the average stack size is $1,000. The average number of players during the session is nine and 25 hands are dealt per hour. This means that you play the small and big blind roughly 17 times during the session. If you fold all of your blinds and don't voluntarily enter the pot any other times your cost to sit at the table for six hours is $255.
If you received pocket aces once during the six hours and was able to get a single opponent all in and win you'd still finish the session up around $700 based on the average chip stacks.
While this is an extreme example, it perfectly illustrates the point that you don't have to play many hands to be a winning holdem player as long as you maximize the profits from the hands you do play.
This also shows that you're probably playing far too many hands. Of course you need to play a few more than one hand per six hours or everyone will fold when you do play, at least if they're paying attention. But you can probably be profitable playing only a couple hands per hour, instead of the dozen or more per hour that many players play.
Continuing with the idea of maximizing your wins and minimizing your losses, you need to learn when you're behind in a hand and when you're leading in a hand. When you're behind you need to minimize the amount you put into the pot. Smart opponents try to make you put as much as possible in the pot when you're chasing, so there's a constant battle between the two sides.
Of course this isn't simple, but it's important enough that you need to dedicate a great deal of time to improving this part of your game. The way to do this is by using the other strategies on this page to improve your game.
The more you play and the more you learn the better you'll get at seeing when you're ahead and behind and how to shape the structure of each hand.
If you've played at many no limit holdem tables you've seen and heard players complaining about bad players. They complain when a player makes a bad call and draws out on them and they complain when bad players enter that pot with a bad starting hand and flop a winner.
It seems as if they're trying to run the bad players off or would rather play against players who don't make dumb plays.
You want as many bad players at the table as possible because they help you make money. Playing against a bunch of bad players will threaten to be aggravating at times, but in the long run remember that you make money every time an opponent makes a mistake.
Even if a player makes a bad play and ends up with a large stack, they'll eventually give it all back to other players by making more mistakes. Your job is to put yourself in position where you can benefit when they make more bad plays and give the money back.
So the next time you get beat by a bad player and want to start abusing them, instead remember that you need them in the game an simply tell them nice hand with a smile on your face.
Becoming a winning Texas holdem cash game player requires mastering a wide range of strategies. We've covered the important areas above, so you need to start working on any weak areas immediately.
If you're just starting your Texas holdem career you may be feeling a bit overwhelmed at this point. The way to get started if you need to work on a number of different strategies is pick one and start working on it. The key is to get started as soon as possible.
Once you work on one area and feel comfortable add another area. Keep working on new strategies and you'll quickly see an improvement in your game.
For beginning players you should start playing limit Texas holdem and become a winning player before attempting to play no limit. Any mistake you make is magnified when you're playing no limit so while you're learning to be a winning player it's best to protect your bankroll as much as possible.