A Simple Strategy for Advanced Play



Common Mistakes
The Shortcut System

Playing the Hand
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W.C. Fields, after winning several hands:
"Beginner's luck, gentlemen... although I have devoted some time to the game."

Texas Hold'em may, at first glance, seem like a simple game. In fact, the rules are easy to master but the strategy runs deep. One of the key decisions comes early; should you play your first two starting cards or should you fold them.

There are 169 possible two-card starting hands. It's difficult enough to commit to memory the correct action for each of the 169 possibilities. You could, with some time and patience, memorize a chart similar to the second one on our Mistakes page. The problem with this is that the correct play changes depending on:

1) Your seating position
2) How many players have entered the pot
3) Whether the pot has been raised
4) Whether the pot has been reraised
5) Whether you are making the small blind bet
6) Whether you are making the big blind bet

The difficulty is further compounded by the fact that each decision is not simply play/fold. You need a strategy for raising and even reraising. Even a moderately advanced system would require far more memorization than the 169 cell chart.

We have developed the Hold'em Shortcut system to eliminate 99% of the memorization required for strong play of those first two starting cards. Here is how we did it:


The value of a two-card hand is largely determined by four attributes:
1) The high-card value of the two cards
2) The flush potential of the two cards
3) The straight potential of the hand
4) Pairings

The key to our system is quantifying and combining these four types of value with a simple formula. You will be adding up two or three numbers each time you are dealt a starting hand and making your decision based on a very simple six-cell chart. Here is how to do it:

The first step is to eliminate from consideration all unsuited hands that include a card lower than a ten. Just fold all such hands unless you are in the big blind.

Step two is to determine the hand's high-card value. Do that according to this table:

A 16
K 12
Q 7
J 5
T 3
9 2

Add the value of the two cards together. If you hold a J-T, for example, you would score a total of eight points, (Five for the Jack and three for the ten). Score zero for any card less than a nine.

Step three is to value the hand's flush potential. If your two cards are suited add twelve points to your score. Our J-T is suited so now it has a total of 20 points, (eight for high-card value plus twelve from flush potential).

Step four is to determine the hand's straight potential. Count the number of straights that can be made using both of your cards. "Connectors" (cards that differ in rank by just one pip) can make up to four straights. Cards that differ in rank by more than one pip make correspondently fewer straights. Assign the potential number of straights these values:

1 3
2 6
3 9
4 13

Our J-T is connected so it can make four straights.
We add 13 points to the 20 we already had on this hand for a total of 33.

Watch out for cards that are near the ends of the range because those are limited in the number of straights they can make. Hands like A-K and A-2 can only make one straight using both cards so they would only get a straight value of three points.

Step five - Valuing pairs. Add 32 to the score of any paired cards. Our J-T is still at 33 points since it is not paired. A pair of Queens would have 14 points from high-card value plus 32 points for pairing and no points for flushes or straights for a total of 46 points.

Step six - unsuited power hands. Our numbers slightly undervalue the four highest-ranked unsuited hands:
A-K, A-Q, A-J, K-Q
If you have one of these hands add ten points to your score.

This completes the valuation of your cards. You can now use this score to decide how to play your hand. This is the only chart you'll need to memorize to use our system:

Strategy Chart

43+      Reraise after a Reraise
38-42      Reraise after a Raise and Play after a Reraise
34-37      Raise after no Raise
32-33      Play after a Raise
26-31      Play after no raise
0-25      Fold


Simply take the action indicated when your score falls within the various ranges. Our J-T example-hand has a score of 33 so in early position you would call un-raised and raised pots but you would fold if the pot had been re-raised before the action got to you.

If a particular action is not an option, then use the next lower action. For example, if you are supposed to "Raise after no Raise", and the pot has already been raised then go down one step and "Play after a Raise". If you are supposed to "Play after a Raise" and no one has raised, then go down one step and "Play after no Raise". And finally, if you are supposed to "Play after no Raise" and the pot has been raised, drop down one and "Fold".

If the pot has been reraised, and the word "Reraise" does not appear in the box next to your score, you should fold.

So far we have a moderately strong system that puts you solidly ahead of the average low-limit player. But we can make adjustments for seating position and for the size of the pot to enable us to really crush this game!

The score we calculated for our hand is the one we should use if we are seated in early or middle position. In the ten-player game for which this system is designed, the early and middle positions comprise the first six seats to the left of the blinds. If you are seated in late position (the next two seats) you should do the following:

If your score is under 26 add five points, otherwise add one point.

Our J-T example-hand is worth 34 points in late position so now we would raise the pot as long as it has not already been raised and call the bet if it has been raised. You would still fold this hand if the pot had been re-raised before the action got to you.

Next we will make a strategy adjustment based on the number of players who have entered the pot. This adjustment is only used in late position.

If four players have entered the pot make no adjustment. If three or fewer players have entered the pot, and your score is over 26, subtract 1 point. Make the adjustment for fewer callers after you make the above adjustment for late position.

This negates the one point bump we got for late position in our J-T example-hand so just drop back down one level in the strategy chart and play the hand accordingly. This may seem complicated but remember, there are only six levels in the strategy chart so in practice it's a simple matter to hop up and down the levels.

The last adjustments we make are for playing the blinds. If you are in the small blind, score and play the hand just as you would from late position with fewer than three callers, except go ahead and play any two suited cards as long as the pot has not been raised.

If you are in the big blind, play the hand as if you were in the small blind except go ahead and play suited hands with a score over 26 even if the pot has been raised. And of course, don't fold anything if the pot has not been raised.

That's it! Below is a chart to check your math for the early position strategy. You will find a link to a printable version of the chart on this page. Print it full-size for use in on-line games or reduce it to pocket-size for live games.


  A K Q J T 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2   S

A 64 43 38 36 34 30 28 28 28 31 31 31 31 A
K 41 56 37 35 33 29 24 24 24 24 24 24 24 K
Q 36 35 46 33 31 27 22 19 19 19 19 19 19 Q
J 34 23 21 42 33 28 23 20 17 17 17 17 17 J
T 22 21 19 21 38 30 24 21 18 15 15 15 15 T
9 18 17 15 16 18 36 27 23 20 17 14 14 14 9
8 16 12 10 11 12 15 32 25 21 18 15 12 12 8
7 16 12 7 8 9 11 13 32 25 21 18 15 12 7
6 16 12 7 5 6 8 9 13 32 25 21 18 15 6
5 19 12 7 5 3 5 6 9 13 32 25 21 18 5
4 19 12 7 5 3 2 3 6 9 13 32 21 18 4
3 19 12 7 5 3 2 0 3 6 9 9 32 18 3
2 19 12 7 5 3 2 0 0 3 6 6 6 32 2
  A K Q J T 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2  

This chart shows the playing strategy for early position. Note that the numbers DO NOT represent the strength or earning potential of a hand. Although higher numbers generally correspond to stronger hands, this is not always the case. A suited A-2, for example, has a higher score than a suited A-9 but it is the weaker hand.  The important thing is that A-2 and A-9 are both played the same way from early position, (they are folded if the pot's been raised), so they fall into the same group. This system was carefully designed to get the hands that play the same into the same groups - not to rank the value of a hand by its score.

As you can see, you will only be playing forty of the 169 hands from early position. Don't worry; you will be playing many more hands from late position and the two blind positions.

There are a total of five charts required to capture all the strategy variations:

  • Early/Middle Position
  • Late Position
  • Late Position with fewer callers
  • Small Blind
  • Big Blind

Each of the five charts shows how to play the 169 possible starting hands. That adds up to a total of 845 variations. But these are not simply fold/no fold decisions. There are six different possible ways to play each hand depending on its point score. Multiply 845 by six and we get over 5000 variations you would need to remember!

The beauty of our system is that you don't have to memorize any of these charts. Just add up your hand's point value and play the hand according to its score. Make some simple adjustments for seating position, number of callers, and blinds, and you will be playing at a level far above the average low-limit player!



Key items used in the Shortcut system:

1) Fold: Any unsuited hand with a card less than ten.

2) Point values:

A 16
K 12
Q 7
J 5
T 3
9 2

3) Flush value: Add 12

4) Straight value:

1 3
2 6
3 9
4 13

5) Pair Value: Add 32

6) Unsuited power hands: Add ten to A-K, A-Q, A-J, and K-Q.

Strategy Chart:

43+    Reraise after a Reraise
38-42    Reraise after a Raise
   and Play after a Reraise
34-37    Raise after no Raise
32-33    Play after a Raise
26-31    Play after no raise
0-25    Fold

Late Position:
If your score is under 26 add five points, otherwise add one point.

Late position with fewer than four callers:
If your score is over 26, subtract 1 point.

Small blind:
Same as late position with fewer than four callers plus play any two suited cards if the pot has not been raised.

Big blind:
Same as small blind plus play any suited hands with a score over 26 even if the pot has been raised.

  Using the Hold'em Shortcut System:

You may have noticed that our system does not take into account anything that you can learn about your opponent by watching his play. You should consider the recommended move for a particular decision as your default selection. If you know nothing about your opponent - play the suggested move. If you've picked up on some weakness in your opponents play, you may want to exploit it by choosing an action other than the one the system recommends. We suggest that beginners stick to the strategy. More advanced players can profitably vary their play once they get a good feel for the game and their opponents.

Tight vs. loose play. A tight player is one who takes few chances. He folds all but the very good hands. A loose player likes to gamble. He stays in the game even with some of the poorer hands. There is no single best way to play but the Hold'em experts recommend playing tighter than what is commonly practiced by average players. Using our system results in relatively tight play with a few looser moves thrown in. With very few exceptions, all the moves in all the situations fall within the range of moves that are recommended by the expert Hold'em professionals.

Aggressive vs. passive play. Aggressive players tend to raise often. Passive players prefer not to raise the pot. The experts are clear on their recommendations regarding aggressive vs. passive play. A player must play aggressively in order to cash in on the earning potential of Hold'em play. Using the our system results in aggressive, (but not foolishly aggressive), play.

The best way to become familiar with the system is to play it on-line for several days before taking it to Las Vegas or to your local card room. We suggest you stay away from the extremely low-limit games. This is an environment of very poor play and what works in these games does not always work when the game is played at a higher level. A person playing for long periods at these very low-limit games could easily fall into bad habits and lengthen the amount of time it takes to get a good intuitive feel for the game. Look for on-line tables with betting limits of at least a dollar.

If possible, start off with a bankroll of about $400. Play the $1 limit game until you have proven to yourself that you are ready to move up to the next level. You are probably ready to advance when you have added the value of 100 bets to your bankroll. Once you get there, move up to the next level and play until you have added another 100 bets to your bankroll.

Professional players aim for an earn-rate of about one bet per hour of play. If you can master the game to the extent that you can win one bet per hour in games with limits of $20 and above, you will be in a position to earn some handsome profits from an activity that you might be doing anyway just for fun!

If you want some help learning the system, you might want to skip the simple math at first and just read the correct play from a set of charts. You can use the above chart for early position. See our Profitable Games section for a link to a set of five easy to use color-coded charts.