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Some of the most important decisions you will make in a Texas Holdem hand happen before the flop.This means that one of the most important aspects of Holdem poker occurs when you have the least amount of information about the hand. How you play your hand pre-flop will change the speed and set the tone for how the final three streets will play.
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When all the players get dealt hole cards, the first thing everybody wants to do is look at their cards. But here's the Catch-22. If you're looking at your hole cards, you're not watching the other players while they look at theirs. This is your first chance to get a read on an opponent's hand. Don't miss it! Your cards are not going to change. You have no need to look at them until it's your turn to act.
You can't watch everyone obviously so you'll have to pick whom to watch while the whole table is looking at their cards. It's up to you to decide who's most important to scrutinize!
As a good rule of thumb, watch the players who are to act after you pre-flop.
If you know (or strongly suspect) what the players behind you are about to do, you may want to rethink the pre-flop actions you had in mind.
Some players are not worth watching. These are, first, the players who are so transparent that if you miss anything pre-flop it won't matter because you'll get all the info you need on the subsequent streets.
Secondly, there are other players who simply do not give off any tells while looking at their cards or don't look at their cards until it is their turn to act.
The other thing to watch at this point:
If a player looks and sees a hand he's going to want to raise, it's common for lots of amateur players to get the raise ready and hold it in their hand, ready to go.
How you play your cards pre-flop depends on many factors. The most important are:
How you then go on and play your hands depends on countless factors - your aggression level, playing style, table image, opponents. the list goes on.
Here is where it gets tricky to teach. No matter what style of poker you're playing, you almost always want to be heads-up going to the flop with a premium hand.
Why do we raise? There are three reasons to raise in a cash game:
If you don't have the legitimate best hand then you don't have the most equity in the pot.
You'll then want to keep the pot small and put in as little money as you can until you can acquire more equity than your opponents in the hand. For more on your pre-flop equity with certain hands, check this article here:
There's no set way to play each type of hand pre-flop. But there are some common guidelines.
With premium hands in middle to late position in an unopened pot (meaning there is no raise ahead of you) you almost always want to come in for a raise.
The only time you won't raise in this situation is if you're mixing it up or have a good reason to try a limp re-raise.
In the same situation with a marginal hand, you should be both raising and limping. What you choose depends on the table, the hand and your table image.
If you're trying to make your table image more aggressive and active then these are the types of hands you want to be raising.
Otherwise you want to be limping. With low pocket pairs it's common to limp and live by the maxim "no set = no bet" post-flop.
Until you are able to consistently outplay the other players on a table there is no reason to play rags. Rags have almost no equity; therefore they are a losing proposition unless you have reasons for wanting to play them that trump winning the current pot.
For more on which Texas Holdem Starting Hands to play, see:
This is one of the most important and difficult strategies to master in pre-flop play and it's where the Gap Concept comes into play.
The gap concept is simple: it takes a much stronger hand to call a raise than it would to make a raise.
Poker can get a little counterintuitive when there are pre-flop raises. Unless you have reason to believe otherwise, when someone raises you have to assume they have a premium hand.
This means that calling with marginal hands containing high cards can be a very big mistake. For a beginner, it can be less disastrous to call a raise with a rag hand than to call with a high marginal hand.
If we assume the original raiser has a premium hand then you would make a call against them strictly to try and "crack" the hand they have.
It's better to call the raise with 8-9 suited than A-Q suited or offsuit.
A-Q is completely dominated by A-K, AA and QQ. So three of the five most probable hands the raiser holds have you absolutely dominated.
If you're against KK you're in better shape than against any of the last three hands, but you're still a major dog. The only hand you have a chance with is JJ. Even against that you are approximately 45% to win.
Now, on paper 8-9 suited against all five of the premium hands is a serious dog. The difference is it's cheap.
If you call with A Q , on a flop of A 2 3 you'll lose significant money against AA and A-K. If you flop Q 2 3 you lose your stack to AA and KK.
If you make the call with 8-9 suited and you flop 9 2 3 , you're only ahead of one of the five hands your opponent might have.
It's an easy fold; you lose nothing. But if you flop 8 9 3 you double up.
On paper you win more hands with A-Q than with 8-9 suited. The difference is that you win smaller pots with A-Q and lose your entire stack when it goes bad.
With 8-9 suited you win very large pots or lose almost nothing. At a full-table cash game with a tight table image, in the long run you can make more money with the 8-9 suited hands than with A-Q.
What if you have a premium hand? This is where serious money is lost and won at poker tables.
It's possible but very difficult to fold KK pre-flop. When KK runs into AA, one person usually ends up very upset.
The calls or folds you make in these situations are what separate a good poker player from a great one. It's different every time; every hand is up for debate. But, as a general rule:
With KK behind a raise, most of the time you will come over the top. The rationale for doing so is the same as that for making the original raise: to increase the pot size (because you're assuming you have the best hand at this point) and to isolate.
You don't want any players behind you to call. If you're the last player to act pre-flop, and you're already isolated, it's not a bad idea to smooth-call and hide the strength of your hand.
The disadvantage to this play is that you get no more information from the opponent. If he holds AA, you are in a world of pain. If he has QQ, you're one happy sunnuvagun.
By re-raising the original raiser pre-flop you will learn a lot about his hand. Against weaker players, AA will push all-in or immediately call.
Anything else will usually fold or have to take a long think before they make any play. (Note: Every hand, table and player is unique. These are guidelines, not rules).
The gap concept applies even more strongly to overcalling then to calling an original raiser. Once there is a raise and a re-raise, as a tight-aggressive player it becomes very difficult to do anything but fold.
All poker professionals (in the past) have said the same thing:
Calling a raise and a re-raise pre-flop with a hand such as 8-9 suited is also usually a mistake. A raise and a re-raise usually mean you'd be cold-calling six big bets. It also means that the betting has been reopened.
The original raiser is going to call, fold or push all-in. Unless it was a strict bluff the original raiser will almost never fold in this situation.
If you call, the odds he is being given makes it an easy call with almost any decent hand.
If he does have AA he will most likely move all-in. Players can make that move with all five of the premium hands as well as with some marginal ones.
This means you're running a very large risk that you're throwing away the call. (If the original raiser moves all-in you're forced to muck your hand, losing the chips invested in the original call.)
Another powerful move you can make pre-flop is the limp re-raise. Having a premium hand in early position it can pay well to limp with the intention of coming over the top of anyone who makes a raise.
This works best at a very active and aggressive table. If there have been no raises on the table for the last hour, such a move is simply reckless. Limp re-raising does one of three things:
For this reason alone it's almost always a mistake to play into or against a limp re-raise by a weak-to-average player.
The disadvantage to this maneuver comes when no one raises. In this scenario you'll find yourself in a multi-way pot, out of position.
If you're playing AA and don't hit a set on the flop then you have to remember that all you have is one pair. Anyone willing to call any large bets at this point has a decent chance at having a random two pair or made hand.
If you play the hand hard and fast you will lose a big pot against anything other than an overplayed top pair.
When you fold a hand, pre-flop or post-flop, it doesn't mean you're finished playing the hand. Every hand that plays out at the table is laden with valuable information.
It's usually easier to pick up information on how a person is playing when you're not in the hand. You don't have to worry about how to play your hand; this in turn allows you to concentrate on how they're playing theirs.
The more information you can gather on someone the further in advance of having to face a difficult situation against them, the more likely you are to make the right decision.
The story is very different if you're playing in a tournament as opposed to in a cash game. All of the previous advice becomes completely obsolete in certain tourney situations.
Tournament poker is more dynamic than cash games. Cash games stay rather constant; in a tournament, the pressure of mounting blinds adds different elements to the game that are not present in a cash game.
A significant amount of the bluffs and high-level moves made in cash games are very subtle. When you are perpetually deep-stacked you can play a constant long-ball game.
The shrinking stack sizes due to climbing blinds mean that the majority of tourney play remains exclusively small-ball. For more on Strategy in Poker Tournaments, check our detailed section here.
Making strong decisions pre-flop will make your choices on the subsequent streets easier, greatly improving your chance of taking down the pot. Remember: every play you make at a poker table should be done for a specific reason.
Every hand you play should have its own game plan. Using what you read in this article will provide you with the tools you need to create and execute strong, winning game plans!
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Preflop Planning is an excellent guide on how to think before the flop when deciding whether to fold, call or raise based on your position and starting hand. It's the perfect compliment to this article.
Before the flop is where it all starts, where you are forced to make your first important decision depending on all of the variables involved with the hand. It is important to make good, solid decisions before the flop, as it will form the foundations for how the rest of the hand will be played out.
If you make a high-quality decision before the flop, you will set the tone for the rest of the hand and give yourself the best opportunity to get into a moneymaking position. However, if you make a bad decision before the flop, you may well set yourself up for a big loss by getting yourself into a sticky position or missing out on a potentially rewarding hand.
Start as you mean to go on in every hand. Make quality plays at the beginning and continue throughout the rest of the hand.
Therefore after you have been dealt your cards preflop, it is important to take your time to evaluate all of the different variables in the hand, and not just make decisions on the cards that you are holding. It is important to consider your position and the type of opponents you are playing against, as well as know the correct starting hand requirements. So make sure you think very carefully before every flop and build the foundations for a profitable hand by making the correct preflop strategy decision.
Choosing which hands to play and which hands to fold is fundamental to playing a winning poker game. The best hands to play in Texas Holdem are:
These particular combinations of cards have the best chances of winning than other cards, so if you stick to these you will find yourself in more profitable situations after the flop. It is possible to play other combinations of cards successfully, but if you are a beginner player then it is advised to stick with the big cards until you find your feet at the poker table.
Your position in the hand is an incredibly important variable that you should be aware of in every hand , yet it is something that is all too often forgotten about.
The dynamics of play are slightly different in the preflop betting round, as the small and big blind will be last to act, whereas they will be the first to act on every other betting round. However, the general principles of position will remain the same, as you want to try and play more hands where you have position over your opponents than in positions where you do not.
This means that you should avoid playing too many hands in the blinds or in an early position , as being one of the first to act in each hand can make things very difficult unless you are holding a premium hand. Be very careful when playing in the blinds, and don t feel as though you have to enter more pots in these positions because you have already committed money to the pot. It is far safer to let marginal hands go rather than to call raises with half a holding and play out of position for the rest of the hand.
Your position can often play a more influential role than the strength of the cards that players are actually holding, so try and keeping the upper hand by combining good position with good cards.
The cards listed above in the starting hands selection section can be played from almost any position, but you should try and tighten up your starting hand selection in the earlier positions. So as a general rule, you can play with a wider range of the top starting hands in later positions than you should in the earlier positions in the hand.
When the action reaches you before the flop, you will be faced with the decision to either fold, call or raise. If there has been no raise before you, then a call will simply mean matching the size of the big blind, which is also known as limping in . This is generally not a good play, as if you are entering any pot in Holdem you will want to be making a raise and show aggression.
If you are limping in with a hand, you are either entering the pot with a sub-standard hand or you are playing a premium hand too weakly. So the real question you should ask yourself if you are first to enter the pot before the flop is; Am I folding or am I raising?
The majority of the time you should either pump it or dump it. Avoid limping in by simply calling the big blind.
If you decide that you are going to enter the pot, you should be looking to make a raise of about 3 or 4 times the size of the big blind . By making a minimum raise you are letting opponents with marginal hands come in cheaply, and you are almost defeating the object of making a preflop raise.
The idea of a preflop raise is to reduce the amount of players who follow you to see a flop, as it is easier to make profitable decisions when there are fewer players in the pot. So make sure to come in with a strong 3 or 4 BB raise, and increase the size of the raise if you find that a lot of players are still calling these raises with marginal hands or if other players have limped in before you.
If there has been a raise before you, you must now consider whether you should fold, call or raise. If you have a poor or marginal starting hand you should look to fold. If you have a good starting hand like the ones mentioned above you should be happy to call and see a flop. If you have one of the top starting hands like AA or KK, should re-raise to help try and get as much money into the pot as possible.
There will be a few cases where limping-in will be an acceptable play. This will normally be when there have been a number of other players limping-in before you, and so you will have better odds to see a flop.
The best hands to limp in with are strong drawing hands such as suited cards with an ace or king, or any connecting cards that can make a straight. You are not looking to make top pair in these limped multi-way pots, as they can often land you in trouble. So aim to play hands that can land you a very strong holding or a strong draw, and then comfortably fold on the flop if neither of these materialize.
If you are playing in a shorthanded game such as a 6-max table, you can afford to reduce your starting hand requirements so that you can see more flops. If you stick to the starting hand requirements mentioned above, you would probably find that you are folding too often and missing out on opportunities to win money. So you can afford to play other hands such as AT, KJ, KT, QJ and so on.
When making your decision pre flop, you should also consider the type of players who you are playing against. If you notice that a tight player has made a raise, it is likely that they have a very strong hand, so you should re-evaluate the strength of your cards in this hand. Similarly, if a loose player makes a raise, it is more likely to be profitable to be call with a decent hand as you could well be holding a stronger hand than them.
It is important to not be afraid about making bets or raises before the flop. It is important to be aggressive in poker, as it is a winning style that all good players adopt. If you are afraid to make bets and raises when you should be, then you will be making unprofitable decisions and you will find it hard to ever win money from the game. To help accustom yourself to being aggressive, you could try dropping down in limits where there is less money at stake, so that you can become comfortable with playing aggressively and notice the advantages of an aggressive style over a weak playing style.
Go back to the thorough hand guide.
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When I talk about poker preflop raising hands, I will primarily be talking about the hands you should raise when everyone else folds before you. IE you are the first person to put money into the pot. The reason for this is because preflop re-raising hands (or 3-betting hands) and preflop flat calling hands are a totally different kettle of fish and require a whole new article for each.
There are very few absolutes in poker, but one I am going to give you is that: When you are the first person to enter the pot, do so with a raise. Never be the limper! The reason for this is simple, if you have a strong enough hand to play, you want to be raising preflop to 1) Get value from your hand, 2) Take the initiative and 3) Take down the blinds. For a guide to playing against weak players who limp, please check out my article called isolating the limper.
Every suited ace: Suited aces are a powerful hand in holdem cash games. The reason why suited aces are so valuable is because they allow you to make the nut flush draw. When you raise preflop and get a caller and flop the nut flush draw you will have enough equity to consider betting the flop and turn almost always. The profitability of these hands will come from having the initiative and taking down the pot when you are semi bluffing. You will also have alot of semi-bluffing opportunities with the hand on the turn when you flop and backdoor flush draw and turn the nut flush draw. Low suited aces such as A2 to A5 are in my opinion superior to Ace6 to ace 8. The reason for this is that your kicker will rarely play with all these small and medium aces (since most people don’t place ace rage) but with the small suited aces you often flop or turn a wheel draw (Ace 5 straight) and the extra 4 outs give you more equity and more incentive to semi-bluff with your hand.
Every suited broadway: Suited broadways are in the same vain as suited aces except they also have some pair value. You have to be careful about some domination issues when you raise the weaker suited broadway from early position but those should be negated by the flush and straight draws you make with your hand. From under the gun in 6-max I am always opening poker hands like TJ suited and QJ suited however I am almost always folding TJ offsuit and QJ offsuit.
Premium broadway: I raise KQo and AJo at most tables under the gun. The only tables I will not raise it are at tough tables with lots of aggressive players on my left. I will raise AQ AK from any position in almost all 6-max games. I will almost always fold ATo QJo JTo KJo from under the gun always. I will ususally always raise these hands from a later position.
Suited connectors: If you look up your suited connectors in poker tracker or similar software you will notice that you are usually breakeven or a tiny loser with these hands. The reason I play them almost always is because of the increased action you will get from other players because of them. IE the extra few points on your VPIP will turn you from a nit that gets no action to a TAG that gets decent action from your opponents.
Basically, what im saying is the increased action you will get from playing suited connectors like 45s-9Ts, the more action you will get with your big hands such as Aces, Kings and Queens. So you will be breaking even or taking a small loss with these hands for the increased value you will get with your big hands Assuming you play your suited connectors well, barreling in the correct spots and giving up in the correct spots. These hands also have some deceptive value and stop you getting exploited by having a weak range on low and middling flops. For example, If you raise from under the gun and get a caller, the flop comes down 6 7 8. If your playing hands like 45, 67, 78, 9T you will be alot harder to play against compared to someone who always has a range weighted towards big cards only.
As you know, position is very important, that means, the closer you get to the button the more hands you can start raising. You want to have a sliding scale where you open the least hands under the gun and the most hands on the button. Below I have outlined a standard raising range:
Open the small blind with a very wide range until given a reason not to. Against loose big blinds tighten up, Against nitty big blinds a raise with anytwo cards can be profitable.
I wrote a good article about preflop raise sizing. The conclusion I came to is that the following raise sizes are optimal for 6-max as a standard in relatively aggressive games.
Improve your game by checking out even more poker strategies and guides or bring it back to basics with the poker rules for other poker variants.
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