Pre-Flop Starting Hands
Poker can be made a lot easier to by limiting yourself to a strong set of starting hands which you call to see the flop with from different positions. Only playing strong hands such as AJ and pocket pairs gives you a much greater chance of hitting the flop and beating the other players in the hand. In fact, by throwing away junkie hands like 72 and other unconnected suited hands, you can save the number of chips you lose to the blinds.
The biggest cardinal sin that new poker players make in the game is that they play too many hands out of position. If you’re going to limp into the pot with 67 suited for example, than it’s best to do this when there are zero players left to act as this reduces the chance of someone re-raising the pot behind you.
Asides from this, there are several other factors which should determine which starting hands you call the blinds or raise with:
The cards that you’re dealt are obviously going to affect you decision whether to play the hand or not. The top 5% of cards that you can be dealt are JJ+/AJ+. If you’re dealt one of these hands they you should always raise or 3bet (re-raise) the pot pre-flop. In micro-stakes games it’s always best to get as many chips into the pot as possible with these hands. The other reason for raising pre-flop with JJ/AJ+ is because you need to fold all of the limpers around the table. If you slow-play these hands and only flat a pre-flop raise rather than re-raising it then you’ll end up giving players with marginal/suited hands pot odds to call to see the flop. This is the last thing that you want because when you have a premium starting hand, you don’t want to be outdrawn on the flop. The right amount to raise pre-flop is 4BBs+1BB for each limper. For example, if I have QQ in MP and there have been two callers behind me then I will raise my queens to 6BBs in total. If someone has open-raised infront of you then you need to re-raise it to 3x their opening raise. For example, if villain raises $5 then I’ll 3bet with AJ+/JJ+ to about $15. This is the right amount to bet because it extracts maximum value form lesser hands that will call such as A10, but it’s also not too much that forces weaker hands to fold.
The 2nd best group of hands to be dealt pre-flop are pocket pairs, broadway cards (JQ/KQ/JK) and suited connectors. Normally I like to call raises with these hands but occasionally I will open-raise or even 3bet them from LP and CO just to give me added equity in the pot. For example although mid-pocket pairs such as 77 are not necessarily brilliant hands they also have some equity for hitting a set on the flop. If you get called you will still have a good chance of winning the pot with a continuation bet. When you’re out of position in the hand i.e. first to act, then you cannot really afford to limp with these hands. This is especially true for full table ring games because there will be far too many players left to act behind you who could raise or steal the pot. If the table is weak then you can still afford to play these in early position, but generally I will limit myself to playing only premium hands from the blinds and UTG. In terms of my 3betting range I think this will vary from my position at the table. Normally I only 3bet for value with AJ+, however on passive tables and weak players on the blinds I think you can start 3betting with weaker hands like JQs or KQo. On looser tables these become more and more my 3bet bluffing hands and require folding to 4bets.
Marginal hands such as unsuited connectors and low pocket pairs are still ok pre-flop hands however because they are so easily beaten I do not recommend playing these from early position. Even when you set-mine with low pocket pairs (22-66) you still have to be careful of any better pocket pairs or overcards on the flop since this could have you dominated. Thus, a I prefer only limping with non-suited connectors such as 910o from MP and LP. You shouldn’t ever be raising these hands unless you’re bluffing.
A lot of new players don’t full understand the concept of table position and how it affects the profitability of playing weaker hands. Basically, the earlier you have to act, the more disadvantaged you will be in the hand. You will have the least information on the table (having to act before everyone else does) plus you will also be out of position in every future street. This makes bluffing much more difficult; as opponents can easily continuations bet or re-raise you from position. Late position and the cut-off is the best position in the hand. You can open up your pre-flop hand range to include marginal hands and semi-connectors such as 9J because you can limp in to see the pot cheaply. You can also raise and bluff boards when everybody has checked behind you which drastically increases your implied odds and fold equity.
Opponents Playing Styles
The weaker and tighter the table, the more hands you can play and open with pre-flop. For example, weak hands such as 67s suddenly become profitable to limp with from early position because there is a much lower chance of being re-raised by the opponents left to act. In contrast, loose tables in the high stakes games often contain a lot of pre-flop action and shoving. This makes weaker cards harder to play out of position. It also means you’ll have to relinquish missed flops against aggression, so in general you should tighten up your starting hand range on loose tables. You can generally tell if a table is loose by a high average flop percentage and pot size figure in the poker room loby.
Your Table Image
If you’re perceived as a rock at the table and you have been sitting out most of the time, then when you do decide to raise or bluff a hand it will get a lot more respect from the players around you. With a tight table image you should be more willing to bluff hands such as 910 pre-flop because a lot of the time you will win the pot straight away. On the other hand, if you’ve viewed as a reckless player then you should tighten up and not bother bluffing weaker hands since you’ll get called or re-raised too often. The upside to having a loose table image however is that when you do get dealt a strong hand you will get a lot of calling equity from weaker hands who don’t give you cedit.
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