This is the third part of our series on No Limit Texas Hold Em Strategy, and we’re going to take a look at where things all begin…pre flop poker strategy.  A poker hand pre flop is a little bit like the start of a first date.  We’ve made our selection carefully, we can feel the potential, and we’re a little bit excited about how things might develop. The only real difference is that unlike a date, in a poker hand we’re really not looking to get screwed.  Here are a couple of factors to keep in mind when playing your hand pre-flop.

New players are often a bit like teenagers on a first date.  They are rearing to go, have high but unrealistic expectations, and are basically just happy to be there. They sort of realize that they don’t quite know what they are doing, but fail to appreciate that everyone around them knows for sure that they have no idea.  In other words, they play too many damn hands. 

On average, even semi tight players should be folding about 80% of their starting hands.  We all hate it when we lay down K3 off and the flop comes K33, but the fact is that’s going to happen once every blue moon, and laying down trash hands like A3 off, 37, J2…it’s the smart play, we’re not going to get much love with these hands anyway. 

More experienced players can afford to ‘play the field’ a little more.  They have been around the block more than once, know how to pick their spots, and their approach depends less on their holdings than their past experience. 

If you fall even slightly in the first group, it’s worthwhile looking to play hands that are already strong rather than hands that have nominal potential.  We’re not talking about suited connectors or gappers, or low to medium pockets which, if they hit can scoop us a major pot. That’s a speculative poker hand.  We’re talking marginal holdings like A4 suited, where our best option might be that 1 in 118 chance of making a flush. In no limit hold em, pots can get huge on the whim of a single player, and committing chips to a pot with hands with nominal potential is likely to leave us stuck making difficult decisions or facing unprofitable draws later in the hand. 

Position also plays an important part in pre flop poker strategy and when selecting starting hands.  Playing marginal hands out of position is, in no limit, likely to be a loosing proposition for newer players.  In early position, we should be looking to play big hands like AA, KK, QQ, JJ, and medium to small pairs.  In late position, we can be more adventurous, and start coming in with hands like AK, AQ, KQ suited, and the odd suited connector or gapper.

If we’re going to enter a pot, for the most part it pays to raise.  Of course it’s profitable to occassionally disguise a strong hand, but it’s often better to do this flat calling a raise rather than limping and allowing numerous players to also enter the pot.  If we decide to play the hand, then come in with a bet or raise.  The general rule is to raise 3 times the big blind plus 1 big blind for every limper.  In other words, if two people limp and the action comes to us, bet 5xBB. 

There’s nothing wrong with limping if we’re the ones in late position with speculative (as opposed to marginal) hands like suited connectors.

Playing stronger hands pre flop with sensible respect to position is a long term winning pre flop strategy.  Will we sometimes miss out on the odd big score?  For sure.  But think of it like having to make a decision between taking out that girl you’ve been flirting with in your study group all year, or a one night shot at the prom queen.  The first option might not be quite as boastworthy, but you’re more likely to come home with the goods. 

In the next session we’ll be taking another quick look at pot odds.

Other parts in this series:

1. Bankroll Management
2. Playing Styles

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