Overcards in Early Position by Kenny Tran
Recently, Andy Bloch wrote about the perils and pitfalls of playing big cards – A-K, A-Q, etc. – when they don’t connect with the flop. Like Andy, I think learning to play these kinds of hands well, adds an important weapon to any player’s arsenal. Of course, like any weapon, you have to approach these hands carefully to ensure that they don’t blow up in your face.
One of the most important safety tips I can give in regards to "big" hands is to be especially cautious when you’re playing them from early position. I believe in this so strongly in fact that I won’t even play A-Q unsuited from under the gun at a full table. It’s just too easy to get into trouble with this hand and cost yourself valuable chips.
In my opinion, the smartest thing you can do with hands like A-K in early position is mix up your play as much as possible. That means you’re going to sometimes want to raise with these hands and, at other times, you’re going to want to limp with them. Why? Because by mixing up how you play in early position, you’ll make it harder for your opponents to figure out what kinds of hands you really are playing. Of course, there are some other things to keep in mind when adopting this strategy, the most important of which is that if you’re going to limp with big hands in early position, you also need to limp with small hands like 6-7 suited.
By the same token, if you’re going to be raising with hands like A-K, you also need to sometimes raise with your smaller hands. Of course, you don’t want to play complete garbage from under the gun, but you shouldn’t be scared to sometimes pop the pot with a less than premium holding. If you get called, you may hit something like two pair on the flop and, if you get re-raised before the flop, you can easily throw your hand away without costing yourself too many chips. Again, it comes down to keeping your opponents off-guard.
While some players argue that you should always raise your big hands, I think limping with something like A-K in early position provides another potential benefit. For example, let’s say I limp from under the gun and three other players limp behind me before the button puts in a raise. Because of the amount of money in the pot, it’s likely that the button is raising with a very wide range of hands. Depending on my read, I might just flat-call his raise and try to out-play him after the flop or I might even re-raise before the flop and try to take down a substantial pot right then and there.
If I had raised with my A-K in this position, chances are that none of the limpers would have put any chips in the pot and I might only get flat called by the player on the button. By limping with my hand, I can get some extra money in the pot and put myself in a position to re-raise pre-flop. If the button was just trying to steal from position, he’s likely to lay down and let me take the pot. If he calls, I can play the hand cautiously if I miss the flop and, possibly, take a down a monster pot if I connect.
Of course, there’s no "right" way to play a hand like A-K from early position. Instead, look around your table and determine what kind of opponents you’re facing, and how aggressively you want to play against them. Mix up your game and you should be able to make your big hands pay off at crucial times.