Pre-Flop Strategy

Firstly a reality check! The game of poker is about being selective and as such to be a successful player you’re only going to play a few hands an hour. If this sounds boring then poker is probably not for you. If this doesn’t bother you then welcome to the world of poker where 95% of the world’s players fall into this category!

Next to being on a table full of eight year olds that don’t have a clue what they’re doing (hey the club where I play sounds exactly like that) the most effective thing you can do to enhance your career as a poker player is to play well BEFORE the flop. The large grey area of decision between A-A and 7-2, as described in the first section of our Pre-Flop Strategy guide can be remarkably deceptive to master. It takes practice and it takes discipline and it takes patience.

Most poker books you read will suggest some rules for playing before the flop, usually with very good advice about starting cards and how to handle position, but then they move forward to whatever the next chapter is and you are already set up to fail because you just flat out won’t be following those instructions.

Some ways to think about your starting cards

From a positional point of view the general rule is that the closer you are to the button (last to act) then the closer you are to the sweet spot of information you will gain on every betting round before you have to act. This information allows you to play your hand more effectively to maximize the amount you can win (or often more importantly minimize the amount you lose).

In early position (+1 to +3 seats to the right of the blinds) your initial information is limited to the cards you have in front of you. You’ve no idea what people are thinking that are still to act after you and every chip you put out into the middle, at this stage, is highly at risk of being lost. In these circumstances you’re better off not to bother playing at all with anything other than GROUP 1 & GROUP 2 HANDS.

Please read the section on STARTING HANDS BASED ON POSITION for a complete guide to this thought process.

Pre-Flop betting

If you’re seeing a flop with hands that can win without improvement (AA, KK, QQ & JJ) then you must raise, if given the chance. If you’re in a late position and there has been a raise already then a re-raise is demanded. You’ll generally find that early position raisers are holding hands like AK, QQ or AJ. Its better to isolate these players immediately to give yourself a better chance of being outdrawn by others who see a single raise as a minor inconvenience to their own intentions but would see a raise followed by a re-raise more of a potential threat.

If you’re seeing a flop with what’s known as a drawing hand (suited cards, connectors, and suited connectors) you will want to see it at cheaply as possible. The chips you lose pre-flop is more than made up for by the activity AFTER the flop if you make your hand and the chips you save by not raising is even more important.

If you’re seeing a flop with low pairs (2-2 to T-T) then again it’s wise to try and see the flop as cheaply as possible and hope you flop a set. Although 8-8, 9-9 & T-T can stand small raises anything other than that means potential trouble where even holding a pair of tens can’t prevent the chances of over 70% that at least ONE of the cards on the flop will be higher than a 10. Of course, as with the suited connectors, the chips you’ll win after the flop, if you do make your set, will usually more than make up for any chips you’ve put into the pot before the flop. Do be aware though that you’re at odds of 8/1 to hit a set on the flop so go easy.

If you can get in for the Big Blind instead of 2, 3 or 4 times the Big Blind then that translates into a lot more flops you can see, and therefore a much better chance that you will make your hand. A-A and K-K withstand multi-way action fairly well, but Q-Q and J-J do not, so be prepared to dump these hands if things get unfavourable on the flop.

Need To Know Block:

  1. Resist the urge to raise the pot with suited connectors (except for AKs) except for use as deception.
  2. Always raise/re-raise with any pair over TT!
  3. Never EVER slow play Aces!

Pre-Flop Strategy – What is it?

Pre-Flop Strategy is your ability to recognise the potential value of the pocket cards you are dealt and then act accordingly.
There are many factors to consider when playing your cards. These are… in order of importance:

  1. Your cards
  2. Your position in relation to the button
  3. Number of players at the table
  4. Your aversion to risk
  5. Your chip count

Let’s now look at these in more detail.

Your cards

The most important thing to decide when getting your pocket cards are you INTERESTED in playing them or not? From holding A-A and deciding YES to holding 7-2 and deciding NO there is a vast grey area. Having decided one way or another then the next thing you need to look at is your POSITION.

Position in relation to the button

Apart from GROUP 1 hands (see relevant section in book) which play themselves from most any position on the table you must be aware that the value of your cards differ vastly in relation to WHERE, in relation to the button, you are sitting. A pair of 4’s could be considered quite useless if you’re sat ‘under the gun’ but could be a potential atomic bomb is you’re last to act. Try to use the GROUP ratings where possible for deciding where hands CAN be played from and where not.

Number of players at the table

Hand values increase the fewer players there are to play against. With 10 people in the game, it’s much more likely that someone else has a strong hand in the pocket than in a short-handed game. Also the more people that see a flop means that its much more likely that someone, other than yourself, will hit cards relative to their needs. More competition means stiffer competition.

Aversion to risk

It’s all very well having nice cards to start with but just how much of a gambler are you? Let’s assume you held Jd Td and the flop came 6d Kd 4s. Are you prepared to potentially put all your chips at risk with Jack high if a big bet came in? These types of hands will usually lead to rack & ruin. Just how much of a gambler are you?

Your chip count

If you’ve only a few chips in front of you it may well be worth your while putting them all into the pot with a holding of only Ace high? With many chips in front of you you may only want to get involved if you have very good cards. The amount of chips in front of you then will go someway to determining your strategy.

Without taking much of this into consideration, you want hands that have high card value, or the ability to be the best hand (the nuts). You’ll want to seriously consider playing high value cards (queens, kings and aces), suited (drawing for a flush) and connected (drawing for a straight) cards, and obviously, always play high pocket pairs (queens or better).

Need To Know Block:

  1. Only play GROUP 1 hands from any position
  2. Be aware that when chasing down a flush draw that you only have a 35% chance of making it if 2 cards of your wanted suit come down on the flop.
  3. Between them one & two pairs will make up in excess of 67% of winning hands at Texas Hold’Em.

Next week’s article is on Post-Flop Strategy – After the Flop