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Early Position Starting Hands

Early Position: Pre-Flop Basic Openers

Beginning The Tournament

Welcome to PokerStars's wonderful world of tournament action. This is the place where you can test your knowledge, skills, and luck. Learn how to bundle all of it together into a package that will make you a winner.

The first lesson will begin at your table on PokerStars School, Inc. software. I am going to take a very conservative approach in teaching you early position play. There are other areas in the school that tell you that you may play more hands than I am suggesting. Since you are a beginning player, one thing we want to focus on is risk management, which will help in chip conservation. Survival is the key in tournament play.

Once the tournament you have signed up for begins, you will see your table pop up on the screen. At the table will be 9 to 10 players. The computer software will randomly seat all the players who have joined the tournament and place them at tables in seats numbered 1-10. When looking at the table in our software, the number 1 seat (the seat directly to the right of the chip rack) is where the dealer button will be placed at the beginning of each new tournament. The small blind will always be the number 2 seat, directly to the right of the chip rack. The big blind will be in seat 3.

The cards are dealt for the first hand and you are now wondering what to do. The game was relatively simple to learn...or was it? If you have followed the lessons in order, you have read the logistics and how the mechanics of the game work. Now we are going to slowly start to work on strategy.

Today you will learn what it means to play your hole cards based on your position. You will also learn how to judge your starting hands according to your starting position. Starting from the button, the table is divided into positions. Where you sit is always relative to the dealer's button. That is what will identify what position you are beginning from and how you will play your cards. The dealer's button establishes the order of the action for all the betting rounds of each hand. The button is what will identify your position and how you will play your starting cards.

All together there are 1326 different 2 card combinations. However, just for basic knowledge, there are 169 distinctive starting hands. This means that if you have two aces, it doesn't matter which suit they represent. AsAh equals AcAd. Even suited starters like AhKh, AdKd, AcKc, or AsKs are all equal before the flop. They are different as a two card combination, yet their value is the same. Remember, this is Pre Flop.

The following advice is not set in stone. There are many variables that might allow a player to do something different than follow these basics. As you improve and develop your skills, you will understand this statement. You will also find articles in the school that outline more liberal play for early position. Once again, in a freeze out tournament, you cannot go back for more chips. Once you are out, you are out!

Positions: The blinds will always be the first to act except on the first betting round. The blinds get an option to act last on the first round of play. They were forced to bet in the blind to begin the action. Therefore, they are given an opportunity or option to raise after all the other players have acted.

These are the positions for the Pre-Flop:

  • Early position: commonly referred to as the first 3 players after the big blind.
  • Middle position: commonly referred to as the next 3 players after the early position players.
  • Late position: commonly referred to as the player immediately before the dealer and the dealer (player with the dealer button).

Today we will address Early Position Play

Note: For information only, after the flop, the early positions change just a bit.

  • Early position Post Flop: the small blind, big blind and next 3 players

After the flop, the small blind now becomes Under the Gun (the first to have to act). There are 5 players in the early position, 3 in middle position and 2 in late position.

Starting Hands in Early Position:

  • The hands a player should consider playing in are very limited because the early position is very vulnerable.
  • All other players act after the early position player. Therefore if the early position player places chips in the pot to call the big blind with anything but a premium hand, there could be raises behind him. He would have to cold call these raises, and potentially lose more of his bankroll on a less than premium hand. The only option would be to fold if the players behind him raise. Clearly, this would not be good management of money.
  • Being the first to act is a very precarious position because you have no information about what the rest of the players are going to do. Knowing if you will fold or call the raises prior to entering the hand is important. If you don't feel you have a hand that is worth playing and if there were to be raises behind you, then it is most likely not worth the first amount of money you "threw" into the pot.
  • Pre-flop, the early position players would be wise to fold if they held anything less than AA, KK, AK suited, QQ, JJ, TT, AQ suited, AJ suited, KQ suited, AK non suited and possibly, KJ suited, QJ suited, TJ suited, AT suited and AQ non suited. The latter cards mentioned will put you in a much more vulnerable position if you get raisers behind you. Later on, as you get more proficient at the game and have developed more skills, I might tell you that these hands are just fine to play. For now, keep in mind that I am teaching you from a conservative point of view, which will help you as a beginning player.
  • Raising with the AA, KK, QQ, and AK suited in early position is a very viable play. It might limit the field and get you a heads up with another player, and increase the pot size. When you decide to raise with QQ, it really should be a smaller amount than with the AA, KK or AK suited because you are trying to get a feel for where you are. Look at it as an exploratory raise. A re-raise would tell you someone probably has AA or KK or AK suited. Your hand is worthwhile, but it could be setting you up for a big loss.
  • With a JJ, TT, AQ suited, AJ suited, KQ suited or AK nonsuited, it is more prudent to simply call. Raising with these hands could create an opportunity to flush out or reduce the number of opponents. Hopefully you would make people drop out if they held a single Ace or King in a later position. The problem is, in tournament play, you want to be very conservative in early position. If you did not get the player holding the single Ace or King to drop with your raise, and an Ace or King comes on the flop, what will you do now? So, the point of this paragraph is to let you know that you will reduce your losses by not raising with JJ, TT, etc. pre-flop. If you do, and don't flush them out, you have lost your original call and your raise.

Pre-Flop - Early Position

Raise AA, KK, QQ, AKs
Call JJ, TT, AQs, AJs, KQs, AKn/s and KJs, QJs, TJs, ATs, AQn/s
Fold All other hole cards

s = suited
ns = non suited

Keep in mind this is a freeze-out tournament. I will continue to remind you as a new player, that once your chips leave you completely, you are "on the rail" as an observer. This term means that you are busted and will now only be able to watch the game from the rail.


  • Remember, there are generally nine or ten people playing at the table. Poor players will play every hand thinking they have a chance to win each and every time. Good players will realize that they will fold their cards most of the time. If you feel you have been having a bad run of cards, the worst thing you can do is be tempted to play cards in an early position that should not be considered viable.
  • When you know you are in a bad position to play the cards you have, and you have every indication that calling a raise will put you at a disadvantage, develop the courage and patience to pass and wait for position and cards. Then, when you do have a strong starting hand, go for the gusto.

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