Early Position: Pre-Flop Strategy
Many beginners go into the game with an attitude that any two cards can win. They've heard that there are no bad cards, just bad flops. Although that is catchy, and sounds very believable, don't even go there. Not a chance. Thinking this will be the quickest way to end your tournament before you even have a chance to compete. The truth of the matter is, it is exactly the opposite. A player, especially a new player, needs to develop strict discipline when deciding his or her game strategy.
Early Position Strategy
In early position it is imperative that you really consider whether you should call the first bet (the big blind) or not. In life, moderation is the key to happiness. In a No Limit Texas Hold'em Tournament, marginal is the key to failure. Remember that you'll be happier with your lay downs (folds). Too many beginning players come into a hand with marginal cards, and end up stuck in a position that is very uncomfortable and ultimately a "chip burner" (losing hand or proposition).
Once you have decided that you have a hand worth playing, you must map out a strategy and map it out quickly. Have your Pre-Flop early position chart provided from lesson one in front of you. Plan your play and play your plan. Think SOLID play.
Examples of Planning Ahead
- Are you going to play your great hands aggressively? This is also known as playing fast. This means a player will bet large at almost every opening he or she has with a viable or achievable winning hand. Recommended
- Are you going to play very tight and stick only to the best starting hands? (remember, no re-buys here, this is it!) Recommended
- Are you a risk taker (maniac) and will play "Katie Bar the Door type play?" Not recommended
- Are you going to make notes regarding other player's moves and hints he gives you about his/her play? Taking notes will help you online and when you step into a live casino.
Keep Notes on Each Seat
Below is a sample of the sort of information you should keep on other poker players.
- Player name
- Showdown hands – what cards does he play in what position?
- Any betting patterns?
- How does his stack size affect his play
- Does he sit back when winning or play right back after winning?
- Does he bluff?
Think About Strategy
Go into a tournament thinking about it and how you are going to set a particular plan of attack or strategy. Always look at your position and how you have planned to play that position. Look not only for a reason to play your first two cards pre-flop, but look for the basis to toss your hand.
In lesson one we learned that there are 169 distinctive starting hands. These hands are split into these categories:
|Pairs||KK, 77, 99|
|Connectors||KQ, 89, JQ|
|Gapped||TQ, 8T, JK|
|Suited Connectors||KQh, 9Tc, JQd|
|Suited Gapped||79h, JKc, TQs|
Pre-Flop Strategy by Position
Take a look at your Pre-Flop early position chart from lesson one:
The suited gapped and suited connectors rank is very high in Early position. They are at least a Ten or higher.
Generally, if the cards are connectors or with one gap, the easier it is to make a straight. Playing only suited connectors or "suited one gappers" is a conservative way to play in early position. This beginner's lesson will always go with the conservative approach. Its important for beginners to learn to play conservatively first.
- If you hold the TJs, (a suited connector) then you can make a straight with 7,8,9 or 8,9,Q, or 9,Q, K or Q, K, A on the board. You also have two suited cards, which have potential for a flush.
- If you hold the JKs, (gapped) then you can make a straight with 9,T, Q or T, Q, A on the board. As you can see, when these cards are gapped instead of connected, you have lost half the potential of making a straight as with connectors. Once again, you also have two suited cards that have potential for a flush.
Exceptions to The Rule
AK can only make one straight (must have the T, J, Q on board). However, it has its many attributes.
- In early position you could raise with this hand to flush out the weaker hands. You might also do it to "define your hand"- as an exploratory raise. There is also a possibility that you will be able to steal the blinds (if no one calls your raise).
- If another player raises a small amount, you could re-raise and see where you are (defining your hand again). Re-raising 2-3 times his raise could cause him to fold. If he "comes over the top" on you, (this describes a raise that is made on top of another raise and in no limit it is usually quite a large raise) you could simply fold because you are most likely against a very large pair. That makes your AK just less than an even money proposition providing the pair is not Aces or Kings, in which case you are in bad shape.
- If you play an AK against an opponent with a pair, and an A or K comes on the flop, the likelihood of winning much from this pot is slim because your opponent should put you on an A or K and he would fold.
- One thing to know, you do not want to play AK against a lot of players. It is much better to limit the field to one or two opponents. In a raised pot, unsuited big cards play really poorly against many opponents. The more players you have against you, the greater the chance someone will have a little pair or an off the wall straight that will beat you.
With AK suited, always plan on raising the "standard" raise to find out where you are. What does this mean? A standard raise is equal to about 3-4 times the big blind. If the blinds were 50 and 100, you would raise it 300 to 400. You would put 400 or 500 chips in the pot and wait to see who stays in and who does not.
- If someone calls or raises, they might have a medium to high pair or AQ, or something they deem to be a potential winner. You now know you have an opponent with a good hand. In the Pre-Flop, you now have a decision to make. You can smooth call the raise, meaning you actually could or should have raised or you can re-raise. AK suited is a very strong hand.
A2 (connectors) can only make one straight (must have the 3,4,5 on board). It is not advisable to play A2 in early position as a beginner, even if suited.
Looking at your Pre-Flop early position chart you will see that in Early position, the pairs are limited to very high pairs. These pairs are very strong.
- Always raise a standard raise (3-4 times the big blind) with the AA and KK.
- The QQ is a strong hand. It is worth a raise, but just a small one (two times the big blind) to get a feel for what the other players might have. If you simply call with QQ and everyone calls behind you, you now have no information about what they have.
- There might be a raise in front of you. You should re-raise with AA or KK to hopefully eliminate many of the remaining players. Or, there might be another re-raise. That's even better as you have a superior hand and the pot has now grown to a huge amount. Nothing feels better than to put someone all in (move their stack in) while sitting with an AA. Beware though. Many have bitten the big one with pocket rockets crashing on the river. It can happen. Statistically, pocket Aces will finish as the best hand about 32% of the time in a 10 handed game.
- Try to keep in mind that you will only play about 1 in 12 hands when you are in early position. Don't fall into the trap of losing patience and playing hands that are not viable. The investment will be a poor one.
- Don't get "married" to your cards. If you called with your two cards in early position and there is a substantial raise behind you, don't think twice about throwing your cards away and keeping your bankroll for a better time and place to create earning power.