Middle Position: Pre-Flop Strategy
Pre Flop Strategy by Position
The key to winning in poker is to be aggressive and selective in precise places. Selective means knowing your strategy and developing the patience and discipline to lay your cards down when you have marginal hands or less. When you do allow yourself to play a hand, plan your play and play your plan. Know the "what ifs" and know how you will play in different situations. Of course, no situation will be the same. But learning the game, practicing, getting live experience, memorizing which cards to play in all positions and keying in on your oppositions playing behavior will lead to you making those decisions based on reason, not whim.
Middle Position Strategy
The fact of the matter is you cannot ever win by playing passively, so that kind of strategy needs to be eliminated at once. You will have to jump in with both feet and play aggressively at the right time. In middle position, there are many possibilities. Raising or initiating the betting will be a great strategy, but it is imperative that you choose the right hands. In Lesson 3, I gave you the basics for starting hands. How to play these hands--and how to bet--is as important as which hands to bet with. Think solid play.
In Lesson 2 I gave you a wide variety of hole cards to play in middle position depending on the circumstances. One important item to put to memory would be to get a "point" on your opponents. Find a weakness in them, such as when they are liable to raise or fold. Once you have a good idea about them, you can start to implement this strategy.
Since there have most likely been 6-7 players to act in front of you (including blinds), and no one seems to calls the blind--and you have a respectable hand--you should raise. If you think the players behind you will fold (including the blinds) then you will most likely flush out most of the entire field.
Getting to Know your Opponents
We have a page called Player Types that will give you a description of different kinds of players. Once you have a good idea of what you are looking for, you can start to classify your opponents by their quality of play. It is wise to play against strong players much differently than you do weak ones.
When playing against a weak player, it isn't prudent to make impressive moves against him. He/She is probably a "new-ish" player and won't recognize or appreciate your strategy because he/she won't understand it. Against this weak player, it is much more far-sighted to take a fundamental approach and simply outplay him.
A weak player or one that appears to be a new player has not had the experience to "buckle under" to your bluffing (betting a weak hand hoping to drive other players out). Nor does he/she have expertise in slow playing (not raising with a potent hand in hopes of "trapping" or setting-up other players by concealing their hand), hand semi-bluffing (a bet made when your hand isn't the best at the time, but has the capability of drawing to it with many outs) or check raising (a.k.a. "sandbagging" - checking and when another player bets, you raise him/her).
At this point in the game, this inexperienced player is most likely going to be you. When you are playing against seasoned players, you will most likely not distinguish these moves. But that will change as we move forward in learning about our competition.
- An example of a weak player would be the type referred to as a calling station (a player who rarely raises but calls with almost any two cards). Bluffing this guy or gal would be the wrong strategy. So, when you see a player who does not appear to be selective in his beginning cards, and you are in a hand with him, be very careful. Normally this player can't be forced out of the pot because he simply just doesn't know any better.
- If you happen to have a powerful hand against a weak player, bet into him. He is going to call anyway.
- Normally if a weak player bets into you, it is wise to just call if you have a playable hand. Weak players usually wont bet without a good hand, but are perfectly content with calling everything.
When playing against a strong player, it is imperative that you "mix-up" your play. This would require that you make an obvious play that the strong player would read, and sometimes you make a play that would totally confuse the strong player. You have to learn how to outsmart and outmaneuver this type of player.
- Learning to put a player on his hole cards is a skill that needs to be honed. It is not a strategy, but having the skill takes you to strategic play. This is called putting a player "on a hand." You will hear people say they "put someone on big slick-AK". Many players are in with this hand and many times when you are out-thinking your opponent, you can put him on a hand by his play.
- If the strong player is in late position and there has only been one caller, he might try to buy the pot right then and there. If you are in the blind, or were the one caller, coming over the top and raising him would be a strategy. Now, you have the power and are going to make him think. Even if you have "nothing" cards, you are in a position to make him surrender his cards.
Take a look at your Pre-Flop middle position chart from Lesson 3. Keep the following fundamentals in mind:
- In relation to suited connectors and one gappers, remember you would like to play these against a large field. If you have three or more players in the pot when it gets to you, playing a 67s, or 78s, or 9Tns or 89ns is worth a call. With this many callers, you could play J9s, and T8s too. Do not attempt to play non-suited one gappers. These would be ok calls if there had been no raise ahead of you.
Refer to your chart from Lesson 3 to look at the other calling possibilities from the middle position, with three or more callers. You want many people in this pot because if you hit on the flop, you have a great advantage over the people who are most likely calling with big cards.
- Again, if you have three or more callers in front of you, you can call with a suited Ax. The x represents any rank of card, but it is imperative you recognize these must be suited cards. Looking at probabilities, your suited Ax will flop a flush draw almost as often as a pocket pair will advance to a set on the flop. Once again, you must have many callers before you to make this call. Only do this with an Ax suited, not a Kx suited.
- In middle position, you can play pairs all the way down to the 66 if you please. In a tournament situation, after you have felt good about calling, and there is a raise behind you, it is very important to follow the suggestion that you let any of these cards go. This will require an unbelievable amount of discipline.
- The middle position is much like a "good news, bad news" situation. Be prepared to raise if you have great cards, release if you have those troubling marginal hands. You have had most of the field act before you; however, you don't want to get trapped between people with good hands. Develop the discipline to release cards once you have called when there are raises behind you. Do not get into the mindset that you have already placed a bet in the pot, so what is one more? (a raise). In tournament play, you have to remember that the bet you are perhaps willing to let go into the pot with a marginal hand is the one bet that might have made you a winner later on in the game.
- In middle position, if you get "monster" hands, feel the power and raise. Narrow the field with a large raise of four times the big bet. Try to get heads up. Sometimes players feel they can "limp" in with AA or KK. Beware of this in a tournament situation until you are more experienced. I would much rather win the pot right then and there than to be drawn out on by allowing someone to see the flop and make his or her hand. Slow playing big hands in no limit Hold'em requires a lot of judgment and should only be considered once you have a good feel for the game.