Pre & Post-Flop Considerations

Continued from: Starting Hand Requirements

When a seasoned player calls an early position open, we can likely put him on a very solid hand, especially if there are players to act after him. I'm again going to illustrate with an example. The UTG (Under the Gun) player opens the pot for 3BB's (Big Blinds) and you raise him with AcKc (Ace of clubs King of clubs), making it a total of 9BB's to go, and the next player, a tight player, calls the raise. What kind of hand could he have? I'd say it's gotta be good.

Flop Considerations

Let's say the player UTG folds, so you are heads up with the tight player. The flop is 8c 2c 9d. When we look at what kind of hands the later position player could have called with, it seems unlikely that this flop has helped his hand. He may have taken a flop with pocket nines, but that's pretty unlikely especially since there is a nine out on the flop. Now you, having to act first, see that you didn't connect either, but you did flop a draw to the best possible hand (the Nuts), the Ace high club flush. There's also a good chance your Ace high hand is out in front. Unless your opponent was dealt a pocket pair (PP), which happens 1 hand in 16, most of which would have been too small to call in the pre-flop action. So I would lead out and bet at this flop and put him to the test. A bet of about the pot seems pretty good here; hopefully he folds or calls on a weaker club draw.

O.K., good thought, but let's say our opponent doesn't fold here. Instead, he quickly calls. Now what? Now we have to look at the possibility that he has a big pair; let's assume he has Queens. Believe it or not that's ok. We're still over 50% to win when we add up all our outs (cards that would give us the best hand when we're behind). If he's on Queens we still have lots of outs; any king or ace or any of the nine unseen clubs will all give us winning hands. We don't double count the King and Ace of clubs. With the other 2 aces and other 2 kings that gives us four outs; plus the nine clubs gives us 13 outs. Usually if we multiply our outs times two and add about 1, it gives us our percent chance of winning the hand on each card. With two cards coming we are probably a small favorite to win the hand if we're against queens. That's supposing we stay in the hand for both cards.

So we can see how important position is to No Limit Hold'em. We can see the great leverage we gain by acting after our opponents and acting with more information. The single most important thing to learn, and the fastest way to accelerate your game, is to learn starting hand requirements based on position, and to have a solid pre-flop game.

When we are first to enter a pot and we "open", we will be using a bet of about 3-4 times the big blind. I like 3 BB's at a table of good players, and 4BB's at a loose table because they will invariably call you down with crap anyway. Why not charge them an out-of-line price when you've got the goods? If there are limpers (players who just called the big blind, which is usually a sign of weak play) in the pot already, we have to adjust our bet size: if there's one limper we would usually use at least a 4BB bet, 2-3 limpers will be a 5BB bet, 4 or more limpers and we should raise a lot with big hands like AA or KK or AKs. With all those limpers we're happy to just take all the blinds at this point anyway.

I'd go somewhere in the area of 8 BB's with my raise against that many limpers. At that time it may happen that someone, who doesn't want to call such a large raise but who doesn't want to fold, could move all-in. If someone moves all-in on me in the early stages of a tourney, or in a cash game there would be a lot of variables to weigh. In general though I'd probably only call with Aces or Kings, maybe AKs against a strong player, but I would add AK and QQ against a weaker one. Against a very loose or overly aggressive player I might even add JJ.

It is very important to note that you must raise harder when there are many players who have already called the blind. We have to do this to punish their weak play and deny them the proper odds to call us. Each decision in poker must be treated as its own, new decision. Never minding the fact that players may have made incorrect decisions to get involved in the first place, we should put them in a worse situation yet by over charging them again. These players already have money in the pot, so they get a discount on a call of any raise you make. Even if their original call was a mathematical error, if we raise only 3 BB's into a large pot, they may now, in fact, have the proper pot odds to call.

Note: many hands that are weak or moderate will become playable when the pot odds (the amount of money in the pot as compared to the amount of money it would cost to call) are favorable enough.

When we raise an opening bet, we will want to generally make it 3X to go, where X is the amount of his opening bet. If a player UTG raised to $6 and we look down to find a PP of Queens, we would make it $18 dollars total. We call his bet and raise it by an additional two units of his bet. In this case it would still cost him $12 more to continue in the hand. Many players make the mistake of raising too little or too much. This can become a terrible chip leak that results in a big loss of net profit in the long run.

Theoretically every player should be dealt an equal number of good, bad, and indifferent hands. That implies that we'll all drag in the occasional pot and we'll all lose a number of pots. What separates a good player from a great player is the extra money the great player saves in the pots he loses and the extra money he makes in the hands he wins. I'm going to list the primary starting hands again, this time including the situational hands that didn't appear in my original list. I will then list my general guidelines for playing these hands before the flop.

If two hole cards do not exist on the list (shown in the previous and following lessons), you should rarely play them. One of the most beautiful and exploitable aspects of NLHE is that only two players put in blind money each hand, essentially meaning you can elect to not play most hands at no cost at all. In that light it becomes easy to see that you have no reason to start a hand with bad cards. The only time you would call with sub-optimal hands is when you are in late position and many or all the players at the table have limped in front of you. In those cases, mostly in small stakes online games, the pot odds turn mediocre hands into profitable hands. Even then you should only proceed with a hand as long as you feel comfortable playing after the flop and navigating "murky water". By murky water I refer to difficult or semi-difficult decisions. When playing bad hands just because of irresistible pot odds, you have to be ready to release any hand that doesn't hit the flop very hard. Remember, the more players that are involved, the more likely it is someone has hit two pair, a set, or even a straight or a flush.

♣ Continued at: How To Play Pre-Flop Starting Hands

♣ Back to the index of Dead Money's guide to hold'em strategy.