How To Play Pre-Flop Starting Hands
This lesson in the Hold'em poker strategy series shows you how to play various starting hands. Note: If my recommendation is not raise or call, you should usually fold.
Early position: Open with all category A-C hands. If you are then raised re-raise with A or B, call with C. After your re-raise is raised, you can call with B or move in with A.
Middle Position: Open with A-D hands; call a re-raise with B or C; raise a re-raise with A; fold D unless the raise is small, then you may call.
Late Position: Open with A-E hands. If raised, re-raise with A-B or call with C. If you are on the button you should also raise with category D hands. Your play of E and F hands is going to be very circumstantial. With no players in the pot you should raise with all hands A-F on the dealer button trying to win the pot uncontested (steal the blinds). Even if your opponents are uncooperative enough to call you, you will still have position on them after the flop.
With Category F hands, you only want to limp in if you are in middle to late position with other limpers already in the pot. Be prepared to throw them away if there is a raise. You want to see cheap flops with these hands, and you must be able to get away from them if you don't flop a great hand (monster), or a draw to a monster. I wouldn't recommend playing these hands until you understand basic pot odds and can lay down a hand when you hit the flop only slightly. You'll usually be better off playing these hands against a lot of poor players. One problem playing drawing hands against strong players is that even if you do flop a draw, it is likely that you won't be given the correct odds to draw to it. Strong players know how to protect their hands against draws by offering them incorrect odds. If I catch top pair on the flop with a good kicker but there are two hearts out, I'm going to usually bet in the neighborhood of 2/3 of the pot if there are multiple players in the pot. That way, if you call on the draw, you've made a mistake and that means I've gained EV (estimated value) according to the fundamental theory of poker.
Note: Be very careful when playing QJ. You really want two pair or a straight with this hand; it can be a very difficult hand to play after the flop. For instance, when you catch top pair with the Queen or the Jack, you should probably bet out, but I'd be very cautious if you get played with. It's very difficult to do, but sometimes you just have to fold what might be the best poker hand. This is especially true in tournament style poker. We have to remember to never go broke with marginal holdings. Likewise, KJ is a hand that can get you into a lot of trouble. Be very careful when you flop top pair with a jack as a kicker. It's hard to get away from when you're beat, and it usually won't win much of a pot when it's not. Bet to see where you stand, but be prepared to muck these hands when another player is hanging in with you.
There are circumstances that you will encounter in which you should deviate from the general guidelines I've laid out. It would be impossible to list them all, but I will give some examples. It has often been said that poker is not a card game played by people, it is a people game played with cards. The, often quoted, statement applies to some degree to all forms of poker, but particularly rings true in the game of NLHE.
♣ Continued at: Moving Beyond the Fundamentals
♣ Back to the index of Dead Money's guide to hold'em strategy.
♣ LIVE POKER ROOMS
Poker Sites Home
Top Rated Sites
Texas Hold Em
Seven Card Stud
Free Poker Sites
♣ STRATEGY & TALES
NLHE Strategy Guide
Players & Psychology
♣ REVIEWS & RATINGS
Poker Site Reviews
Poker Room Ratings
Top Site Review
Free Hand Simulator
♣ REFERENCE PAGES
Chips & Cards