Preflop Betting Rounds
If you want to become a decent poker player, you'll do very well in following all the recommendations that are set out in this section.
Thankfully, the number of possible combinations and calls pre-flop are not too varied, which makes it easy to print all the recommended actions in one small and easy to comprehend table. Print this table out, examine it several times over, memorize it, and make sure you fully understand the contents. After you've done that, come back to this article.
As you can see from the graphic above, we're going to be talking about a 9-hand table, as that's standard for the [PokerStars] poker room.
The first three positions after the blinds are called 'early', and playing in these seats means playing the least amount of hands.
The two seats after early position are called 'middle' position. When you're playing in middle position you can play a fair number of hands.
Playing in fifth place from the blinds can be ranked sometimes as a middle position, and sometimes as late position. If everyone or nearly everyone playing in front of you in a hand has folded, then you should consider yourself to be in middle position. If at least three players ahead of you have remained in the hand, then you should consider yourself in late position and act accordingly.
The remaining positions are known as late position, and are considered the most profitable positions to be in. This is because you are one of the last to act on every street, meaning that you possess a great deal more information about your opponents than they have about you.
Then goes late position, the most profitable places in the game. Why? It's because when you are there you are the last to make the decision on every street, so you will possess much more information about your opponents than they will have about you.
The blinds are the worse positions to be seated in. The blinds are the first to make decisions about each round of betting, meaning that the blinds have to narrow down the amount of starting hands available to them the most.
The higher the table limit, and the less players there are at the table, the more important position becomes. Position is even more important than your starting cards, but we will go into more detail concerning this later in this article.
Let's now hear some practical recommendations concerning starting hands.
Top pairs: In general in Hold'em, pairs tend to be the most profitable starting hands in the game. Top pairs – AA, KK and QQ – are the best starting hands you can hope to be dealt. Playing with top pairs preflop is all about getting as much of your money into the pot as possible, so you should bet, raise and re-raise where possible. When working how much to raise, use the formula 4BB + 1BB for everyone who played in before you. BB in this case is the amount of the big blind, so if the big blind is $1, and two people before you bet, then you should raise to $6. If your opponents call in response to high raises, don't shirk to make large bets. The probability is that you currently have the best hand, so don't be shy – if you get re-raised, go all-in.
Middle pairs: JJ and TT. Such hands are strong on their own, but if there are a lot of players willing to bet to see the flop, they are not as valuable. Low-limit games are filled with players who pay to see the flop no matter what their starting hands are, so middle pairs become strong again in low-limit games. If you have a middle pair then call in the early and middle positions no matter if there has been a raise before you act. You can raise in late position, but only if you are the first to do so.
Don't forget the 1/10 rule – this means that you should only play pocket pairs (except top pairs) when the bet that's required to see the flop is less than ten percent of your stake (or your opponent's stake, whoever is in and has the least money). If there are two players on the flop, you can pay 15 percent of your stake, and if there are three – 20 percent.
Low pairs: 22 to 99. With low pairs the intention is only ever to complete a set, as low pairs on their own seldom win a hand. Only call with low pairs pre-flop if you can see the flop cheaply, and keep the 1/10 rule in mind.
Top broadway: These are cards such as AK and AQ (see the table for the full list). Suited cards from this list deserve a raise from any position, whilst unsuited cards are only worth raising from late-middle or late position. The amount you raise depends upon your position. If you are on the button, you have a great opportunity to estimate how many people before you have declared their hands to be of high rank by making raises and re-raises. If no one has raised, make a sizeable bet yourself so the those acting behind you who want to see the flop have to pay to stay in the hand. You do not need the whole table to stay in the hand with these cards – just take the blinds and one or two other player's bets. If you have suited cards such as AK or AQ you have a good chance of gaining sufficient outs for a flush or straight, so bet accordingly – using a value of 4 time the big blind as a rough guide to the size of your bet. This will decrease the number of players willing to pay to see the flop, and make players with poorly-ranked hands more likely to pay too much.
Low, Suited Broadway, Suited Connectors and Suited Ace-low: All of these hands are called speculative as they are hardly worth anything on their own. Most flops will not make them better hands, but perhaps one out of every six or seven flops will fall nicely for them – flushes or straight or even both together. The play these hands you must be in good position and there must be a lot of players still in the hand. The less players that remain in the hand, the weaker these hands become.
No other hands are worth playing, pre-flop. If you're going to become a profitable poker player then the first thing you need to learn is to trash bad starting hands, no matter how long it seems you've been waited for a playable starting hand.