The first question I always get when I take on a new poker student is: ‘What range of hands can I play?’ Most players link their success to the cards they were dealt and how they play them. If you have read my last few articles you can probably see where I am going with this and why the cards you are dealt sometimes make very little difference.
The answer to starting hand selection depends totally upon POSITION. If I am teaching a novice player I may tell him or her to play hands down to A-J and things like K-Q suited or pocket pairs. These are guidelines simply because you have to start somewhere. For example, I wouldn’t probably get too excited to play A-T off-suit from UTG, but I would not hesitate to raise with it from the Button or late position especially if I am the first one to act in the hand. In other words, if I am the first one to put money in the pot, I will loosen my starting hand requirements considerably.
There are two basic ways to take control of a pot pre-flop: by being the aggressor and the first one to put money in the pot, or by having the best position. Think about it. One of those two players is going to control most of the pots post flop. The only way a player in the blinds or early middle position will end up controlling the pot is if they hit a monster. Otherwise, it will be the one of the other two.
So what does this all mean as far as hand selection goes? It means you should be MUCH more selective in early position. Unless your table is weak and/or you are big stacked, hands like 9-8 suited don’t play very well from early position. Hands like K-4 suited are a no-no from early position. However, from the cut-off seat or Button, especially if you are first to act, hands like K-4 suited are an automatic raise. This is the power of Position and why your starting hand selection should change during the game. If you are basing your starting hand selection on strict rules such as not playing hands like A-3 off-suit, you are most likely missing out on some opportunities. A-3 off-suit is a terrible hand to play from UTG, but again, and auto-raise if the action is folded to you on the Button.
Pocket pairs can also be real tough to play from early position, especially small ones. Many times you will be forced to fold to a re-raise before the flop or a scary looking board after the flop and you just end up putting in dead money. If you play these hands from position, you can get in cheaper for one thing, and then see what the other players are going to do prior to putting in more money after the flop. For example, if you have 4-4 in early position, raise, and get 3 callers, a board of A-K-9 is tough. What are you going to do? C-bet and get raised? Whereas in position if you see that kind of flop with 4-4, you can get out of the way relatively painlessly if everyone bets.
If you get nothing else out of this column, just remember that starting hand selection is totally dependent on position. It’s ok to fold hands like 3-3 from early position unless you feel that you can take control of the table after the flop. A lot of that will depend on what kind of players are at your table and most of the time you will have a couple aggressive guys coming after you who will make it really tough to seize control of that pot. By and large, just tighten up to more premium hands when you are in early position, such as A-K, A-Qs, Big Pairs, etc and really open things up once you have position, especially if you are the first one in the pot.
In No Limit Holdem your Starting Hand Selection depends on Position.
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