Your opponent isn’t an idiot for limping in to see a flop that fills in his gut-shot straight. It’s whoever let him get to the flop so cheaply in the first place.
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Tips and Strategies for Before the Flop in Texas Hold’em
Texas Hold’em didn’t come to attention until Las Vegas casinos started dealing with it in the 1960s, but it was not a particularly popular game even then.
Even into the 1990s, you might find card clubs in California, for example, dealing a few tables, but Seven-Card Stud and Jacks-or-Better were still the kings.
But the sweeping growth of the internet helped fuel the public’s interest in online gaming, and by 2010, entire fortunes were being won and lost online and in the real world as more and more people discovered Texas Hold’em.
While plenty of how-to articles exist online for general Texas Hold’em play, not so many cover the most important part of the game: The Pre-flop.
Let’s fix that right now with a look at what makes the preflop stage of Texas Holdem so important, and even better, an explanation of what tips for before the flop in Texas Hold’em will help us use the time to our best advantage.
We’ve got a Texas Hold’em guide that can help bring you up to speed if you’re new to the game. Otherwise, read on to find out the best strategies.
#1: Don’t Look at Your Cards
Okay, of course, you will eventually look at your cards. But the time to do so is not immediately after they’ve been dealt. Why? Because there are up to nine other players at the table who have also been dealt their cards—and they are going to look at them right now.
This is your golden opportunity to collect information about them and their hands. Did Hoodie Guy two seats behind you glance at his cards and start fingering his chips? Did the truck driver sitting on the button just put his cards down and look to the player to his right?
Was that an actual smile you just saw flash across Grandpa Walton’s face? Did Chatty Cathy suddenly stop talking?
First off, let me note that you are being terribly judgmental with these snide characterizations of your fellow players for shame. Also, good job. You spent some quality time gathering information on your opponents instead of looking at your cards and letting your body language pass out leaflets on what you intend to do.
If you answered my question with “I’m going to watch my opponents look at their cards just like you have hinted rather strongly I should do,” you and I will get along just fine.
Pro Tip: Make a special note of the other players at your table who—like you—wait to look at their cards until they are required to call, raise, or fold. This is not, as they say, their first time at the rodeo.
Also, don’t think that playing online means you shouldn’t keep an eye on your opponents as they play.
You’ll acquire useful information much more slowly (although you’ll play more hands in an hour, so it all evens out), and it will most likely be based on how loosely or tightly they play, but you will still learn how they play.
This is the first tip before the flop to get the ball rolling. For more excellent poker tips beyond preflop strategy, check out some advice from experienced poker players on Reddit.
#2: Adjust Your Play According to Your Position
Good Hold’em players have a shifting range of hands they will play depending on their position. They’ll play only strong hands in early positions, but they’ll see the flop with weaker hands with the button nearby.
Why? Because in poker, information is power — and in an early position, you have no way of acquiring that power.
So, if you’re first in line to play (under the gun, UTG for short), you’ll want to play only premium hands because you know nothing about what will happen as the action moves around the table.
For instance, your raise on a pair of two UTG is going to look foolhardy when the button and the big blind get into a 4- and 5-bet battle of wills. At that point, you can either fold, losing only your initial wager, or you can ride the tide, hoping the flop has at least one of your two outs in it.
In early positions, stick with top hands-only—high pairs, suited AK/AQ, and pretty much nothing else. However, smaller pairs are worth a try in later positions, as are straight and high-card flush draws.
And when you’re on the button, stretch out and let your freak flag fly. If everyone’s folded to you, make that 7-2 off-suit worth something by stealing the blinds with a raise.
The internet is awash with charts showing ranges of hands to play in Texas Hold’em. Here’s one of the simplest to read and understand:
#3: Evaluate Your Pot Equity and Raise/Fold Accordingly
Your pot equity is the percentage of a chance you have of winning the pot at any given stage of the game. With AA in the hole, you have great pot equity, so you want as much OPM (other people’s money) as you can get in the pot, but you also don’t want many people seeing the flop.
Sure, you may force everybody out. Pocket aces winning nothing but the small and large blinds may be a disappointment, but that will seem like Christmas compared to watching your pocket aces get beat by the draw hand you allowed to limp in under the gun that managed to improve on the flop, the turn, and then the river.
If you have the best cards preflop, bet them proudly and bigly.
On the other hand, 7-2 off-suit is the worst hand in Hold’em, which means your pot equity is virtually zero. Fold. Unless you like losing money, in which case, by all means, play that 7-2 off-suit like it’s an accordion, and you’re Flaco Jimenez.
But you should expect to fold at least 70% of the time—and most good Hold’em players fold more often than that. I’m not talking about the rocks who see the flop 18.3% of the time; those players you forget about because they rarely see the flop.
Another concept to consider pre-flop is fold equity. This is the odds that your bet will cause your opponent(s) to fold. Like pot equity, fold equity changes with each stage of the game. It also changes depending on the sort of game your table is playing, i.e., loose or tight, passive vs. aggressive, tourney vs. cash game.
For example, in a sit & go, your 5X raise might make your short-stacked heads-up opponent fold, but in a cash game, you could get called or even re-raised.
#4: Resist the Temptation to Limp
You’ll find plenty of good-to-excellent Texas Hold’em players are telling you to either raise or fold to avoid limping in if you wander around the internet. There are strategic arguments for occasionally limping in, but I’m not sure those reasons are defensible.
And if the flop improves their hand, you have no one to blame but yourself. Remember, the more callers to your pre-flop bet, the more likely you will get beaten.
So, each hand you play is either the best and deserves your full-throated support, or it is total crap and deserves to end up in the dealer’s discard pile.
If you can’t practice this at a real table, perhaps hone your craft at the best poker sites for beginners. This way, when you sit down at a casino, you’ll know exactly what to do before the flop.
#5: Go Big or Stay at Home
Now that we’ve heaped enough scorn on liming in let’s talk raise-or-fold.
Your raise speaks volumes about your confidence in winning the hand, so let your opponents know you have the nuts. You raise for two distinct but corollary reasons: First, to isolate the pot from weak draw hands by forcing them to fold, and second, to build the pot.
Those two reasons to raise might sound conflicting, but they’re not. You’re trying to build up the pot as much as possible while still protecting your premium hand from weak draw hands that could improve on the turn and the river.
Three or four times, the big blind tends to convince opponents you have confidence in your hand, and it is generally enough to cause those with weaker hands to fold.
#6: Think Twice About Calling a Raise
Going hand-and-glove with the last tip, you need a better hand than the raising opponent to call a raise pre-flop. Hands that will raise preflop are typically AT and better (suited or not) or high pairs (tens and up).
Calling that raise requires you to have a better hand. So, ask yourself: Is your hand better? How would you even answer that question?
Well, you can get a better idea with a re-raise. Perhaps the original raiser was taking a chance to steal the blinds. He may fold at the unexpected resistance or re-raise you right back. You need to decide: Do you expect to win this hand, or are you letting emotions and ego make your wagers for you?
#7: Overcall is Rarely a Good Idea
If you’re in a late position and the wagering gets to you, having been raised and then re-raised, you need to think long and hard about your participation in this hand. Think of it this way: That first raise (3-4 times the BB, remember) says the raiser has a premium hand, likely KK or AA.
Calling in this situation is rarely the right thing to do. With so many raises already in the pipeline, the odds are good that you’re up against pocket aces, pocket kings, or both. Your QQ is pretty but, unfortunately, not ready for prime time.
A call here is simply throwing good money after bad. At this point, your choices are All-in or Fold. Now, if you call, you change nothing about the hand. It will proceed to flop, turn, and river.
An all-in, on the other hand, could change the game dramatically. Mister AK suited over there may come to his senses and fold. And Miss JJ might follow. Remember The more decisions you force your opponents to make, the more likely they are to be fatal errors in judgment.
#8: Play the Blinds Right
Many poker players consider the blinds special situations requiring a strategy all their own, and I agree. On the one hand, the blinds should be played like a UTG hand—premium cards only.
While your play needs to be similar to the UTG position, you also have the best seat in the house as far as what all the players are doing. Still, while in the small blind, consider only betting hands you’d play in late positions (assuming you’re calling the BB or a modest 2-bet).
Naturally, if you’ve got a pair of queens or better, bet it like the premium hand it is.
On the other hand, raising from the big blind is generally not a good idea, even if you have a premium hand. The only exception is in response to an obvious attempt to steal the blinds from either the button or the small blind. Punishing persistent blind thieves is fun and educational, but let’s not get into that right now.
So, don’t raise from the BB in most circumstances. A raise directs too much attention to the value of your hand (without giving you the advantage of additional information that a raise in an early position would provide).
#9: Have a Game Plan for Every Hand You Play
In the end, Kenny Rogers was right: you got to know when to hold ‘em.
So, any two cards will present a limited but calculable chance of winning. Every pair has exactly two outs to set, but a simple AA has the best chance of all pairs for obvious reasons. You should know the best way to play AA preflop from any position under any wagering circumstances.
If you have a chart of hands you will play, you should already have a plan for how you will play each hand in the various positions at the table.
Some hands benefit most from a larger number of players seeing the flop. Others really are best played versus a small number of opponents. Do what you can to make the pot and the active players match your imaginary perfect scenario for your hand through raises and re-raises.
Texas Hold’em Preflop Strategy Summary
If you’ve been reading carefully, you’ve noticed that many of the tips and strategies above relate to the same actions or situations. Here’s the round-up on our Texas Hold’em preflop advice.
- Know your opponents. Sure, you have a better opportunity to observe a player’s actions and body language in a real-life play. Still, you can accumulate just as much valuable info about players online. Most online poker rooms include options to attach text and even images to specific players. Take copious notes on each player you confront. Knowing someone likes to steal the blinds is useful info, as is their affinity for overplaying draw hands.
- Position is key. Playing hands out of position will hurt you in the long run.
- Raise or Fold. Limping is for antelope at the back of the herd. You know, the ones the lions are clocking from the bushes. Guess who’s coming to dinner.
- Isolate the pot. That means limiting the number of participants. The fewer people betting, the more likely the winner will be you.
- Have a plan for every hand. Sure, we all know what the great philosopher Mike Tyson had to say about them: “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” But just because no plan survives that first encounter with the enemy doesn’t mean a plan is not useful.
Now that you’ve girded your loins for the Texas Hold’em spectacle check out one of our best poker sites online to have some fun, hone your skills, and win some money.