Why is Poker Hand Selection Important?

Poker Hand Selection

Every hand you play in poker starts with your pre-flop poker hand selection decision. It may seem trivial to a beginner what hands you play, but it isn’t. If you are making an error soon as the hand starts, you are like to compound it with your play post flop. For instance, if you are facing an expert player who is tight and opens under the gun and you call his raise with Ac 9s from the small blind. This is a big error in Texas Hold’em as you have a hand that plays poorly, is likely dominated and you you are out of position. If it was baseball, you’ve struck out because that’s 3 for 3 in errors.

How to Know Which Hands to Play?

Poker hand selection should be grouped into categories for simplicity (suited connectors, small pocket pairs, big pairs, ace rag, paint cards, connectors etc). Your decision on whether to play the hand or not should be driven by the questions below, not solely on the cards in your hand.

  • Is my hand likely to be stronger than my opponents? (Maths)
  • Am I first in? (Pre-Flop Aggression)
  • Am I in position? (Informational Advantage)
  • Does my hand play well in this situation? (Combination)
  • Is this a favourable scenario? (Consider stack sizes and calibre of opponents)

You don’t have to be a poker genius to answer the questions. Using the A9 hand above, we can answer easily.

  • No our hand is not likely to be stronger
  • No we are not first in
  • No we are not in position
  • No A9 does not play well out of position heads up when we are the caller before the flop
  • No, A9 is not a favourable situation when we are calling a preflop raise from a tight player out of position.

Easier to Raise Than Call a Raise

There is an old poker saying that it take’s a stronger hand to call a raise than open raise yourself. This is because, with the pre-flop aggression, you are more inclined to win the pot. It is also known as the gap concept. The logic being, the person who is raising is telling the table he/she has a strong enough hand to raise. In order to call that initial raise, you need to have something of value yourself to contest the pot.

When you are first in, you have the knowledge that nobody has entered the pot yet, so your range can be wider than it is to call.

Wider Poker Hand Selection Range in Position

As you approach later position in poker, the range of hands you play can widens. Once you get to the cut-off or button you can be very liberal. This due to the fact 6 or 7 people have already folded to you. There are fewer people left to act and you have last position on every street of betting. Therefore, your poker hand selection can be much looser. This is a critical concept to understand as playing positional poker effectively is what will help you make money in the long run.

Poker Hand Selection

You can play so many hands on the button!

Final Thoughts

Poker hand selection is very important to becoming a winning poker player. You need to have an appreciation of the situation, your position, stack size, pre-flop lead and a basic understanding of maths. Once you understand and incorporate these factors into your decision making, you will be one step closer to winning.

As I have not delved into granular detail of hand selection and specifics of which hands to play, please see below some free material from our poker training videos based on poker hand selection guide for tournaments.

Poker Hand Selection Video

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What Hands to Fold in Poker (2020)

Introduction to Folding

Knowing what hands to fold in poker doesn’t come easy to most players. If you’re reading this article, you’re probably concerned that you play too many hands, call too many raises speculatively or on the contrary, play too tight and need some guidance. We can’t all play like Phil Ivey or Tom Dwan and expect play a wide range of hands profitably. This article will give a basic guide on what hands to fold in poker.

Playing Situations, not Just Cards

Before I get into the hand groups you should be folding. Let me preface it by saying that, as your experience, table awareness and proficiency in Texas Hold’em develops, you will look for profitable situations instead of just playing solid poker hands. This is something I always tell players I mentor. But this article is designed to help those of you who are having difficulty with pre flop hand selection and want some general advice on what hands to fold in poker.

Ace Rag

Ace rag is almost definitely the most overplayed and overrated hand in Texas Holdem. Even professionals will occasionally overplay the ace if they’ve been dealt junk for hours. The truth is, unless you are in position or shorthanded, these hands are unlikely to make you any money or help build your stack much.

They don’t play particularly well post flop and you are unlikely to extract 3 streets of value if you make top pair. Sometimes when you think you will, you end up finding yourself beat by a bigger kicker.

Low Paint Cards

This may surprise you but the Queen Jack and King Jack hands are not as powerful as you think. Granted, you have two paint cards and have the opportunity to make straights. But, if you are calling raises with these hands, particularly against early position open raises, you are going to find yourself outkicked or against a higher pair.

If a strong player is opening from under the gun and you are tempted to play Queen Jack from the small blind, think again. The range of hands you are likely to be up against have Queen Jack in bad shape.

To make this clearer, if you are against an Ace Jack, Ace Queen or King Queen, you are approx. 25% to win the hand in a showdown. Let’s also not forget you do not have the pre flop lead.

what hands to fold in poker
Image by Freepik

Low Connectors

Hands like 4-5, 6-7 and 3-4 are hands to fold in poker. I make a distinction from suited as they play much better. The offsuit low connectors are unlikely to help your ROI. You may have seen some professionals call raises on High Stakes Poker with these hands. That doesn’t mean they were right to and it doesn’t mean you should. Unless you make a hand stronger than one pair, you are unlikely to feel secure with low connectors so just throw them away.

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Under the Gun is No Fun

What does under the gun mean in poker?

Don’t worry it doesn’t mean there’s a rifle above your head. Under the gun is a phrase in poker referred to the position when acting first before the flop in Texas Holdem. From a strategic point of view, it is the worst position to be in as you have the least information available at that point. You have 8 players to act behind you before the potential to see the flop. For this reason, it is usually identified as a position that requires playing fewer and stronger hands. Even the loosest of of loose aggressive (LAG) players know that it is unprofitable to play a wide range of hands from under the gun.

under the gun
Photo by Alex Kalligas (@alkal)

Why do I need to play tighter from under the gun?

It is not just about having less information before the flop. One must remember that Texas Holdem is played across multiple rounds of betting. By playing from under the gun, you will often be the first to act on each street or between players. This makes it very challenging to play hands and pot control how you wish. Look at the example hand below to illustrate this.
 

Example Hand from Under the Gun

You decide to raise from under the gun with:

You are called by 1 player in mid position (loose), a tight aggressive player on the button and the big blind too. Everyone has deep stacks.

The flop comes:


The big blind checks. What do you do? You are in a tricky position as you have 2 people behind you but you also have 2nd pair and a good kicker. Betting and check- deciding both seem reasonable but what about the turn and river too? What is your plan? You are prone to getting bluffed out as your hand can’t take much resistance and you can’t expect to value bet with impunity.

Unless you make a very strong hand that is easy to play or you are heads up against one of the blinds, it is not an appealing option to be playing weak or medium strength hands from under the gun. This is only desirable if you can paly post flop excellently and have a weak table.

Final Thoughts

Strong players are opening their range of raising hands when in early position. They have correctly read that players will fold reasonable hands when facing an open raise. There is also deception in open raising the suited connectors and suited aces from early position. A word of caution of to you though. This is only profitable to the most experienced of players who are confident in awkward post flop scenarios. Playing a wide range of hands from under the gun will place you in tricky scenarios that can cost you chips.

So, next time you have K-T or A-8 under the gun, think twice!

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