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, often you are compounding 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 Holdem 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 widen, until you are on the button when 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.
You can play so many hands on the button!
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.