Why is Poker Hand Selection Important?

poker hand selection

Effective poker hand selection is a critical factor that can significantly impact your overall success in the game. While it may appear insignificant to beginners, the choices you make before the flop can have a profound influence on your post-flop play. Ignoring proper hand selection can lead to compounding errors and unfavorable outcomes.

To illustrate this point, let’s consider a scenario where you call a raise from an expert player under the gun with Ac 9s from the small blind. In Texas Hold’em, this is a major mistake. Your hand plays poorly, is likely dominated, and you’re out of position. In baseball terms, it’s akin to committing three consecutive errors.

Determining Which Hands to Play

To simplify the process, it’s beneficial to categorize poker hand selection into groups such as suited connectors, small pocket pairs, big pairs, ace-rag, paint cards, connectors, and more. Rather than solely focusing on the cards in your hand, your decision to play a particular hand should be guided by the following key questions:

  1. Is my hand likely to be stronger than my opponents’? (Mathematics)
  2. Am I the first to act? (Pre-flop aggression)
  3. Am I in position? (Informational advantage)
  4. Does my hand play well in this situation? (Combination of factors)
  5. Is this a favorable scenario considering stack sizes and opponents’ skill levels?

You don’t need to be a poker genius to answer these questions. Using the example of the A9 hand mentioned earlier, we can easily conclude:

  1. No, our hand is not likely to be stronger.
  2. No, we are not the first to act.
  3. No, we are not in position.
  4. No, A9 does not perform well out of position in a heads-up scenario when we are the caller before the flop.
  5. No, calling a pre-flop raise from a tight player out of position with A9 is not a favorable situation.

Raising vs. Calling a Raise

In poker, there’s a saying that it requires a stronger hand to call a raise than to open with a raise yourself. This is because pre-flop aggression gives you a higher chance of winning the pot. It’s known as the gap concept, which suggests that the player raising is indicating a strong hand. To call that initial raise, you must have a valuable hand of your own to compete for the pot.

When you are the first to act, you possess the knowledge that no one has entered the pot yet. Therefore, your range of playable hands can be wider compared to calling a raise.

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.

Expanding the Range in Position

As you progress to later positions in poker, your range of playable hands can expand. Once you reach the cutoff or button, you can afford to be more liberal. This is because several players have already folded, and there are fewer opponents left to act. Moreover, having the last position on every street of betting gives you a significant advantage. Understanding and effectively implementing positional poker is crucial for long-term profitability.

Poker Hand Selection: The Button Offers Opportunities!

In conclusion, poker hand selection plays a pivotal role in your journey towards becoming a winning poker player. It requires an understanding of the specific situation, your position, stack size, pre-flop action, and a basic grasp of mathematics. Incorporating these factors into your decision-making process will bring you one step closer to success.

As this article provides a general overview of hand selection without delving into granular details or specific hand recommendations, we invite you to explore our free poker training video on hand selection below.

Poker Hand Selection Video

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*This article was originally written and published in 2020 and has been updated.

Narciso Baldo is the Director and Head Coach of Texas Hold'em Questions. He has been playing poker for over 16 years. After spending many years as a professional, he now runs UK poker training site Texas Hold'em Questions. Narciso regularly writes poker articles sharing tips, strategy, news and experience with gambling enthusiasts. Narciso also writes for reputable gambling portal Casino City Times, (bio here). Contact: info@texasholdemquestions.com