Poker Bankroll Poker Starting Hand Fundamentals

Poker Starting Hand Fundamentals

Instead of repeating strategy stuff you've probably read elsewhere, I'll use this article to list some starting hand tips that I think are less known.

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Number Of Players

More so than any other factor, the amount of players at the table and in the hand determines what you can correctly play. This just comes down to math. Regardless of how weak a hand is, if there are enough callers preflop, it can be played profitable in the long run. The same goes for hands at tables with few players. If you are in a heads up game, any Ace is a monster. A7 may be horrible under-the-gun at at full table but at the three-handed game it's a definite raiser.

An extension of this logic is that the looseness of a table can be figured out in previous hands and applied to the current hand. It's wrong to think suited connectors need to see lots of callers before you play. As long as you know that the game is loose (because all the other hands have tons of limpers) it stands to reason the next one will be too. Don't miss opportunities like this. If you have 33 in early position at a loose game, chances are you'll get enough action to make it worth calling, even if the position is bad.

As you improve at a player, your goal is to be able to adjust your hands like this. One table you'll fold your AJ when someone raises. Another table you'll reraise it. One game you won't play 98s suited up front but another you will. High level poker is situational.

Controlling The Pot With Actions

It is possible to use your moves — bet, call, raise, check-raise, fold — to control the game. You can get opponents to call when you want by limping in and you can raise or reraise to limit the field. To do this you need to first know what the goal is. Do you want lots of players in the hand? Does your hand do better when you get heads up? When you figure this out, then you can use your actions to create the most favorable situation.

One tip here is the isolation raise. Isolating usually means you raise or reraise the pot to limit the field so you can pick on one player. Say there is a loose raiser. You reraise with your AQ to get heads up with him. If you called only, you would have to beat multiple players. Your call would let in lots of hands like KT and 87. By raising you give your hand the best chance at winning. The opposite is also true though: Say you have a hand like QJs and a loose aggressive player raises again in front of you. A reraise here isn't idea because the QJ isn't that great HU, but it is a nice hand still that you'd like to take a flop with. You call. The call induces more action behind you putting you in the favorable spot: a volume pot.

50/50 Or Big Underdog

No limit holdem has different hand values than limit holdem. Some things are easier and some harder. Pairs go up in value in no limit games, but only if you are the aggressor, the bettor. You want to avoid situations where you have small pocket pairs all-in versus a preflop raiser with lots of chips. Taking 88 all-in against the preflop raiser means you are at best a 50/50 if he has two over cards like AK and at worst a huge underdog, like 4:1 if he has a bigger pair. In a no limit holdem cash game you see this often with QQ and JJ. Those hands are scary to put all-in preflop because at best you'll be up against AK and 50/50 and at worst a huge dog versus AA and KK.

This isn't a factor in limit games because you don't go all-in; your damage is limited. Plus, in the limit game, you can apply pressure later in the hand against overcards to make them fold. Take 88 versus AK in a limit holdem game. There you can raise the flop or turn and force him out. Even if he bad beats you with an Ace or King on the river, it doesn't sting that much. In the NL structure if his AK goes all-in, he gets to just sit back and watch all five community cards.

Adjusting Based On Opponents

This one took me a long time to get. I was trapped for many years thinking to be a good player, I should not “chase.” Well it isn't chasing if you think your hand is good. I've won countless times with AK unimproved. The idea here is that you don't just expect someone has you beat and you don't play the same way against all players. If you know an opponent will make a bet regardless of his cards, you can't assume he is ahead. Likewise, if you know the only way an opponent will raise is if he actually has it (he wouldn't bluff in that spot) you are wrong to ever call. It's important to remember that just because the flop didn't help your hand, it didn't necessarily help the opponent's.

Avoid Better Players

A simple way to avoid getting into trouble is to see who is good at the table and avoid them. You just stay out of their way unless you have a really big hand, in which case it doesn't matter. Play less out of the blinds against them (less attacking, less stealing) and tighten up. If you normally only play X hand against a raise, up it against them. This will neutralize their winning potential against you. Good players want to get weaker players in more hands. The worst thing for a good player is to have all the bad players tighten up against them. If you are going to mix it up with them, then at least be the bettor in the hand and not the caller. Be the player who is applying the raises preflop and the continuation bets. Don't try and catch the good players bluffing.


Where you are on the table largely determines the chances or your hand being ahead. Take A4. A4 is not a great hand. It becomes playable when enough players fold. Say everyone folds to you on the dealer button. You can now guess that this will be the favorite over the blinds' hands. Likewise, if you are in the BB and an opponent attacks you from late position, you expect him to be raising with cards other than premium ones, so you loosen up too and defend.

Bettor Versus Caller

This is a really big tip that you must learn to be a good player. Hands change value when you have to call with them instead of being able to raise yourself. Take a hand like AT. AT would not be a good hand to call with at a full table against a regular raise. Take that same hand again when everyone folds to you and now it is playable; you raise. There is inherent value in being the bettor in a hand. Player's assume that the preflop raiser has a solid hand. When you bet postflop the opponents are forced to make a hand, fold or play a guessing game as to whether or not you have anything. Take the AT again and say you called with it. If the flop doesn't help your hand and the opponent keeps betting, which he will, what will you do? It doesn't matter if he as AA or KQ or 72, his bets alone coupled with the preflop raise make it hard for you to continue. This is called initiative. A winning poker player's starting hand game consists mainly of raising preflop, not calling. Likewise, the winning player's postflop strategy consists primarily of betting not calling.

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