Starting Hands and Position
When playing poker it is very important to know which hands should be played from which positions. Pre-flop mistakes often lead to consequential mistakes later in the hand. In the following article we will introduce the different positions as well as the different categories and groups of starting hands (hole cards).
In general, your "position" your the seat in relation to the dealer. In Texas Hold'em and Omaha position is very important. This is due to the fact that betting rounds usually start with the dealer and, generally, the later you can act in the hand the better.
Overview of the different positions:
Early Position and Blinds
- Before the flop the players in the small and in the big blind have the privilege that they can act last. From the second round of betting on (thus after the flop) the small blind has the worst position, since he has to act first.
- The big blind has a similarly bad position from the second betting round on.
- The "under the gun" player (the player to the left of the big blind) has the worst position pre-flop and a bad position thereafter. UTG + 1 and UTG + 2 (both players to the left of the under the gun player) also have similarly bad positions.
- The players in middle position have a mediocre position both pre-flop and post-flop.
- The cut-off is a very good position.
- The dealer/button is the best possible position as he is last to act after the flop for the rest of the hand.
In late position we have the advantage of being able to see what our opponents do before it's our turn to act. If there is a bet and a raise in front of us, for example, we can fold an average hand. If everybody checks to us, our opponents probably don't have very good cards and we can bet with a relatively weak hand. Also, our opponents have to act without knowing what we will do.
"To have position" or "To be in position" means that we have the best position after the flop. If we raise in middle position and only the big blind calls, then we have position for the rest of the hand because the big blind always has to act first. But if the player on the dealer button calls, then he is in position and we are out of position. Thus, we always have to act before him on the flop, turn and river. When we are in position we can exploit the weakness of our opponents to the fullest extent.
The better the position, the more profitably hands can be played. Therefore, we should fold a lot of hands in early position and only play our best starting hands. In late position we can play a lot of hands. Generally speaking, position is much more important in no-limit than it is in limit.
In general we can divide starting hands as follows:
These are the best starting hands in Texas Hold'em. They are so strong that we will often win even without the help of the community cards. We should always raise with these hands regardless of our position at the table in order to reduce the number of opponents.
These hands are good starting hands as well. However, the problem with medium pairs is that there are many flops that will contain higher cards (overcards). This makes it difficult for us to determine the strength of our own hand.
If we are dealt aces, none of the opponents can get a higher pair on the flop. But if we have , for example, and the flop is , we do not know whether our pair is still the best hand. If an opponent has a king or a ten or a higher pocket pair, he has a higher pair than our pair of eights. In case one of our opponents has a king and a ten as hole cards he can form two pair ( ) that are both better than our medium pair. If our opponent is already holding a pocket pair, then he can make three of a kind on the flop (thus three kings or three tens) and we will be beaten as well. This makes it very difficult to play this kind of hand profitably after the flop.
As a rule and especially when we are up against several opponents small pairs have to improve to a "set" in order to have a realistic chance of winning a showdown.
From a statistical point of view, we will hit a set every eighth flop. So it's beneficial for players with small pairs, if as many opponents as possible stay in the hand and do not fold before the flop. Then it's worth calling in case we hit our set. Since we don't know what the players behind us will do when we are in early position, we should call with small pairs in late position and then only if several players in front of us have also called.
If we don't hit a set with our small pair, then we should generally fold on the flop when we play against several opponents. As a point of interest: Pre-flop, a pair is a favourite against any non-paired hand. As our odds against two overcards are approximately 50/50, we call this a coin flip.
High ace-combinations are strong hands with which we should generally raise in order to force opponents with small pairs to fold.
Suited aces are solid hands that become really strong when they improve to a flush or two pair. We will rarely get a flush but when we do the ace will always give us the highest possible flush. For this reason an ace with a kicker of the same suit is worth far more than most other suited combinations, e.g. .
Face cards are pretty good hands, since they are a favourite against low cards and have almost a 50/50 chance against small pairs.
Suited connectors are also speculative hands, similar to small pairs. They should only be played in late position, if there was no raise in front of us and several players have already entered the pot. Speculative hands are hands that have a lot of potential and can become very strong after the flop (set, straight or flush). The more players in the pot, the better the pot odds, meaning hands that only occasionally hit the flop become more profitable.
If we hit the flop with a speculative hand, we will usually have an excellent chance of winning big pots.
Groups of Starting Hands
Starting hands can be divided into groups. They are grouped according to their strength.
These hands are the best starting hands in hold'em. They can be played from any position and you should almost always raise, if you have one of these hands.
These are good starting hands as well. With these hands we should normally raise, if there hasn't already been a raise in front of us. They, too, can be played from any position.
These cards have a good chance of winning. Nevertheless, we should frequently fold them in early position, especially if the table is pretty aggressive and we have to reckon with a raise behind us.
More often than not, hands from this group will win against random hands. They should, however, be folded in early position as well as in middle or late position, if somebody has raised in front of us.
These are also hands with potential. But if we are in early or middle position they should be folded.
These hands can be played in late position as long as nobody has raised.
These are pretty weak hands, which need a lot of help from the board. As this happens only rarely, these hands should normally be folded unless there are a lot of limpers already in the pot.
These hands are very weak. They should only be played on the button or in the blinds, if there are a lot of limpers in front of us and you have the opportunity to see a cheap flop.