In Texas Hold’em, like in life, you can’t help what cards you’re dealt. But, also like in life, you can certainly choose how you play those cards when the flop does come. But often when you’re playing it’s the decisions you make even before this point that can determine whether it’s a round that you’re going to win or lose. Plus, if your opponents’ decision making skills are better or more developed than yours they’re going to find themselves at a distinct advantage over you right from the start.
Generally speaking, with the exception of obviously strong hands like pairs of aces or kings or big aces, the strength of your pre-flop hand is all too often a matter of context in a number of ways.
The first is obviously dependant on the hands that your opponents’ have been dealt. For example you may have a pair of 8s but if the person across the table has 9s then you’re obviously not in such a strong position.
The second is almost as important to consider but it’s one part of play that is often overlooked especially by novice players – it’s your position in the hand. If you’re in a later position you’ll be in a far better situation to play even a weaker hand because you’ll have had more opportunities to watch your opponents, especially compared with either of the blinds. That’s also why, as a general principle, you should be going on to play more hands when you’re one of the last to act in each betting round.
The flipside of this applies when you’re a blind. There may be the temptation to play on because you’ve had to put money in the pot but unless you have a very strong hand it’s often best to get out sooner rather than later.
In terms of how much to bet on the pre-flop then most poker experts recommend aggression once you’ve decided to play. That means raising the big blind by 3 or 4 times – simply matching them is known as limping in – and the name tells you all you need to know about how this practice is regarded.
The final factor that we’re going to mention that can determine the way to approach your hand is the number of players at the table. The fewer there are the faster the game will move and the more flops you’ll see in an hour. This means that you can afford to press ahead with weaker ones because even if you lose you’ll have many more opportunities to get ahead over the course of the game.
So, as you can tell, there are no hard and fast rules to dictate just how strong your pre-flop hand is. But that’s not to mean there aren’t clues you can look for in other players’ behaviour. Plus, often, your instinct alone can be all you need to make an informed judgment that can win you the round.