Pre-flop strategy is critical to your skill set as a poker player. You can literally up your game by 80%, simply by adding some of these techniques to your game. This is a scientifically sound method of knowing when to bet and when to fold.
Why is Pre-Flop Strategy So Important?
I would say pre-flop strategy is one of the most underrated subjects in poker for a number of reasons. For one, you need to make a pre-flop decision in almost every hand. The only time you don’t need to think about it is if you’re in the big blind position and no one has raised.
If you are playing unwisely in a situation you face every hand, do you think that might affect your overall success?
The truth is that pre-flop strategy is not only crucial, but one of the easiest things to fix in your game.
Basically, when you get dealt your first two cards, there are three qualities you want to look for:
Before you say “Yeah, I play hard whenever I have an Ace! I got this down!”, you have to understand that one awesome card is not enough. In fact, an awesome card and a pretty good card might not be enough either.
A common response to this is “Yeah, Flushes are cool, but they’re so rare that it doesn’t make sense to bet based on them.” Flushes are somewhat uncommon, but they happen enough that you should be prepared to capitalize on them. If you have an enormous pot, then suitedness is a great asset.
This is important for nailing a Straight, of course. When I talk about connectedness, people sometimes question how often Straights show up. Straights do happen enough, and catching one at the right time can win you a big pot.
Now, like all strategies, this isn’t the word of God, but I would say you’re best folding on hands when you don’t have at least 2 out of 3 of the traits listed above. This means that if you have a King and a 7, it’s not good enough. Unfortunately, this also means if you have an Ace and a Jack it may just barely be enough.
Your best hands are going to be pocket monsters like Ace-Ace, King-King, and Queen-Queen. These are high cards and they’re beyond connected because they’re the same value. Next up would be Ace-King.
Ace-King is a funny one because many players have been absolutely astonished that they’ve lost hands using it. At one table I was at, someone had nicknamed Ace-King the “Anna Kournikova,” after the hot blonde tennis player who was having trouble in the championship tournaments.
“The Ace-King is the Anna Kournikova… Looks good, can’t win.” I would say both she and the Ace-King have gotten a bad rap. Where people go wrong with the Ace-King is that they assume they are invincible. The flop will have three Jacks, the turn will have a Queen, and the A-K holder will be thinking “Just an Ace for the river… all I need is an Ace…”
Don’t get me wrong, it’s true that if you’re faced with an awful flop and turn, your pair of 10’s are way better than an Ace-King. However, keep in mind that this is a situation where you already know most of how the hand is playing out. If ALL you know is your pre-flop, then Ace-King is a fabulous hand, and you should bet freely to protect it.
Obviously, super-high cards are great because they’re high and connected. If they’re both in the same suit and/or connected, it’s even better.
You don’t always need a high face card to bet, though. If you have a 7 and 8, with both being Hearts, then you’re doing very well and should stay in, as long as the betting isn’t too high.
This relates to another very important part of Poker, which is protecting your hand.
Protecting your hand is important because in tournaments, especially later in the game, you’ll get “blinded out.” This is when you pay so many blinds and double blinds without winning that your pot starts to dwindle.
This means that if you have a pretty good pre-flop, you should bet aggressively to collect blinds. Some people take this even further and bluff to “steal” blinds, but this is not always necessary.
The best time to protect your hand is when you have a good but not great hand. For example, if you have a pair of Jacks, you have a so-so chance of winning the pot if it goes to the river. However, your two Jacks have an excellent chance of being the best hand before the flop. Someone with a 6 and a 10 may have scored a Two Pair if they stayed in the game against you, but without that foreknowledge, they’re likely to fold against your confident bet.
The temptation to violate this pre-flop strategy can easily come during loose games where people are winning with technically bad-hands. I want to warn you that you shouldn’t alter your strategy unless you see yourself really getting blinded out. If you start playing loose as well, you may think that your King-Five will carry you, but you still have a very high chance of losing. Plus, the loose players won’t be intimidated and will see your bets.
Instead, just steal blinds when you have to, but otherwise stay tight with your preflop. You’d be surprised in some tournaments how little you actually have to play to win. It costs you nothing to fold if you don’t have a blind and there isn’t an ante.
Pre-flop is just part of the overall poker strategy, but it’s a very big part. Other things can affect your betting decision too, such as what position you’re in and how much is in the pot. A huge pot is nice odds, but if you have to give half of your stack of chips up to match it, it’s often not worth it. Use common sense.