Deciding whether or not to play a hand pre-flop isn’t just about the strength of your starting hand. There are other equally important—even more important—factors to consider before you act. One of the most important, without question, is the action ahead of you.
Get a Handle on the Action
What have the players ahead of you done? Have they raised? Limped? Their actions are information that will tell you how to play profitably.
Let’s take a closer look at what this means:
If you’re in late position, one of the most common situations is that the pot is going to be raised in front of you. In these cases, you’re going to want to call hands that play well against the hands your opponent opens with. If you’re up against a tight player, you want to be seeing the flop with speculative hands like pocket pairs and strong, suited connectors.
If you’re playing with someone who is loose, play hands that will dominate them: high card hands, big suited hands. Also, raise hands you want to use to isolate the opener with, like AK or big pairs.
In limped pots, everyone has called the big blind. Call hands you want to play multiway (e.g. poker pairs, suited aces, and sometimes suited connectors). You want to be over-limping hands you’re comfortable playing a multiway pot with and can accept you will have a small pot. Raise hands when you want to milk the pot or knock people out.
Raised and Call Ahead
Call hands that play well multiway and raise fewer hands than you would with a single raise. Call with pocket pairs and most of your suited connectors. Reraise your value hands or hands you want to try to play heads up. Again, raise when you want to knock people out.
Raised and Re-Raised
At least one of the players—usually the re-raiser—will have a pretty strong holding. In this case, reraise hands with which you are prepared to go all-in. AA, KK, and if you’re playing against looser players, it’s okay to do this with QQ, JJ, or TT. You want to have a solid read on your opponent to do this with these more marginal hands, though.
Only call with hands you want to use to trap other players. Fold everything else—AQ, KQ, pocket 8s: they should go in the muck.
If everyone has folded to you, come in for a raise for any hand you wish to play. This puts gives you aggression in the hand, and gives you a chance at the pot without connecting with the board. Never open a pot by limping…the player with the aggression will usually always win in this situation. The chances of connecting for a strong hand on the flop is rare.
By all means, let the strength of your starting hand guide your pre-flop play, but don’t let that be your only consideration. Poker, remember, is a game of imperfect information. You don’t know how your hand is going to play out, let alone anyone else’s. However, as the old adage goes, “The best prediction of someone’s future behaviour is their past behaviour.” So, pay attention to the action before you, and you’ll be better equipped to play your way to a lucrative endgame.