Preflop Hand SelectionFirst, seating position and their names. This changes every hand because position is labeled relative to who is the dealer.
The small blind (SB) and big blind (BB) are immediately to the left of the dealer and have to post their blinds before the dealing begins.
The spots immediately after the blinds are called under-the-gun (UTG) and under-the-gun plus one (UTG+1).
Next are the middle position spots, MP1, MP2 and MP3.
These are followed by the late positions, the cutoff (CO, the position immediately to the right of the dealer) and the button (the dealer).
SB, BB, UTG and UTG+1 are considered "early position". UTG and UTG+1 have the disadvantage of having to make the first plays preflop, as well as first after the SB and BB on the flop, turn, and river. This disadvantage means you can only play the best hands from UTG and UTG+1. Moving to middle and then to late positions you can play progressively weaker and weaker starting cards because 1) there are fewer players after you that might have even bigger hands, and 2) you get to bet after the earlier positions so you get to see what they do before you have to decide. SB and BB are special early positions because you already have some money committed to the pot, and we'll consider them separately.
So, from early position (UTG and UTG+1) play only: AA / KK / QQ / AK
From middle position play all the early position hands, plus: JJ / TT / AQ / AJ / KQ
From late position, all the early and middle position hands, plus: 99 / 88 / 77 / AT / KJ / QJ
Styles and hands
- Player Style descriptions
- Tight/Aggressive style
- Starting Hands
- Playing the flop
- Playing the turn and river
Odds and Outs
- Count your Outs
- Pot Odds
- Odds on the Turn and River
- Using Percentages
- Bet sizing, expressed versus implied odds
Rules and terms
- How to play a game
- Poker hand rankings
- Terminology and definitions
For futher study
- No Limit Hold’em starting hands; the Next Generation
- My Aces got cracked!
- Can I fold KK preflop?
- How to play JJ?
- Playing AK, Big Slick
- Should I move up to avoid the bad players? Part I
- Way ahead / Way behind
- What is ABC poker?
that for simplicity I have not considered whether or not the
cards are of the same suit or not. In reality, being suited adds only a
small winning percentage to the relative value of the cards, but worse
often overvalued by beginners.)
All of these starting hands assume that 1) no one else other than the blinds have put any money into the pot, and 2) you are going to raise with your hand. You should raise to 3 or 4 times the big blind, so if the big blind is 0.10, put in 0.30 or 0.40. By doing so, you 1) make it costly for weak hands after you to play, 2) announce to the table that you have a good hand and a high expectation of winning this hand. This puts the pressure on anyone deciding to play; you have the hand to beat.
What if someone else ahead of you has already raised? The gap concept says that in order for you to play, you need to have at least as good a hand or better than you would have raised with had you been in the raiser's position. In other words, if a player in MP+1 raises, he should be only raising with early position cards (AA/KK/QQ/AK) or middle position cards (JJ/TT/AQ/AJ/KQ) and in order for you to call you have to have cards that you would play only from that same position. This is because he has announced that he has a good hand, so if you are going to play, you need to be able to compete with this hand. Makes sense, if the opponent raises from MP1, that means he's saying he has AA/KK/QQ/AK/JJ/TT/AQ/AJ/KQ, so if you are in late position, you should not call his raise if you have AT because you're likely to lose. Just imagine that an Ace is the high card on the flop and you are thinking, good, I hit top pair, but your opponent is betting with AK thinking, why does this person not understand he's beat?
In live poker or low limit on-line poker games most of your opponents will play very loose (meaning they play more hands than I've listed) and weak (meaning they almost never raise). This means that often when in middle or late position you'll be faced with 2, 3, 4 or more people already on the pot who haven't raised but instead just called the big blind. This is called limping. When this happens, I recommend that if you have a first position hand (AA/KK/QQ/AK), raise, but instead of raising 3 - 4 times the blind, raise 4 plus one more for each limper. If you have 2 limpers ahead of you, raise 4 + 2 = 6 times the blind. The reason for this is that each limper has increased the size of the pot, so in order for you to create a situation that they are not getting good odds to call, you have to make the bet higher. If you have middle or late position types of hands and there are 2 or more limpers ahead of you, just call. I find that in these situations raising often does not chase all the weak hands from the pot, which is fine if you have one of the top hands, but can be tricky when you have a slightly lesser hand. Just call and see what action takes place on the flop.
Playing from the blinds
I've left this section until now because some concepts from the intervening sections apply to playing from the blinds. From the BB, obviously if no-one raises you can check and see the flop cards for no additional cost. From the SB, if you have 2 or more limpers in before you, then it only costs you 1/2 a big blind more to see the flop, and you could do so with almost any except the worst hands. If you have decent hand, say one that is in the list of hands to play from late position, you can call with one limper. If you have a hand that should be played from early or middle position and there's no or maybe one limper, raise, and hope to take down the hand preflop, but remember the rule for raising when there are limpers; 4 times the big blind plus one for each limper. What if someone raises, and you have a good hand? Remember that the blinds will be first to act on the flop, turn, and river, so all the other players with have an advantage over you. Use the recommended hands for the early position hands and don't call a raise from someone without AA/KK/QQ/AK. In fact, re-raise their bet with these hands, because you have a premium hand plus you will be out of position during subsequent betting. Hopefully they will realize that they are at risk and will fold.
All of this advice is all based on the concept of playing tight, positional poker preflop. This is by far the easiest way for a beginner to start, for the simple reason that you play only good value hands relative to your position. By playing only good value starting hands in good position you keep yourself from getting into too many difficult situations later on.
This might be a good time to watch the video of me playing these starting hands, although in the video I also play some hands according to some concepts that are covered in later sections.
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