Texas Hold ‘Em: Pre-Flop Position

No matter what version of Hold ‘Em you’re playing, getting good cards is the most important factor in doing well; however, I would say it’s only about half the game. The second most important factor is your pre-flop position during the hand. Having a good pre-flop hand such as Ace-Jack (AJ) is great if you are on the button with no raisers, but it’s not so great if you are under the gun (or UTG, a.k.a. first to act, just to the left of the big blind).

Position (after looking at your cards) should be your determining factor on if you play a hand or not. Obviously, if you are UTG and have 8 or 9 players still left to make a decision, it should affect how you should play the hand. A hand such as AJ might only be the second- or third-best hand, and if you raise it up you might end up being re-raised or in a race with someone with a lower pocket pair — or even worse, be dominated by AQ (Ace-Queen) or AK (Ace-King). In general, unless you have a dominant hand in the first 3 positions (UTG then the next two) you should fold. To me a dominant hand is JJ, QQ, KK, AA, AQ or AK. These hands should be raised no matter what position you’re in. At the very least marginal hands like AJ, AT (Ace-Ten), KQ and mid pocket-pairs (88-99-TT) should be limped with. That way if you get raised you can get out of there with a minimal loss.

If you are in middle position (4th-5th-6th to act), you can call with your marginal hands if one of the early players has called or if everyone has folded to you; you can raise with those AJ-AT-mid pocket pairs. Again, you would definitely want to raise with any dominant hand no matter where you are, unless you’re facing a raise and a re-raise, then you might want to just call (unless you have AA or KK, of course). Middle position could also play some large suited connectors (two consecutive cards that are suited, like Queen-Jack of clubs), but I would just limp with those. I’d probably call here also with an A9, KJ, QJ or KT and a lower pocket pair like 55-66-77, hoping to see a cheap flop (one where no one has raised). The K and Q with a J or T kicker are dangerous, though, because if you do catch top pair, you might be out-kicked. The lower pairs are easy to play; if you don’t hit your set on the flop, just throw it away. I don’t mind even calling a small raise with the lower pairs because the value you’ll get after the flop if you do hit your set is worth it. They won’t see it coming.

If you are on the button (last to act) or in the cutoff (just before the button), you have a lot more freedom on what to do, since you know now what most of the other players have. If you have a lot of callers ahead of you, I would call with any marginal hand down to QT off-suit (not suited), and any pocket pair. If you have an A, I would call it with up to an 8 kicker. I would raise with any of the earlier marginal hands (AJ-AT-KQ-88-99-TT) just to get those callers out of there. You act after them after the flop so if they call your raise and then check after the flop, they most likely don’t have anything and you can win just by betting. Raising on the button or in the cutoff also has the added benefit of usually getting rid of the small and big blinds. When I raise I usually go to around 3.5 times the big blind, so if the blinds were 50-100, I’d raise up to 350. That is a big enough raise to get the blinds to fold and to get the early callers to throw their hands away. The key to frequent raises in late position is to be disciplined. If you get called or re-raised, have the stones to fold if you don’t hit the flop. You might lose money in that particular hand, but you’re going to make so much more by getting people to fold their weak calls overall.

The blinds are also fairly easy to play, but a lot of it depends on how the table plays. In the small blind I will usually call with almost anything, assuming there is no raise ahead of me and there are multiple callers. The price you are getting to see a cheap flop is too good not to put in that extra half-bet. If it gets raised before it gets to you in the small blind, look and see who is doing the raising. If it’s a guy who raises all the time, it might be worth it to call. If it’s someone who doesn’t raise very often, it’s OK to fold. It’s probably worth it to lose that half-bet as opposed to having a small chance to win after the flop. If everyone folds to you in the small blind, you should raise if you have any card that’s a J or higher. It doesn’t matter what your kicker is, the odds are you have the best hand over the big blind. Again, this is where you need to be paying attention to your neighbor on the left. Is he aggressive, is he passive? That should tell you what to do next. If your hand is strong and he’s aggressive, he’s probably just trying to protect his big blind, so be aggressive right back at him. If he’s tight and doesn’t play much, then be wary. If it’s just me and the big blind, I’ll always either raise or fold.

Big blind play is very reactive — you pretty much have to just wait and see what happens. If you have a raiser and a couple of calls, it’s probably a good idea to fold any marginal hand since you are in bad position after the flop since you have to act first (assuming the small blind folds). Unless I have a truly dominant hand like AK or QQ-KK-AA, I’ll just call a raise with something like JJ, TT or AQ. Again, with any marginal hand the key is to try to see a cheap flop. I will call a raise of 2x the big blind since it’s only going to be one extra bet and I already have one invested. If the raise is 3x or more then I’m probably going to fold and wait until I have better position.

Hopefully you now see that position is crucial in every hand. Having that good hand always makes your heart beat a little faster, but be smart about it. What starts out a good hand in early position might turn into disaster before you even see the flop.