A solid pre-flop strategy makes it much more likely that you will win money at poker. Read these tips, and watch Paul Phua’s video
Many amateur players make the mistake of calling with too far many hands pre-flop. The first rule of pre-flop strategy is to be very selective about which pots to enter: it may only be a couple of hands per orbit. Find out more about which starting hands to play here.
If you do this, that’s half the battle won! You are entering the pot with cards that are likely to make the best hand. That’s if – and it’s a big if! – there aren’t too many other people in the pot.
Why you should raise pre-flop with a premium hand
As Paul Phua explains in the video on this page, having waited for a strong hand, your pre-flop strategy should usually be to raise with it. You want most of the players to fold, as the more people are in the pot, the higher the chance is that one of them will get lucky. Some players never raise pre-flop, not even with pocket Aces, and then complain when their Aces get cracked!
Ah, you may say, but if there are more people in the pot, I get paid more when I win. The answer is: first, you are less likely to win with more people in the pot; secondly, it’s not even true that you get paid more!
Let’s say it’s the early stage of a tournament, with blinds of 25-50. Six people round the table simply call the big blind, so the pot is now 300. But even with pocket Aces you would have only a small chance of winning this pot against so many other players!
Now let’s imagine that, instead of calling, you raise to 150. Perhaps you will get two callers, with the blinds and everyone else folding. Now the pot is 525, so your potential win is greater, and the odds are far better that your Aces will still be ahead after the flop.
Even if everyone folds and you only take the blinds, don’t worry. That means that no one had a strong starting hand, and they would only have continued post-flop with a lucky two pair or better. What you really want is for your A-Q to be called by a strong hand that you nevertheless dominate, such as A-J or K-Q.
For more on why raising is a good tactic in poker, see this article.
How Paul Phua likes to mix up his pre-flop raises
Paul Phua also introduces a slightly more advanced concept in this video. Paul Phua says, “One thing I like to do is to change up my play, send out mixed signals. So that I am hard to read over the course of a game. So sometimes I play tight, and bet only on my good hands. Sometimes I will play a bit looser, more aggressively.”
It should be stressed that this is more advanced play! Less experienced players should always wait for the best starting hands, and fold them unless they connect with the flop or if someone plays back at them very aggressively.
But if you play so tightly that you only ever bet with the biggest starting hands, you may find that everyone folds to your raises pre-flop, so that you never increase your stack. In that case, slightly more experienced players might start to raise occasionally even when they don’t have a great hand, especially in late position. After all, Dan “Jungleman” Cates says in this video for the Paul Phua Poker School that he likes to bet with 5-3 suited!
How to act if re-raised pre-flop
One thing that puts people off raising is the possibility of being re-raised. What should you do if that happens? Assuming you are only betting in the first place with a strong hand, you usually should call a re-raise pre-flop. Let’s say you have A-Q and are re-raised. Yes, you are worried about A-K, or even Aces. But he may also have pocket tens, or pocket Jacks, or even be an aggressive player raising with suited connectors and hoping you are weak enough to fold the best hand.
You should usually see if you hit the flop, and take it from there. (For more on post-flop strategy, see this article.) After all, the re-raise means there is more to lose, but also that there is more to win! And if you fold pre-flop, you have definitely lost the money you already invested in the hand.
Paul Phua adds in this video that you should be aware of stack sizes when making this decision. “Sometimes I fold good hands,” he says, “if my opponent who has re-raised me is short-stacked. Because it will cost me more money to see the flop, and then if I win, I am only going to get a small pot.”
The power of position in pre-flop strategy
There is a final point to consider as part of your pre-flop strategy, one so important that it has its own article and Paul Phua video. This is the importance of position in determining how much and with which hands you bet.
Broadly speaking, the closer to the Dealer button you are, the wider the hand range you can afford to play. For a full explanation, see “Position in poker”.
Please read our Pre Flop strategy video script here.