Pre Flop Play in poker
In No Limit Hold Em, a lot of emphasis is placed on post flop play, however some of the most important decisions you can make in a cash game come before the board is ever dealt. How you act before the flop will determine how you can play afterwards.
Pre-Flop Play: Why You Want To Be the Raiser? To Limp, Or To Raise?
Your decision of how you are going to play your hand before the flop should rely on a couple different pieces of information, mainly your hand, your table position, and the action that has taken place in front of you. Your decision is also going to inherently take into account the way you play; how aggressive you are, your image at the game, and how your opponents are playing. Whatever the game situation is, you want to be hitting the flop heads up as much as possible.
What’s The Benefit of Raising?
There are many online poker players who you will see raising just to raise. This is a bad habit to get into. Here are some of the benefits of being the first one to raise the pot with a big hand in a cash game
Raising Isolates Your Opponents: Raising the pot is going to weed out a lot of the marginal hands that may play for the minimum. For someone to call you when you raise with your big hands, they are going to need something solid as well. The reason you want to be heads up before the flop is that your monster, like A-A, will hold against one pocket pair most of the time. The more hands you face going to the flop, the better chance someone will make a straight, flop a set, etc. You want your odds of winning the pot to be as high as possible.
Raising Increases Your Implied Odds: When you are raising with a monster hand, you are likely to have the best of it. When you have the best hand you want to make the most money possible while getting heads up, so having the most money in the pot that you can means being able to win the most money possible.
Raising Gives You Fold Equity: When players see that you are making raises with big hands, you are going to get respect. When you are putting in a raise, you are signaling that you have a big hand. Whether or not you improve your hand on the flop, you have already let them know you are strong and another bet will often get them to lay it down.
If you have a big hand, but have a sense that someone is holding a bigger one, then you do not have the most equity for that hand. In this situation, keep the pot small until you can put your opponent on a hand and raise your equity. It is better to be wrong and win a small pot than be stubborn knowing your second best and losing a big one.
One of the best things about poker is that there is no hard and fast way to play the game. Different styles is what makes it interesting, but some basic things to keep in mind are to always be raising with a premium hand when you are in middle to late position and it is folded or limped to you. The only two situations to not raise in are if you are looking to make a crafty play with a premium pair, or you are wanting to limp just to re-pop it when someone raises.
In those positions with a mediocre hand, mixing in limping and raising is a good idea. How you play the specific hand will depend on your image and how strong you feel the other players are in front of you. If you want to be seen as an aggressive player who plays hard after the flop, do a lot of raising in these spots.
Limping with smaller pairs is an acceptable play, as you want to be able to see a flop and hopefully hit a set. If you do not hit your set, it should be very easy to fold your pocket 3’s to any bet.
Once you become proficient at playing after the flop you can start to play a lot more hands. Unless you know for a fact that you can outplay your opponents, stick to these guidelines and only raise with your monsters.