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There are four stages in a hand of Texas Holdem: the pre-flop, after the flop, after the turn, and after the river.  Juicy Stakes Poker would like to take a look at some pre-flop situations that all new poker players have to learn, recognize, and play to their advantage.

Look at Your Cards and Remember Them

A lot of players have to refer back to their cards in order to remind themselves what they were dealt.  Proficient players teach themselves to look at their cards and instantly memorize them.  This allows them to pay closer attention to everything that is going on around the table.

Well, What is Happening around the Table?

You need to pay attention to the action before you play which is referred to as ahead of you and also to the action after you play which is referred to as behind you.  The terminology poker players use here is quite confusing to many new players so remember this well:

  1. Action before you play is ahead of you
  2. Action after you play is behind you

The first obvious observation we can make here is that if you are the first to play, you have no information ahead of you and the many players behind you represent a great deal of risk.

So, if you are playing in early position, you should play much tighter than you can afford to play in late position.

What is the Existential Nature of the Pre-flop Situation?

Three community cards are about to come out.  Everyone can use these cards to improve their hand.  Just as you could flop a powerful hand, any of the other players who stay in to see the flop can do the same.  So, pre-flop you have to have the utmost respect for luck in poker.  You could improve your hand on the flop and the chances are greater on the flop than on the turn or the river but so can everyone else!

What are the Actions to Look for before the Flop?

Every action is important!  However, as they might have said in Animal Farm, some actions are more important than others!

  1. Did a previous player limp in?
  2. Did a player raise?
  3. What position are you in?
  4. Are the players ahead of you or behind you passive?  Are they aggressive?
  5. If you aren’t sure if any of your opponents is passive or aggressive, she is probably a very formidable poker player and represents real risk to you.

Never Underestimate the Importance of all the Action around You

A lot of new poker players, especially people who have been playing with their pals for years, think of themselves as pretty good players.  They may actually be the best in those friendly Friday night games.  Then they are rudely awakened by the fact that many players—even in low stakes games—are quite proficient at the modern game of poker!

Let’s look at the bullet points above in a bit more depth.

The Nature of Limping In

We don’t like the term limp in because it has such a negative connotation.  Sometimes, it is cheap to limp in in order to see the flop.  If the flop looks bad for high card holders, it might be excellent for a player who “limped in” cheaply with poor cards and now looks like a genius with a very strong hand!

Still, limping in does evoke the sense that the player is looking for a cheap way to see the flop.  The player who does this does not have paired aces, kings, or queens.  That is, unless they are hoping to trap opponents!

In order to have any reasoned idea of what the player who limps in is actually doing, you need to have studied the player for many hands.  This is the essence of paying attention to what is happening around the table especially in hands that you have folded out of.

Limping in is a cheap attempt to see the flop.  Often, if the call bet was small, a limper can be convinced to fold by another player simply raising.

The Essence of Pre-flop Raising

We need to know if this player is a loose player or a tight player.  Is she capable of raising as a bluff?  Is she capable of raising as a counter-bluff hoping to trap opponents who read her raise as a bluff?

If the raise comes from a player in very early position, is it a sign of strength or an attempt to steal the blinds?

It is Not Easy to Determine if a Player is Passive or Aggressive

As difficult as it is to make this determination, you need to do so because it will affect your betting on almost every hand.  If a player who is position following you is an aggressive player, it likely means that you will fold some borderline hands that you might have limped in on but don’t want to have to call a subsequent raise with.

If the players who follow you  are more passive, you can usually safety limp in without being overly concerned about a raise behind you.

In general, if there are aggressive players at the table, it is probably better for new players to be more passive.  If the opponents are quite passive, aggressive play can steal many blinds even with poor hands.

There are many aggressive players who play far too many hands.  When this happens, you can eliminate less aggressive players with a raise.  This isolates the aggressive player while reducing to risk that a different player will get lucky on the flop.

Pay as Little Attention to Your Hand as Possible

You have to know what cards you have, of course.  It is very important to train yourself to take a very quick look at the cards and   then fix all of your concentration on the opponents and how they are approaching the hand.

Are You Playing for the Right Stakes?

There is nothing wrong with playing for low stakes.  It is possible to win consistently at low stakes and while the pots won’t be for hundreds or thousands of dollars, they will be for dollars and dollars do add up in the long run.

Some players play for stakes higher than their bankroll and skill level.  If you find a game like this, it might be well worth your while to play in it.  However, modern poker has evolved to the point that many more players play at the best level for their skill set and their bankroll.

You Have to Evaluate Your Stack

Bankroll management is vitally important in poker as it is in all betting games.  Poker is unusual in that all of the action is player to player not player to house as in slots, blackjack, video poker and all of the others.  The skill set of your opponents will tell whether you win or lose.  Luck plays a big part as well but a lot less is determined by luck as is determined by correct analysis, fine attention to detail, and controlling one’s desire to win NOW!

Always be Cognizant of Possible Bluffs

Raising or re-raising as a bluff is very dangerous in most situations since some players will simply stay in to see the flop, they might improve on the flop, and you won’t knew that they improved so you’ll actually be boxing yourself in to lose more than you should on the hand

You can try to trap an opponent by calling with a good hand that gives them the impression that you are staying in to see the flop with a poor hand

Be Aware of Tells

As much as some players say that tells are over-rated, there are two tells that you should always be on the lookout for.  These are a tell that telegraphs that the player is ready to fold and another that shows that the player is interested in the cards she was dealt.

A folding tell is one where the player’s interest seems to wander immediately after receiving her cards.  Even a small raise can cause this player to fold.  An interest tell may be indicated by the player fidgeting with their cards, fiddling with them, looking at them for a long time, or gazing off into space in an attempt not to telegraph a good hand.

Poker is a Sport

We know that in basketball, players take thousands of shots from different places on the court.   Many players improve so much through practice that they become stars in high basketball leagues.

In baseball, hitters need to see thousands of pitches before they can be said to have mature experience as hitters.

Chess players spend endless hours practicing all manner of situations that come up during games.

Poker is no different than any of these sports!  Practice as much as you can, observe closely, pay attention to every detail, and never underestimate your opponents and you will be on your way to better poker!


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