You are in early position if you are next to the big blind, or next to the person next to the big blind, or the person next to that person. The earliest of position is required to act first preflop and (at best) will be required to bet third on the flop. Being in early position leaves you at a major disadvantage because you have no idea who at the table holds a weak hand, monster hand, etc. so you have to choose your starting hands sparingly to avoid wasting chips. The reason you only want to select quality hands in Early Position is because the likelihood of someone at your table raising pre flop is good and you don’t want to be throwing away chips every time you’re in early position trying to limp in and see a cheap flop. Examine our starting hands chart for Early Position. You will notice that every single hand on that list adds up to 20 in blackjack (except AA which would be 12 in blackjack but this is poker) and the only 3 cards we put on the unsuited side were AK, AQ, and KQ. Even though having suited cards doesn’t make you a shoe in for the victory having suited cards is a major plus when entering a hand because it leaves you with more outs. You will also notice that every hand on the list is either connected or contains a 1, 2 or 3 card gap (the only 3 card gap hand on there is AT suited). The reason behind this is because connected cards leave you with more outs as well. Unfortunately by nature you are not going to have many open ended straight draws with these cards (except JT) but with the proper flop you could have 12 outs just for completing your straight or flush draw.
Betting Strategies for playing out of early position: Unless your table has a lot of overly aggressive pre flop raisers do not simply limp in with hands like AK, AQ, or KQ suited. You must raise with strong hands in early position even though it will chase out the majority of the players in the hand from calling. That’s just one of the downfalls of acting first. But, if you do not raise with your quality hands then players in Middle and Late Position will be able to limp in with weak hands and possibly bust you out of your entire stack.
Never, ever, under any circumstances limp in with AK, AA, or KK. QQ and JJ are other cards you should never limp in with but too large of a raise may turn your great starting hand into your coffin due to the fact you’ve become pot committed and there’s an ace and a king on the board.
Limping in with AA, KK, and AK is simply a recipe for disaster, especially considering how difficult it is to lay down AA, KK, and AK. The biggest reason you should never limp in with any of these big hands is because they simply do not do well against multiple opponents. Letting a player limp in with 9 3 off suit could spell trouble if they flop trip 3’s on the flop. Your larger hands only do well in pots against opponents holding similar large hands. Even if the board is low AK will be a huge favorite over AQ, KQ, or QJ. You can, after all, win a pot with Ace high..
As for your suited connector drawing hands its best just to call out of Early Position then, if someone does bet, determine either the pot odds or the investment odds (whichever you prefer playing by) and go from there. Drawing hands do best against a full table where there is enough money in the pot to justify calling bets in hopes of catching your straight or flush card.
Advantages of being in Early Position: If you are seen as a tight player (this will most likely not work for a loose player) a Preflop raise may pick you up the blinds because most players won’t raise out of early position without a strong hand.
The disadvantage to this is a player in late position may be holding a monster and reraise you (or slow play and call) putting you, once again, at a disadvantage on the flop by having to act first. Opponents in late position may call your large bet simply to try and steal the pot from you in the later rounds of action. For the most part it is a good idea to only call with hands that total 20 or better in Blackjack and stick to mostly suited cards (except for the 3 mentioned above.) Even KQ can get you into trouble if you are up against AA, AK, AQ, KK or QQ. The hand that gets most players into trouble, however, is AQ off suit. Calling an all in with AQ off suit is risky because your opponent may be holding a pocket pair or even worse AK, leaving you with 3 outs in the deck to pick up the victory (unless you get a lucky flop and wind up with an inside straight draw.) Folding AQ off suit to an all in bet can be the right move to make. Against any pocket pair AQ is about 32% to hit on the flop, then goes downhill from there (you have 6 outs unless you pick up a lucky flop.) Take full advantage of our possible flop odds charts to get a feel for what constitutes a good hand and what the probabilities are of picking up certain hands on the flop before going crazy and calling all ins left and right.
Playing Out of Early Position using Investment Odds: Investment odds will allow you to add a few (or few dozen) hands to the early position playbook. If you are holding say a medium sized pocket pair or T 9 suited and have decided the investment odds are in your favor to play this particular hand then you can ignore all suggestions of what hands to play out of early position and go right ahead and play your hand. Using investment odds can allow you to play looser than the typical Hold Em player and will allow you more freedom over starting hand choices. The trick to investment odds is knowing your opponents. If you do not know how your opponents think and play (and what they think of you and how you think and play) then investment odds are going to be totally useless and you are going to throw away a lot of money on bad calls. But if you do know how your opponents behave, say you know player X likes to raise only with AT and above, and you’ve figured out that he thinks you are a tight player who won’t call his weak double the blind raise with weak cards, then your investment odds will be much greater because player X’s raise and your call will signal to him that you have a good hand thus making him more likely to call your bets when the flop comes 8 7 6 because he has put you on over cards while he holds over cards.
If you are just learning how to play Hold Em we would suggest not playing with investment odds and sticking to the Early Position playbook to keep your losses to a minimum. As you become a stronger player you can start incorporating Investment Odds and other tricks to your game to increase your winning percentage. There is a major advantage to being a beginner at Hold Em as well. Look at Chris Moneymaker. We suggest not playing like he did, however, (going all in over and over with the worst of it and magically getting lucky time after time) because in the long run you will lose all your money (look at Moneymaker today, he’s in Dead Last on the Poker Superstars Invitational Tournament). Good players tend to overlook the new player and will not give them credit for a good hand. Thus, sticking to the starting hands list will rake in pot after pot for you while at the same time allowing you to avoid costly rookie mistakes of playing way too many hands and losing all your chips quickly.
Strong Raises versus Weak Raises: Strong raises are 4x the Big Blind and above. This type of raise will (typically) force players with weaker starting hands to fold. The point of raising is to force opponents out of the pot so your hand has a better chance at winning. Weak raises serve absolutely no purpose and will (likely) not force anyone to fold, or at least not anyone important (exception: players in the Big or Small Blinds may fold to a weak raise because they were dealt a garbage hand like 4 2 off suit and had no intention of playing the hand anyway after checking pre flop to see a flop). Weak raises should only be used when holding a drawing hand and you want to increase the pot size. The reason you would use a weak raise in this scenario is because you’ve determined the Bet Odds to be great and know that no one, maybe one or two, players will not call and in the future you will have reasonable pot odds to call larger sized bets when drawing to your straight or flush draw.
Other Suggestions for playing out of Early Position: If you see 2 unsuited face cards that are QJ or below, fold them. You do not have a great shot at picking up the pot, or at least not enough information to know whether or not you have a good shot at picking up the pot. Also note that players on the button (the player with the dealer button in front of them) and the player in the Big Blind are likely to make a raise to the pot. This is known as a Position Raise. It is used to make Early Position / Middle Position limpers fold their less than great hands. If you are holding any of the cards on the Early Position starting hands list you may want to call this raise. The only reason(s) you wouldn’t want to are A) You have a good read on your opponent making the raise and know they actually have a great starting hand or B) The player making the raise made it large enough to not warrant a call.
AJ is a starting hand that will typically land you in a world of hurt. You should definitely raise with AJ suited but not enough to make yourself pot committed. Your best-case scenario is catching a Jack on the flop and (hopefully) no one made 2 pair Jacks and whatever. Depending on the skill level / looseness of your opponents a pair of aces may be the best hand but could be the 3rd worse hand behind AK and AQ. Do not call an all in with AJ. We told you above that it’s most likely a bad idea to call an all in with AQ so it’s definitely a bad idea to call an all in with AJ. Being the aggressor with AJ is one thing, but risking all your chips on a hand that only has 3 outs against AK, AQ, KK, QQ, and JJ is a terrible idea. And if you’re up against AA you better pray the board goes runner runner Jacks or you catch a straight / flush draw on the flop.
Tournament Suggestions: If you are playing in a tournament and are on the short stack, however, you should definitely make a strong raise (possibly all in if you don’t have enough chips to play the flop and survive), especially if you haven’t seen any better hands lately. A bad play would be making a small raise or calling with a hand like AK then going all in after your opponent has seen the flop. If you hold something strong like AK before the flop and are short stacked its best just to go all in and wait for the call. The likelihood of being called is good (unless you’ve been folding for the past half hour and your opponents have picked up on this or there is no one at your table holding a pair of 2s or better who was just waiting for you to go all in so they could take you out of the tournament) but then again you really don’t mind being called when holding face cards and on the short stack because you may double up and be a threat at the table again.