Playing too many starting hands in poker is a mistake that your opponents make, that can make poker a profitable game for you. I know that this is a rather straight-forward statement. Any player who has read a poker book knows that starting hand strategy is the first building block to an overall profitable strategy because it is this first decision that leads to all other decisions that we make during a game. Very few players demonstrate the knowledge and/or patience to play good starting poker hands. Why is starting hand strategy so critical to Texas Hold’em?
Playing fewer hands than your opponents gives you the advantage in the long run. Think about this… if your opponents play 40% of their hands and you are only playing 25%, you will have the advantage in the majority of the hands that you play if you are playing premium hands. You’ll win a lot more pots with the better kicker. If you hit pairs, they will be less vulnerable to Overcards. Your straights will beat lower straights. Your flushes will out kick your opponents’ flushes…and so on. By playing fewer poker hands you will continue to put yourself in a better position to win a hand. Of course, it is possible to play too tight. This is why you have to post blinds; otherwise, you could just wait for big pocket pairs every time. Rarely will you run into a player that plays too tight generally because they lack the patience.
So how many hands should you play? This is all relative and depends on your starting hand strategy. Each game is different which will affect how many hands may be profitable to you. One of the main factors in determining starting hand strategy is how loose or tight the game is. You can play more poker hands from late position with more callers in a hand. The more players that are seeing the flop the better your implied odds are. Loose games allow you to play slightly more hands because the odds are with you.
A good example is when you are in early position. You get Qd Jc. This is a borderline hand when played from early position. However, if a player limps in before you, you will be more likely to play the hand. You are getting better implied odds for your draws. In addition, once two players have limped into the pot, your opponents are less likely to raise behind you without the very best premium hands.
“Looser” games allow you to play a few more poker hands, but don’t take this too far. Please don’t let this be the recipe for playing lots of starting hands simply because you play in a loose game. Understand that what we do in loose games, we will do in other games as well and you’re just teaching yourself that it’s ok to play less than good or premium hands.
Another factor in starting poker hand strategy is whether or not the game is aggressive or passive. Many hands become unplayable whenever the pot is raised. This is a simple concept, however, many players fail to understand this very important point. A raise indicates that your opponent has a strong poker hand and also lowers your pot odds. Be very selective in the hands you play once the pot has been raised.
You would think that the better you are the more hands you can play, but exactly the opposite is true. The number of hands you play should not be dependent on how good a poker player you are. Professional Poker Players are able to overcome weak starting hands by using their excellent reputation and post-flop skills to outplay their opponents. They make better decisions on the flop, turn and river to minimize losses and maximize their wins. This allows them to be able to play more hands profitably than a beginning or intermediate player.
Most beginning to intermediate players should play a very tight game until you gain more experience. So think about this when you see a good player playing a questionable poker hand…maybe he can mix up his game now and then with some borderline poker hands but that does not mean it will be profitable for the average player. Many players make the mistake of seeing several weak hands win a lot so they get tempted into playing them as well. Remember that you must have good fundamentals of playing only premium hands long before you can even think about playing weaker hands.
It should also be noted that you are training yourself to be a better player, never forget that! Knowledge, patience and time are all you need. Pay less hands, win more and until you become an advanced player, try playing only premium hands as it really is to your advantage!