Upon closer analysis, the three specific skills that you most need to improve upon, and our hints on how you can improve upon these areas are as follows:
Improvement Needed (#1): Playing Weak Hands (SAMPLE – THIS IS NOT YOUR IMPROVEMENT AREA)
Back in the early ‘60s, a consortium of the top poker players in the world gathered in Toledo, Ohio and passed a resolution which dictated that only certain hands would qualify as Minimum Starting Hands. By the rules established, players would be severely punished with fines, suspensions, hand slaps, or harsh glares if they bought into a pot with anything less than these hands. That’s not to say that you had to call with these hands – you could still fold them at any time – but they would still qualify under MSH guidelines. For example, big pairs like A-A, K-K, Q-Q, and even J-J all qualified under the MSH. Same with high card pairings like A-K, A-Q, A-J, and K-Q. After considerable debate, most other pocket pairs were given MSH status.
Okay – reality check. No one, not even someone in Toledo, Ohio, can legally bind you to a certain MSH standard. If they could, poker would border very dangerously on being predictable. But the fact is that certain standards are highly advisable, culled from basic percentages, years of experience, and enough lost money to finance the counter-terrorism efforts of several small nations.
But just simply listing what hands would qualify under some fictional “MSH Guideline” is not enough to understand the true meaning of what constitutes a Minimum Starting Hand. As Phil Gordon writes: “Poker is not a game best played by the numbers. Poker is a game of situations.” (Phil Gordon’s Little Green Book, p. 23) Let’s take a look at the various factors that help determine whether a hand is truly worthy.
Yeah, okay, cards are important. As my mythical consortium would have ruled if they were real – and actually felt like spending any time in Toledo, Ohio – there are some hands that are no-brainers. Monster pairs and high cards are tough to lay down no matter what your position or your stack size or the bet necessary to call. But is there a minimum?
Based strictly on the cards, most pros will tell you that anything that dips below the face card level is pushing the odds. Again, this is advice comes from calculated percentages. Some poker experts will make exceptions for suited connectors, but that’s usually in keeping with some of the other factors as dictated below.
The importance of position comes up a lot when talking about betting a poker hand, and for starting hands, it’s no different.
When in early position, such as under the gun or two from the blind, you should be a little more leery about limping in (calling) because there are still many players to act. If you’re not confident in your K-J offsuit, you’re really gonna be mad when the cutoff raises three times the blind. T.J. Cloutier: “If I am holding A-Q (suited or unsuited) or worse in the first four or five seats, I don’t want to put even a dime in the pot…” (Championship No-Limit & Pot-Limit Hold ‘Em, p. 128). So a standard sense of “dialing back” should exist in early positions, even as it applies to raising.
So does that mean you can go in with anything from late position? I think three guys just fell out of their chair in Toledo. Of course, the answer is no. While being in late position certainly relaxes some of the restrictions on a minimum hand, at least a little decorum is called for.
Another determining factor for whether you should play a hand is how much money you have. Doyle Brunson reasons that you should think of your stack in terms of “chips” rather than money, for psychological purposes. “Always play for Chips, rather than cash.” (Doyle Brunson’s Super System: A Course in Power Poker, p. 31) But the bottom line is – chips or money – if you don’t have any, you’re out of the game. And, if you don’t have many chips, you can’t win a huge pot – so don’t play speculative hands.
While you never want another player to dictate how you should play, sometimes you just have to bow down and genuflect. You may hold a marginal hand in a good position to play, but the guy before you lays down a sizable bet. Suddenly that marginal hand looks downright ugly. Such is the way of the poker world.
NUMBER OF OPPONENTS
Being in late position not only allows you to see a lot of the action before you have to respond, but you can also get a solid count of how many people remain in the hand. But “number of opponents” really refers to how many people are at the table to begin with. Simply put, if it’s a short-handed table, you may be more tolerant of a moderate hand as one to start with. Playing against fewer people with fewer cards out of the deck usually means there’s less likely to be the monster hands as found at full tables.
QUALITY OF OPPONENTS
It’s always good to have a sense of how good your opponents are or at least how they play, especially as it relates to deciding whether to enter a hand. David Sklansky: “When the players in the game play loose, you should play tight, and when the players in the game play tight, you should play loose.” (The Theory of Poker, p. 149)
Another key barometer is simply the size of their stack (and don’t ask any embarrassing questions to get them to reveal it, like “show me yours and I’ll show you mine.”).
There’s no way to truly know how good an opponent’s cards are, but if you know he’s got money behind him, he’s likely to play just a little bit looser – as might you (see Stack Size).
Taking all of the above into account may seem like a lot to do before each hand. Well, it is. But as Dan Harrington says, “If this were a short list, the game would be much easier, more people would do it well, and fewer players would make any real money.” (Harrington on Hold ‘em, p. 18-19)
Probably the easiest thing to do would be to employ a consistent MSH guideline for use in general circumstances. Then make adjustments to that as conditions dictate.
- There are many factors that affect what hands you can play before the flop. Some of these include:
Being able to balance all these factors while at the poker
- your stack size,
- your opponent’s stack sizes,
- whether your opponents are loose or tight,
- the quality of your opponents (how good they are),
- whether anyone has raised yet,
- and, of course, your position.
table just takes time, training, and a little bit of experience.
- You hold Ace – Ten, unsuited, and are the first player to act at a 9 person table. Although this is the best hand you’ve seen in 30 minutes, you realize that there will likely be a raise behind you, and you’ll have to play a marginal hand out of position. You fold.
- You hold Ace – 7, unsuited, in a $5/$10 game, and everyone folds to you on the dealer button. While you normally wouldn’t play this hand, your poker knowledge tells you that on average, this hand will be a lot better than what the blinds have. Plus, you will have position on them for the rest of the hand. You raise to $35.
- You hold 8 -7, suited, in the big blind at a $1/$2 table. A player with only $20 in his stack raises to $6. You might normally call this raise and try to catch a lucky flop, but with your opponent only having $14 left, you realize that it isn’t worth playing a drawing hand – you simply won’t be able to win enough from him when you do hit your hand to make it worth it.