Before the Flop - Limit Texas Holdem
One of the most valuable skills in Limit Texas Hold'em is the ability to be very selective about the hands you start with. There are a number of factors to consider when deciding which hands to play:
- Is the table tight or loose?
- How many players are sitting at the table?
- How many players are in the pot when it is your turn to act?
- Has the pot been raised? If so from what player and position?
- What is your position?
Tight or Loose game
A tight game is defined as a game where few players (2-3) see the flop on average and then fold after the flop. In this type of game you seldom see the river card because everyone has folded. There is almost no reason to play in such games, even if you are an expert player. If you do decide to play in a tight game, your starting hand should be very well selected and you might be able to play 15% to 20% of your starting hands.
A loose game, however, is usually where you want to be. In a loose game many players see the flop and tend to go too far with their hands. In these games there exists the possibility of playing more hands, though usually not more then 30% of the hands. Nonetheless, you must still be very selective of which hands you play.
How many players are in the pot before you
If many people see the flop there is a greater chance for you to play more drawing hands, such as 76s or small pocket-pairs, since these types of hands increase in value in multi-way pots. At a short-handed table with only six players or less, big cards increase in value. Even Aces with a lower kicker than Ten usually become playable. In a full ring game, hands like AT, KT, QT decrease in value as these can easily become a trap hand, meaning they make second-best hands (see Trap Hands).
More players generally result in bigger pots since, the more players in the pot, the higher the pot odds become. For example, you can call before the flop with a hand like 76s or small pocket-pairs if you think there will be six players or more in the pot. If there are only two or three players in the pot, a 76s or small pocket-pairs are not good hands to enter the pot with. You want to ensure you get a good price on your drawing hands.
If it has been raised
If someone has raised before the flop you must have a very good hand to call with or get excellent pot odds. Do not call raises in middle position with hands like AJ off-suit and KQ off-suit (see Trap Hands). However, if you are in late position and a minimum of four players called the raise, you can either call or re-raise with a hand like JTs in the hopes that you hit a great hand when the pot is big.
The positions are counted from the button. In a full table with 9 to 10 players, you have the button, small blind, big blind, early position, middle position and late position. The three seats after the big blind are called early position, the following three seats, middle position, and the remaining two seats are categorized as late position. The first position after the big blind is referred to as sitting under the gun. This is the worst position to hold pre-flop as you will be the first to act and will be more likely to make mistakes. This is because you will not have as much information as players acting in late position. Therefore, you must be very careful in choosing your starting hand in this position. For example, do not play an AT off-suit under the gun. Although, if you hold the same hand on the button and no one has called, AT becomes a raising hand.
The best position is on the button, right in front of the small blind. It is in this position that you will posses the most information when your turn to act arrives. When sitting on the button you will know how many players are in the pot, if there has been a raise/re-raise, etc. This is most certainly the most profitable position.
A very common mistake for beginner/intermediate players is to play any two big cards or any Ace from an early position and call raises with the same type of hand. This is one of the biggest mistakes a player can make as these hands so easily become trap hands. A trap hand is any hand that has a high probability of becoming the second-best hand, costing you a lot of money if you flop to it. The most common trap hands are AT, AJ, KQ, KJ, KT, QJ and QT. Many players limp in from early position and call raises in middle/late position with this type of hand. Thus, if you limp with KJ from early position, and someone in late position raises it, you could easily find yourself trapped against common raising hands such as KQs, AK, AJs, AA, KK and QQ (in case a J hits).
This also applies when you call raises with this kind of hand. This is a mistake. The most frequent raising hands from early position include AA, KK, QQ, JJ, AQ and AK. Why would you want to call a raise with a trap hand when the raiser is likely to hold one of the above hands? Nonetheless, trap hands are playable in the right circumstances. For instance, if you are in late position and are first in, the trap hand now becomes a raising hand.
General pre-Flop Advice
- Make sure to raise with top-pairs (AA-JJ) and top-connectors (AK, AQ) to drive out low-pairs and various connectors and to build the pot in case you hit.
- Have respect for strong tight players (for example, drop AQ off-suit if a strong player raises under the gun).
- Again, be selective with your starting hands. Resist the temptation of playing too many hands because you lost a few pots when you held a premium starting hand.
- Do not call a raise if you are not in possession of a very good hand that you, yourself, could raise with.
- Never play an Ace with a lower kicker than Ten if it is not suited. The only exception is if you are in late position or on the button and no one has called. In such cases, you should generally raise with an Ace in your hand due to the possibility of winning the blinds without a fight.