The short and sweet answer to this question is, you play all of them. With that being said, you’re going to be folding about 80-90% before the flop, plus there are many of factors to consider while playing in a poker tournament. In a Texas Hold’em tournament, playing your cards is one thing, playing the game is a whole other thing.
Poker Hands: Things to Consider
In order for you to further develop in the game of Texas hold’em poker you have to think beyond the poker hands that you play. There are many aspects of the game that you have to take into account when deciding on which cards to play. What poker hands you play are different depending on whether you are playing a tournament or a cash game. Like most poker games, Texas Hold’em Poker, especially when played in a tournament setting, is a game of strategy.
Unlike other casino games, you can’t “hack” Texas Hold’em by counting cards or memorizing a few basic statistics. You will have to develop a poker strategy that allows you to think past the cards you were dealt. If you are playing for cash, you might want to play more conservatively, which is not necessarily a winning strategy for this type of poker. When you are playing in a poker tournament like the WSOP, especially a no-limit tournament, your poker strategy should be bold, decisive and well thought out. For the purpose of this journal entry, focus is on no limit Texas Hold’em poker tournaments.
Playing The Players
Remember, there are plenty of other factors to consider in a poker tournament setting than just the cards you’ve been dealt. Some of those factors are detailed here.
Who’s At The Table?
This is perhaps the factor you want to pay the most attention to. How many people are at the table with you? What are their personality traits? Are they an aggressive player? A loud and brash bluffer? A silent stack-killer? What are their tendencies? (If you have played with them before, you should be able to pick up one or two ways the other player signals unintentionally.)
Get good at sizing up the competition, because you don’t play your poker hands in Hold’em so much as you play the other players and your position at the table. This can be a bit difficult if you are new to the particular tournament or casino, but as you continue to enter and participate in Texas Hold’em tournaments, you will get to know other players styles and personality types.
While you are checking out the other players, you should be aware that they are sizing you up as well. Be aware of how you are being perceived as a player, because understanding these perceptions will help you to use them against your competitors.
What’s Your Table Position?
Where you sit in relation to the dealer button is one of the most (If not the most) important thing to consider. If you are the first bet out the gate, your poker strategy will differ tremendously from if you are the last to act. Also pay attention to how the players that went before you bet and what it could suggest about their poker hands.
What Round Of Play Is It?
It goes without saying that the way you play during the early stages of a poker tournament will be different from the way you play when (and if) you make a deep run in the tournament and on to the final table. Once you have reached that pinnacle, it’s safe to assume that all the people around the table are thinking several levels deep, so you should be as well!
Size Does Matter
I’m talking about the size of your stack. How many more orbits will you last, without getting blinded out? Are you short stacked? What does your stack look like in comparison to the average stack? How big is the pot?
Once you get to a certain point and have contributed a large amount of money to the pot, you might consider yourself ‘pot committed’, meaning it’s just not worth your while to walk away. Remember how many times a bold bluff has worked after being pot committed!
Remember a lot of thinking is going on when you’re playing in a Texas Hold’em tournament. I know this can be a bit overwhelming, but keeping a few small points in mind will help you to think through poker hands on multiple levels.
The Three Thinking Levels of Poker Strategy
Remember, Hold’em is not really about your poker hands, but you should be aware of what your pocket cards are. This is the first level of thinking- what cards do I have? The second level of thinking, which most intermediary players quickly master, is thinking about what the other players might have in their poker hands.
For example, if you were dealt pocket queens, you know that only two more queens are in the deck. So, if you were to see a queen in the flop, you would automatically be able to assume that no one else at the table could have three queens. Understanding what it is possible for others to have in their poker hands based on your poker hand is a skill that will improve with time and practice.
The third and most complex level of poker strategy is thinking through what other players think you have, or what you want them to think you have. For example, a big raise before the flop could signal that you have a big pocket pair, or that you want people to believe that you do. Sometimes, you might want the other players to think you are bluffing when you are not, so mastering how to shape other players perception can really help out when (and if) you make it to the final table.
I can’t stress enough how important it is to know who you’re sitting at the table with. You really only need to think one level deeper than your opponent at any given time, so understanding the skill level of your competition is essential. In early rounds, you may be playing with people who barely understand poker rules, much less poker strategy. However, if you make it to the final table of a Texas Hold’em poker tournament, it’s safe to assume everyone around you is thinking at least three levels deep!
Thinking Through Your Poker Hands
Now that you understand the overall factors you should be attentive to in a tournament setting, take a look at the difference between a card-centric poker strategy and a player-centric strategy.
Card-Centric Pre-Flop Thinking Pattern
Most players approach play in this way. They observe the action that has been taken thus far, even if that is as simple as noting the blinds. Instead of depending on what they know of the other players, they will depend on picking up poker hands they feel will be conducive to them taking action on.
After looking at their cards, they will decide whether or not to continue playing the poker hand. More often than not, these players lose before they have even had a chance to get in the game, because in hold’em tournaments you need to be aggressive in the right spots regardless of what two cards you hold, any pre-flop poker hand could be a good one depending on your position.
If a card-centric player decides to play their poker hand at all, they then go into narrowing down the actions available to them and (if they have some experience) think through how the others players might react to these actions. Finally, they will act.
Player Centric Pre-Flop Thinking Pattern
The main difference to a player-centric poker strategy is the way an experienced player orders their thoughts. They will still take the time to observe what has happened in the game so far, but they will go beyond cursory thoughts on the other player’s tendencies. The experienced player will begin to study their opponents right away. They will note details, quirks and personality types, using this to create a more solid framework of potential poker hands. As play advances, they will continue to use their powers of observation to revise and refine their profiles on each player.
Before a player-centric poker player even looks at their cards, they will take the time to think through each action available to them and how the other players might react. This is not as complicated as it sounds, as at any given time there are a limited number of actions one can take in a poker tournament – bet, raise, call, or fold.
Next, an experienced player will think that next level deeper. They will try to envision what the other players will assume they have in their own poker hand based on the actions they take. This strategy is more effective because instead of the impossible task of trying to manage the cards you’re dealt, you are faced with the comparatively simple task of managing people’s opinions of the cards you are dealt. Once you reach this point, anything your hand could actually reveal is irrelevant. This understanding frees you to act in the way you feel is most likely to produce the desired outcome from the other players at the table.
As you can see, there are only a few minor differences between card-centric and player-centric strategies, but those minor adjustments lead to optimal results. When you are focused on the poker hands instead of the other players, success is situational. When you focus instead on the strengths and weaknesses of your competitors, on the other hand, your success depends mainly on your ability to read people and to convince them to think what you want them to think.
This distinction is what separates good poker players from great ones – the ability to observe, test your observation, refine your assessment if necessary, and generally manage other people’s assumptions in regards to your poker hand. This skillset is not one that is gained automatically or even right away, but with repetition and practice, can be mastered.
As you continue to think through each and every poker hand using the player-centric strategy outlined above, acting in such a way will gradually become less cumbersome and more instinctive. Once you can automatically think through the players around the table, being sure to think one level deeper than they do, you will find yourself at final tables far more often.
Poker Hands – FAQ
What is the order of starting poker hands?
The best poker hand is AA. The worst is 72-off suit. There are many charts available online to study starting hand strength.
How many poker hands are there?
There are 1,326 possible starting hands in Texas Hold’em poker.
What are the best starting hands in poker?
The best starting hands are AA, KK, QQ, Ak. The best made hands are a royal flush, a straight flush and four of a kind.
Which hands should you play in poker?
A lot depends on your position. Play fewer hands in early position and more hands in late position.