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Before the Flop

Entering the Pot

How to put your starting hands into categories - monsters, strong hands, speculative hands and trash - and then what to do with them, depending on table position and action around you.

We saw in the previous lesson how you go about assessing the value of your starting hand, and once you have figured out its strength, you need to decide how you want to play it.

Once again it is worth repeating that very little is ever cut and dried in poker. General rules can be bent many times, depending on the particular circumstances. But your options pre-flop are always the same: to play (call or raise) or not to play (fold).

Your decision here determines much about how the rest of the hand plays out, and will likely depend upon three crucial factors:
  • Your hand strength
  • Your position at the table
  • Your opponents' action in front of you

GROUPING STARTING HANDS

As we have seen, various factors combine to make one starting hand stronger than another - namely whether it is paired, suited or close in rank. As a result, poker hands can subsequently be sorted into loose groups and you can begin thinking about the strategy for playing each.

We'll call the strongest hands "monsters" and the weakest "trash", with a couple of categories in between.

Group 1: Monsters

, and sometimes 

Huge pairs are the best starting hands in Texas Hold'em poker, with aces the best of them all. These are "monster" hands and should always be played, even from early and middle position or against an opponent's raise. It is advantageous to play these hands very aggressively, so you should definitely raise when you have a monster. See a monster, raise it up.

Many experts also consider a suited ace-king to be a monster hand. It is connected, both in suit and rank, and these are the highest two cards you can have without a pair. Under most circumstances it can be regarded as a monster and played accordingly. But be aware that it is actually only ace high if it does not connect with a flop. For some experts, it belongs only with the other very strong hands described below.

Group 2: Very Strong Hands

These are all very strong hands, but considerably less valuable than the hands in Group 1. This group contains paired cards slightly lower than the out-and-out monsters described above, or high-ranked connecting cards that are not quite the very best. An unsuited ace-king, for instance, is marginally less valuable than a suited version. A suited ace-queen is not quite as closely connected.

Nevertheless, you should play and raise with these very strong hands in the majority of cases. However, if there is a raise and a re-raise in front of you, you should be very wary that an opponent may have a better hand. You may consider folding. The raiser or re-raiser could easily have a hand from Group 1, which will be beating yours.

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Post-Flop Hand Evaluation

How to re-categorize your hand after a flop: Is it now a monster? Have you picked up any draws? Or are you now ...

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