Before you voluntarily put a chip or a penny into the pot in any poker hand there are a ton of variables that it's important to think about. If enough of those are in your favour then you should play, but if enough of those are not in your favour then you should fold.
Far too often, players make the mistake of playing a hand without fully thinking it through. To stop making this error in the future read on to discover what needs to go through your mind before a final decision is made.
Your starting hand
Whether it's making a raise, limping in or calling a raise the strength of your starting hand is arguably the most important factor that goes into deciding whether to play. If you have a monster – Aces, Kings, Queens or Ace-King – then obviously you are going to play regardless of what else is happening around the table.
However, when you have a more marginal hand – smaller pairs, suited connectors or weaker Aces for example – it should never be as clear-cut a decision. When you're in this spot you need to also consider the below factors…
The later your position around the table, the more hands you should be willing to play. If you are under the gun with Ace-Ten, it should be thrown away. This is because there are so many players left to act after you that your hand has a good chance of being dominated by a better Ace or big pair. However, if it's folded to you on the button then suddenly Ace-Ten is a really good hand that you should definitely raise with, because there are few players left to act.
You should also be wary of calling raises when in early position. Let's say you have 8-7 suited under the gun +1 and call a raise from under the gun. Your hand strength is fine to make this move, but due to your position you should probably fold. There's a fair chance one of the other players at the table will put in a re-raise and suddenly your cheap gamble with a suited connectors has either got much more expensive to see the flop or you will have to fold before you even get to that point.
They say that poker is a game of people, not a game of cards. What this means is that everybody plays the game differently, and you should adapt your strategies accordingly. If there's a player at the table who you feel you have a significant edge on then you should aim to get involved in pots with them as much as possible. This can be through calling their raise, or by re-raising them to try and get the pot heads-up.
The opposite also applies; if there's a player at the table who has your number then there's nothing wrong with avoiding them whenever possible. Don't take it to the extreme where you are folding very strong hands just to avoid playing pots with them, but if there is a marginal situation then taking the more cautious option will often be the correct decision.
Your stack size
Stack size should always be an important consideration in a poker hand, especially when you're playing a tournament. How many chips, or big blinds, you have in your stack dictates the type of strategies you can employ. If you are short-stacked (15BBs or less) then all you should be concerned about is either shoving pre-flop or folding pre-flop. This immediately discounts lots of hands – such as suited connectors – that you'd love to play in a perfect world but would be a mistake to play in this situation. Instead, focus on shoving with hands that have a high card in them.
When you have a monster stack you have many more options at your disposal and can play a much wider range of hands, including strong hands for value and weaker hands where your main intention is to steal the blinds. In this instance, you should still pay careful attention to stack sizes but now it's the stack size of your opponent that is key. You don't want to raise a weak hand when your opponent is short-stacked; they will often shove on you and you'll be forced to fold. Instead try to bully those players that have an average stack size (usually 25-35BBs). These players are in a catch-22 situation where they aren't short enough to go all-in but don't have enough chips to really battle back either. That usually works out well for the big stack bully!
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