There's an old saying in poker, coined by the inimitable Kenny Rogers, that you've got to know when to hold'em and know when to fold 'em. The old Texan was way ahead of his time when it comes to No Limit Hold'em poker strategy. Making successful laydowns at the poker table is as crucial a skill as any that you will ever learn. However, it's not easy to fold big hands pre-flop, even when the evidence that you are beat is overwhelming. After all, you might have been waiting all day to be dealt something good – but if you're behind it doesn't matter what has occurred before, you still need to let it go and lose the minimum.
So, how can you tell if you should fold a strong hand? There are many different elements that go into making the correct decision – and it's important to consider all of them. When you get dealt a strong hand like pocket Jacks or Ace-Queen, the immediate expectation is that you should play aggressively and give yourself the opportunity to win a big pot. This means opening with a raise, or putting in a re-raise (three-bet) if someone has opened before you. But what do you do when you face aggression by another player who raises again? It's completely dependent on the state of the game and who that opponent is. If, for example, you are in the early stages of a tournament there's a strong possibility that the player you're up against has a really strong hand. That's because, unlike later in the tournament where blinds and antes are much bigger, there is no real reason for them to go after you and get out of line. In this instance, you certainly shouldn't get carried away with your hand and look to get all-in before the flop. It would be much better just to call and get more information depending on what cards come on the flop, or even just to fold and wait for a better situation in a more important stage of the tournament.
The playing style of your opponent is also critical when deciding what move to make. In order to make accurate assumptions about what a player is doing you need to pay attention to how they are playing at the table - otherwise you are just left guessing. So, let's say that you have labelled a player as a tight rock who only ever plays aggressively with Aces and Kings. In this instance, suddenly pocket Jacks or Ace-Queen don't look so attractive anymore! Instead, you should consider just folding. The situation becomes vague when you are up against an opponent who is aggressive both with and without strong hands (these guys are also known as good players!). Now, you should be more inclined not to fold your strong hand because you are aware the opponent might be trying to trying to run over you. Finally, if your opponent is very loose and aggressive all of the time you should never consider folding a strong hand pre-flop because the chances that you are ahead are so high. This is due to the large possibility that your opponent will be bluffing. When considering whether to make a laydown – or just to slow down – with a strong hand pre-flop consider your opponent and consider the situation of the game that you are in. These two things should help you come out with an accurate answer of which move to make.
Poker is such a unique game that there is no way to be correct every single time, especially when you are making such complicated decisions. Sometimes you will fold a big hand and be shown a bluff. However, as long as you are weighing up all of the evidence in front of you, having the ability to make big laydowns pre-flop can be very profitable in the long-term.
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