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Poker Tips: Starting Hands and Seat Position

Understanding your opening moves and hands

By Jim Feist


In sports, poker and gaming, everyone is anxious to know the end result: How much did I win? But what you do along the way determines how much your take is, or how much you are down. So let’s start at the beginning. What do you do with your opening hands?

Profitable poker is about turning the odds in your favor, or turning potential large losses into small ones. If you’re into Texas hold ‘em, an old-West adage might better apply: “Get out while the gettin’ is good.”

The odds are in your favor over the long term if you begin by selecting potentially profitable hands. A player who only plays the top 10% to 20% of the top starting hands will generally make more money than a looser player who chooses to go with the top 30% to 50% of starting hands.

There are 169 different two card starting hand combinations in hold ‘em. If you’re not dealt a pair, then your starting hand will either be suited or unsuited, and either connected or unconnected. This means a starting hand will fall into one of the five categories: pairs, suited connectors, connecting cards, suited unconnected cards or unconnected cards.

A pair of aces or kings, for instance, would be the two starting hands that are tops in hold ‘em. Queens and jacks are also terrific starting hands and with either you can be confident you are starting off with the one of the best possible opening scenarios. A “Big Slick” is when you have ace-king and if the two are of the same suit you have one better: “Super Slick.” All these are exceptional opening hands.

To be fair, loose players can still be profitable players, but it requires much more skill and experience to play a loose style and turn a profit. I’d recommend be more selective of your starting hands, to tighten up play which can be a direct correlation to a higher profit margin.

Your position on the poker table will also be a major factor in deciding which starting hands you should play. The later your position in the playing order the better, as more options are available, tilting the overall odds slightly in your favor. Like a golfer who gets to putt last on the green, with better table position you get to choose and proceed what to do after your opponents have already acted.

Don’t underestimate position. Your poker table position can be the difference between winning or losing a hand and can be a key factor on how much you win during your poker sessions. Before playing a hand in Texas hold ‘em, be cognizant of your table position relative to the dealer.

The seats to the left of the dealer are the early position.

The seats nearest to the right of the dealer are the late position.

The seats in between these are called middle position.

The early position is the least favorable because on any given round in the current hand that person is forced to act first or be one of the first. If you are positioned there, be more selective about the hands you play, because you have to act on less information than your opponents.

The middle means you can afford to play a few more hands when seated there, being a little looser.  The late position is the best, giving you the chance to open up, attack last, or be one of the last to act. And if you are in a position to act last, either as the dealer or next to the dealer (the button position), you have the biggest advantage. This is a position from which you have the most information on your opponents before proceeding.  This gives one the freedom to play looser, meaning you can be more aggressive or play many hands, without being reckless, of course, while maximizing this seating edge.

Simply put, if you have position over another player it gives you the advantage of acting after them on each round.  If you lack that position, you may bet early with a hand that you thought was good, only to find that there are much stronger hands out there that will re-raise you and force you to fold. As a result, you lost chips by folding (or worse, ultimately lost more chips by pressing on with a weaker hand), all because of the shortage of information on your opponents from playing in early position. Yes, position can be everything in life—and in poker!


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