Pre-Flop Betting Tips to Ensure You Take Control of the Hand EarlyFebruary 6th, 2017 by Jon Sofen
In Texas hold em, a hand is not over before the flop, technically. But you can put yourself in a difficult position after the flop if you play your hand poorly pre-flop. Or, you can put yourself in a great position to win the pot no matter what comes on the flop.
Think of pre-flop like it’s the first quarter in a football game. If your team jumps out to an early lead in the first quarter, there are still three-quarters remaining for the opposing team to come back. But it sure does give your team an advantage to get off to a good start. The same can be said about a poker hand, except you can actually be out in the lead before the flop even if you don’t have the best hand.
In poker, it’s not all about the cards. It’s often more about which player is more aggressive. So let’s say you have K-Q and your opponent has A-J. The flop comes 3-8-9. Neither player improved on the flop and ace-high still has the best showdown value. But does that mean it’s going to be the winning hand? No. Let’s take a look at what I’m talking about.
Seize Early Control
Your opponent will miss the flop more often than not. But if you aren’t the pre-flop aggressor, it’s going to be harder to bluff at the pot. Let’s go back to the above example where your hand is technically weaker than your opponent’s.
Your opponent is likely to raise pre-flop, but a hand like K-Q plays well in position even against that stronger hand. What I like to do is three-bet if I’m out of position, however. In position, I will usually just flat call.
But if I three-bet in the blinds, I take control of the pot. So, if the flop misses us both, I can bet out and usually win the pot right there. If I don’t three-bet, I may lose out on my opportunity to scare my opponent away on a missed flop. Also, by three-betting, I have a chance at taking the pot down before the flop. There are many benefits to being aggressive.
When Passive Play Pays Off
I’m a strong advocate of being aggressive in Texas hold’em. I believe that the only way to win enough to earn a living playing this game is to have a controlled aggressive style of play. But, sometimes, the smart play is to lay back and let your opponent put his foot on the gas while you’re still in control of the hand.
If I have pocket aces or kings in position against an aggressive player who raised in early position, I often like to just call and slow play my hand. My opponent will never put me on a monster hand if I just flat call pre-flop.
What I’m doing in this situation is disguising the strength of my hand to trap my opponent. Knowing he’s almost certain to bet the flop even if he completely misses, I can get an extra bet out of him. If I re-raise pre-flop, he’s likely to check the flop back to me. I want him to bet so I can raise him or even just smooth call him on the flop, continuing to disguise the strength of my hand. If he misses the flop and I bet, he’s probably going to fold. So, by just calling pre-flop, I’m getting at least one extra bet out of my opponent.
There is an exception to this rule. If the initial raiser isn’t the type to continuation bet a flop, I’m always going to re-raise in that spot. You can’t set a trap on someone who isn’t a willing participant.
Controlled Aggression is Key
While I’m a strong advocate of aggressive play, I’m opposed to reckless play. What I mean by that is you shouldn’t play tight and should be raising fairly often pre-flop, but you shouldn’t be raising with just any two cards, especially in early position.
Don’t open under-the-gun with 7-2. That hand has negative equity. You should play tight in early position. In late position, open up your range, but still refrain from entering pots with hands like 7-2, 3-2, 9-5, 6-4, etc. Not only do those hands have horrible equity, your raises won’t get any respect.
Controlled aggression is the perfect way to play poker before and after the flop. One last pointer: you should be three-betting more often than calling raises pre-flop, especially out of position. For example, let’s say you have J-10 in the big blind facing a button raise.
In this spot, I prefer a three-bet instead of just a call sometimes. Don’t do it every time or your opponents will pick up on it. Mix up your range to keep them guessing. The reason I feel a raise is often the smart play is so that you can take control of the pot while you’re out of position, and you also have fold equity. Be careful three-betting hands like that against early position raisers unless you know that player is capable of raising with mediocre hands under-the-gun.