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The - Hand Selection in Limit Hold’em

by Rep Porter |  Published: Feb 17, 2016


Recently I have been writing about the value of aggression and position in limit hold’em. I have been focusing on how being aggressive preflop increases your chances of being in position post-flop. I’ve also talked about how being the player with the tempo from preflop makes all your hands more profitable post-flop. There is one other factor that has a large effect on your likelihood of being in position post-flop and that is your preflop position.

When you are first to act in a normal nine-handed limit hold’em game, you have six people you have to get to fold to have the last position post-flop. When you are in middle position, you will need to get two or three people to fold in order to have position after the flop. When you are the button, you will be in position simply by playing. Generally, as you move farther from the button, the less chance you have of being in position after the flop.

This idea should be somewhat intuitive. So the question is; what can you do to play profitably from weaker preflop positions? The answer is that you will have to rely more on your hand strength. Yes, the actual cards that you get dealt to you. Most new to intermediate limit hold’em players I talk to at least acknowledge the idea that you need to play tighter up front and that you can play looser in later positions. But I also think that very few of them actually grasp how big of a spread there really is in what hands play profitably.

Let’s look at the case where you have raised as the first player to act in a nine-handed game, so there are six players behind you who will have position on you if they choose to play. Let’s suppose that they are all playing reasonably tight as well and so they will only come into this pot with hands like 8-8 or better, A-J or better, A-10 suited, and K-Q. That is a pretty tight range. It’s also slightly more than eight percent of the starting hands. So what are the chances that an opponent is dealt one of these hands? The answer, with six players to act, is about 40 percent of the time. So, if you are playing from up front, 40 percent of the time one of your opponents is going to have a hand that they aren’t likely to be folding. Most likely, you are going to be reraised and have to play the hand from out of position. Sometimes more than one opponent will have a hand that is this strong and that puts you in an even tougher spot.

This doesn’t even account for your opponents who will play a wider range and play aggressively. Realistically, you will be out of position for the pot a little more than half the time. The only way to profitably offset this is to have hands that have a large amount of absolute value. In early position, I play around 12 percent of my starting hands. My range is something like 6-6 or bigger, A-10 or bigger, A-9 suited, K-Q, and all the suited Broadway cards.

As you move into later positions, the chances of running into a premium hand go down. If there are three players behind you, a player will only have that premium range 23 percent of the time. You probably will end up playing from position over 60 percent of the time, even more in a tight game. This will allow you to play many more starting hands profitably. In middle position, I will open pots with about 20 percent of my starting hands. This adds in all the unsuited Broadway cards, a few pairs, a few suited connectors, and a couple of the weaker aces. Even if your more astute opponents notice that you are playing more hands from middle position, you still have a reasonably strong range and they can’t just three-bet you relentlessly and try to run you over.

Now when I am on the button, I know I will be in position post-flop, so I know I will have one of my criteria of profitable play working for me. I also know that the blinds will fold at a decent rate and I will win the one and a half little bets that are in the pot. These two factors really allow me to profitably raise to open the pot with a lot of hands. On the button, I play about half the starting hands if everyone has folded. I may back off of that number a little if the blinds are three-betting me a lot, or I may increase it if they are folding too much, but I start with the idea that 50 percent of my starters is reasonable.

For most people, the idea that you can only play 12 percent of the hands up front and 50 percent of the hands from the button will be strange. Most players are fairly anchored to the numbers that are on the cards in front of them. In reality, the value of your hand has as much to do with the circumstances in which you find yourself as the ranks of the cards. ♠

Rep Porter is a two-time WSOP bracelet winner and is the lead instructor at, whose mission is to help poker players achieve better results through better decisions and that is done by teaching poker in a way that makes learning easy and enjoyable with high quality courses taught by professional players.

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