Thanks to the proliferation of charts and guides and countless pre-flop strategies touted online by players keen to separate us from our money for the promise of short-cuts to poker success, pre-flop play has become almost formulaic in that many are now reliant on such tools and have become used to not actually thinking about the game as much as they should.
But adhering too closely to pre-set plans, and in a way that makes us afraid to leave the beaten track even for a moment, is a dangerous way to go about the game. Even the best players endeavour to constantly evolve, think outside the box and be prepared to question convention, see how they can exploit it or, more simply, make appropriate tweaks when they deem it a useful alternative to the norm.
However much we might want to break pre-flop play down to remembering ranges of hand values from various charts (and however useful that is), no approach should preclude thinking and understanding, and appreciating why some plays ted to do better than others.
Never too far away from an important decision, position tends to be a crucial factor in so many situations. However, when it comes to pre-flop considerations, it’s a little different from post-flop in its significance. During pre-flop the Big Blind is effectively in late position, finding themselves closing the opening round of betting, but from the flop onwards every street is played out of position (unless the field has been stripped down to Small Blind versus Big Blind, of course). Indeed, during the pre-flop stage it has yet to be determined which players will take their hand to the flop, and therefore it’s still not known until this initial round of betting has completed where we stand in terms or our position in relation those players who remain in contention. We’re sort of vying for position for position…
With this in mind, it’s useful to plan ahead and to already be thinking about the role position might play post-flop. The better our positional strength once the flop appears, the easier it is to have an influence on proceedings, the more pot control we enjoy and the better our chances are of steering the hand in our desired direction. We can be a bit more relaxed when there’s a positional advantage to look forward to, as well as willing to invest more chips to engineer the most promising scenario that maximizes our ability to use that advantage.
Conversely, if we’re going to be out of position post-flop, we need a good reason to go there, especially in the event of there being a multi-way pot in which we’re going to be in a difficult spot. In such cases we simply have to be circumspect in our thought process, and appropriately selective. The worse our post-flop position will be, the less we should be prepared to go with good but – in these circumstances – not good enough hands like KJ, for example.
Where are the weak/strong players?
Having said that, if we know where the weak(er) players are seated at the table, then it makes sense to factor that into our pre-flop planning. Moreover, the more weak players, the more we can relax our pre-flop range and the more proactive we can be if there’s a chance to be the one who ca isolate a weaker player. It’s also important to keep an eye on where we are ion relation to the strong(er) players because we don’t want to get involved with them too much if we can help it, especially out of position.
Table dynamics are also something we should be influenced by. If the game is considerably tighter than usual, for example, and many players are happy to keep folding, then we can widen our range accordingly when it’s likely we’ll emerge posit-flop in position against the likely caller(s). On the other hand, if the table is loose with many multi-way pots played out post-flop, it’s prudent to pick our spots.
Poker has become in recent years a game that rewards aggression, and it does indeed pay to make sure that we’re not afraid to assume the initiative pre-flop and get ourselves firmly in the driver’s seat. Bullying affords us more than one potential advantage, from putting our opponents under pressure and forcing them out of their comfort zone by keeping them on their toes and spoiling their plans, to simply picking up pots uncontested. Remember that of we can succeed in having an image that allows us to throw our weight around, we can accumulate a lot of chips by aggressive pre-flop play regardless of the hands we’re being dealt. Our becoming used to being the aggressor is a very useful way for our game to evolve over time – just think of all those extra chips we can pick up