Early position play in Texas holdem is one of the biggest weaknesses that most players struggle with.
The same problems are found in limit and no limit play. And they all start with playing too many weak hands.
Early position includes the first two spots to the left of the big blind at full tables. At a competitive table you can also include the third spot to the left of the big blind. At a six max table early position is the first spot to the left of the big blind, and can include the first two spots on a competitive table.
When you play Texas holdem hands out of position you start the hand at a disadvantage and it continues throughout the hand. This means that when you decide to enter a hand from early position you should only play your strongest hands.
This is the only way you can hope to overcome the disadvantage of acting before most or all of your opponents.
You should also raise most of the time when entering the pot from early position. This builds the pot with your best hands and thins the field. You don’t want to face multiple opponents when playing out of position if possible.
When you play out of position your opponents receive additional information before they act because they know what you do on each round. Texas holdem is won and lost based on the information you have available and how you use it.
Every small piece of information is an important part of beating your opponents. When you give away information it puts you at a disadvantage. This is what you do when you play out of position.
This list of 9 early position Texas holdem hands includes the only hands you should ever consider playing in these positions. And some of them should be folded most of the time.
I cover each hand in detail, including which ones should be played every time and the ones that can only be played in certain situations.
1. Ace Ace
Pocket aces are the strongest Texas holdem starting hand and should always be played. When you can play aces heads up against a single opponent they’re a strong favorite against any other hand.
Even if you have to play them against two opponents you still have a strong chance to win.
When I mentioned above that pocket aces should always be played it means you should never fold them before the flop. Raise with them and continue raising as long as an opponent is willing to play.
But after the flop you need to use your best judgment. It’s hard to lay down aces, but you’ll find situations where you get outdrawn on the flop or later in the hand.
It’s difficult to play pocket aces in any way that isn’t profitable in the long run. But in order to be a winning Texas holdem poker player you need to maximize the amount you win with your best hands.
When you have a premium hand like aces you need to play them aggressively and build the pot as much as possible without forcing all of your opponents to fold.
I want to address the possibility of limping with pocket aces. Of all the hands on this list that you can play from early position it’s the safest to limp with. But it’s almost always more profitable to raise with aces than limp.
The only time I consider limping with pocket aces is at a table with a couple of ultra-aggressive players behind me. The idea is to let them build the pot for me, but this is dangerous.
Unless you’re an advanced player the best way to play this hand is always with a raise before the flop.
2. King King
Pocket kings are the second best starting hand in Texas holdem. The only hand that dominates it is pocket aces, and if you play long enough you’re going to have kings when an opponent has aces. But it doesn’t happen often.
The few times in your life when an opponent has pocket aces and you have pocket kings you still have a chance. The deck still has two outs that complete a set for you so your luck might quickly turn around.
I play kings the same way I play aces until an ace lands on the board or it’s clear that I’ve been outdrawn. This means I bet and raise with them before the flop and am willing to put as much in the pot as any opponent is willing to put in.
You’ll find many opponents willing to bet and raise with you holding pocket queens, pocket jacks, ace king suited, ace king, and sometimes ace queen or pocket 10’s. None of these hands are profitable against king king so every chip your opponent puts in is more long term profit for you.
When an ace lands on the flop I might slow down a little depending on what I know about my opponent or opponents, but usually I continue playing in an aggressive manner until an opponent fights back.
If you get into a situation where it looks like your kings might not be the best hand you need to consider the pot odds, the size of your remaining stack, and the size of your opponent’s stack. Often by the time your kings may get outdrawn the pot odds are so good that you can’t fold.
In a limit Texas holdem game it’s almost impossible to find a situation where you should fold pocket kings. If you raised before the flop as much and as often as possible hopefully it thinned the field.
The pot odds in a two or three way pot after the flop rarely drop below the needed ratio to fold. An even when it does it’ll be close.
In a large pot with four or more opponents it can get trickier. The higher the number of opponents who see the flop the higher the chance one of them has an ace.
In the long run pocket kings are profitable even when you play in multi way pots, but it reduces their profitability.
3. Queen Queen
Pocket queens are a strong Texas holdem starting hand but considerably weaker than pocket aces or pocket kings.
They should be played from every position, including early, but you should always enter with a raise. You must thin the field as much as possible because flops with an ace or king will happen frequently.
If you raise with queens and get re-raised from a player in a later position you need to use your knowledge of the player to put them on a range of hands. In limit Texas holdem a single raise before the flop is an easy call, but in a no limit game you need to consider the situation in more depth.
You don’t want to get pot committed before the flop with pocket queens unless you’re willing to get all in. And if you’re willing to get all in it’s best to be the aggressor and do it before the flop.
If you raise and get re-raised before the flop and a call will pot commit you it’s time to decide if you’re willing to play for all of your money. If you continue with the hand an all in move is your best play.
If you decide you don’t want to play for your entire stack you should fold to the pre flop raise.
4. Ace King Suited
One of the biggest problems Texas holdem players have, especially in no limit play, is overvaluing ace king suited and ace king unsuited.
I believe that the main reason it’s overvalued is because when you watch big poker tournaments on television that you often see people moving all in with ace king.
But when the pros do this in a tournament they’re usually in a short stack situation and have to take a chance to double up.
Ace king suited will rarely win a hand if it doesn’t improve. And when you hit top pair you have top kicker but can lose to a set or two pair hands. When you hit a flush it’s the top flush but it’s difficult to get maximum value because everyone can see the flush possibility.
It’s almost always better to enter the pot with a raise than limping, but if you’re going to limp from early position this is the type of hand to consider doing it with.
But when you limp you need to know what you’re going to do if you get raised. Ace king suited should be raised with most of the time to avoid this situation most of the time.
When you raise and get re-raised before the flop, you need to seriously consider laying the hand down. When you play a drawing hand out of position a smart opponent will punish you throughout the hand.
Ace king suited tends to win small pots and lose big ones if you aren’t careful. This isn’t the way smart and profitable players play Texas holdem.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t play this hand from early position but you need to play it in a smart way. Be willing to get away from the hand when it doesn’t improve on the flop.
Another reason to raise with ace king suited before the flop is so you can make a continuation bet on the flop if you don’t improve. Often a continuation bet ends the hand on the flop if you showed aggression before the flop.
When you raise before the flop, miss the flop, and bet on the flop, if you get called or raised you should check and fold for the rest of the hand unless you improve.
5. Ace King
Ace king has all of the same problems as ace king suited and doesn’t have as good of a chance to make a flush.
I strongly dislike unsuited ace king from early position, but I do play it. I always raise with it and make a continuation bet on the flop. If I get re-raised before the flop I consider laying it down if I’m facing a strong opponent.
In the long run ace king can be played from early position profitably, but only if you can get away from it when you miss the flop. It’s not as profitable as any of the hands discussed so far, but if the rest of your game is solid you can make money with it.
6. Ace Queen Suited
In many ways ace queen suited is better than ace king or ace king suited. For most players it’s easier to get away from this hand after missing the flop than ace king.
It’s also easier to fold to a re-raise behind you before the flop.
One of the advantages to playing ace queen is when you hit a straight it’s not as evident as when you have ace king. Most players will still see it, but if you raise before the flop from early position ace queen suited isn’t one of the first hands an opponent will put you on.
Another small advantage is if you hit a flush you might have an opponent who hits a king high flush. You won’t be able to extract maximum value when this happens, but you can usually get them to call a reasonably sized bet on the turn and / or river.
7. Ace Queen
Ace queen is a weak hand from early position, especially in no limit play. You should fold it most of the time at a table with several good players.
When you hit an ace on the flop you have a decent kicker, but it’s not the best one.
The problem with ace queen and the next two hands below is that they aren’t really good enough to raise with from early position but when you limp you can face a raise before the flop. Then you need to decide if the hand is good enough to call a raise with out of position or fold and lose your original bet.
When you limp and face a raise with ace queen and ace jack suited the best play is almost always to fold. So the best play is a raise when you enter the pot.
When you raise and get re-raised you should fold unless you know a great deal about your opponent and have reason to believe that you can play out of position profitably for the rest of the hand against them. This will rarely be the case.
8. Ace Jack Suited
Ace jack suited is one of the worst hands that can still be played from early position in some Texas holdem games. It needs to improve to win in almost every hand, when you hit top pair you either have a weak kicker or the possibility of an over pair, and it’s hard to tell when your hand is best.
In no limit games with decent players it’s rarely profitable to play this hand from early position. If you play well after the flop you can squeeze out a small long term profit with ace jack suited in limit play, but it’s a close call.
When I play ace jack suited from early position I always play it with a raise. If I get re-raised before the flop I usually fold and if I get called and miss the flop I make a continuation bet. Sometimes this is enough to end the hand.
I also make what looks like a continuation bet when I hit the flop. This is exactly how I play most hands on this list so my opponents can’t put me on a hand.
Just like how many Texas holdem players overvalue ace king, many also overvalue suited starting hands. When you hit an ace high flush it’ a strong hand but the problem is extracting maximum value when you do.
With the other problems that ace jack have this makes it a questionable hand from early position. In no limit play you need to be especially careful with this hand.
In limit Texas holdem it’s easier to play profitably because your maximum loss is limited when you hit a hand that doesn’t end up being the best hand. But it also limits your maximum win when you hit a big hand.
9. Jack Jack
I listed the hands on this page in order from best to worst and had a difficult time deciding if pocket jacks or ace jack suited was the worst hand.
I fold both of these hands from early position in no limit play most of the time. They’re both weak and tend to lose big pots and win small ones.
The best way to play pocket jacks is just like a middle pocket pair. This means that most of the value is when you hit a set.
You can limp or raise with pocket jacks from early position. When you limp you can usually afford to call a raise because when you hit a set it can be profitable enough in the long run to make it a positive play.
When you raise before the flop with jacks and get re-raised you’re in a bad spot. You showed aggression from early position and an opponent has a good enough hand to challenge you with a raise.
This usually means their hand is better than yours at this point. And since you’ve already invested a raise it often makes you want to continue with the hand. But most of the time you probably need to fold when you get re-raised before the flop, especially in no limit play.
In limit Texas holdem limping isn’t a terrible play with pocket jacks. The problem with limping with them from early position is that smart opponents can start seeing your playing tendencies.
You need to mix up your play against good opponents so they have a hard time putting you on a hand.
When you see the flop with pocket jacks and end up with an over pair to the board you need to be extremely careful. It looks like a good hand but the only way you’ll get much action is when you’re beat by a higher pair or a set.
Many Texas holdem players learn how valuable hitting a set can be. They look for opportunities to play pocket pairs against an aggressive player and clean up when they hit a set.
This works well when a player raises and you can call their raise. This works best when you have a later position than the raiser.
Many players try to play middle and smaller pairs from early position. The problem with this is you’re out of position for the entire hand. This turns a small profit situation to a negative expectation situation.
If you raise with these pocket pairs you’re building a pot with a weak hand. But when you limp and face a raise you usually invest more money than when you call a raise from later position.
Any pocket pairs of 10’s or lower should always be folded from early position. This is true in both limit and no limit Texas holdem play.
Another set of hands that poor players fall in love with are suited connectors. Hands like jack 10 suited, 10 nine suited, and nine eight suited can form straights and flushes, but they start in such a weak position before the flop that they can’t be played profitably.
Only consider playing the 9 early position Texas holdem hands listed in this post to avoid unprofitable situations.
The hands listed on this page are the only ones you should consider playing from early position while playing Texas holdem. The possibility of turning a long term profit with any other hands is miniscule.
A few of these nine hands shouldn’t be played in every game and some of them should always be played. Remember to focus on situations where you can win big pots and lose small ones, not the other way around.
Pocket jacks, ace queen suited, ace queen, and ace jack suited aren’t strong hands in early position so don’t be afraid to fold them in most games
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