Hand selection is arguably the biggest element involved in
pre-flop play. No matter how perfect your strategy might be,
nothing will matter if you don’t know which hands to play in
which spots. Hand selection is also one of the most diverse yet
extremely easy to understand strategy topics in all of poker.
The reason for this is that there’s a general set of hands that
will make the most sense to play, but there’s also plenty of
scenarios where those same hands will lose a significant amount
of their value. Therein lies both your opportunity to make the
proper plays and to expose opponents who don’t know when to step
out of the way. Pre-flop play is largely a solved science, but
hand selection isn’t as easy as it might seem.
There are many different elements that factor into the
equation of proper hand selection.
There’s nothing that will give you more of an
advantage than the opportunity to act last in a hand.
Who You are Facing
Are you facing a weak passive player or a loose aggressive player who is
looking to donate their stack? You’ll need to adjust which
hands are worth playing based on who you are playing against.
A short stacked player will demand that you play different hands than when you
are playing in a heads up pot where stack sizes are 200+ big
blinds deep. Finally, your image at the table will also play into
what hands you can and cannot get away with playing profitably.
If everyone thinks you only play strong hands, you’ll be able
to take advantage of this image by playing pots with suited
connectors and other similar hands. Likewise, if your opponents
feel that you are a super loose caller, tightening up will most
likely be in your best interest. All things considered, hand
selection is a much more diverse and dynamic topic than most
people give it credit for.
Position is talked about in just about every topic concerning
poker strategy, and with good reason. When it comes to hand
selection, position is almost always the most important factor
when deciding which hands will be most profitable for you to
play. Take a hand like AT for example. If you are an early
position in a full ring game, this may very well be an open
fold. If your position is shifted to the button and there has
only been one limp ahead of you and no raises, however, AT is
now a hand that’s worthy of a raise.
Position is going to be most critical when you are playing in
a pot that’s likely to become somewhat confusing during
post-flop play. Suited connectors and small pocket pairs are two
examples of hands that play terrible out of position, but also
work phenomenally when you are in position. The more speculative
your hand is, the less value that it has as you move further and
further from the button.
As a general guideline, stick to smaller hands in early
position only when you can play the hand for a relatively small
When you have big hands in early position, the action at
the table won’t be nearly as important. In late position, always
be prepared and willing to play more hands. This means
everything from K2 suited in a stealing situation to big pocket
pairs. If you don’t take advantage of your position, you’ll
slowly be chipping away at profits that you should have had.
Opponents won’t always mean a whole lot when considering
whether or not to play a hand, but sometimes they will mean
everything. If you are sitting at a table that’s full of very
tight players, you should be looking to widen up your normal
range of pre-flop starting hands. On the other end of the spectrum,
you should take advantage of aggressive players by waiting for
them to self-implode. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you
should tighten up, but that you should instead look for hands
that are most capable of winning an entire stack.
Stack sizes should have a recurring role in your decision
making processes, and hand selection is no exception to this
rule. When you are working with a larger number of big blinds,
you’ll be able to play a greater number of hands. Remember,
though, that effective stack sizes are all that truly matters.
The effective stack size in a hand is the top amount that both
you and your opponents(s) are capable of playing for. As an
example, if you have $873 and your opponent has $1,023, the
effective stack sizes are $873.
This information will allow you,
for example, to determine whether a hand is worth playing
against a re-raise in a spot where it would normally be an
insta-fold. Though not usually the primary element in deciding
whether or not to play a hand, stack sizes can be exceptionally
valuable in many situations, and especially those were you are
looking to set mine, flop a monster, or get out of the hand
altogether. You have to have an idea of how much money any hand
stands to realistically win.
Table image isn’t so much about what you see as it is about
what others see.
The easiest way to approach table image as it
relates to hand selection is to think about how you can be most
deceptive given what you know that your opponents already know
to be true. If you have shown down only big hands, start being
aggressive with weaker hands. If you have been caught bluffing
or have shown down a bluff in a previous hand, start doing your
best to extract huge amounts of value out of your made hands.
Table image is a great tool in hand selection, but it is key to
remember that it’s very volatile and is always changing.
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