By Rod Dietrich
There are eight players around the table; sixteen cards face down on the felt. This is the moment when you seem to be at the mercy of the poker gods, when the game appears to be more about luck than it is skill, but don’t be fooled. Sure, there are chips to be had already, the big and the small blinds, so make no mistake, this is for real. Any time there is a pot to be had, it is for real and worth your efforts. And it is understood that there is an inherent fear of the unknown when it comes to betting before the flop. However, you can overcome that fear by playing smart and playing correctly.
No doubt here are many schools of thought when it comes to playing Hold ‘Em, but there only one way to play before the flop. You play aggressive on a good hand, and you fold a bad one. You play conservative on anything marginal. The sooner that you realize that Hold ‘Em is a game of skill and not of luck, the sooner you will begin to dominate your home games to entertain your visions of grandeur, of playing with the big boys in the poker rooms of the casinos and better yet, at the World Series. That said, use your skill before that flop, make your knowledge work for you and make the right bet.
If you are dealt cards that deserve your money, bet. For example, if you get a pair of jacks in the pocket, put some chips out there. By betting strong before the flop, you will often get rid of the weak hands early and increase your chances of winning the pot. Mathematically speaking, you have a better chance of taking the chips in the middle if you are playing against two players rather than if you are playing against eight. Once you get the junk hands out of the game, you will know that your odds of winning have just increased. However, be mindful that the same is true for everyone else at the table. Therefore, you need to be careful to not let your better odds make you reckless.
If you are dealt junk, say a six and an eight off suit, throw it away. A hand like this is simply not worth betting on. Everybody gets lucky once in a while and pairs up their six and eight on the flop, but don’t bet on this. It is, more often than not, a losing bet. In fact, often times I will throw my cards away before the flop, even if I was the big blind and it costs me nothing to stay in and see the flop. This will aggravate your opponents to no end. An aggravated opponent sometimes will get so frustrated that it clouds their decision making. They want to beat you; they want to catch you in the bluff so badly that they will bet heavy, even go all in, on trip kings, failing to see the flush or straight draw. It is a beautiful tool and really proves how you can use your skill to your advantage by pitting a player against himself and his own pride to take his chips.
As much as I like to fold when it costs me nothing to see the flop, I don’t do it every time. I pick my moments to do it but I certainly fold them more often than I try to piggy back to the flop. It is far more valuable for me to conceal my cards from my opponents than it is to steal a rare pot. Also, the more people see you winning with the best possible hands, the more effective the bluff will be later when you need it.
When I first started out, I wanted to play every hand, and that is totally natural. We love playing poker, we want to be in on the action and truthfully, in Hold ‘Em, any two cards can win. However, if you start now to bet wisely before the flop, your game will change, literally, overnight. You will win more large pots and begin to have greater influence on the other players at the table.