Poker Lesson 10

When you have a good starting hand - raise!
In the previous lesson I listed the ten starting hands which are generally considered to be the best in Texas hold'em: A-A; K-K; Q-Q; A-Ks; J-J; 10-10; A-K; 9-9; 8-8; och A-Qs. The lower-case "s" denotes that the two cards are in the same suit, for example spades.

With any of these starting hands, you are generally in a favourable situation in the first betting round, before the flop. And the basic rule for a top-ten hand pre-flop is this: RAISE, which you should do for two main reasons.

The first and most important reason is that you want to drive out other, lower hands from the pot, such as low pairs (for example 3-3), drawing hands (for example 9-10 suited) and purely speculative hands (such as Q-6). The more players staying in with such a hand because the cost is minimal, the greater the risk that the flop will fit one of these hands instead of yours. With a good-size raise, you simply cut down on the competition for the pot.

The second main reson is that you want to increase the size of the pot. If you really have the current best starting hand and thus are the favourite to win the pot, you want it to be as large as is both possible and reasonable – and the most common way of increasing the size of the pot is with a raise.

If no other player before you has raised pre-flop, you should as a general rule put in the first raise with any of these top-ten starting hands. And if another player before you has raised, you should seldom refrain from re-raising with such a good starting hand. A time-tested and sound rule in poker is this: "When you get it, BET IT." Good cards are meant to be played aggressively.

Many poker players sulk when another player raises before them, but usually there is no need to do so when you have a good starting hand yourself. Consider the raiser before you as your temporary collaborator and partner: if you re-raise him or her, usually all or nearly all of the players behind the two of you will fold in the face of your collective demonstration of strength – and with fewer opponents in the pot, your own chances of winning it go up.

If you have A-A, this hand can withstand any number of raises or any amount put in the pot from the others; nobody can have a better starting hand pre-flop than you have. With all of the other top-ten starting hands, however, there is a limit when you should call a halt and think things through.

Here is one example: you have 10-10 in hand, and all five players before you have folded – nobody has thus yet entered the pot. Here is a clearcut case where you should raise without hesitation, in order to cut down on the competition and perhaps even win the pot right there and then.

But what do you do with the same 10-10 in hand, if a player before you has raised, another has re-raised, and a third re-re-raised, all before it is your turn to act? Then you should normally fold this hand. Those three raises have informed you that you are in all likelihood up against at least one hand, more likely two, which are considerably better than your pair of Tens.

The more raises and re-raises against you before it is your turn to act, the more reason to call a halt and carefully evaluate the situation. You should of course also be aware of what sort of opponents you are facing, and how loose or tight they tend to play! But the basic rule with the above-mentioned top-ten hands is this: RAISE, if none of the other players before you have done so yet.