Understanding the core concept of poker is relatively simple, but being a good poker player requires mastery of more than just the basic rules of poker. Learning to read players better is much like learning to playing poker better … To do both well requires concentration, determination and patience with each process having distinct parts.
One part of poker that is crucial for beginners to learn to play is the pre-flop game. Pre-flop is the point in a community poker game where each player’s two cards have been dealt, but the community cards have not been.
The player’s cards are referred to as hole or pocket cards. At this stage in the hand, your betting is based entirely on these two cards.
The pre-flop is early in the hand, in fact it is essentially the beginning of the hand, but it still elicits plenty of action. Your pre-flop playing gives your opponents a decent idea of the strength of your hand.
Likewise their playing tells you a lot about what they are holding. Betting and raising are good indicators of strong hands, while there is no more obvious sign of a weak hand than folding.
Calling however can be more ambiguous.
Aggressive betting in the pre-flop stage can be the beginning and end of a hand for a weak table. A win is a win, but don’t intimidate your opponents into folding early if you have a good enough starting hand to bait them through the draw.
Your pre-flop betting sets the tone for how your opponents will evaluate you. Many strategies like the bluff and the semi-bluff are initiated pre-flop for this reason.
If you have one of the best starting poker hands like pocket aces or kings, then the best strategy for protecting your hand is to bet aggressively and narrow your field of opponents.
If you have a middling hand, you may consider a semi-bluff, where you bet slightly more than your hand dictates to intimidate your opponents, but where you also have good odds of improving your hand in the draw.
Finally, if a table is openly weak pre-flop (i.e. everyone checks), then you may consider an all out bluff in an attempt to clear the field and take the ante pot before the pre-flop.
With all three of these strategies, it is important to bet consistently or you risk revealing a vulnerable hand or having your bluff called later in the game.
Not only can you use your own pre-flop betting to create an impression in your opponent’s minds, but you can use their pre-flop betting to form your own opinion of their hands.
Playing well pre-flop can mean the difference between winning or losing many future hands.