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Starting hands and positions for tight play

One of the biggest improvements an amateur poker player can make to their own games is playing fewer starting hands before the flop. By playing only premium hands it means you will have fewer tougher decisions to make on the flop, turn, and river. Which hands you decide to play in poker is for the most part dictated by your position at the table.

Playing from Early Position

At 10-max tables, the first three players to the right of the blinds are considered the players in early position. In full ring games, when you are required to act in early position, there are still many players yet to act, that could potentially have a strong hand.

In addition, when you are called after being the aggressor pre flop, you are playing the hand out of position on the flop and later streets, which is not an ideal situation to be in. What this means is you should only be playing a tight range of hands in early position.

Generally, you should only raise premium hands from early position and the blinds. The blinds (small blind/big blind) play much the same way as early position because you are out of position post flop. Hands you should raise in early position include AK, AQ, KQs, and all big pocket pairs typically 99+. Generally I will just limp in with smaller pairs and sometimes I will also raise AJ, KQo depending on the table.

Playing from Middle Position

The next three players to the right of the players in early position are referred to as the middle position seats. The opening starting hand selection in middle position is not all that different then in early position. The notable difference between playing starting hands pre flop in middle position and early position is that you will now be in some spots where you can call open raises. If a player in early position raises and there are other callers, you are getting better direct pot odds to call with your pocket pair and AJ+ hands.

Playing from Late Position

The first three players to the right of the middle position players are the players in late position, including the player on the button. In late position you are allowed to open up your starting hand selection even more because you will the advantage of players acting before you on the flop, turn, and river.

With position in the hand, you can be calling raises with more speculative hands such as T9s, 89s, 87s, etc and raising a wider range of hands then what you would raise with in early and middle position in an attempt to steal the blinds or the dead money in the pot.

When deciding whether or not you should cold call with a speculative hand, you want to see which position the raise came from. If it was an early position raise, then it’s very likely they are raising only with a premium hand, especially if they’ve been playing tight, so calling with mediocre hands like AJ/AT becomes less attractive, especially with no other callers.

However, if the sizing of the initial raise is 5% or less of their stack to call, then you are getting decent odds to call with more speculative hands to crack their pocket rockets. When there are other callers, it becomes even more attractive to widen your calling range with speculative hands, because when you do flop a big hand, there is a bigger chance you will get paid off.

Although in early and middle positions at the table you should be limping in with small pocket pairs to try and keep the pot small, there is nothing wrong with calling raises with pocket pairs to hit sets, just as long as the raise is not a huge percentage of their stack, in which case you wouldn’t be getting the odds. That means if there has been a raise and then a 3 bet, you likely aren’t getting the odds to set mine with 33.

Use position to up the aggression by stealing the blinds when the opportunity presents itself, like when the action gets folded around to you on the button. If the players in the blinds were tight, I’d pretty much be raising any two cards in this spot. Remember, by acting last in the hand after the flop it gives you a massive advantage over the other players.