by George “The Engineer” Epstein
Most (if not all) poker experts will agree: As you peek at your holecards, by far the most important decision is whether or not to invest your hard-earned (?) chips in that hand. The vast majority of holecards are drawing hands that must improve to win the pot. Considering all relevant factors, ask yourself: Do my two holecards warrant my making an investment? If the flop improves your hand, chances are you will invest further in that hand. Starting with an inferior hand, it is likely that, even if you make your hand, an opponent may have a better one. Second-best is costly! Example: Starting with A-rag and catching another Ace on the flop, an opponent with a better Ace (say A-10) has you “outkicked”. He is heavily favored to beat you out.
The basic criteria for making that starting-hand decision is based on two key factors: (1) Value of your two holecards (rank, pairs, connectors, suited); and (2) Your betting position.
Seeing the Flop from an Early Position. For a full table (nine or ten players), early position is defined as the first four players after the Button, including the Blinds. Many hold’em books provide tables of recommended starting hands, using these two factors. One of the best is Lou Krieger’s Start Chart (Hold’em Excellence; website: www. conejelco.com). Also recommended—my preference—is the Hold’em Algorithm (Hold’em or Fold’em?—An Algorithm for Making the Key Decision; 3rd edition; e-mail: email@example.com). These facilitate making the key decision, and apply to all varieties of hold’em, including limit and no-limit games. Note that Hold’em or Fold’em? also includes additonal factors that can alter your decision: (1) Have there been any raises or likely raises after you declare?; (2) The number of opponents staying to see the flop; and (3) The types of opponents in the pot and the texture of the game.
From an early position, how often should you expect to stay in? That was the question posed by one of the more astute members of our Claude Pepper Seniors Poker Group. Good question... So I did the math and analyzed how often one should expect to stay to see the flop from an early position—using the basic criteria of the Hold’em Algorithm:
On the average, in the long run, you should expect to play about one out of six hands from an early position.
Krieger’s Start Chart is in close agreement. This means, from an early betting position, you would fold approximately five out of every six hands dealt.
Exceptions. That’s strictly based on the basic criteria of the Hold’em Algorithm, without regard for the other factors described above. Then too, when you are the Big Blind and there is no raise, you get to see the flop for free. Nor does it consider that the Small Blind that might elect to pay the difference to see the flop (no raises) with a hand that doesn’t quite meet the early-position starting-hand requirements, especially when many opponents also call, resulting in a multi-way pot. (The implied pot odds would then be attractive.) There may be other exceptions, such as a hunch (usually foolish) or your intuition (a sixth sense that may have some merit). And, of course, this doesn’t consider a decision to steal the blinds. (There are situations when stealing the blinds is a viable strategy.) These would add to the number of hands you might play from an early position.
Remember, this is an average and applies to the long run. You could hold several playable hands in a row.
The Bottom Line: From an early position, on average, in the long run, disregarding exceptions, you should be folding preflop about five out of every six hands dealt.
Anyone who consistently—hand after hand—plays a lot more hands from an early position is a PokerPigeon in my perception. Make note. He came to play; say what he will, but winning is not his true goal. We welcome him to our table.
Recently elected to the Seniors’ Poker Hall of Fame, George “The Engineer” Epstein is the author of The Greatest Book of Poker for Winners! and Hold’em or Fold’em?—An Algorithm for Making the Key Decision and teaches poker at the Claude Pepper Sr. Citizen Center in Los Angeles. Recently, he started teaching poker to aged war veterans with special healthcare needs at a new CalVet facility at the VA in West L.A. Contact George at firstname.lastname@example.org.