Stick to your starting hands in poker

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Poker has come a long way. Most opponents are knowledgeable. They understand starting-hand requirements can loosen as the button moves. It’s common knowledge to most players that, by playing late position, they get to act last and gain the advantage of being able to observe opponents’ actions. With the information of the hand in progress laid out in front of us, it becomes obvious to the experienced player to take advantage of the situation.

Early position, middle position, late position and the blinds are how we break up our starting-hand requirements. I believe most players know this concept, understand it, but don’t stick to it when it comes to having the discipline to play position-poker. This column won’t address the reasons why we stray, but will have a few ideas on how we can better our game and stick to our resolution to play well all the time.

IDEA 1: Write what your starting-hand requirements are for each position. Make it neat and organized. Get an index card and create one for each position and laminate the cards. Keep them with you and review. Furthermore, create them in your phone, just in case you don’t have them with you. Stay true to yourself. Simply by applying this strict concept, the results will speak for themselves. Now, it’s time for a reality check. How often do you break your rules?

IDEA 2: Get past the idea that position is simply a concept about acting last. You must understand playing hands out of position means you’re giving up equity. Imagine a scenario where you’ve been “card dead” for hours and decide to play a K-J offsuit from EP. If you can imagine this, congratulations, you’ve just discovered a huge leak. If you’re playing cards and starting out a hand with an edge handicap, well, that’s like just handing opponents $20 when they arrive at the table. It’s highly unlikely you can beat the game in the long run if you’re making blunders.

And to make matters worse, imagine that you just won a huge pot with the hand that you were not supposed to play. Now you have a bad habit that’s reinforced with a positive short-term gain. You’re in a deep hole if you’re playing trap hands out of position. Keep in mind that our profit and chips come from players who are making this mistake.

Position in hold’em is as essential to winning as water is to life. Poker players are a stubborn lot. Let’s get back to playing position-poker and playing our “A” game every hand. This might make for some boring sessions.

IDEA 3: Use your fold time wisely. Observe opponents. Who among your opponents are really playing their “A” game? It’s your job to know this.

— Mark Brement has spent 15 years teaching and coaching all facets of poker, including at Pima CC. Email him at brementmark@gmail.com.