Experts agree: having a tight pre-flop strategy is the fastest way to put an amateur on the road to success when playing Limit Texas Hold'Em. This is not a primer of the rules of the game, it's a guide for those who are already pretty familiar with it and want to improve their play, so please be familiar with basic vocabulary before proceeding.
- Ask yourself: Do my cards have high card strength? High card strength is the most important characteristic of your starting cards. Because you'll make pairs more often than any other hand, it's important that when you make pairs, you make strong ones. Having high cards also means that if your opponent hits a low pair, you can beat it by drawing one of your high cards. Any two face cards are good enough to at least limp in with, regardless of position. Any two face cards are worth a raise from medium and late position if no one has yet entered the pot, and fine to limp with if there is already a limper. In the cutoff or button position, if you are the first to enter the pot, you should always raise with any two face cards.
- Ask yourself: Are my cards suited? Being suited allows your cards to make flushes in addition to making pairs. This is important, because flushes will often beat all of your opponents, while pairs usually can only beat one or two. If your cards are suited, be more inclined to limp with connected low cards, and raise with high cards.
- Ask yourself: Are my cards connected? In addition to making pairs, closely connected cards make straights, which will often beat many opponents. Though not as powerful as flushes, straights are often harder to be put on, winning you more bets. Immediate connected cards, like 5-6 or 7-8 are best because they can make the most possible straights. One gap connected cards, like 6-8 or 9-J, are the biggest gaps you should be willing to play with.
- Evaluate your position. At a ten-handed poker table, your position is judged by your distance from the button. Table positions are divided into five groups: early position, the three players immediately left of the blinds; middle position, the next three players to act; late position, the two player to act before the blinds; the small blind, who has half a bet invested in the pot; the big blind, who has made a full bet invested. The earlier in position you are, the tighter you want to play, because there is a greater chance one of your opponents has a better hand than you. Conversely, the closer you are to the button, the more cards you want to play. If you are in the small blind, you'll want to play any suited cards or one-gap connectors for half a bet. If your blinds are raised, only call or re-raise with a very strong hand. Because you'll be out of position the rest of the hand, you'll be at a disadvantage you want to nullify by playing stronger cards than usual.
- Evaluate who has entered to pot and for how much. Has someone limped behind you? Has someone raised? If a weak, straightforward player has limped behind you, be more inclined to call or raise. If a tricky, aggressive player has limped, play slightly tighter than you normally would. If anyone has raised, play much more conservatively, only calling and re-raising with premium hands. It is almost always wrong to call two bets when you have no money invested in the pot, you always want to raise or fold. If the action comes to you and no one has yet entered the pot, be more inclined to raise with marginal hands. You're not betting that your hand was the best out of the ten dealt, you're betting that your remaining opponents don't have a hand good enough to call you. Winning the blinds is the bread and butter of a serious player.
- Evaluate your image. How do the other players view you? Do you raise often to invite skepticism? Did you just attempt to steal the blinds two or three hands in the row? Or do other opponents think you only play when you have the goods? You want to play to the opposite of your image. If your opponents view you as a very tight player, play slightly looser than usual. Raise with some marginal hands and go for more steals. If they think you're a maniac, play only the very best hands, so your opponents will be much more likely to give you action, and you can win many bets from them. Keep in mind, a conservative player voluntarily puts money into the pot about 20% of the time, a loose player about 25% of the time, and a maniac plays about 30% of hands or more. That equates to about an extra hand every one or two rotations, so it's important that you really pay attention to how often someone comes into the pot.
- Put your answers together. After you've gone through the six-items on your mental checklist, think about how often your answers told you to lean towards raising versus limping or folding. If the majority of your answers lean towards a specific play, it will likely be the best one for the situation.