### Lesson 11 – Playing from Early Position/ Basic Strategy Matrix

Home Poker School Lesson 11 – Playing from Early Position/ Basic Strategy Matrix

Before we get into a discussion of the starting hands matrix, let me make a few comments about playing pre-flop hands from an early position. In this series of lessons, we’ve been working our way around the table in reverse, beginning with the Big Blind, so we’ll conclude with the hands that act earliest; the so-called “under the gun” position and the one to play after that. By my numbering system, where the “button” is # 0, these are positions 7 and 6, although in a 10-player table they’d be #8 and #7, because the two blinds aren’t numbered. However you care to number them, these two positions have several disadvantages, the first being is that they must act before all of the other players in the pre-flop betting and secondly, they are both vulnerable to late-position raises as well as raises made by the Blinds, both of whom already have some \$\$\$ committed to the pot and thus are quick to re-raise if they have a strong hand. That obviously means you should play only “premium” hands from early position, which are basically high pairs and A-K, with an occasional A-Qs or K-Qs thrown in.

In order to save both of us some time, I’m not going to get into a lengthy discussion on the mathematics of hands that should be played from early position, but they do appear in the matrix and, if you’ve been playing Hold ’em for a while, there won’t be many surprises. It’s just basic common sense; if you’re going to raise from early position, it’s a high probability that you’ll be called or re-raised, so you need to play really strong hands.

Within the scheme of my starting hands matrix, the strength of the hands we should play progress from weakest in the blinds (only because you already have \$\$\$ committed) to the stronger hands as move back past the button, into middle position and cap out at the strongest in early position. So, it stands to reason that we should call or raise only with hands that are favored to beat those which might be played in late position. If the “average” hand played on the button is a J-10 or 8-8 (just a guess on my part), the average hand under the gun should be A-Q or J-J (another guess, but a better one).

Poker is really a game of mistakes. Unlike Blackjack, which is a game of precise mathematics, poker is a game of incomplete information. Sure, we don’t know exactly what the Blackjack dealer has in the hole when s/he is showing a 6, but we know it’s one of 13 cards so we can make some fairly accurate assumptions about the best play for our hand of, say, 13 or 20. We won’t be correct every time, but if we play enough hands the odds will even out and the expected value for a particular hand will eventually be realized. It’s not as simple with poker, but that’s what gives the game such huge potential. I don’t care how smart you are or how well you can count the cards; if you play at a Blackjack game with lousy rules and horrible penetration, you’re not likely to ever win at it. However, as a poker player, you don’t have to beat the rules or the dealer or even the cards – you only have to beat the other guy. And, because poker is as democratic a game as any out there, the “other guy” might possess a lot less skill than you. Given enough time, you will prevail over the person who is less skilled than you, if your skill includes not making as many mistakes as the other guy.

For those of us (myself included) who are relatively new to poker, avoiding stupid, dumb mistakes is the first thing we have to do. But that comes with experience, plus a healthy dose of good old-fashioned discipline, something winning Blackjack players already have. Time will give us the experience. Once we get beyond making mistakes ourselves, we want to create opportunities that will not only allow, but actually encourage our opponents to make mistakes – mistakes that will cause them to lose their \$\$\$ to us. No, we won’t win every hand and sometimes other players will benefit when we force one of our opponents to make a mistake, but in the long run we’ll collect what’s owed to us, simply because that’s how “expected value” works. Just like losing with 20 against a dealer’s up card of 6, it stings when it happens, but wouldn’t you like to play every hand of Blackjack with a 20 versus 6? You’d own the casino in a month; three weeks if they dealt quickly.

Okay, here’s the matrix. It’s a separate page, which will allow you to print it out and keep by your side if you’re playing online (and who isn’t these days?) As you get used to it, you’ll find you’re memorizing it pretty well, so if you play at brick-and-mortar casinos where something like this chart may not be permitted (or, as in my case, too embarrassing to use), the benefits will still be available. Take a look at it, print a copy and I’ll explain a few things about it below.

Basic Strategy Matrix