Hand selection will determine what you are working with after the flop is dealt. If you get involved in a lot of pots with speculative hands, expect some big wins and some big losses. If you play a lot of strong starting hands, expect to win a lot of decent sized pots. If you play a lot of weak hands, expect to go home with nothing. With all of that said, though, it is obvious that much more comes into play than the hand itself.
There are a number of different things to consider when it comes to proper hand selection. The single most important element in hand selection is your position at the table. There are some hands where you will play from any position, but others will depend entirely upon where you are seated. The other factors that come into play with hand selection include the action, the action, and the action. Yes, the action is very, very important. Sometimes you will re-raise with AQ, where other times you will fold AQ. The action ahead, behind, and including you should always be given great respect when selecting which hands to play and which hands not to play.
Hand selection is one of the very few areas of the game that many players have managed to all but master. In small stakes full ring games on the internet, you are going to run into many regulars who have a very good idea what they are doing. The best and most winning online players do not tend to stray very far from their winning ways and patterns. As such, it does not make sense to try to reinvent the wheel when it comes to pre-flop hand selection. Yes, there are situations where 3 betting light and getting fancy can be profitable, but they are not exactly going to happen every single hand. The best strategy is to have a hard outline of what you should and shouldn’t be doing. It seems like bad advice, following a routine pattern in poker, but it is an absolute necessity. Sloppiness in hand selection is a sure fire way to create a mess for yourself down the line.
Early Position Hand Selection
Early position in the full ring games consists of the under the gun player and the two players immediately after. If you are sitting in one of these positions, you need to come ready with a strong hand. By playing weak hands in early position, you are just asking for trouble. There will be no shortage of times where your open raises are re-raised, or even flatted, and wind up putting you in some truly difficult spots. Superior hand strength is the only true weapon available that can be used to compensate for this.
Do not make open raises or limp into pots in early position when you are holding any sort of suited connector. No matter what type of suited connector it is, large, small, or otherwise, just throw it away. You are going to cause a lot of headaches for yourself if you decide to play these games, especially at a full ring table. Even in 6-max games, though, suited connectors only work well in later positions.
Once suited connectors are eliminated from the equation, it leaves hands like JQ, JK, and QK, super strong hands, and then complete trash. It should be obvious that complete trash belongs in the garbage can, but JQ-QK and even AJ are worth discussing. In short handed games, these would be worthy of a raise. In a full ring table that is being played with 9 or 10 players, however, these are all but instant folds. You would need to be at an either exceptionally loose or exceptionally tight table to justify playing these types of hands out of position. Even in middle and late position JQ-QK and AJ are not exactly the nuts. Anything better than these hands, though, is definitely going to call for a raise. All pocket pairs and AQ+ should enter the pot firing. Don’t sit around and wait for something to happen, kick the action off yourself with a raise.
Middle Position Hand Selection
Hand selection in middle position is not all that different than early position hand selection. You will still want to avoid suited connectors in most every situation, and JQ-QK is still not going to play very well. The trouble with open raising JQ-QK in middle position at a full ring game is that you leave yourself wide open to 3 bets and light 3 bets. You will not feel comfortable calling a 3 bet with this type of hand, and even if you suspect that someone is 3 betting light, you are not going to be in a great position to fire back at them. All in all, these hands are better left alone.
The significant difference between middle position and early position is that you will now be in some spots where you can call open raises. If a player under the gun raises and gets one call, you should be coming along with your pocket pair and AJ+ hands. Now, if a player raises and another player re-raises ahead of you, it could mean folding everything but QQ+. This is going to depend on your particular game, but hand selection and hand value will vary greatly once you start getting involved in raised pots.
Late Position Hand Selection
Late position is where you will have the greatest amount of freedom. You can make plays with weak hands, re-raise with strong hands, or call raises with something in between. There aren’t a whole lot of hands that aren’t capable of being played when you are in late position. The biggest trouble makers in late position are easily preventable and will be easy to fold given the previous action. If you have AK and see that a player has raised and been re-raised, you will be in a situation where you either need to raise again or let go of your hand. Calling 3 bets with pending action is a very big losing play. The same goes with pocket pairs.
There is nothing wrong with calling raises with pocket pairs to set mine, but when you call a 3 bet that could transform into a 4 bet, you are tossing money down the drain. For all of the times where you call re-raises in late position and see a flop, there will be a few times where the re-raise turns into a 4 bet, and in these spots you are a big loser. Use position to set up comfortable spots that will allow you to play profitably after the flop is dealt. Remember, acting last gives you an inherent advantage over the rest of the field regardless of the cards that you hold.