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In high-limit hold’em cash games and tournaments, players are less prone to start with marginal (mediocre) or weaker hands. They realize that these hands are not likely to improve enough to win the pot.

On the other hand, low/middle-limit players are much more inclined to pay to see the flop with such hands. As a result, it’s not uncommon that seven or more players stay to see if the flop improves their hands.

Charts and other sources are available that suggest reasonable starting hands. Personally, I believe the Hold’em Algorithm is the best way to make that important decision. It’s important because you are making a commitment to invest your chips in that hand.

Before we delve into this important topic, let me explain the criteria used in the Hold’em Algorithm for starting-hand selection:

• Value of your two hole cards (rank; pairs; connectors; suited)

• Your betting position

• Have there been any raises or likely to be? (Look for tells.)

• Number of opponents staying in the pot

• Types of opponents in the pot, and texture of the game

The Hold’em Algorithm quickly gives a score based on the first two criteria; your observations can satisfy the others.

Based on the Hold’em Algorithm, generally about 20 to 30 percent of your hole cards will be worthy of investment.

Rarely should you expect more than that. But, how often do I see opponents playing hand after hand? It’s not uncommon to see a player pay to see the flop three out of four hands – or even more often.

Speaking of tells, we often seek tells – comments or actions by our opponents that give us valuable information related to that hand. What could be more obvious than how often he pays to see the flop? Discount the blinds when there is no raise.

There are three situations you will encounter:

• Opponent consistently calls to see the flop more often than one out of four hands dealt – you can expect to see this in most low/middle limit hold’em games, but it can occur even in high-stake games.

He is a loose player and not likely to have any reasonable standards for hand selection. Undoubtedly, he will stay to see the flop with any Ace, King, and possibly Queen; two suited hole cards, no matter their rank; and connectors, even with a gap.

He is also likely to be a calling station, calling your bets and raises so long as he has any chance of connecting to a made hand.

He may get lucky now and then and take a pot on the showdown; and he may pull off more bad beats than most of the other players. But in the long run he is bound to be a loser. The odds are so much against him.

• Opponent usually plays one out of three or fewer hole cards, often folding while in the big blind or the small blind.

This is the mark of a tight player. Respect his hand, and especially any raises he may make – at any time. Ideally, you should try to be seated just to his left so you can see how he bets before you must act.

Note: Just as you would when playing against a very aggressive opponent – a “maniac,” when a seat to his left becomes available, consider moving into that seat – before another smart player beats you to the punch. Just tell the dealer of your intent.

• Occasionally you will find yourself in a game where the vast majority of your opponents abide by the Hold’em Algorithm (or equivalent), generally paying to see the flop no more often than 25 – 30 percent of the hands dealt.

That’s a very tight table. Considering that there is a significant cost-to-play, you are not likely to win very much, if at all in such a tight game. Consider making a table change.

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About the Author

George Epstein

A retired engineer, George 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.” He teaches poker courses and conducts a unique Poker Lab at the Claude Pepper Senior Center under the auspices of the City of Los Angeles Dept. of Recreation and Parks and at West Los Angeles College.

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