How to Play Monster Hands
by Chad Holloway of Predictem.com
How should you play a big hand in poker? Unfortunately, there isn't a simple answer to that question. How you should play a big hand is really subjective to a long list of factors. These factors include your position, the type of opponents you're facing, stack sizes, and the strength of your hand. Another factor that needs be taken into consideration is when you are playing the hand: Preflop, after the flop, the turn, or after the last card has been dealt (the river).
Lets take a look at a few examples on how you could play a big hand preflop. Generally speaking, a big hand in a preflop game, such as Texas Holdem, includes big pocket pairs and high cards. Examples of these types of hands include pocket Aces, Kings, Queens, Jacks, Tens, Ace-King and Ace-King suited. These are the hands that poker players commonly agree have preflop strength. Some players believe that hands such as pocket twos through nines, Ace-Queen, Ace-Jack, and any combination of face cards are also strong. These hands certainly do have potential; however, they are vulnerable to many stronger hands, making them risky hands to get overly involved in. So how should you play a big hand preflop?
There are basically two trains of thought. The first is to put in a raise to protect the strength of your hand and cut down on the number of players who see a flop. The more players that see the flop, the higher the chance of your hand being beat in the end. By putting in a raise preflop, a standard raise being about 3x the big blind (the higher the raise the better chance of driving out players), you will put pressure on your opponents. If they fold, then you pick up the pot right there, which is a good outcome, and if they call you are making it expensive for them to try and crack your hand. Of course it is better to be in position when you do get a caller, meaning you act after them each and every betting round. Position is extremely important because it forces your opponent to act first, which provides you with plenty of information on how to proceed.
The second way to play a big hand preflop is to "slow-play," which refers to playing weak when you have a big hand in the hopes of inspiring your opponents to make a bet, thus building the pot for you. For example, imagine you look down at pocket Kings under-the-gun (the first person to act immediately after the blinds) and your initial reaction is to raise; however, with just the blinds in the pot you want to win a larger amount. Try slow-playing. This means just limping-in with the hopes that one of the many players to act behind raises the pot; that way, when the action comes back around to you, you can reraise and hopefully take down a decent pot.
Deciding when and when not to slow-play is highly determined by position. Generally, if you flop a big hand and are first to act, you should check and let the other players take a stab at the pot. If you act last and action checks around, you may want to check to allow your opponents to catch up a little bit. On the other hand, if you act last and you face a bet, you can either put in a raise or continue to slow play by just smooth calling.
In general, by slow-playing, you disguise the strength of your hand and can often deceive your opponents. Unfortunately, the flop can also bring any combination of cards, which means your premium starting hand won't always take down the pot no matter what you do. That's poker, and it also leads us into post-flop play.
Now lets assume you are looking at a monster flop where you flopped the nuts or close to it; for simplicity's sake, lets say you hold the 10d 9d on a 6h 7s 8c flop, meaning you flopped the absolute nut straight. How should you play a monster hand like this? Luckily for you, post-flop play allows for a lot of creative leeway.
The first thing to ask yourself is how can I get the most money in the pot against these particular opponents? Like most decisions in poker, the answer to this question is going to be subjective to your particular game. You don't chase away all your action, so what can you do? If you flop the nuts and make a large bet into the pot, you will more than likely cause everyone else to fold; instead, this is a prime example when to slow-play and use position to your advantage.
However, there are some instances where you won't want to slow-play the flopped nuts; for example, when you flop top set on a 10d Jd 6h board. Here, there is a flush draw and a couple of straight draws and by slow-playing you run the risk of having your hand cracked (beaten) by allowing a free card. Instead, in a situation like this you will want to play the hand straight forward and make a bet; usually enough to take down the pot or at least enough to make a call by a drawing hand mathematically incorrect.
The same plays that are made on the flop can also be made on the turn. You can use the information garnered from the flop (I.e. Did your opponent check-raise? Did he check the flop and the turn, showing extreme weakness? Is he acting nervous?) to help direct your next move. If you still feel you have the best hand at this point, you'll still want to take into account your hand's vulnerabilities and any possible draws and defend against them by making a properly sized bet.
Playing the nuts after the river is fairly self-evident. The main rule is to bet your own hand, meaning don't check and hope your opponent bets so you can reraise him. More times than not your opponent will simply check behind and you'll have missed an opportunity to bet. On top of this, many times when you put in a river bet your opponent will attempt a bluff, which is exactly what you want when you hold a monster hand. Remember, when you're lucky enough to hold an super strong hand, you are looking to get paid off. Let your play reflect this and you'll do just fine.
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