Poker Strategy: The Virtues of Patience

In Hold'em Poker, patience is a virtue. Wait for good starting hands and then play them aggressively. But avoid getting trapped because you played a troublesome hand from early position, and then are forced to call a raise with a hand you suspect might not be the best hand even if the flop hits it. Remember: if you lose or lack patience you'll stray far afield from your goal of selectivity.

As a concept, patience is certainly related to the "be selective" portion of the "be selective; be aggressive " mantra. Just how selective you should be can vary, however, depending on the texture of the game and your current table image. You'll find more on table image in the article titled "Coping When It All Goes Wrong" that is part of this series. For now, let's talk about patience as it relates to "be selective; be aggressive."

Although few players you come in contact with will dispute the need to play selective poker, what most players consider selective and what you should consider selective are two entirely different things.

Many players are fond of hands like K♠T♦ or Q♥J♣ from early position, regardless of how aggressive the game might be. They'll raise without hesitating. After all, in their value system, any two cards ten-or-above are powerful holdings, and worth getting involved with regardless of the circumstances.

Trust us on this one. If you're holding either of those two hands, and someone raises, do you think you have the best hand and are a favorite? Probably not, and you should throw away those hands before cold-calling a raise for two bets. You shouldn't be any more confident either, if you called one bet, were raised by a player to your left, and had to call that raise before seeing the flop.

When you call a raise and the flop misses you entirely, that's not much of a problem. While it might cost two bets, it's a hand that's easy to get away from. The real problem arises when you catch part of the flop. Suppose you called a raise with K♠T♦ and the flop contains a king. Now the raiser bets. Do you like your hand? It's a tough call precisely because you really don't have much to go on when you try to decide whether you have the best hand.

When he came out betting, your opponent may have been bluffing with a hand like A-Q, or semibluffing with J-J, but he might also have a hand like A-K. You can't be sure what he has, and consequently no idea about where you stand in relation to your opponent.

If your opponent holds a king, his kicker is likely to be better than yours, since you can be fairly sure he didn't raise before the flop with K-9. If you have a hand like K-T and your opponent holds K-Q or A-K, other than some odd flops that will result in a split pot or a miracle flop that gives you a straight, there are only three cards in the deck that can win it for you.

Yet many players in your game probably treat K-T as though it were a top-notch hand. It's not. Sure, it's a hand you should see the flop with if you're in late position and no one has raised. In fact, if you are in late position and no one has called the blinds, it's frequently a raising hand. But it is not a hand you can cold-call a raise with, nor is it a hand you can comfortably play from early position if you are in a game where frequent raises are the rule rather than the exception.

It is a troublesome hand. So are hands like A-J, A-T, Q-J, Q-T, J-T, and A-x suited. While they have their place in your repertoire of playable hands, they are hands that have to be played carefully. This is where patience is a virtue in your poker strategy. If you play these hands indiscriminately, they will put a dent in your bankroll. While they may look good to many hold'em players, when you are dealt these hands in the wrong position, or in a ram-and-jam game, you need the patience and discipline to throw them away.


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