How to Play

Early position

In this section we’ll:

What is early position?

Pre-flop, early position is the seat immediately to the left of the big blind. On larger tables this can include the next couple of players as well. After the flop, well, it’s the first player to act.

Playing in early position and making good decisions is hard.

Why? You’re acting first, with less information. That’s why it can feel like a guessing game.

What to play in early position?

Simply put - premium hands.

If you’re in early position and first to bet, you’ve got to be a bit of a spoiled brat. Only play with the best hands but bear the following in mind:

  • Mix it up when you’re playing with small pairs to medium pairs like 10-10 and J-J by varying between raising and calling
  • Hands with two big cards like K-Q or J-10 may look good but they can get you into trouble when you land up cornered after the flop
  • Fancy trying a cunning move? Trap other players with a re-raise. The ideal hands to do it with are A-A, K-K and Q-Q. Just call the big blind – hoping this will be seen as a weakness – then raise and finally do the re-raise. This crafty little trick works the best at an aggressive table where raising and re-raising happens often enough that doing it won’t set off any alarm bells

Top late position tips:

Small, but mighty, pairs

Opportunities come in small packages in early position. Small pairs are the easiest hands to play in early position.

Why? Because after the flop you’ve either completed your set and can start working out how to milk the most money out of the hand or it’s a dead end and you can back out without losing much.

Watch out, though. You could still get into a bad situation later on in the hand.

Guessing game

After the flop things get tough when you’re out of position (not one of the first players to act). Do you bet or check?

  • If you’ve got a decent hand and multiple opponents, bet. It’s a handy way to stop players hanging around and getting the cards to make a winning hand
  • When you’re at a table with aggressive players, check-raising is a better move. This’ll mean more money in the pot when you’re confident you’ve got the best hand.


When you’ve raised before the flop and been called, checking after the flop (with intention of check-raising) can be a good move.

Check-raise if you’ve got a strong hand, like:

  • An overpair (a pocket pair higher than anything in the flop)
  • A top pair (a pair made up of one of your pocket cards and the highest card in the flop)

You can also use this technique as a bluff. For instance, when you’ve got A-K and didn’t make a pair on the flop. If you’re called by another player and the cards that still haven’t been drawn complete your hand, it’s likely to be better than the other player’s.

It’s good because…

  • You’re basically running the show! You’re keeping the betting lead and you’re putting pressure on the other players who are in on the hand

It might be bad because…

  • It costs more to check and then raise that it does to bet straight out because you’re having to improve on what someone else has already bet

Continuation betting

If you’re playing against more passive players, just bet on your strong hands and then continuation bet when you miss the flop because your opponents will probably only call or raise when they have a good hand.

Delayed continuation bet

This is when you check with the intention of betting whatever comes on the turn (the fourth shared card) if your opponent checks too.

It’s good because…

It makes you look like you have a strong hand that you were trying to hide on the flop. It works best when your opponents have seen you check-raise the flop with good hands in the past.

Check-raising on the flop

A great little move to pull out when you’re faced with aggressive opponents who will call on the flop and try and take the pot away from you on the turn.


When you’ve got a strong hand or as a bluff.

It’s good because…

It’ll stop aggressive players from bullying you out of a hand.

It could be bad because…

If you do this move, you’ve got to really go for it meaning it’ll mean putting in a lot of chips.

Control Freak

When you have a mediocre hand (like a pair or even an overpair), it’s important that you try to control the size of the pot so you don’t lose too many chips if you’re beaten.

In fact, one of the best-known sayings among poker pros is ‘only play a big pot with a big hand’.

So, if an opponent is going after you and is fighting for the pot, try checking or calling if he bets. It keeps the pot small and if you end up losing later in the hand it won’t cost you too much.


It stops you from taking the lead, which would open you up to being raised, and then you’d have to either play a really big pot with a rubbish hand or just throw your hand away.

Also if you check it could trick your opponents into thinking you’re hand isn’t that great. This works really well on the river when you check with an overpair because you might lure your opponent into bluffing.

Blocking bet/defensive bet

By making a small defensive bet – roughly 30% of the pot – you stop your opponent from making a big bet that forces you to make a tough decision.

It works because they will call your blocking bet to stay in the hand but won’t raise it – because that would be too risky. It’s a subtle way of keeping the pot under control and playing the hand on your terms. Whereas if you check you could be bluffed or forced into matching your opponent’s bet.

Post flop when facing a single opponent

It could be bad because…

If you use this move against a strong opponent they’ll see it as a lack of commitment which means you could be attacked.

Now that you’ve got a few more tricks to add to your play, the best thing to do is get out there and practice them, either for real or play money.

Remember though, playing in early position is hard and you’re at a disadvantage so try to wait until you’re in late position to put your chips in.