online poker

Hand strength in online poker is relative

What exactly is a strong hand in online poker and what exactly is a weak hand?

If you asked a hundred novices in online poker to name a strong pre-flop starting hand in say no limit hold’em and many of them would talk about A-A simply because it is the pre-flop nuts. While there is no doubt that A-A is a powerful hand in no limit play, the strength of A-A is highly dependent on the skill level of the person who is playing it.

Many players misplay A-A and misplay it badly and so the underlying strength of this hand is flexible and varied. However a strong hand can be defined in a different way because a top player would not just classify a hand as simply two playing cards as in hold’em for example. They would classify a hand as the entire situation and spectrum of events. Let us look at an extreme but relevant example to show what I mean. Let us say that it is folded around to you in a live game instead of an online poker game and you look across to your opponents in the blinds from your seat on the button and both players are picking up their cards to fold.

The situation is strong

Let us say that your hand is 7c-3d and so the question is if your hand is strong or weak? Clearly if you looked at the content of the hand in isolation then the cards are weak. However the combined effect of the hand when coupled with position and your opponent’s likely actions muddy the waters somewhat. So a situation can be strong despite having poor cards because in this instance then the situation is strong despite your hand strength. So this example highlights how strength and weaknesses can not only be misapplied but can also lead to a lack of deep understanding of online poker.

There are many factors that define whether or not a hand is strong. If you asked someone whether or not Q-Q was a strong hand in online poker then all novices and even intermediate players would say yes. However more advanced players would say that this rather depends because a Q-Q hand in online poker can be terribly weak and suffer from reverse implied odds simply because A-A or K-K may be out there. Even K-K would be terribly weak if A-A was out there in the same hand.

Changing your perception

One of the key transformations of an online poker player arrives when they begin to look at hand strength not in a fixed way but more in an objective way. Let us say that a player limps in UTG in a NL200 full ring game and it then gets folded around to you in the cut-off with a hand like Q-Q. The question is if your hand is weak or strong? Well clearly it is a strong hand based simply on the information that you have at your disposal at this time. However let us say that the small blind re-raises and the UTG limper comes out of the bushes and raises again. Now you can ask the same question regarding whether or not your Q-Q is strong and the answer may and probably is totally different. Now the Q-Q looks very weak but yet we are still involved in the same hand pre-flop and the hand has moved from being very strong to probably very weak in the space of two further betting actions.