GENERAL POKER STRATEGY - Analysis of first 2 cards
In Texas Hold'em, the decision to play or not to play the first two cards you receive is critical, even more so than in a game such as Seven Card Stud. The reason for this is since players share 5 cards in common, it is more difficult to radically improve poor starting cards, as any luck you may have with subsequent cards may also benefit the other players.
Example: you hold 88 and the flop comes AAA, in 7 Card Stud chances are your full house would hold up as the AAA are yours exclusively and not shared with the other players; however, in Texas Hold'em, the possibility of someone now having AAAA is good plus you also face your full house being beaten by any pair larger than your pair of 88.
Most of the money you will win or lose in Texas Hold'em will be the result of of the decision you make on the first two cards. Many times, when you end up chasing or with the second best hand, you can trace it back to the decision you made to play the first two cards, when you probably should have passed. Mistakes made on the first two cards tend to compound on subsequent betting rounds, and can therefor be more expensive than mistakes you make on later rounds.
One way to measure the value of your first two cards are to evaluate your feelings when called or raised after betting. Chances are that if you are not happy about being called or raised, you are less than pleased about the quality of your first two cards. We are assuming here that you are not just trying to steal the pot, but intend to actually play these cards to the river.
If, on the other hand, you are pleased to have players call or raise you, or at least neutral, you are probably playing the first two cards correctly.
Senior Poker Columnist