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Playing Over-cards before the Flop

Elsewhere on our site, we've discussed playing different types of starting hands, and focused in particular on the challenge of playing pocket aces. In this article, we are going to focus on playing "over-cards" – big hands such as A-K and A-Q, which have great potential, but which can also get you in deep trouble when you miss the flop.

Despite the tendency to get wide-eyed when receiving a hand like this, it's easy to get into a complicated situation which could end up costing you a bunch of chips. Hence, a cautionary note regarding these hands is to take special care when playing them from early position.

Like any other hand, the wisest strategy is to vary the way you play it. As with all poker hands, this makes it much more complicated for your opponents to figure out what hand you are playing. Therefore, you should mix up raising and calling with a hand like A-K.
To make this move the most effective (and best disguised), you should mix up raising and calling with other hands such as 8-9 suited or a small pair. Not only will this help keep your opponents off-guard and murky about what you have, but you may find yourself hitting three of a kind or two pair on the flop. You also have an exit strategy if you raise with a weaker starting because you can fold if you get re-raised without suffering too much damage.

What's counter-intuitive about this tactic is that you would tend to think that you want to raise with hands like A-K or A-Q. However, in early position, limping in gives you the benefit of encouraging callers behind and even encouraging late-position players (such as the button) to raise. Now you are in a position to either re-raise to try and steal a big pot (especially if the button himself was trying to steal with a weak hand) or simply make a call and seek to outplay your opponent on the flop. If you completely miss the flop, you can proceed cautiously and minimize the damage, while you have given yourself more opportunities to win significantly larger amounts of chips.

Look at the advantages of that over the situation where you had initially raised the A-K or A-Q. If you had raised, the likelihood is much higher that those callers fold their hands and that the raiser calls you.  Limping in not only sweetened the pot, but gave you a chance to steal it pre-flop. Of course, if you hit, then you're well set up to win a large pot.

Once again, the way to play over-cards is not always to call, hoping for a raise behind, but rather  to mix up your play with these cards. Always take into account the table action and your opponents' playing styles to calculate how aggressive you ought to be, and conceal your over-card raises by sometimes making similar moves with weaker starting hands.

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