Poker Strategy - 4/8 - Playability

This is the fourth part of an eight-part guide to the basics of poker strategy. If you have already read this tutorial, then you can access the fifth part here. If you missed the previous part, "Position", then you'll find it here.


The playability of your hand helps you to make the best decisions, after the flop.

The best time to invest your money into the pot is when you are the likeliest person to win the hand. To be able to work out when you're the favorite to win a hand, you need to accurately gauge the real strength of your hand. Once you understand your hand's playability, then the more chips you are able to invest.

When your hand has good playability, you can dominate

It can be difficult sometimes to understand just how strong your hand is, and how likely you are to win the pot. Let's say, for example, that your pocket cards are Q♣6, and the flop is Q♠8♠4. You have a pretty decent chance of winning with the top pair, and you want to get to the showdown with the strongest hand. How confident are you that you'll be gathering in the chips when it comes to the showdown?

There are two other Qs out there and if you're playing with nine other players there's a reasonable chance that one of the others at the table has one. In the 6 you also have a pretty weak kicker, and there are four aces and four kings to contend with as well. In all these situations you are likely to be behind, unless another Q or a 6 arrives on the turn or the river.

If you are holding Q♠T♠ against A♣K and the flop is A♠8♠4 you still have a pretty decent chance of winning. You are obviously behind, but you have a very good chance of making your nuts-flush. If a spade pops out on the turn then you have every chance of sucking in the chips, as your opponent has a good hand (top pair with an excellent kicker), but is unlikely to beat your nuts-flush.

The playability of a hand dictates which hand is the favorite to win when it comes to the showdown. The more often you are the favorite (and have knowledge of this) then the more chips you are likely to win.


A hand's playability influences its selectability

The playabilty of your hand only becomes really important after the flop, and the post-flop situations you find yourself in depends upon your pre-flop hand selection. So which hands should you play before the flop?

You should always work towards playing big pots when you have strong hands. However, a strong hand only really has worth when your opponents also have strong hands that are weaker than yours (there's no worse feeling in Texas Hold'em, pre-flop, when you are dealt a pair of aces, and the rest of the table folds). In situations such as this, you need to keep your opponents tossing in the chips so you get the maximum value for your hand.

There are some general rules about your pocket cards' playability:

  • Aces with a strong kicker are much better than aces with a weak kicker
  • Suited cards are better than non-suited cards
  • Connected cards are much better than non-connected cards
  • Paired cards are much better than non-paired cards

When it comes to choosing which starting hands to play, the following graphic acts as a handy guide:

Playable Starting Hands

If you have a playable hand, then post-flop play becomes easier

If you see the flop with a playable hand, then it makes your decisions, after the flop, much easier:

  • if you are clearly ahead, try and get money into the pot
  • if you are clearly behind, check if you can, fold if you are bet to
  • if you have a strong draw, keep playing aggressively or passively

Only playing hands with good playability will see you make less mistakes and as a result, make more profit from your poker-playing. You will still have to make tough decisions now and again, but the less hands you play with poor playability, the less often such decisions will arise.

This concludes the fourth lesson in an eight-part series on the basics of poker strategy. To view the next article, click here.

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