Preflop Part 1
Preflop is where it all begins. When the hole cards are dealt, you need to know what kind of hand and what kind of pot you are looking for. If you are dealt a small pocket pair, for example, you want to hit a set and play a large pot on a non-threatening flop or a medium-large pot on the river if you don’t improve to a full-house. If you hit that full house, the goal is to play a huge pot.
If you are dealt a hand like As5s, you’re looking for a flush – sure a bicycle straight is ok if it falls in your lap, but with this particular hand it cannot ever be a nut straight. Other random flopped full houses, trips and such are good too, but the main goal with a hand like suited aces is to hit the nut flush on a non-paired board and play a gigantic, multi-way pot.
If you get AK Preflop, you know that most likely you’re going to be playing to spike an ace or king and play a small-medium sized pot. Remember to know what kind of hand and what kind of pot you’re going to be playing for when you see those hole cards.
One other important thing to note before moving to the next section is that everything changes based upon the table and your opponents. The following guidelines about where to limp and where to raise are only guidelines. For example, if you have an opponent who is a pushover (weak-tight) then you should be more willing to raise weak hands against him and get it heads up vs. him so that you can either take his blinds or limp money or steal the pot postflop. If you have position on a calling station, then make the most of your small edges by raising hands like medium pocket pairs or decent aces.
1. Limping Hands:
Limping means paying the minimum amount, one big blind, to see a flop. If the game is .5/1 NL, that means paying exactly $1 to see a flop. Limping can be good when other people ahead of you have limped in already, but I am against opening the pot with a limp. Opening the pot with a limp means you are either UTG or everyone in front of you has folded and you are the first person to put money in the pot.
Note: If you are the first person to put money in, it’s best to come in with a raise. This isn’t a hard and fast rule, but for most purposes, it works. The reasoning behind this is based on several factors. One being that aggression wins money in no limit Hold ‘em. You want to be the one in charge because it puts the pressure on your opponents and forces them to make difficult guesses and decisions about your hand, their hand, and the best action to take.
You save yourself from as many difficult decisions by raising. If you see the hand from your opponent’s eyes, he doesn’t know what you have. You have represented a strong hand by your raise and he doesn’t know if you have a big overpair, a couple of missed overcards, or complete trash. He will have to make the more difficult decision of whether or not to continue with the hand after you have made the less difficult decision to make a continuation bet. Whatever action your opponent takes will give you more information about his hand than your c-bet has given him about yours.
Your raise gives you the initiative in the pot which is good for two reasons that bounce off each other: First, it gets more money in the pot for you to win, and second, it gives you more of a chance to win the pot. Your raise will put opponents on the defensive which means they will simply fold more often than had you only limped. Since your raise got more money in the pot, this will work out to a higher win rate over time. This doesn’t mean you will win every pot after a preflop raise, but it does mean you will win more pots over time.
Limp suited aces in late position if people are already in the pot. If there are one or fewer limpers, then raise it in LP. You’re looking to hit a flush on a big multi-way pot with this hand if there are many people in with you. Otherwise, you’re looking to steal.
Same as above goes for Kxs.
Limp SC’s in LP – looking for straights, flushes, combo draws, and steals. Raise them and attack the blinds when there are no limpers.
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2. Raising Hands:
The raising hand standards are very table-dependent. In tight games, open up your raising range from all positions. In loose-passive games, tighten up raising range and increase your limping range from all positions. Why? In a tight game, you can raise 67s and take the pot down easier. However, in a tight game, opponents are playing better hands so if you raise with KTo, you really need to take an uncontested pot. Preflop, if you get a caller or two or three, then spike a king on the flop and get any action, don’t get too attached to the hand.
When playing in loose games where preflop raises get called and continuation bets get routine calls, you are going to have to win pots by having better cards, not bigger balls. Limp in cheap with your pocket pairs from all positions, your suited aces and kings in late position and wait for good hands.
Don’t be afraid to take stabs at small pots now and then, but your main goal is to have patience. The main way to make money in loose games other than waiting waiting for monsters is to value bet your opponents to death – for example you raise with AK preflop, hit your king, then bet on the flop, turn, river and let them muck that KTo they couldn’t fold.
In all games you want to raise AA-TT from all positions. With AA, KK, and to an extent, QQ, you want to build big pots against one opponent preflop. The more callers you get, the harder it is for your hand to take the pot down unimproved.
Raise AK, AQ, and AJ from all positions in all games. Be careful with AJ and AQ because many opponents will cold call you with AK and AQ. You do not want to play huge pots or call postflop raises with these two hands if all you hit is a single pair.
I also suggest raising KQ from all positions except KQo from the blinds if there are a lot of people in. Otherwise, raise it up from every position. If you suspect you will be playing out of position against several people, there is not much value in raising KQo or AJo.
Again, be careful in all situations. Just because you raised with a good hand preflop, it doesn’t mean you have the best hand. Many people will call raises with AK and then just check-call you all the way down when a K falls and let you overplay your hand.
In tight games, it’s good to establish a strong image and put yourself in position to run the table. In a tight game, you want to be seen as a smart lag, not a complete money-spewer, so you need to have strong post-flop skills. Always raise the above hands, but also in LP or first in raise A9s and A8s. Raise 67s, 78s, 89s, 9Ts, TJs, and any two face cards in LP. Again, be very careful, you’re going to get called by dominating aces at times and you need to know when to push your hand and when to check it down, even if you do hit a pair. More on LAG play later.
In super-tight games, raise any two suited cards in LP and any two connectors. The goal is to either loosen the games up or make your profit by stealing. Eventually you’ll hit a real hand, someone will finally stand up to you, and then you’ll break them. The whole process then starts over as everyone fears you once again.
If smart players catch on and start 3-betting and playing back at you, then you are going to have to change gears and slow down for a while or find a new table. If there are smart players at your table, I prefer a change of tables. If players start calling you down too loosely, then you will want to slow down by playing more straight forward which means raising less trash preflop, bluffing less, and value betting more.
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