Shoring up your preflop game is one of the quickest and surest ways to improve your overall game and make more money at the poker table. One of the most common weaknesses shared by newer poker players is a tendency to call too often preflop. Playing fewer hands and playing them aggressively is an excellent way for any new player to improve his game in a hurry.
Whether you are new to the game or an experienced veteran, this guide will give you plenty of tips to help you play better poker. This guide is geared towards no limit holdem players, non-holdem players can find information on their preferred game in the strategy section on the left.
Top 5 preflop tips
1. Aggressive in Position, Tight out of Position
You should play many more hands when you are in late position than when you are in early position. Players who are last to act post flop have more information about their opponent’s hand before they have to make a decision. They know whether their opponent has bet or checked. The player in late position’s hand doesn’t need to be quite as strong since they can base their decision on the presumed strength of their opponent’s hand. The additional information makes up for the slightly weaker average starting hand.
The following guide is a good place to start for new players looking for a pre-flop NL holdem starting hand chart. Keep in mind that pre-flop NL holdem hand evaluation changes dramatically between cash games and SNGs and depending on relative stack sizes or a player’s preferred style.
In a 6-max cash game, you can open raise under the gun with any big pairs, medium pairs, AK, AQ, and the stronger of the two big card hands. In middle position add the rest of the pairs and big cards. In late position you can begin to add suited connectors and some marginal hands.
In an SNG or multi-table tournament you can use the cash game guidelines as a baseline. However these guidelines must be adjusted radically based on your stack size relative to that of your table mates and whether or not the tournament is approaching the bubble. Check out our top 5 SNG tips and top 5 tournament poker tips for more information on how to adjust your play for SNGs and tournaments.
2. Raise When Entering the Pot
Whenever you are opening a pot, or entering a pot with limpers in the pot, you should come in for a raise. Raising helps to better define your opponent’s hand(s) and makes playing your hand post flop much easier. For instance, your opponents may limp in with any number of speculative hands, but it is much less likely for them to call a raise out of position with these types of hands. Limiting your opponent’s range of hands by raising pre-flop allows you to have a better idea of what they might be holding post flop, thus making your decisions easier.
Additionally, raising preflop gives you the initiative in the hand and forces your opponent’s to play reactive poker. It is much more difficult for your opponent’s to play against you if they begin the hand on the back foot. It is easier for you to play your hand if you start the hand by raising.
3. Look for Implied Odds Situations
Implied odds situations arise whenever you can safely assume that your opponent’s hand is very strong. For instance, if your opponent is a tight player and he raises to $4 from under the gun in a $100 NL holdem game, and you have a pair of threes in middle position, you are approximately 30% to win vs. a hand range of AA, KK, QQ, and AK. On the face of it, this is an easy fold with a pair of threes as a 30% win rate doesn’t justify calling $4 to win a pot of $11. However, you can assume that if you hit three of a kind on the flop that you will win a very large pot because your opponent has given you reason to think he has a very strong hand. The additional money that you expect to win on later streets in a poker hand is known as implied odds.
If you suspect your opponent has a very strong hand, you should try to see a flop as cheaply as possible with hands that have strong implied odds. These are hands that are easy to play post flop and have the potential to make a strong hand. Hands with good implied odds include all pairs and the majority of suited connectors.
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4. Pay Attention to Your Opponents
Paying attention to the ranges and tendencies of your opponents will give you a huge advantage in helping you determine how to make decisions at the poker table. Players with a very loose raising range can be abused with isolation reraises and continuation bets. Advanced players may even try floating very aggressive players. Very tight players can be abused by looking for implied odds situations. You can also look for scary flops to try to raise tight players off of one-pair hands.
Look for deviations from a player’s typical play style.
If you notice a player is prone to calling a lot and limping in preflop, and then suddenly that player raises preflop, there is a strong likelihood that the player has a very premium hand. If you have a hand that plays well post flop, try to flop a huge hand and win a big pot.
Conversely if you know that a particular player is prone to lead weak hands or bluff a lot post-flop, and suddenly he check-raises, you should be wary of the strength of his hand.
5. Be Willing to Fold
It can be difficult to let go of pocket queens preflop when it’s the best hand you’ve seen in hours. However, if the situation merits a fold, you must have the discipline to fold the hand if you want to be a winning poker player. This piece of advice is even more important in low stakes NL holdem games. Most low-stakes grinders aren’t creative enough to try to force a player to fold an obviously strong hand by bluffing an even greater show of strength. Unless you have a good reason not to, believe the 4-bet raise, it is probably the nuts.