Preflop Introduction

Introduction to exercise

This exercise is based on 6-max No-limit Hold’em with normal stack size (about 100 Big Blinds) and normal raise sizes. This means raising to around 2.25 to 3 Big Blinds when opening the pot, to 3x when 3-betting in position and 4x when 3-betting out of position  and to around 23 Big Blinds when 4-betting. The strategy will work well in most situations, including early stage tournaments, cash games and Zoom.

The preflop ranges have been updated to be state-of-the-art 2022 and are in line with recommendations from the most reputable poker training sites (for example Upswing and Poker Coaching). They are based on GTO (Game Theory Optimal) ranges for 6-max cash games with stack size 100BB, 2.5 BB raises preflop and 5% rake (capped at 4BB). This is a common structure at $ 50 NL. 

The ranges are a somewhat simplified version of the GTO ranges by using pure strategy instead of mixed – meaning you will always do the same thing with the same hand in a certain scenario. That means that they are not really GTO, but if you are  playing at levels below $500 NL cash it is unlikely to make any noticeable difference. And it makes the ranges significantly easier to learn. 

The simplification will not be visible in a HUD (heads-up display), since general frequencies are aligned with GTO. But for a very advanced player who has played against you for a very long time, it will be possible to get a tiny advantage if they figure out exactly what your ranges are looking like. When playing full GTO you are using mixed strategies, which means you will not always do the same thing in the same situation. For example, you will sometimes be calling with TT in the BTN vs a CO open and sometimes you will raise.

Practice with your own ranges

If you for some reason prefer using your own ranges, you can save them and do all the preflop exercises. Your ranges are saved to the cloud and accessible from all your devices. Reasons for wanting your own ranges might be that you are using wider ranges than the included GTO ranges to exploit weaker players. Or maybe you are a beginner and want to start with tighter ranges that are easier in the beginning. Or you have another set of recommended ranges from somewhere. Select Edit Ranges on the intro page to preflop play to access the Range Editor. Here you will see the following:

  • Hero: This is you.
  • Hero action: For example you open the pot or call a 3-bet.
  • Hero position: For example BTN (as in Button).
  • Villain: This is your opponent.
  • Villains position: For example BB (as in Big Blind).

Introduction to preflop play

Preflop play is laying the foundation for everything else in Texas Hold’em. If you don’t play well preflop it is very hard – or even impossible to make up for that at later streets. The fact that we are making preflop decisions every single hand makes it even more important to get it right. The good news is that how to play well preflop is well researched and understood. You don’t have to come up with a strategy yourself. The less good news is that there is a lot to memorize to learn it well and it is boring. But that’s were this exercise comes into play. 

You practice and get immediate feedback telling you when you get it right and when you don’t. Before we get into the details, please note that this strategy is meant to be the starting point, you should adjust your play depending on the circumstances (at least when you are an advanced player). For example, raise more hands on the button if the blinds fold too often to a steal.  Also note that there are other ways to play preflop that can be successful, you can play profitably both with a tighter style and with a loser. 

Some of the most successful players are looser and more aggressive than the strategy described here. But that style of playing is significantly more difficult and only recommended for the strongest players who has a significant skill advantage over their opponents.

Positions

Positions refer to how players are seated around the table. There are some different notations for this,  Poker Trainer is using the following:

  • UTG is Under The Gun – first to act
  • MP is Middle position, the position after UTG
  • CO is Cutoff and is the position before the button
  • BTN – The button is the dealer
  • SB – The Small Blind
  • BB – The Big Blind

Ranges

A range refers to all the hands that a player is playing, for example pocket pairs Queens to Aces and Aces and Kings. Normally we don’t know what range a player is having, but a very important part of poker is assigning (by observation, knowledge and analytical assessment) a likely range to an opponent. This part is covered in the Hand Reading exercise. There is a shorthand notation to make it easier to describe ranges, for example:

  • AJs+ means suited aces AJs or better, that is; AJs, AQs, AKs
  • AQo+ means off-suit AQ and AK
  • 55-AA means pocket pairs from 55 to aces

Another way to describe recommended ranges is through a range matrix, for example recommended hands to raise in UTG:

The green hands are the ones that are included in the range, the gray are hands to fold. You should for example raise with AA or A2s. The s stands for suited, meaning that the cards are of the same suit, for example spades. You should for example raise with all variations of those, like Ace of spades and 2 of spades or Ace of clubs and 2 of clubs.

On the left side are offsuit hands, like for example A2o. As can be seen above, A2o is gray which means all combinations of offsuit aces should be folded, like for example Ace of spades and 2 of diamonds.

To explore the recommended GTO based ranges for opening, calling and 3-betting, see the following:

Other ranges

In the preflop exercise you will also find GTO ranges for calling 3-bets, 4-betting, calling 4-bets, 5-betting and calling 5-bets. Use the Range Editor to explore these ranges and practice them in the preflop exercise.

Adjusting your preflop play

The ranges used in this exercise are meant to be a default starting point. They will work fine as they are without adaptations up to a certain point. After a certain point you should consider:

  • Playing a mixed strategy
  • Adjust to opponents by exploiting their mistakes

It is hard to say exactly when this certain point is. In general you want to be easily beating the stake your playing at and you are facing opponents that are advanced enough to profit from your simplified (pure) strategy. This is not relevant on micro or small stakes. It might be relevant on mid-stakes but it definitely is important at high stakes. So in general you can start considering adaptations at $200 NL online cash games or $5 / $10 live cash games.

If you are playing tournaments you will be fine with these ranges (with pure strategy) at early stage tournaments with buy-in up to a few hundred dollars. In tournaments it is however important to adapt to the stack sizes and the stage of the tournaments, which has a noticeable impact even at small buy-in tournaments. Learning adaptation for mid- and late stage tournaments is beyond the scope of this exercise.

Here are a few things you will do when you get more advanced:

  • Become less predictable by not always doing the same thing – for example sometimes you will call with AJs in the BTN vs a CO open and sometimes you will raise.
  • Move some of the default cold calling hands to become default 3-betting instead.
  • Add a few more hands to call 3-bets with, in particular smaller suited connectors like 65s – 87s and pocket pairs like 55+.
  • Move some default call 3-bets to 4-bet instead, like for example AQo in CO vs BTN 3-bet.
  • Punish weak blinds who fold to often by opening wider, especially from CO, BTN and SB.
  • Understanding when implied odds (see the odds exercise) make it profitable to play a wider range of speculative hands like pocket pairs or lower suited cards.
  • Play more hands against the bad players so you can take advantage of their lack of skill, even with a hand that is normally not profitable to play.
  • Adapt preflop ranges to shallow and deep stacks (shallow stack favors high cards and deep stacks favor speculative hands like 76s or 55.

It can be challenging to know if your adaptations are profitable. To make sure you are staying profitable when you are making plays outside of the recommended defaults it is very important to make sure you follow up your profitability in your tracking tool (like PokerTracker or Holdem Manager).
If you are not doing this, it is easy to get carried away and unknowingly make bad plays that end up costing you money.