Introduction to exercise
This exercise is based on 6-max No-limit Hold’em with normal stack size (about 100 BB – Big Blinds) and normal raise sizes. This means raising to around 2.25 to 3 BB when opening the pot, to 3x when 3-betting in position, to 4x when 3-betting out of position, and to around 23 BB 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. They are based on GTO (Game Theory Optimal) ranges for 6-max cash games with stack size 100 BB, 2.5 BB raises preflop and 5% rake (capped at 4 BB). 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. It means that you will always do the same thing with the same hand in a certain scenario. The ranges are not really GTO, but if you are playing at levels below $500 NL cash it is unlikely to make any noticeable difference. The ranges are also 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 look like. When playing full GTO you are using mixed strategies, which means you will not always do the same thing in the same situation. Sometimes you will call with TT in the BTN vs a CO open and sometimes you will raise.
Practice with your own ranges
If you prefer using your own ranges in the Poker Trainer range editor, you can save them and do all the preflop exercises. Your ranges are saved to the cloud and accessible from all your devices. There are many reasons to why you might want to use your own ranges:
- Maybe you are using wider ranges than the included GTO ranges to exploit weaker players.
- Maybe you are a beginner and want to start with tighter ranges that are easier in the beginning.
- Maybe you have another set of recommended ranges from somewhere.
The Poker Trainer range editor will show you 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 do not 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 do not have to come up with a strategy yourself. The less good news is that there is a lot to memorize, to learn well and it is boring. But that is where this exercise comes into play.
You practice and get immediate feedback. You know when you get it right and when you do not. 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 looser.
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 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.
A range refers to all the hands that a player is playing, such as pocket pairs Queens to Aces and Aces and Kings. Normally we do not know what range a player has. 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 Postflop 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.
Open raise UTG
The red and 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. 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. Read more about the recommended GTO based ranges for opening, calling and 3-betting.
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 Poker Trainer range editor to explore these ranges and practice in the preflop exercise. 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, and adjust to opponents by exploiting their mistakes.
If you are playing early stage tournaments with buy-in up to a few hundred dollars these ranges will work fine. In tournaments it is however important to adapt to the stack sizes and the stage of the tournaments. Here are a few things you will do when you get more advanced:
- Become less predictable by not always doing the same thing.
- 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 AQo in CO vs BTN 3-bet.
- Punish weak blinds who fold to often by opening wider, especially from CO, BTN and SB.
- Understand when implied odds 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 and 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 favors speculative hands like 76s or 55.
It can be challenging to know if your adaptations are profitable. To make sure you stay profitable when you play outside of the recommended default ranges, you need to make sure to follow up your profitability in your tracking tool. If you do not do this, it is easy to get carried away, and make bad decisions that end up costing you money.