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Pre-Flop Essentials
In the three previous lessons we have built on the Poker Basics course and focused specifically on correct pre-flop play in no limit Texas Hold'em cash games. There's a lot of information to process, so here is a summary of all those essentials, as well as a chart that you can download, print out and keep handy for cash game play.

You should also try your hand at the questions at the bottom of the page, which will test your knowledge of cash game play so far, and also hit the PokerStars tables again to put all of this into practice.

PRE-FLOP ESSENTIALS

It is worth repeating yet again that there will always be exceptions to every rule in poker. But stick to these guidelines to build a solid game in no limit Hold'em cash:
  • Play your strong hands aggressively
  • In general: Don't slow play 
  • Raise three to four times the big blind (BB) as default
  • If you decide to raise after player(s) have limped, then add one BB per limper to your default raise
  • If you want to re-raise (three-bet) after an original raiser has entered the pot, then raise about three times the initial raise. If somebody called the first raise, add this to your raise
  • Be aware of your position: be very tight in early position and loosen up in better positions.
  • Stay aware of the effective stacks sizes in all situations. If you want to deviate from the rules, make sure it has the potential to be worthwhile.
You should take a few minutes to remember the rules above. 

As soon as you have done this it's time for the last  set of examples:


Click here to view examples as text

 
    1. You are dealt under the gun. You should fold to avoid getting into trouble with this problem hand, especially out of position.
    2. You are dealt   on the button and face a mid-position limp. You limp as well with your speculative hand.
    3. You have  on the button and one player limps in mid-position. You fold. Ace-six off-suit should not be played even with position.
    4. You have a pair of aces in late position. A player raises to $7 from under the gun and another player calls. You should raise to $28 - three times the original raise, plus another $7 for the caller - with your monster hand.
    5. You have pocket threes in late position. A player under the gun raises to $6 and two others call. You call too with your speculative hand, hoping to make a set on the flop.

STARTING HAND CHART

We have talked about the general concepts of the pre-flop game in no limit Texas Hold'em. The following chart gives a firm idea of what kind of hand you should be playing and in what situations.

STARTING HANDS GUIDE
Your Cards Your Position Everybody Folded Somebody Called Somebody Raised Somebody Raises after you
High Pairs AA, KK All Positions Raise Raise Raise Re-Raise
QQ All Positions Raise Raise Raise Call 20
Big Aces AK All Positions Raise Raise Raise Fold
Mid Pairs JJ, TT, 99 Early Position Fold Raise Call 20 Call 20
Middle Position Raise Raise Call 20 Call 20
Late Position Raise Raise Call 20 Call 20
Blinds Raise Raise Call 20 Call 20
Small Pairs 88 to 22 Early Position Fold Fold Call 20 Call 20
Middle Position Call Call Call 20 Call 20
Late Position Raise Call Call 20 Call 20
Blinds Call Call Call 20 Call 20
Mid Aces AQ, AJ, AT Early Position Fold Fold Fold Fold
Middle Position Raise Call Fold Fold
Late Position Raise Raise Fold Fold
Blinds Raise Call Fold Fold
Suited Aces A9s to A2s Early Position Fold Fold Fold Fold
Middle Position Raise Call Fold Fold
Late Position Raise Raise Fold Fold
Blinds Raise Call Fold Fold
Facecards KQ, KJ, KT, QJ, QT, JT Early Position Fold Fold Fold Fold
Middle Position Fold Fold Fold Fold
Late Position Raise Call Fold Fold
Blinds Raise Call Fold Fold
Suited Connectors JTs to 54s Early Position Fold Fold Fold Fold
Middle Position Fold Fold Fold Fold
Late Position Raise Call Fold Fold
Blinds Fold Call Fold Fold
Everything else All Cards not mentioned above Early Position Fold Fold Fold Fold
Middle Position Fold Fold Fold Fold
Late Position Fold Fold Fold Fold
Blinds Check / Fold Check / Fold Fold Fold
 
 

How to read the chart:

First column: Your cards.
  • 88-22 contains all pocket pairs between 88 and 22.
  • AK contains AK suited and AK off-suit.
  • A9s or 54s means suited. So if your cards are from the same suit you should look here.
  • o stands for off-suit. That means you look here if you hold  but not if you hold .
Second column: Your position.
  • On a nine-handed table the first two seats to the left of the big blind are called early position (EP), the next three are called middle position (MP). These are followed by late position, which is the player on the button and the player on his right.
Third to fifth columns: Action in front of you.
  • This is straightforward. If everybody folded and you are the first player to enter the pot, you look in the third column Everybody folded.
  • If at least one other player called the big blind you look in the fourth column: Somebody called. It doesn't matter how many players have called.
  • Somebody raised means exactly one raise in front of you. If there has been a raise and a second raise this column doesn't apply. If somebody raised and one or more other players called this initial raise this is the right column.
Call 20
  • With small and middle pairs you mostly look to flop a set. This is a very strong hand and will likely win you big pots. But you won't hit a set all that often on the flop so you need to be sure that the amount you and your opponent(s) have left is big enough to make the call worthwhile. Our rule of thumb is that you and your opponent need at least 20 times the raise amount in your stacks.

What to do if somebody raises after you:

This is quite easy but does not feature on the chart.
  • If you have a pocket pair you can follow the 20x-rule explained above.
  • If you have AA or KK you can re-raise and even move all-in.
  • If you don't have a pocket pair you fold. Even if you hold AK.
 
There is a final easy but very important rule about the starting hand chart: if your hand is not in the chart, you should fold


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