No limit Hold'em is a game of many decisions. The first decision you have to make is whether or not you want to enter the pot. In this article we want to show what hands are worth entering the pot and how you should play them. In the pre-flop round your decision is based on three things:
- Your hand strength
- Your position
- Your opponent's action in front of you
As you get more experienced you will add other things to that list but for starters this is certainly enough to worry about.
The most important factor is the strength of your hand. We differentiate between very strong hands, strong hands, speculative hands and the rest.
Very strong hands can be played all the time. There might be some exceptions to this rule but in general if you see a hand in this category you want to play it. And you want to build yourself a big pot with it. Hands that fall into this category are , , and .
Strong hands are playable in a lot of situations. If nobody raised before you a raise is the right play most of the time. You need to be careful if you are playing against a raise. Depending on the situation each of the three preflop options can be correct if you are facing a raise: Sometimes you want to reraise, sometimes you want to call and sometimes you even have to fold a strong hand preflop. Strong hands are pairs like , , , Aces with a big kicker such as , , and any combination of two cards Ten or higher like or .
Speculative hands are hands that are a lot weaker than the ones listed above but if you hit a favorable flop with them they have the potential to become very strong holdings. If you are playing against a raise you need to be careful but it is usually all right to call a raise with them in position. If nobody raised before you can either just call behind or throw in a raise at times. Speculative hands are small pairs like to that will need to improve to a set on the flop in order to proceed. Also hands that can make straights or flushes fall into that category: suited aces with a small kicker, suited connectors such as , etc. In general you don't want to invest too much with these hands before the flop.
All hands that don't fall into one of the categories above are usually too weak to play. It is ok to raise some of them on the button if nobody has entered the pot yet but usually you should just let them go.
Your position is the next factor you need to consider in your preflop decisions. If a large number of players can act behind you then you need to be very selective with your starting hand selection. There is the chance that somebody holds a very strong hand and hasn't acted yet and that you will be playing the hand out of position. And playing out of position is something you really should avoid, especially with weak holdings.
The last factor is the action in front of you. If somebody entered the pot already you know that he has a hand he wants to play. If he raised he is basically telling you that he likes his hand and is also telling you that his hand is strong enough for a raise. You need to adapt your starting hand selection to this new information. You need to tighten up and only play hands that are strong enough to compete against his hand. You never know exactly what hand your opponent holds but often you can narrow down the range of possible holdings and get a better understanding of what you are facing.
There is not one correct amount you should raise before the flop. You just need to follow a few easy rules:
- If you are the first player that enters the pot and you want to start out with a raise you should raise 3-4 times the Big Blind. In a $0.10/$0.20 you should raise between $0.60 and $0.80 . In a $0.50/$1 game you can raise between $3 and $4 and so on. If you feel that your bets are getting called a lot you might want to raise even a little more. Especially in micro stake games this allows you to build a bigger pot with your very strong hands.
- If somebody already called and you want to raise you just add the call to your regular raise. So if you usually raise 3 times the Big Blind and a player called before you raise to 4 Big Blinds. If two players called already you raise to 5 Big blinds and so on.
- If you want to reraise a raise you should reraise about 3 times the initial raise. Example: A player in front of you raised to $7, you hold and decide to reraise. You should raise to about $21. If other players called the raise, you should add this amount to your raise. If another player in the example above called the initial $7 bet, you should raise to about $28.
- You should raise the same amount regardless of the strength of your hand. This way you ensure that your opponents can't determine the strength of your hand based on your bet sizing.
Enough theory, right?
Acting first in No Limit Hold'em
Let's do a couple of example where you are the first player that enters the pot.
In general you should open the pot with a raise if you are the first player that enters the pot. This way you put pressure on your opponents and build yourself a pot for your strong hands.
Playing against limpers in No Limit Hold'em
The next set of examples is about playing against limpers. Usually a limp indicates weakness and you should leverage your position and put pressure on your opponents.
How to play against a raise in No Limit Hold'em?
Now we have a few examples of playing against a raise in front of you. A raise indicates strength and you need to adapt your starting hand selection. Usually only the very strong hands can be played against a raise, with strong hands and speculative hands you need to be very careful. If the situation is right you can call a raise with those hands but in general you should not invest too much pre flop. And even more important, you shouldn't put yourself into situations where you flop the 2nd best hand.
Here are some examples of playing against a raise:
Key preflop points for No Limit Hold'em:
- Play your strong hands aggressive
- Don't slowplay
- Raise 3-4 times the big blind as default
- Add one BB per limper to your default raise if you decide to raise them
- If you want to reraise raise about 3 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.
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:
No Limit Holdem Starting hand chart
We now talked about the general concepts of the preflop game in No Limit Hold'em. If you want a clear guideline on how to play preflop given the situation we have more for you: Our Starting Hand Chart.
How to read the chart:
1st column: Your cards.
- AA-QQ means pocket aces, pocket kings and pocket queens.
- 88-22 contains all pocket pairs between 22 and 88.
- AK contains AK suited and AK offsuit.
- A9s or 54s means suited. So if your cards are from the same suit you should look here.
- O stands for offsuit. That means you look here if you hold KhQs but not if you hold KdQd.
2nd column: Your position.
- On a 9 handed table the first two seats left to 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.
3rd to 5th column: Action in front of you.
- This is straight forward. If everybody folded and you are the first player that enters the pot you look in the 3rd column 'Everybody Folded'.
- If at least one other player called the big blind you look in the 4th column: 'Somebody called'. It doesn't matter how many player have called.
- With small and middle pairs you often look to flop a set of the flop. This is a very strong hand and will often 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 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.
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.
What to to if somebody raises after you:
This quite easy but didn't fit into the chart.
- If you have a pocket pair you can follow the 20x-rulewhich is explained above.
- If you have AA or KK you can reraise and even move all-in.
- If you don't have a pocket pair, AA or KK 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. Unless of course you are in the Big Blind and nobody raised.