In one of the most value-packed episodes of the Red Chip Poker podcast to date, Adam ‘w34z3l’ Jones breaks down strategies and tactics you can use in each of five common preflop spots. You’re going to encounter these spots in practically every session you play, and Jones breaks down dozens of specific considerations and tactics for each spot. This episode is an audio excerpt from a training video included with CORE, Red Chip Poker’s new poker strategy training experience, available at redchippoker.com/launch-core.
Adam Jones: What’s up, guys? This is ‘W34z3l’ for Red Chip Poker. The topic of this short training video is pre-flop scenarios.
In this video, we’re going to walk through the basic situations we face pre-flop and we’re going to set down some general guidelines. As a rough principle, it makes sense to at least make sure your pre-flop game is in good shape before you start doing intensive work on your post-flop game and this is because pre-flop and post-flop, they’re not separate entities. They share a link. Any mistakes you make with your pre-flop strategy will have a tendency to bleed over into your post-flop game where they become magnified. It’s also very difficult to analyze your post-flop frequencies if your pre-flop frequencies are out of whack. First step is to get pre-flop game in good shape, then it’s going to help you to work on your post-flop game and analyze your tendencies post-flop.
Here are the areas we’re going to look at in this video: unopened, facing limpers, facing a tubette, otherwise known as facing an open raise, and facing three-bets, four-bets cold. This is not when we open raise. This is when someone else open raises. There’s a three-bet from one of the villains and we are left to act facing that three-bet without investing any money into the pot previously.
Okay. Let’s start with unopened. I’m going to give you a series of frequencies that you can check in your tracking software to see if you’re doing a good job of this. If you find that your frequencies are out of alignment with those that I’m about to suggest, it may be a good idea for you to review your pre-flop strategy, perhaps get some pre-flop opening ranges from somewhere. The hands of your open raise are naturally going to change based on the position we’re in. We typically open raise wider when we’re in late position. Here’s some frequencies, so UTG on a six max table. If you play full ring, then the UTG positions are going to be even tighter than this.
For example, the first position on a flooring table. You may be opening as tight as 7% of holdings. These are six max ranges so UTG on a six max table, 13% of holdings, MP, 18% of holdings, cuts off 27%, button 48%, small blind 36%. Obviously small blind’s in later position than the button but it doesn’t open as aggressively as the button because the button is guaranteed to have position post flop while a small blind is not. The button is naturally the best position at the table because it’s in relatively late position but it’s also guaranteed to have position post-flop.
Fire up your tracking software. Have a look at your raise first in frequencies. If they don’t match up with these numbers, it doesn’t matter if they’re a couple of percent off but if you open with your tracking software and you see that you’re open raising the button 30% of you’re open raising the cutoff 35%, then you have a significant problem that you want to deal with ASAP.
Very often I get questions about sizing, i.e., should we open raise two BB from the button? Should it be 2.5 or three big blinds? The bottom line is it doesn’t matter too much. Your default sizing is not super important. If you want to min raise the button, fine. If you want to 2.5 X the button, that’s fine as well so long as you’re not doing anything super crazy like open raising to 15 big blinds by default from every position.
The thing that is important regarding sizing is exploitative sizing. For example, you’re on the button with pocket aces and you know that the big blind is a huge donk. You probably want to be making quite a large open raise in that spot as an exploit. It doesn’t matter that your default sizing might be two BB on the button. The situation you find yourself in calls for a larger open raise sizing for reasons of exploitation. If your opponent’s calling way too wide, you have aces. You could be open raising to four BB, five BB, even larger if your opponent is willing to call a very large open raise.
To take an opposite example, perhaps there’s a short stack in the big blind and he’s constantly shoving of the top of open raises. Doesn’t make sense to open raise to three big blind with a hand that you’re going to fall into a jam. Just wasting an extra big blind there with a very high frequency makes it very attractive for big blind to shove any two over the top, depending on his stack size. Perhaps your standard open raise size on the button is three big blinds but as an exploit, due to the threat of a short stack shoving over the top, you’re going to be open raising for two big blinds instead and limit your exposure in the case of facing a jam.
Okay. Let’s move on now to playing versus limpers. This is especially important in soft games. If you’re playing on one of the tougher networks you might find that, even if you don’t have very good [iso 00:04:29] raising fundamentals, it’s not a big deal but if you are playing in one of these really out-of-the-way rooms where there is tons of limping that goes on, having a good iso raising strategy is fundamental to securing a very high win rate. As a very rough guide, iso raising ranges, I-E, we raise against an open limp from our opponent in an attempt to isolate the pot heads up, the ranges are going to be similar to raised first in ranges but not identical. They’re going to be slightly tighter in some spots.
Actually as a rough guide, the MP iso raising range is going to be very similar to the raise first in ranges. The cutoff iso raising ranges is going to be very similar to the raise first in ranges, however the button iso raising ranges should be noticeably tighter than the raise first in range on the button. For example, we raise first in close to 50% of hands on the button but we might choose two iso rates only 40% of hands on the button.
Small blind is a scenario which is completely different from the raise first in strategy because we raise first in about 36% of hands from the small blind but it’s recommended that we iso raise very tight out of position from the small blind. We might decide simply to iso raise 10% of holdings, for example. That doesn’t mean we only play 10% of holdings in that spot because we get a very attractive price on a complete so if button’s limping very, very wide, for example, we have something marginal that doesn’t play very well out of position in an iso raised pot. We could just complete as a small blind and hope to see a cheap flop, perhaps flop something decent and then get some money from our weaker opponent post-flop.
Big blind is the same, although it does depend on whether you’re in position or out of position because obviously we could be in a big blind facing a button limp or we could be in the big blind facing a small blind complete. When we’re in the big blind facing the small blind complete, we can raise very aggressively. We can perhaps raise 40% of holdings in that spot and check back the rest whereas if we’re in the big blind against a button limp, then seeing as we now lack position post flop, it’s recommended that we iso raise a very tight range, again, perhaps 10% of holdings.
Once more, this doesn’t mean we’re only playing 10% of holdings because any time we check in the big blind when facing a limp from our opponent, it means we get to see a flop for free. In the big blind facing a limp, we’re guaranteed to see 100% of flops. However, some of our hands, when they’re very strong, prefer to iso raise in order to extract value but we shouldn’t feel any pressure to iso raise much into our holdings because we get to see a flop against the limper anyway.
A rough guide for sizing, four big blinds in position plus one big blind per limper so if MP open limps and we’re in the button, we raise it to four big blinds. If MP open limps and cuts off all the limps in our iso raise sizing, we’ll do five big blinds. We tack an extra big blind on because there was an additional limper pre-flop. If we’re out of position out of four, iso raise sizing can be slightly bigger, five big blinds OOP plus one BB per limper. If you are out of position and there were two limpers, then obviously our sizing would now increase to six BB.
Many players are already familiar with this idea of having default sizings. The area that many players fall short is understanding when to deviate from these default sizings. I definitely do not always use these sizings. There’s situations where I go for small iso raise to situations where I go for an even larger iso raise and the changes occur based on a number of additional variables. For example, what are the effective stacks? How is my opponent going to play post-flop? Is it going to be falling too much or calling too much? What type of hand do I have? Do I have a hand which prefers a low stack to pot ratio post-flop or a high stack to pot ratio post-flop?
Keep in mind that there is not necessity to be balanced in this spot. By definition, we are playing against a weaker player because he’s just open limped. He’s not going to be able to differentiate between what our three big blind iso raising strategy looks like and our five big blind iso raising strategy. In other words, we are completely at liberty to pick what we think the best iso raise sizing is in a vacuum and not worry about any concepts such as balance. Our opponent’s not going to be good enough to pick up on ways to exploit our iso raise size. If you always use four BB in position, five BB out of position, you’re missing out on some good exploitative opportunities because using a variety of exploitative sizings is easily the optimal thing to do.
Let’s move on to facing two bets now. We face an open raise and we have to make the decisions between cold calling and three-betting. Let’s talk about cold calling. How wide we decide to cold call against an open raise is based on tow important factors. Number one, how much action is there behind us? The more potential action there is behind us, the less attractive cold calling is. That should tell us right away that it’s not that desirable to cold call an MP versus a UTG open, not just because UTG has a very strong range but because there are several players that are actually behind us. They can over call, they can three-bet. We want to keep our cold calling range quite tight in that spot.
Position is also important. That’s the second factor we want to take into consideration. There are essentially two components to this. Number one, do we have absolute position on the open raiser? Are we cold calling, let’s say, button versus his cut of open or are we calling big blind versus his cut of open? In one of those scenarios we have absolute position. In the other one, we don’t.
The second consideration is how many players there are to act behind us pre-flop, I-E, relative position. This is very similar to the first concept here. The more potential action behind us, the less attractive cold calling is. This is why, for example, we cold call very wide in the big blind but we cold call very tight in the small blind because in the big blind, we have a relative position pre-flop. After we cold-call in the big blind, we get to see a flop immediately whereas when we cold call in the small blind, we still have big blind to act behind us who can squeeze. Very similar for cold calling an MP with the cuts off. We still have three or four players behind us who can over-call. They can squeeze. We’re not guaranteed to see a flop. This is going to be represented in the frequencies that I recommend here.
Again, I recommend that you fire up the tracker software. Have a look at your cold calling frequencies. These don’t have to be exactly the same as my numbers but if they are off by more than 2 or 3%, then you have a problem. MP cold call, 6 to 7%. cutoff cold call, 7 to 8%. Button cold call, 10 to 11%. Small blind, 6 to 7%. Big blind, 26%. Notice a huge difference there between small blind cold call and big blind cold call.
Most players don’t call enough in the big blind. They’re going to have values close to 18 to 20% and many players call too much in the small blind. They perhaps have a cold call range of 10% or so. This is because they’re not making a big enough differentiation between the small blind position and the big blind position. It’s hard to think of two more different positions at the table than small blind and big blind so the leak here is just to assume that they play very similarly because they’re both blind positions but the truth is small blind, big blind completely different. We need completely different strategies in order to succeed in both of the blinds.
These percentages are average. That doesn’t mean, for example, that we are going to be cold calling exactly 10 or 11% versus every open raise sizing. We might find ourselves playing in an environment where certain open raise sizings are more popular than others. Perhaps players like to min raise. Perhaps they like to make pot size opens. If you play in an environment where everyone’s making pot size opens, for example, these cold call stats are going to be lower whereas if you play in an environment where everyone likes to min raise, these numbers are going to be significantly higher.
Let’s review some three-bet frequencies for you to check in your tracker software. Recommended MP 4% three-bet. cutoff, 6%. button 8 to 10. Small blind and big blind, roughly 8%. Keep in mind, though, it’s not a big deal if you look at your blind three bet they are 5 or 6%. These are perfectly acceptable values, especially for a beginning poker player. In some cases, players have a small blind three-bet which is higher than 8%, depending on how wide they cold call. It’s possible for you to have small blind values of 10 and 11% which is completely fine if we assume that your cold call and the small blind is significantly lower than 6 to 7%.
The reason for this is some players may be following a three-bet only strategy and the small blind. That means their cold call stat’s going to be very low, perhaps 2 or 3% and their small blind at three-bet is going to be more like 11, perhaps even sometimes higher. 8% and 8% is a good rough average guide. Big blind should normally be 8% but there’s definitely some room for deviation in the small blind and ti’s a not big deal if your blind three-bets are quite lower in general, at least not at first. If you’re playing in some quite tough games, then it could be a problem if your small blind, big blind three-bet is only 5%.
Let’s move on now to facing three-bets and four-bets cold. This might seem like it’s a complex area of poker but it’s really not. Firstly, it’s not that important because they’re very low frequency spot and, secondly, we can respond very, very tightly in these scenarios. There’s just going to be a whole lot of folding involved, basically. Facing three-bets, four-bets cold, this implies that we are not the open raiser so it could be UTG opens, MP three-bets and we’re in the cutoff. Facing four-bets cold, this almost never happens. This would imply that someone had to cold four-bet so this would be UTG opens, MP three-bets, cutoff four-bets and we’re still to act in the button.
This almost never happens, by the way, but if it did happen, we should probably assume the cold four-better has a range of something like kings plus in the vast majority of games. Most games don’t have an aggressive enough dynamic pre-flop where we can assume that someone’s really doing that as a bluff with any high frequency. Average continuing range cold versus a three-bet, something like 10s plus, ace, queen, you will see this situation somewhat commonly, especially if you’re in the blinds. For example, cutoff opens, button’s going to be three-betting quite aggressively against the cutoff open and you’re going to be sometimes in the big blind facing that three-bet with something like pocket 10s, pocket jacks, perhaps ace, queen.
You can call in these spots if you want to. You can also mix in some cold four-bet bluffs, as well, if you think button’s getting out of line but just keep in mind that in the majority of games, most players don’t three-bet enough and what that means is, as an exploit, we should simply be folding a lot against three-bets and we don’t really want to be defending cold that much. It’s not going to be that profitable but if you ever read that the three-bets is getting out of line, then of course we’re going to incorporate some kind of cold calling range. We’re also going to incorporate some kind of four-betting range as well.
Average continuing range call versus three-bet 10s plus an ace, queen, don’t need to go very tight. Obviously kings plus, you might to decide to four-bet those. You might decide to four-bet ace, queen as a type of semi-bluff, for example, and fall to a five-bet. That would be an okay strategy, potentially. Average continuing range call versus four-bet, I don’t remember the last time I was facing a four-bet call. It doesn’t really happen, guys, but if it did, then you’re going to be continuing with kings plus. Extreme scenario is you might only be continuing with aces because perhaps the call four-better is a huge nit, for example. His range is just going to be aces, for example, so you wouldn’t want to continue with kings even. Generally speaking, we don’t fall kings pre-flop so we’re going to be continuing with kings plus at the very least.
It does, of course, depend on the stack size because if you are playing 1,000 big blinds deep for some unknown reason, then obviously you’re going to be continuing with a number of pocket pairs because you have the odds to potentially flop a set so you’d be continuing wider than kings plus in the case of wanting to set mine but assuming 100 big-blind stacks, you’re probably going to be continuing with kings plus. There’s going to be some variance based on villain, position and stack depth. If you know that your opponent is doing this with ace, six off-suit because he’s been going crazy at the last few all-bets, then obviously you might shove over the top with a range that’s significantly wider than kings plus so these are just default recommendations.