Open Raising Ranges in Cash Games
Solid cash game play is built around having a good pre-flop strategy. In this article we’re going to give you a pre-flop raise primer which will stand as a solid foundation for you to work from. As you become a more accomplished player you can expand on the ranges we recommend in this article, but for those of you just starting out we strongly recommend that you stick to our guidelines until you become a better hand-reader.
The golden rule when formulating your pre-flop strategy is to never open limp, or flat-call the big blind, when you enter an un-raised pot. If you’re playing the hand, then you’re raising it.
“Why?” you may ask. The reason is that taking the aggressive approach gives you two opportunities to win the pot. You can either show down the best hand on the river or continue the aggression you showed before the flop, representing that you have a strong hand and force your opponent to fold. Don’t forget that raising also gives you the chance to win the pot pre-flop when everyone folds. Passive pre-flop play is a sure fire way to slowly bleed chips.
Early Position Opening Ranges
You want to construct your open raising range based on your position at the table. In early position, you need to be a little conservative as there are 4-5 players still to act, meaning the chances that someone has a good hand are significant, and even if they don’t two of these players will have position on you should they call your raise.
For that reason, you should only be opening about 10 to 12% of your starting hands in the under-the-gun (UTG) position. This range should be made up of all pairs, AQo+, AJs+, KQs and some suited connectors like 89s or T9s. Beware of playing QJs and JTs as these hands can get you in trouble when you flop top pair. Often times your opponent will have a better kicker and you’ll struggle to control the pot size if you’re out of position
Note: ‘o’ means off-suit,‘s’ means suited and ‘+’ means and all higher cards.
Of course there are no absolutes in poker. If there are weak players at the table who are calling raises with hands like K6 and A3 then you can add high-card hands like ATo and KJs into your range in the hopes of flopping top pair with a superior kicker. Similarly, if a table is playing tough and you have some good players to your left, you can tighten up your range a little or maybe add in some more hands that flop strong draws like the weaker suited aces, which you can play aggressively on the flop and show your opponents that you won’t be messed around too easily. The key against this type of player is to be deceptive and make yourself difficult to play against.
Middle position plays similarly. There is a barrier in many players mentality which groups UTG and MP together and then the cut-off (CO) and button (BTN) together. Generally you’ll find that people are less likely to mess around with your early position raises but you still need to play tight given the likelihood that you could be out of position when the flop comes down. The range for MP should be very similar to that for UTG, adding in some weaker suited connectors, weaker suited connectors down to 76, suited aces down to A7s and off-suit aces down to ATo. Again, remember to tailor your opening ranges to the players who have still to act behind you.
Every now and then you should open with uncharacteristic hands like 58s, simply to make you more difficult to play against. If you stick rigidly to the same early position opening ranges, good players will quite quickly be able to pick up on what hands you’re likely to have based on the combination of your narrow range and your post-flop actions.
Late Position Opening Ranges
This is where the fun starts. The cut-off and button are the two positions where you are going to be most active at the table and where you’re going to win most of your money. Let’s talk about the cut-off first. Though you’re in late position, you still have to worry about the button messing you around so you need to heir on the side of caution just a little bit, based on how likely you think it is that he’ll get out of line with you.
If there’s a very straightforward player or a fish on the button, you can open extremely liberally. A good overall range on the CO would be something like all pairs, A2s+, A8o+, All broadway hands, all suited connectors down to 45s and all suited one-gappers down to 46s. This is about 26% of all hands. If you think that the player on the button is very likely to 3-bet your cut-off opens you can scale this back accordingly, but opening anything less than 20% of hands on the cut-off would be considered very tight.
The button is the position where you’re going to be most active in unopened pots. Everyone else has folded and the two blinds have dead money in front of them which is there for the taking, so take it! Even if they don’t fold, you still have position for the rest of the hand and can make life extremely difficult for them. Your range here should be very wide and influenced by the tendencies of the blinds. If you’re serious about poker you’ll have some tracking software and a HUD which will tell you how likely the blinds are to fold to a steal. If this number is >80%, just go ahead and open any 2 cards every single time until they give you a good reason not to. If their fold to steal is lower than this, then you need to ease back a bit and have some value to your hand. If they are 3-betting with a high frequency and making you fold a lot, you should take a look at your pre-flop raise sizing and consider reducing it to 2x to 2.5x the big blind. This is discussed in our small ball poker strategy article. In smaller pots you can call a lot more 3 bets and use your positional advantage, taking the incentive to 3-bet you away from your opponent.
Opening Ranges from the Blinds
If it’s folded to you in the small blind your open raising range depends strongly on the player in the big blind. If he’s a tough player, I recommend playing very tight and only opening maybe 20% of hands. If he’s folding a lot you can widen this significantly. In today’s games people are calling small blind steals extremely liberally, taking advantage of the perceived wide range and their position and so blind stealing from the small blind is not the cash cow it once was.
If the pot is limped to you and you’re in the small or big blind, you should be mostly raising your strong pairs and broadway (both cards higher than Ten) hands, taking advantage of the equity you have against smaller pairs and suited connectors which make up a lot of peoples’ limping ranges. Other than that, checking or completing and showing aggression on the right type of flop textures is generally favorable to building a big pot out of position with a marginal hand. Straightforward works best here.
So that’s it for opening ranges. If you follow our guidelines you should end up raising pre-flop about 18% of the time, which is perfect for a player who is learning the ropes. The moral of the story is to play tight out of position, abuse the hell out of your opponents in position and always be conscious of who is where at your table when the pot is un-raised and you’re deciding whether to click the fold button or the raise button. Oh yeah, and whatever you do, don’t click the call button.