FLHE Advanced: Pre-flop Play

The beginners' section already contains a series of articles on limit hold'em. These first articles were aimed at beginners starting with the micro limits according to the bankroll management and playing against typical micro limit players. These articles explained the basics of pre-flop play and also included a starting hand chart.

In this series of articles we will focus on play at the higher limits, the necessary adjustments when it comes to starting hand selection, how made hands and drawing hands should be played, and which other adjustments need to be made in terms of strategy.

However, a requirement of these advanced articles is that you either remember the limit articles from the beginners' section and/or you already have experience at playing the lower limits.

Adjustment to higher limits

When moving up in limits, opponents change – the average opponent will be better, meaning that we have to adapt our way of playing to these new conditions. Fundamental changes at higher limits:

  1. Opponents become more tight.
  2. The pots are smaller on average and there are fewer multiway pots, since we are often heads-up or up against two players on the flop.
  3. The blinds play a more important role because, because in smaller pots they represent a larger share of the overall pot.

This results in a number of key changes to our game:

  • Re: 1) If our opponents play more tight, they will on average have a better hand if they enter a pot.
  • Re: 2) There are fewer profitable situations for speculative hands such as small pairs and suited connectors, since there are too few players and thus too little money in the pot.
  • Re: 3) If the blinds make up a big part of the pot, it is more important to fight for it. This means that we should defend our blinds more often while trying to steal the opponents' blinds more often.

In the beginners' version we assume that a number of other players will enter the pot if we just call in early or middle position. For example – we are in the position and open call with hands such as -, offsuit, - suited or suited. These additional players, who call with weak hands make it possible to call with these hands in early and thereby worse position. However, if we now assume that opponents use a better (tight) starting hand selection, we will be called less often by weak hands. So if players enter the pot now, they will have much better hands.
The opponents' improved pre-flop play means that the average amount of pre-flop aggression at the tables increases the higher the limit. This means that we will often be isolated by opponents and have to play mediocre hands in raised pots in a worse position, which is not a positive scenario. We therefore have to think about how to counteract this development.

The solution is very simple and consists of two key rules:

  1. We have to play very tight when we are in early position.
  2. We should no longer open the pot with a call.

This means that a number of changes need to be made to our previous starting hand chart (SHC):

In early position:

  • Up until now we would have called with -. Now we will raise with and , and fold and .
  • High cards, especially if they are offsuit ( and ) should be folded.
  • We don't call a raise: We should either re-raise (three bet) or fold
  • Speculative cards of the same suit such as -, and should always be folded.

In middle position:

  • Hands with which we have called up to now should be raised as soon as we are the first who enters the pot (all "Calls" turn into "RaiseO").
  • No raises should be called: We either reraise or fold.

In late position:

  • If we are first to enter a pot, then we can try to steal the blinds with several hands. This applies in particular to the button, but this is also an important and profitable tactic when we are in the cutoff. Especially if the players in the small and big blind are very tight and we suspect that they are often giving up their blinds.
  • A good position in the post-flop betting rounds allows us to play more hands. However, we should not disregard the odds and speculative hands such as smaller suited connectors or small pairs should only be played if enough opponents have already entered the pot before us. Because, as mentioned above, at these tables fewer players will see the flop on average, so we will often have to fold these hands.

In the blinds:

  • Especially when we are in the big blind, we should defend more often than on micro limit tables.
  • If the small blind tries to steal our big blind, we will have the entire hand-over position and should therefore defend our big blind with most hands.
  • Steals from late position or from the small blind can often be raised if we suspect that the opponent has a weaker hand. This allows us to take the initiative, which in turn often enables us to win the pot on the flop. In addition, we also have fold equity, meaning that we can win some pots in which both we and the opponent miss the flop.
Stealing and defending blinds

This scenario shows that we should increasingly adapt our playing style to that of our opponents, especially in terms of the blinds. If we are playing against people who frequently attack our big blind, we should defend it more often. If we are in late position and the players to the left of us allow the blinds to be stolen too often, we have to use every opportunity to attack the blinds.

But how often should we actually attack or defend?

  • Here's an example:

$1/2 limit hold'em: If we assume that all of our opponents fold to us in the small blind. If we raise and the big blind folds, we will immediately win $1.50 (SB 0.5 + BB 1). Our steal attempt also costs us $1.50.

EV = p(fold) x $1,5 - (1 - p(fold)) x ($1,5)

The expected value is therefore $1.50 profit multiplied by the probability of the big blind folding, minus $1.50 (our bet) multiplied by the probability that the big blind doesn't fold.

If this expected value is higher than 0, we have a profitable situation. The value will be precisely 0 if the big blind folds half of his hands, i.e. in 50% of cases. In order to achieve the following aim:

EV > 0

the following has to apply:

p(fold)>0,5 (=50%)

So if the big blind defends less than 50% of his hands, we should raise every hand. This is profitable even if we fold after the flop, but every once in a while we also have a really good hand, while the big blind is trying to defend. This in turn brings us additional value.

Please note: The calculation only takes account of pre-flop play and, as we already know, hold'em consists of several betting rounds. Anyone who wants to continue playing marginal or bad hands after the flop will need more fold equity. The conclusion here, however, is that depending on the opponents' playing style, we can steal with a lot of hands and that we shouldn't fold too often when faced with steals (i.e. we have to defend with more than 50% of our hands if the opponent attacks our blind every time) in order to avoid that our opponent automatically gains an advantage.
In general, we should defend the big blind with all of our hands that have an equity of 35% or more against the opponents' range.

Final comments about the advanced pre-flop game:
  • The SHC should therefore no longer be seen as a static rule, especially when we are in the blinds. This depends heavily on the respective opponent's tendency and strategy.
  • There are hands that can and should be played deviating from the SHC, and these depend on the respective situation at the table. If, for example, the table is very loose, it may be correct to call with smaller pairs when we are in early position.
  • If the table is very tight, it may be profitable to attack the blinds with a mediocre hand from middle position.
  • If an extremely loose player is sitting in front of us, we should often deviate from the SHC and attempt to isolate him with our stronger hands.
      • Example:
        If the player in front of us raises 50% of his hands in middle position, we should not fold hands such as ATo, instead we should reraise. The SHC assumes that the player in front of us has starting hand standards that are similar to ours. A raise from middle position therefore means a top 10% hand (77+, A9s+, KTs+, QJs, AJo+, KQo). According to the odds calculator, we only have 39% equity against this range of hands and should therefore fold. However, ATo has an equity in excess of 57% against the top 50% of all starting hands, so we should raise. This is an extreme example, and we therefore recommend that you experiment a bit with the odds calculator and hand ranges to get a feeling of which hands do well against which range. In general we can raise when we are in position and try to isolate the player in front of us if we have an equity of 50% or more against his range.