Limit Hold'em: Pre-flop Play old

This article describes the criteria you should follow when playing pre-flop in limit hold'em. In general, the betting round before the flop is the easiest in limit hold'em, because the reliable starting hand chart (SHC; see below) helps you to make the most important decisions before the flop, namely: Which hands should I play?

It's totally ok to comply with the starting hand chart at the end of the article. Nevertheless, it's important to understand the basic ideas of pre-flop play. This enables you to make good decisions, if you don't have the starting hand chart handy. In addition to that, you can deviate over time from the standard strategy in special situations or when you are up against uncommon opponents. These are the criteria you should follow pre-flop:

  1. The quality of your own hand
  2. Your position at the table
  3. The number of players in the hand
  4. Is it a raised or an unraised pot?
  5. The strength of your own post-flop game
  6. The skills of your opponents.

1. The quality of your own hand

It is very important to play good cards and to fold weak hands. This is due to the fact that better hands are easier to play than weak ones.  

With marginal hands (hands with a slightly positive or negative expected value) you often end up in situations where you have to make very difficult decisions. That's why it's important at first to stick to the starting hand chart. It will help prevent you from making expensive mistakes. You can occasionally deviate from the given way of playing, but not until you master the basics of pre-flop play and have gained experience with limit hold'em.

2. Your position at the table

Your position at the table is of similar importance as the hole cards in Texas Hold'em. If you are in a good (late) position, you have a big advantage in terms of information and can often safe bets when you have a weak hand or win additional bets when you have the best hand.

In limit hold'em you should play very tight in the early position, i.e. only play the best hands. 

3. The number of players in the hand

The number of players often has a large influence on the decisions made during a hand. It is recommended to play small pairs and suited connectors (two connected cards of the same suit e.g. or ) when you are up against a lot of opponents, whereas big aces are best played against one or two opponents.

4. Raised/unraised pot

In addition to the number of opponents, the quality of a starting hand also depends on whether or not the pot has already been raised. A raise indicates that your opponent has a strong hand and makes hands such as AJ, KQ and KJ much more difficult to play, because you will be dominated too often by hands such as AK or AQ. This significantly reduces your chances of winning the hand.  

5. The quality of your own post-flop game

Pre-flop it's all about playing profitable starting hands. If you are a better post-flop player than your opponent you can acquire additional advantages. Thus, hands you would usually fold can also be played profitably. The better you can play post-flop, the more of your hands can be played profitably. That is because you can avoid expensive mistakes later in the hand, which often cost beginners a lot of money. Thereby a professional player can maximize profit with marginal starting hands by playing tricky post-flop in contrast to a player with less experience. However, you shouldn't overestimate this idea: Even the best players should play tight overall. Even professionals can't play really weak starting hands profitably, but only minimize loss.

6. The opponents' skill level

The lower your opponents' skill level, the easier it is for you to win. Some hands can therefore be played against weak players, but have to be folded against average and good players. The basic idea is similar to point 5. If the oppponent often makes expensive mistakes after the flop, we can benefit from that and also have the opportunity to play weaker hands, which we usually would pass. It also applies here that you shouldn't overdo this idea. Even against extremely weak opponents you can make profit with a weaker hand.

In the beginning, you should only play at tables with ten seats, and the table should be as full as possible. This gives you more time to wait for good hands.

The following starting hand chart is based on a table with ten players. If there are less than ten players, especially at shorthanded tables (with a maximum of six players), decisions are much more difficult to make and beginners often have problems to cope with that. As soon as there are less than eight players at the table, it's time for you to leave the table.

Here is the starting hand chart for limit hold'em:

You can download the starting hand chart here

How to interpret the table:  

  • The information in the "unraised" column applies if no one has raised before it's your turn to act. The information in the "raised" column applies when there was a raise in front of you.

  • If there is a raise and a re-raise, we should only play hands with the "re-raise" symbol.

  • We always call a raise behind us if we are already in the hand.

  • Call: We call.

  • Call X: We call if X or more players before us have entered the hand; otherwise we fold. In a raised pot it doesn't matter whether there was a call first and then a raise or vice versa.
  • Raise: We raise.

  • Raise X: We raise if X or fewer players before us have entered the hand; otherwise we call (whereas raise O means that we only raise if nobody has called yet).
  • Re-raise: We raise or re-raise as often as possible.

  • Check: We check. This is only possible, when we are in the big blind and no one has raised.