Skill #1. Play A Simple And Effective Pre-Flop Strategy – P4

PRE-FLOP FREQUENCIES

The final piece of the pre-flop puzzle is about frequencies. The first goal of pre-flop play is to ensure you don’t get caught playing too many hands. In this book, we’re going to make sure of that by enforcing frequencies on your pre-flop play. Meaning we’re going to establish a percentage of hands we’re going to play from each position.

For the record, these percentages are a bit arbitrary. I’m not trying to approximate the perfect percentages to which I’ve been referring so far.

First, pre-flop play for 9- or 10-handed games hasn’t been even close to solved. So no one knows what those perfect percentages are. Second, even if you somehow knew those perfect percentages, you’d likely actually use a different strategy in a real 1-2 live game for reasons beyond the scope of this book.

Instead, I want to talk about frequencies that I know will help you become a winning 1-2 player. And if you want to learn even more about pre-flop play, you’ll find resources at the end of the book that can help.

So let’s divide the table into five positions. The first four positions are the big blind, the small blind, the button, and the cutoff (the seat one to the right of the button). The fifth position is every other seat at the table—I’ll call this early position. I’ll discuss these positions briefly in reverse order of how I listed them.

EARLY POSITION

By early position I mean every seat that’s between the under the gun seat and the seat two off the button. In a 6-handed game, this is two seats. In a 9-handed game, this is five seats, and so on.

Theoretically there is some difference in how you should play from each of these seats. But the difference is small enough that I like to simplify things and treat them the same way. From this position, if no one has raised in front of you, I recommend you play roughly 14 percent of hands.

The hands I recommend playing are all pocket pairs, all suited aces, any two suited cards ten and higher (i.e., K♥T♥ or J♠T♠), suited connectors with no gap down to 7-6 (i.e., 8♦7♦), and ace- king and ace-queen offsuit. Written another way, these hands are

22+
A2s+, KTs+, QTs+, JTs-76s

AKo, AQo

I’ve chosen these particular hands with a typical 1-2 game in mind. I’ve placed emphasis on small pairs and suited aces because these hands are able to build big hands that can win large, multi- way pots that often develop in these games. In different game environments, you would tweak this list by taking out some of the weakest hands and including other hands with different features. (For example, you would prefer AJo to A6s or 76s in many situations. But don’t worry about these hand-selection issues too much for now.)

The specific weakest hands I chose for this list (i.e., 22, A2s, and 76s) aren’t written in stone. By definition, some hand has to be the weakest on the list. If you wanted to swap these hands for a few you prefer, I wouldn’t argue against it. The main point is the overall frequency—just 14 percent. This means you’ll be rejecting 86 percent of all hands you’re dealt in this position. More than five out of six times, you’ll look at your cards and fold. This tightness ensures you won’t get caught playing too many hands.

My recommendations are designed to be simple and effective. That’s it. I don’t claim perfection. But I believe you can win a lot of money playing live games with these recommendations. And this is the first standard for anything I write—will these ideas help you win?

If you follow this protocol, you’ll be playing roughly 14 percent of the hands you’re dealt if no one has raised ahead of you. And, yes, you’ll raise all of them—including 76s and 22. Out of the 14 percent of hands you will play, you’ll hold a pocket pair 41 percent of the time. You’ll hold suited cards 46 percent of the time. You’ll have offsuit A-K or A-Q another 13 percent of the time.

If someone raises in front of you, I recommend 3-betting with AA, KK, and even A5s. Obviously, A5s is a bluff. Whenever you bet or raise, you often want there to be a chance that you don’t have a premium hand. The addition of A5s fits the bill in this circumstance.

I’d call a raise ahead of me with the other pocket pairs, any two suited cards ten or higher, the suited connectors, and ace-king offsuit. Thus, from the above range, I’m trimming the suited aces A9s and worse (except A5s) and ace-queen offsuit.

This is what I’d do if I felt my opponent’s raise signified a reasonably strong hand. If I felt my opponent would raise any hand he’d play, I’d add all the hands back in, and I’d 3-bet with QQ, AK (suited and offsuit), all the suited aces A5s-A2s, and T9s and 87s.

Note how these recommendations dovetail with the overarching principle. When our opponents are playing too many hands, we attack them with bets and raises with both good and bad hands. When our opponents have strong, narrow ranges, we back off. Against a raise we think is strong, we reraise only the strongest hands (and a single bluff hand, A5s). Against a raise that represents too loose a range of hands, we reraise more.

You still must be careful, though, since when you’re in early position, you have at least four players to act behind you who may turn up with a monster hand.

Here are my final recommendations for early position. If no one has raised yet, raise:

22+
A2s+, KTs+, QTs+, JTs-76s

AKo, AQo

If someone has raised in front of you with a strong hand, as opposed to a weak, limped hand, reraise with:

AA-KK

A5s

Against this player you would flat call:

QQ-22
ATs+, KTs+, QTs+, JTs-76s

AKo

If a loose player has raised before you with a weak hand, or he’s someone who never limps, reraise with:

AA-QQ
AKs, A5s-A2s, T9s, 87s

AKo

Against this player you would flat call with:

JJ-22
AQs-A6s, KTs+, QTs+, JTs, 98s, 76s

AQo