The Whys of Preflop Play

Most poker articles that consider preflop play will tell you what to do preflop. Today, we are going to ask a much more interesting question, not what to do preflop, but why we do what we do. Poker exists outside of the confines of GTO preflop charts and nitty six-max reg battles. By achieving a greater understanding of the why's concerning preflop action, we can position ourselves to make optimal decisions when faced with esoteric situations and unbalanced ranges. In particular, the goal of this article is to prepare the author for the vagaries of live poker.


Live Poker vs Online Poker

In many ways live poker is almost an entirely different game from online poker. Consider this, an online six-tabler, getting 80 hands per hour, is going to play around 500 hands per hour. At a live poker room, you might get thirty. But quality is much more important than quantity, and if one of those thirty hands involves a recreational player punting you a $500 stack, you can see the appeal of live poker. Online poker is tough, and if you can compete in the down and dirty world of online grinders, then you will have developed a substantial skill set that can be channeled for tremendous profit at live poker. But only if you can recognize how fundamentally different live poker can be.


A Few Examples

So in a nine-handed game, three players fold to us. We are essentially now UTG in a six-max game, although this position might be called the "low-jack" or LJ with the positions left being LJ, HJ, CO, BU, SB, and BB. The first three positions we will refer to as UTG, UTG+1, and UTG+2. Or perhaps we can call the first position UTG and the second and third position EP. We have AQo. What do we do and why? At this point, we should make a small raise, to around 3x the BB, or we should just call. If we just call, we can encourage dominated hands to call behind us. On the other hand, these hands might continue against a small raise as well. By raising we can start to build a pot. We do have a reasonably strong hand. We also might get some important information if we raise and get reraised by a passive player, in that we can throw our hand away. We're not really raising to steal the blind, although in a hypothetical poker game where everyone played perfectly, or a game with all top level pros, that might be a consideration. In our real world game, we are going to assume that players will make the mistake of calling loose behind us, and we are going to raise or limp in order to build a pot against inferior hands. And we can't really do this with too many hands. A hand like A9o cannot value raise from this position. Even AJ and AT are iffy, although can put in a small raise for value especially if the game is very loose and passive.


Suited Connectors

Alright, let's consider ourselves in the same situation preflop, with 8s7s. Here our hand is not strong enough to raise for value. And we can't try to steal the blind, because we assume the game is loose, as most games are. We could try to raise for deception, and that might be an okay play at a low frequency. A low frequency meaning you raise only a small percentage of the time you have 6s7s, 7s8s, 9sTs. These are actually weakish hands. They are playable in some situations, to be sure, but they cannot be blithely opened from early or middle position like a legitimate hand such as QQ can be. Suited connectors are hands that require finesse. You can't raise them for value from the LJ, where you will probably be playing out of position against a player with higher cards. That's too much of a disadvantage. Let's say we raise with 7s8s and get flat called by a pretty miserable hand to call a raise with. JTo. The sort of hand a lot of gamblers would chance against a small raise. Now we are a 60/40 dog and out of position. It's going to be pretty tough to think yourself out of that situation. So the solid play is to just fold these hands in this position.

A Different Situation

Alright, let's consider another situation. We are in the CO, and a tight player raises first in to 7 bbs two spots on our right, from the LJ. The HJ folds. Based on our observations we think this player has a strong hand like AK, AQs, AA, KK, QQ, JJ. So what is our overall strategy here? Well, this is a very tight range, although not that uncommon in live poker for a player to raise so passively. So our best response is going to be to fold almost everything. We can't call even with a pocket pair or suited connector to try to crack him, because he's raised such a large amount pre. Maybe if we are very deep we can consider it, since his hand is somewhat face up. But assuming 100 bb stacks we certainly can't peel a flop. There is just no room to maneuver. And what if someone yet to act reraises? Then we will have thrown 7 bb away. It's not that likely unless they have a monster, but it's still a consideration. We'd only want to continue with AA and KK. Maybe AK or QQ. Everything in poker is situational. But you can use your observations and analytic skills to determine exactly what the situation is.

On The Button

Let's try another one. It is folded to the HJ, who limps. This is a very loose player, in a very loose game, who is limping 80% of his hands. Furthermore, he is raising the top 5% of his hands. The CO limps as well. He's not as loose, but he's a fairly loose passive player, limping 40% but raising his top 5%. We are on the button. Now here we can play very loose ourselves. Suited connectors, suited aces, and offsuit broadway cards should all be profitable for an overlimp. And we can raise our strongest hands for value, KJs, ATs, 99. We don't have to go overboard on the sizing, but 5x the BB to account for the size of the pot should be fine.

Hold'em Simulation
 4,345,827,552 trials (Exhaustive)

Hand

Equity

Wins

Ties

99

65.57%

2,831,103,492

36,911,244

5%-40%

34.43%

1,477,812,816

36,911,244



Hold'em Simulation
 9,421,096,608 trials (Exhaustive)

Hand

Equity

Wins

Ties

99

71.22%

6,673,240,320

73,744,344

5%-80%

28.78%

2,674,111,944

73,744,344



Hold'em Simulation
 1,578,744,288 trials (Exhaustive)

Hand

Equity

Wins

Ties

AsTs

64.73%

1,001,011,089

41,742,903

5%-80%

35.27%

535,990,296

41,742,903








I hope this article has given you some insight into not only how to play preflop, but also why. Now you can examine some of the decisions that you face in loose full ring live games a little closer, and try to understand more completely the essence of the position you are faced with.