Preflop Strategy

The preflop stage usually doesn’t involve a lot of money, but it is still vital to have a solid preflop strategy. Otherwise, you will frequently find yourself in difficult spots after the flop and bleeding money. Preflop strategy consists of three major choices:

  • Choosing which hands to fold
  • Choosing which hands to play
  • Choosing how to play those hands

Preflop strategy is incredibly important in no limit ring games because your play before the flop affects the way the rest of the hand will go. Fortunately, preflop strategy is not super complicated. It does have its difficult moments, but you won’t have to make many life and death decisions before the flop.

Note – Remember that this preflop strategy guide is just that: a guide. This is not meant to be a strategy that you follow blindly no matter what. Situations change at the table and you may want to mix it up from time to time. This guide will get you off to a great start, but it does not play poker for you.


Position is the most important part of the preflop strategy puzzle. Every single decision you make before the flop should take position into account. If you’re not constantly aware of your position relative to the other players at the table, then you are not taking it into consideration enough.

The rest of this preflop strategy article will be broken up by position. Note that there are two different types of position:

  • Absolute position
  • Relative position

“Absolute position” is your location relative to the dealer’s button at the beginning of the hand. This kind of position is important to be aware of before the flop, but it comes secondary to relative position in actual use.

“Relative position” is your position in relation to the other players at the table. This is the type of position that really matters. You can be seated at the 3rd to last seat at the table, but if you have two active players to your left, you are in effect in early position. For the rest of this guide, any time we talk about position, you can assume that we are talking about relative position.

Position is all about knowledge. Being able to act after someone else (late position) gives you the advantage of seeing that player’s every move before you have to make your own decision. This is a huge advantage in poker and this is why poker players always prefer to be in late position.

Preflop Strategy in Early Position

Early position is the most difficult position to play from so this is the spot where you should play the lowest percentage of dealt hands. In early position before the flop, you don’t even know how many people will be in the pot with you. You have no idea how the other players are going to act, whether or not they will raise and so on.

Additionally, you will be acting from early position during the entire rest of the hand. You need strong starting hands to make up for the disadvantage of position. That’s why we recommend you play a very tight game from early position. Stick with strong hands in early position and dump all the rest.

Some of the hands you can play from early position include the following:

  • Big pairs AA-TT
  • All pairs in shorthanded games (if you play them aggressively)
  • AKs, AKo, AQs, AQo
  • KQs, KQo in shorthanded games only

As you can see, this isn’t a very long list of hands. That’s how tight you should play from early position. In low stakes games, your opponents will have no idea what you have, so don’t worry about being too predictable from early position. You don’t need to worry about that until you start playing $2/$4 no-limit and above.

Any time you enter the pot from early position, you should come in with a raise. If you don’t feel comfortable putting in a raise with a hand, you should fold that hand. There is nothing wrong with playing a raise or fold game from early position. You need every advantage you can get from early position, and aggression shows confidence, which causes your opponents to play a more straightforward game against you.

Middle Position

Things start to get a lot better in middle position. If you’re playing in a six-max game, middle position is almost as good as being in late position. If you’re playing in a 9 or 10 person game, you are going to have to treat middle position more like early position.

Your strategy from middle position should be similar to your strategy in early position. Come in mostly with raises and stick with strong hands. If you have weak opponents to your left, you can come in with even more hands and push those opponents out of the pot – essentially buying late position for yourself.

If nobody has entered the pot before you in middle position, you should only enter the pot by raising. Opening any pot with a limp is a weak move that leaves you vulnerable to steals and leaves the pot open for other players to take initiative. Coming in with a raise makes it easier for you to win pots even if you don’t hit anything.

If other players have raised the pot before you, you need to play a very tight game. Early position raises signify great strength, so you do not want to call those raises with questionable hands. The only hands we would recommend calling with are small pocket pairs since those can break bigger hands. You can also call raises occasionally with small suited connectors as long as you don’t make a habit of it.

If other players have limped in before you, you have a few options. You can limp in behind those players with drawing hands or you can raise those players with strong hands of your own. Everything else should be folded. We like to raise a wide range of hands against open limpers because they have already shown weakness and you can often just take the pot from them.

Note – do not raise open-limpers who are calling stations. There are many poker players out there who like to play every hand they are dealt and chase a lot of draws. It is pointless to raise these players with anything other than legitimate hands. You cannot steal pots from calling stations.

Let’s sum up our middle position preflop strategy.

If you are the first one in the pot:

  • Raise your strong hands
  • Raise decent hands such as AJs, KQs, KQo if you’re in a shorthanded game
  • Do not open limp with any hand
  • Fold your weak hands

If the pot has been raised:

  • Reraise your premium hands (AA, KK, QQ and sometimes AK)
  • Call with pocket pairs if the players behind you are predictable and the person making the raise has a large stack
  • Fold everything else

If people have limped in to the pot in front of you:

  • Limp behind those players with small pocket pairs and suited connectors
  • Raise with strong hands such as big pairs, AK and AQ. Also raise with KQ, AJ, ATs and 99+ in shorthanded games.
  • Fold everything else

Late Position

This is where most of your money is earned at the table. Late position is the best place to be in because it gives you a strong information advantage over your opponents. You get to see every move they make before you have to make each of your decisions. This makes it easier to win money with more hands, so therefore you can play more hands profitably from late position.

Every move you make in late position should be dependent upon what the rest of the table has done so far. Use that information advantage and choose your hands accordingly.

If you are the first person in the pot, you should either raise or fold. Raise all your strong hands plus any two broadway cards and any pocket pair. There’s a good chance you’ll win the blinds right there without even seeing a flop. If anyone calls, you have the advantage of position and you will win the pot more often than not.

If people have raised in front of you, you should fold everything except quality drawing hands and premium hands. You can re-raise with hands such as AA, KK, QQ, JJ and AK. You can flat call with small pocket pairs in the hopes of hitting a set and breaking your opponent. But remember to only do this if both you and your opponent have full stacks.

If people have limped in to the pot in front of you, your strategy should be basically the same as for middle position. Limp in behind those players with your drawing hands and raise all yours strong / premium hands. If you have a strong starting hand, you want to make your opponents pay to see the flop.

And once again, let’s sum this all up.

If you are the first one in the pot:

  • Raise all premium hands (AA, KK, QQ, JJ, AK, AQ)
  • Raise any two broadway cards (KQ, QJ, AT, etc)
  • Raise all pocket pairs
  • If the blinds are weak and fold a lot, raise with any two cards
  • Fold everything else

If the pot has been raised:

  • Reraise with AA, KK, QQ, JJ and AK
  • Flat call with sets if both you and the original raiser have full stacks
  • Flat call with suited connectors if at least one other person has already called the raise
  • Fold everything else
  • If people have limped in to the pot in front of you:
  • Limp in with small pocket pairs and suited connectors
  • Raise 99+ to punish the weak limpers and narrow the field
  • Limp in with any two broadway cards
  • Fold everything else

More Poker Strategy