In this article I will be discussing preflop play specifically for 6-max No Limit Hold'em cash games. Online games are tougher than live games, and understanding how to play preflop is critical to becoming a long-term winning player. I've broken down this article into 3 main sections: Where Profit Comes From, The Importance of Position, and Hand Selection. Make sure not to skip the first section because it's the most important!
Where Profit Comes From
The first step to pre-flop play is understanding how your hands actually make you money, both preflop and postflop. This happens in two primary ways:
1. Denying Equity
Every player who is still in a hand before the river has some amount of equity in the pot. Getting those players to fold their equity, assuming it's a somewhat significant amount (over 30% or so), can be a big win for you. The simplest example of denying equity is stealing the blinds. Let's say we have AQo in middle position and we raise. It folds around to the big blind who has 53s. This may surprise you, but even though we have the best hand at the moment, 53s has 40% equity against us!
Therefore, we actually want the big blind to fold so that we can win 100% of what's in the pot (the blinds plus our raise), instead of only the 60% that we would "deserve" of the pot if the big blind were to call.
This concept also applies to the flop, turn, and river. Of course if your opponent has us beat on the river, then they will technically have 100% equity, but sometimes we can still get them to fold all that equity by bluffing, which is a huge win for us.
Okay, so what hands are good at denying equity?
As you may have gathered, the best way to deny equity is to be aggressive by betting or raising, often on multiple streets. So we want to choose hands that are capable of picking up a lot of backdoor draws which will enable us to barrel. This is why suited connectors are often profitable to raise with preflop, especially from later positions. With position, you will be able to continuation bet most flops, and then will often have a gutshot, straight draw, or flush draw on the turn, so you will have enough equity yourself to bet again. If you miss your draw on the river, having a hand like 9-high is a great hand to bluff with. So the hands best at denying equity are the ones with a high degree of suitedness and connectedness.
However, we cannot only rely on pure aggression to make us money in poker, which brings us to the next method of making money with our hands...
2. Winning at Showdown
The second way to profit with a given hand, besides getting your opponents to fold, is by having the best hand at showdown. This one is a lot more straightforward. When we have the best hand on the river, we can often make a value bet or call a bet from our opponent; either way we are going to make money. For this reason, it's important to choose hands preflop which have a good chance of both getting to showdown and winning at showdown. Therefore we should choose high-card hands (AK, AQ, AJ, KQ) and pocket pairs, especially middling to higher ones. When we choose hands preflop with high equity and components of suitedness and connectedness, we will find ourselves in profitable postflop scenarios and end up making money against our opponents.
The Importance of Position
Being in position is inherently an advantage over being out of position. Since the player in position acts last on every street, they are able to extract more value with strong holdings, minimize losses with weak holdings, bluff more effectively, and realize equity more easily than the player out of position.
When we are in earlier positions we are fairly likely to be out of position throughout the hand if we choose to enter the pot, since there are more players who have position on us who may call or 3-bet after we raise. On top of that, if there are 5 players left to act behind us, the chances that one of them has a strong hand is much higher than if there are only 2 or 3 players left to act.
Under the gun, both of these factors are working strongly against us, so we cannot play many hands profitably. We should only be entering the pot with approximately the top 13% of hands. The closer we get to the big blind, the wider we can open up that range.
Now I will give you my raise-first-in (RFI) ranges from each position in 6-max No Limit Hold'em for when it's folded to you and you have the opportunity to open the pot. These ranges are a starting point, and you may want to adjust them based on who is at the table... for example if the button is a nit, you can open a little wider in the cutoff. Also keep in mind what you've learned about denying equity and position so you will have an idea of how to proceed with these hands after the flop.
UTG (under the gun):
12.82% of all hands
MP (middle position):
19.00% of all hands
26.40% of all hands
45.40% of all hands
56.56% of all hands
This may seem like a lot of information, but stay focused and it will all feel like second nature to you in no time. Stick to these preflop opening ranges and you will have a significant advantage over most players at micro-stakes. You might even want to save the images above and keep them up on your screen while you're playing until you get used to them. Now get out there and crush it.
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