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Poker Strategy With Ryan Fee: Playing The Button Against Opens

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Ryan Fee

The Upswing Poker Lab is a poker training course taught by Doug Polk and Ryan Fee. The Lab is updated regularly with in-depth learning modules, theory videos, and a wealth of information to make you a better poker player.

One question I’m frequently asked is, “How loose should I play on the button when facing an open?” While many people want a quick answer silver bullet, or a tip to reliably fall back on, there are many factors to consider when facing an open. In this article, I’ll go over some of the more important ones.

The first, and probably most important, is how large an opponent’s raise size is. It goes without saying that you should treat a min-raise, 3x, 4x, and 5x differently from one another. If you’re facing a min-raise on the button, for instance, it’s reasonable to play the top third or top quarter of your range. This is because you simply don’t need much equity to call in min-raise situations. Even with a hand like 7-5 suited, you’d be calling two big blinds to win a 5.5 big blind pot, assuming both blinds fold.

Now, we should note that there is a real threat of being squeezed in spots like this, which, in turn, hurts your ability to call. However, versus a min-raise I would still advocate playing hands like Broadway cards, suited connectors, suited one-gappers, and strong suited aces and kings. The risk of being squeezed is usually outweighed by the price you’ll be getting to call with these kinds of hands.

As the raise sizing gets bigger, things start to change. Most notably, the squeeze problem becomes more acute as you lose more when the open size is to a bigger amount. When the raise is to 3x, for instance, a hand like K-8 suited, which typically plays well from the button, becomes a not-so-profitable hand to call with. So, the number one thing to ask yourself when facing an open is, “What size did my opponent raise to?”

The next question to ask yourself is, “What position did my opponent raise from?” Position is crucial – you shouldn’t treat under-the-gun (UTG) and cutoff raises as though they’re the same. An UTG raiser’s range, for instance, could include 15 percent of hands whereas from the cutoff her range could have up to 35 percent. That’s a substantial difference, which you must consider when thinking about the equity you have with some of your looser flats.

In short, there are hands you should play on the button when facing a cutoff raise that you should fold when facing an UTG raise. Some examples might include the hands I mentioned above; suited connectors like 7-5 suited, a hand like K-8 suited, or maybe even some of your weakest suited aces.

The next factor to consider is your opponent’s playing style, in particular. Facing an open from a loose aggressive player is very different from facing an open from a tight player. Some of the hands we’ve been talking about playing in general—hands like Q-J offsuit, A-10 offsuit, or K-10 offsuit, you’ll want to play against loose players, but fold against tighter players.

Perhaps these points are obvious to you, but many people think, “Oh, I’ll just wing it, I’ll be fine,” when they find themselves in situations that are more nuanced than they suppose. Even now, there are probably readers who are thinking, “Yeah. UTG tighter, cutoff looser, smaller looser – I know all of this.” But when they actually try and implement changes they gloss over the finer points because they aren’t able to visualize those changes.

I suggest spending some time with Equilab, or any other poker range software, taking a close look at what hands you would normally play on the button when facing an open. Then, tinker a bit with the ranges, adding or removing hands based on different situations.
Something I’ve done in the past is save hand charts as images, and then look at them in contrast with each other when analyzing my play – a great way to recognize and implement the right changes in different situations.

If you decide to do this, I recommend taking a screen shot of each range using Equilab, then commit them to memory so that you know what you’re going to do on the button in a variety of situations. (You can do this for every position, not just the button.)

Of course, it’s not so important to nail down perfect hand ranges because the jury is still out on what, exactly, perfect preflop play is in no-limit hold’em. But developing an understanding of how your ranges should change based on the factors just discussed is an important step to take towards playing correctly against preflop raises.

Sign up for the Upswing Poker Lab today for step-by-step instructions and examples to master both the fundamental theories and situational exploits to greatly increase your skill and earnings.