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Preflop Discipline

by Jonathan Little |  Published: Dec 21, 2016


I am in the process of writing a new, in-depth small-stakes no-limit hold’em book. Today I was writing about a concept that I think many amateur players mess up on a regular basis. Instead of playing a somewhat tight, aggressive strategy when someone raises in front of them, they call with an incredibly wide range, which often leads to difficult postflop situations.

For example, suppose at $1-$2 with $200 stacks, a competent, tight-aggressive player raises to $7 from early position. A few players fold and the action is on you in middle position. This is a situation where most amateurs call with roughly this range:

Their logic is that these hands all flop well enough. They say in their minds, “you can’t win if you don’t see the flop!” They three-bet their best hands, A-A through 9-9, A-K, and A-Q, because they assume those are worthy of piling in the money.

In my opinion, this range is much too wide. Many of these hands, primarily the offsuit Broadway hands, are going to be incredibly dominated and the suited connectors are not going to flop well enough to justify calling a 3.5 big blind preflop raise.

I instead suggest that you call with the range in the next column versus a competent opponent.

I am sure that seeing this tight range takes all the fun right out of poker. I am adamantly against splashing around with all sorts of junk, even in small-stakes games versus generally weak opponents. You may also notice that I suggest that you have a zero percent three-betting range in this specific situation. I like calling early position raisers with my entire range of playable hands because it disguises my range (making me more difficult to play against) and it protects my range (meaning that players yet to act cannot three-bet too aggressively because I will occasionally have the nuts.)

Calling with A-A feels criminal to the vast majority of amateur poker players. They think that they should ram and jam chips into the pot to either get all-in immediately or make their opponents fold the little bit of equity they have. This is the exact opposite of what you want to do. In order to maximize your profits, you should play in a manner that leads your opponents to make errors. When they fold versus your premium hand, they are playing perfectly.

Suppose at 50-100 with 7,500 stacks in a $100 buy-in local tournament, someone raises to 400 from early position and you are in middle position with AHeart Suit ADiamond Suit. You think that this player has a decently strong range, but you also think that if you three-bet to 1,100, he will either fold preflop or call preflop and then check-fold the flop most of the time. This is an excellent spot to call. So, you call. The small blind and big blind both call as well.

The flop comes JHeart Suit 7Spade Suit 5Spade Suit. The initial raiser bets 1,100 into the 1,600 pot. Only you call. The turn is the 2Heart Suit. Your opponent pushes all-in and you call, beating his KSpade Suit JDiamond Suit. This situation plays itself out on a regular basis in the small-stakes games. Most players will assume that your passivity before and on the flop indicates weakness, and since most amateurs think that they should try to make the inferior hands fold, they will blast off. Notice that in this situation, if you three-bet preflop, your opponent probably would have folded. While he is going to have a difficult time folding on the flop with top pair, you gave him every possible opportunity to make a significant blunder.

If instead of a heads-up pot on the flop, the small blind called, the big blind check-raised to 3,000 and the initial raiser went all-in, you should usually make a tight fold. While I am never a fan of folding a premium hand, it is important to realize that you could easily have J-J, 7-7, and 5-5 in your range, as you would have played all of those hands in the same manner before the flop. Also, most small-stakes players only check-raise the flop when they are confident they have the best hand. While you will occasionally be shown top pair versus top pair, or top pair versus a premium draw, it is wise to get out of the way.

By playing in this somewhat snug manner before the flop, you conceal the strength of your range and induce your opponents to overplay their hands. By folding the hands with large reverse implied odds, you avoid many tricky situations that constantly plague amateurs.

An added benefit of playing this tight range is that you will often find yourself on the good side of “set up” situations, when two players make flushes, because most of your flushes will be the nuts. One of the first steps to becoming a winning poker player is to develop the discipline to play a fundamentally sound preflop strategy. Just because your opponents are splashing around does not mean that you have to. ♠

Jonathan LittleJonathan Little is a two-time WPT champion with more than $6 million in tournament winnings. Each week, he posts an educational blog and podcast at, where you can get a FREE poker training video that details five things you must master if you want to win at tournament poker. You can also sign up for his FREE Excelling at No Limit Hold’em webinars at