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Playing vs. An Open: Part 1

by Ryan Laplante |  Published: Nov 01, 2023


Preflop is the cornerstone of Texas hold’em. If you don’t have an extremely well-built foundation for your preflop game you will never be a formidable player. This article is going to take a deep look into playing mid-stacks preflop.

Preflop theory ranges are constructed based on a few different factors: How deep stacked you are, how deep your opponents are, what position you are in, what position your opponent is in, and what ICM factors there are.

For this article we are going to assume that we are eight-handed, 40 big blinds (BB) deep effective with a full ante, that our opponent is 40 big blinds deep (BB) as well, and that there is no ICM to consider. Also, that both opponents are playing purely Game Theory Optimal (GTO).

For this situation, GTO opens 18.6% of hands to 2.3 big blinds with the following range: 2-2+, A-10 offsuit+, K-10 offsuit+, Q-J offsuit, A-3 suited+, K-6 suited+, Q-9 suited+, J-9 suited+, 10-8 suited+, and 9-8 suited.

How theory plays against this open is based strictly on position. The total range played by each position can be as tight as 10.5% (Mid-position vs UTG) to as loose as 54% (BB vs UTG). The three-bet size is 3x the open, or 6.9BB in total for MP, and 4x (9.2BB) from the big blind.

In the first situation above, we have a middle position (MP) playing range vs a UTG open on 40 BB deep effective. This range is 4-4+, A-J offsuit+, K-J offsuit+, A-5 suited, A-8 suited+, K-9 suited+, Q-10 suited, J-10 suited = 10.5% of hands. In this situation we are calling 5.6% of hands and three-betting 4.9%.

So we are three-betting almost half of our total playing range here!

Our value three-bets are 8-8+, A-Q offsuit+, A-K suited, and we three-bet 8-8 – Q-Q and A-Q offsuit + A-K offsuit only about half the time, while K-K+ and A-K suited we three-bet always. Our bluffs are A-J offsuit (50%), K-J offsuit (20%), A-9 suited (45%), A-8 suited (50%), K-J suited (55%), K-10 suited (80%), K-9 suited (30%), and J-10 suited (25%).

For the second situation, we have the big blind vs a UTG open. This range is 2-2+, A-4 offsuit+, K-6 offsuit+, Q-9 offsuit+, J-9 offsuit+, 10-8 offsuit+, 9-7 offsuit+, 8-6 offsuit+, 7-6 offsuit, 6-5 offsuit, 5-4 offsuit, and all suited hands except 7-2 suited = 54%. We are calling 47.5% and three-betting 6.5%. Our value three-bets are 10-10+/A-K and are all at full frequency. Our bluffs are A-5 offsuit to A-10 offsuit all at around 20-30% frequencies, as well as K-9 suited (100%), J-9 suited (35%), 10-9 suited (45%), and 9-8 suited (30%).

So what do all of these numbers mean? While these two examples aren’t enough by themselves to make strong conclusions, if we were to consider these two ranges as well as how each of the other positions play vs an UTG open, we can learn a handful of important concepts that we can easily apply in real situations.

1. The easiest conclusion is that we can play a wider percentage of hands the later position we are in, especially so from the small blind and the big blind due to the added odds we are getting.

2. Another would be that the types of hands we three-bet for value don’t change that much based on our position. However, the bluffs we use change drastically.

3. Bluffing candidates are generally a function of a couple important things, having good blockers (A-x/K-Q), or having strong suited hands that are near the bottom of our calling range.

We are now going to look at the same stack depth, however from a later position open. Now the open is going to be from the hijack (HJ), also to 2.3 times the big blind, and a three-bet response is going to be 3x (6.9BB total) from the in-position players, 3.5x (8.05BB) from the small blind and 4x (9.2BB) from the big blind.

The opener we are facing loosened from 18.6% of hands, now to 29.4%. That range is: 2-2+, A-7 offsuit+, K-9 offsuit+, Q-10 offsuit+, J-10 offsuit, 10-9 offsuit, A-2 suited+, K-4 suited+, Q-7 suited+, J-7 suited+, 10-7 suited+, 9-7 suited+, 8-6 suited+, 7-6 suited, and 6-5 suited.

Most people would assume that because they are opening much looser that we would be calling much looser as well. However, that isn’t the case. BB range vs HJ open is 2-2+, A-2 offsuit+, K-4 offsuit+, Q-6 offsuit+, J-8 offsuit+, 10-8 offsuit+, 9-7 offsuit+, 8-6 offsuit+, 7-6 offsuit, 6-5 offsuit, 5-4 offsuit, and all suited hands = 63.7%. While this range is looser, it is only marginally so.

In this situation the big blind is calling 52.7% and three-betting 10.9%!

While when our opponent opened from EP the big blind played 54.1% of hands, three-betting only 6.6%. This is a very small relative shift for the total-playing range, but a very large shift for the three-betting range (from 6.5% to 10.9%).

In addition to the increased frequency of the three-bet, we also have a change in the types of hands we get to pick. The main shift in our three-bet range is being able to go as loose as 8-8+, A-Q+ all in full for value, while getting more A-X offsuit bluffs and some additional K-X offsuit bluffs as well.

The above information can lead us to a few different conclusions:

1. Calling range doesn’t shift much based on where the open comes from. (An exception being vs a BTN open.)

2. Three-bet size is a function of whether we are in or out of position, as well as whether we are specifically in the small blind or the big blind.

3. Three-bet frequency changes drastically based on where the open came from, not our position.

4. Our position affects the types of candidates we want to use as bluffs. As an example, the later position our opponent opens the less having an ace blocker matters, and the more having strong equity or K-x blocker matters.

Preflop has a lot of nuances involved and is extremely complex and this article only covered a very small aspect of one single stack depth. While in my future articles I may cover this topic more, I am going to leave you with some simple rules to follow that may help your preflop play at all stack depths.

Rule 1 – How deep effective you are influences your opponent’s opening range, and the types of hands that they use.

Rule 2 – High Broadway cards matter more when shallow, and suited connectors and pairs matter more the deeper effective.

Rule 3 – Our response to an opponent’s opening range is impacted by a handful of different things: stack depth, their position, and our position.

Rule 4 – The looser our opponent’s opening range is, the higher our three-bet frequency is.

Rule 5 – The later our position is vs an open, the wider range of hands we get to play overall.

Rule 6 – Our value three-bet range is impacted mostly by their opening position and stack depth.

Rule 7 – Our three-bet bluffs are either good blocking hands, or suited hands with high equity that are near the bottom of our calling range. (The big blind being the exception to this rule.)

Rule 8 – The deeper effective you are, the larger you three-bet. When out of position your three-bets are also relatively larger, with the largest sized three-bet being from the big blind.

I hope this article helps you better understand how preflop theory works in tournaments, and that the rules listed here help you better apply this knowledge in game. ♠

Ryan Laplante is the co-founder of LearnProPoker and the RangeTrainerPro GTO study tool. The 14-year veteran of the game has more than $8 million in career tournament earnings. The Minnesota native has wins at the Poker Masters and WSOP Circuit to go along with 14 World Series of Poker final tables and a bracelet. You can find him on Instagram RealProtential, Twitter/X @ProtentialMN, or send an email to