Lead Instructor Evan from Gripsed.com walks you through the questions you should ask yourself when deciding to play or not to play your hand. In Hold'em the No. 1 starting hand (A♥ A♠) holds 83% preflop equity over the second-best starting hand (K♥ K♠). In Omaha the best starting hand (A♥ A♠ K♥ K♠) is only 33% to win (41% to tie) against the second-best starting hand (A♦ A♣ T♦ J♣). Pre flop hand ranges in Texas Hold’em are the framework for any hand that is played. Without a proper understanding of which hands should be played pre flop, no player will be able to effectively play post flop. Imagine players who were blindly calling raises, or even making raises, without even knowing which cards they were holding. Comparing preflop equities in Big O is similar to debating which color of a NFL player's cleats bests improves their team's chances of winning. It is simply and completely irrelevant and will lead you to lines of thought that will be counterproductive to your learning curve and your ability to win. Big O is as close to poker chess as you can get. This is why the best preflop poker strategy in the world most of the time is simply to fold preflop! But when you have a decent hand and you see these weak plays out of others (limping, calling, playing a lot of hands) it is always advisable to isolate these players. This will be your bread and butter at the micros.
How to Play Poker When There is a Raise Ahead of You
When someone raises before you act in No-Limit Hold’em – also known as a pre-flop raise – you have three choices. You can re-raise, fold or choose to flat call. This page looks in-depth at the third option – calling someone’s pre-flop raise and playing poker from there.
As you’ll see below, there are a lot of factors to consider before using a flat call. These include your cards, table image, depth of your stack and position at the table. Each factor will be discussed in turn, with the maths of your different options assessed.
Here is what you will find below:
Flat-Calling and Implied Odds
If you have a good poker hand, you’ll often (though not always) be re-raising before the flop. Since most of the time you will have a good, though not great hand, implied odds become an important factor.
This describes a spot where you might not have the best hand at the time you make the call – though you can win a lot of money on later streets if you do improve. The classic example would involve a small pair.
A pre-flop flat call is a useful strategy for even poker pros like Phil Ivey.
Let’s use an extreme example to illustrate. The tightest opponent you ever met raises under the gun. You somehow know that he has pocket aces. You are on the button with a pair of 5’s. You know you’re behind, and that raising here would result in an all-in from your opponent.
Instead you call. If the flop has a 5, and no ace, you stand to win your opponent’s entire stack.
Here you did not have the odds to call the pre-flop raise, though your future profit potential more than made up for it. Most of the time, you’ll miss the flop and fold. That one in eight times you flop a 5 make up for this – your implied odds were huge!
Of course, things will not always be this clear cut. The important point here is that when you call, the potential to make money on later streets is a key factor. You might also win the pot when your opponent checks (giving up) and you put in a timely steal. If they are ‘raising light’, you might well already have the best hand.
Primary Reasons to Call Pre-flop
Improving to the best starting poker hand is only one reason you might call before the flop. Here are several other factors that come into making this decision.
- Calling to Trap: You might have pocket aces yourself and know that someone still to act will often re-raise to steal pots. We don’t recommend making a habit of this play (it is too transparent if you do it often). If you mix things up with the occasional trap, you can get a lot of money into the pot pre-flop.
- Taking the Pot on Later Streets: if your opponents are loose and passive, you may have many opportunities to ‘float’ on the flop. This scenario involves calling pre-flop, then calling another bet on the flop – even if you don’t hit. Many opponents will give up on the turn when they hit resistance. If you choose your spots, you can win a mid-sized pot with a bet from position.
- Defending Your Button: Late position players will raise with a wide range of hands. If you have the dealer button position, you can make their lives difficult with the occasional flat-call. This is particularly effective when the flop contains lower cards, which are more likely to have hit a caller’s range than those of a raiser.
- The Raiser is Loose: Sometimes you’ll face opponents that raise almost every time with a huge range. This can include any ace, junky suited hands and more. With a good, though not premium hand you could choose to call here. After the flop, you’ll have a better idea of where you stand.
- Implied Odds: Some hands work better heads-up against a single opponent, others work better multi-way. If the stacks are deep, your implied odds can be big.
Best Types of Hands to Flat Call a Pre-Flop Raise With
Many of the situations covered above rely on position – and detecting when your opponent is weak after the flop to justify your call. There are three types of hands which are ideal candidates for a flat call. These can make monsters after the flop – and win you big pots.
- Suited Aces: Adding the ability to make the nut (highest possible) flush gives you a powerful way to win a big pot. I do not recommend calling with hands like Ace-8 off-suit, though hands Ace-2 to Ace-5 suited have shots at both flushes and straights. Higher suited aces are re-raise candidates.
- Suited Connectors: This category includes hands from 4-5 suited to J-Q suited. They can make both flushes and straights. The real strength of these hands is that you can play them aggressively when you flop strong draws. This gives you multiple ways to win the pot. You will sometimes improve to the best hand, and other times win as a semi-bluff.
- Small / Mid Pairs: Here the strength comes from those times you make a set on the flop. If your opponent(s) are tight, then you can win a lot of money those times they incorrectly believe that the flop is safe for their aces.
You could also add suited Broadway hands and ace-jack / ace-queen off-suit to this list. Those are more dependant on the table dynamic and table image. If you are unsure of your post-flop skills, it is usually better to either take the lead in the hand by raising or ditch those hands pre-flop.
How Table Position Affects Your Pre-flop Flat Call Range
Not only your own position, but the position of the player that raised needs to be factored in before you call pre-flop.
If the raiser is in early position – and a thinking player – their raising range is likely to be strong. If you are sat on their immediate left, then there will still be a lot of players still to act. Here re-raising looks very strong, and even calling should involve a stronger hand range than from later position. Those implied odds hands covered above can’t stand a 3-bet from later position and become too risky in this setup at all but the most passive (‘call-heavy’) games.
If you are in later position, especially on the button, and the raise comes from early position – then the implied odds hands go up in value. With the raiser having a narrow / strong range, they will be more reluctant to fold to a single bet on a ‘safe’ flop. If you are in the blinds facing an early position raise, then you need to factor in the fact that you are out of position before you consider a call. It is hard to get full value when you act first on the flop, turn and river.
Raises from middle position should be with a wider range of hands. This improves your ability to take the pot on later streets, even when you miss the flop – since your opponent will not always have a hand which can withstand pressure.
If the raise comes from the button or cut-off position and you are in the blinds, a different dynamic applies. Here the raiser will often have a wide range. While this might mean you have the best hand more often, it also means you are less likely to be paid off with those implied-odds type hands. Add being out of position, and many calling hands should be ditched. With many hands, it is better to take the lead (or win the pot right there) with a 3-bet instead.
Calling vs Tight or Loose Opponents
Sometimes an opponent will be the classic loose ‘calling station’. This means they will raise a lot of hands (sometimes oblivious to position), and then call too many bets post-flop with any chance of winning. While calling can win a lot of money, you will often find that re-raising is the better play. You’ll knock out the hands behind you that might have called. If you hit the flop, you can win a lot of money from these players.
Tighter opponents increase your chance of winning a big pot after the flop with the right types of hand. If you miss and they raise, you should often give them credit for a premium hand and get out of the way. If you do spike a set with a small pair (for example), expect to win multiple bets.
Your own table image also comes into play. If you are calling a lot of bets pre-flop, then folding to continuation bets – you are encouraging opponents to open a wider range against you.
If there are loose opponents still to act, you should generally play a narrower range of hands for flat-calls. An active button, that likes to 3-bet when seeing a raise and call can make your life difficult. You are denied the correct odds to call – and would have to play out of position for the rest of the hand.
Top Ten Poker Hands Preflop
Stack-Depth Factors and Pre-Flop Calling Hands
Cards worthy of a flat call when faced with a pre-flop raise.
When considering a call, the amount of money you can win on future streets is a primary factor. If either you or the raiser has a shallow stack – for example 20x the big blind – then you do not have the correct odds to call with your implied odds hands. In fact, calling both pre-flop and on the flop will make the pot so big that you are probably committed to call bets on later streets.
With very deep stacks of 200x the big blind or more, certain hands shoot up in value. Those suited aces and suited connectors can now win huge pots after the flop – and can be played more often. Conversely, vulnerable hands like Ace-9 or K-10 off-suited go down in value. These hands are easily dominated, making it difficult to know where you stand after the flop. This means that have ‘reverse implied odds’ – you could lose a big pot those times you do hit the flop, and someone else hits it better.
If there is a short-stack still to act, then you have another type of risk. For example, someone with 100x the big blind opens, and you call (also with 100x) with a small pocket pair. A player nursing a 10x stack then goes all-in behind you, and the original raiser folds. Here you have huge odds to make the call – though would have preferred not too, as you won’t have the best hand most of the time.
Best Poker Hands Preflop
When to Flat Call Pre-Flop in Poker Tournaments
All of the factors covered above apply as much to tournaments as they do to cash games. There are also some extra considerations for tournament poker. These arise from the generally lower standard of strategy knowledge for tournament players, stack size differences and bubble dynamics.
In the early stages of poker tournaments, pots will be contested by more players than in cash games. You can call a raise before the flop, only to see 2 or 3 other players also flat call. When you see the flop 5 handed, you’ll need to hit it hard to have a shot at winning the pot. This improves the value of hands like small pairs and suited aces. It significantly reduces the value of high card hands (even as good as Ace-Queen). Many poker experts recommend a flat call only from position in small stakes poker tournaments – and choosing hands which can hit hidden monsters.
When you get to the middle stages, with bigger blinds, there will be a huge range of stack sizes at your table. Some players will have 100x stacks, others will be 10x or so – with many in that comfort-zone in between. If you want to flat call, you need to take stack depth into consideration first. While you might have great implied odds against a deep stack, a small stack behind you is a big risk. Instead of using a flat call, you should raise more often. This keeps the pressure on your opponents. It works well against those comfortable mid-sized stacks, who will often decide to look for a better spot.
The bubble of a poker tournament sees most players tighten up – and the big stacks go on the rampage, stealing as many pots as possible. When a small or medium stack raises, they usually have a good hand (otherwise they would not take the risk). A flat call is not recommended. Instead, you should be looking to chip-up – taking the lead in the hand whenever possible.
Even if you are a neophyte to the game of poker, there are some basic tenets that you have before you even pick up a stack of chips to bet. One, when you get pocket Aces, you pound your opposition with a pre-flop raise otherwise everyone and their brother gets to play the hand and potentially crack your bullets. Two, you don’t need to play “special” hands like a 7-2, universally recognized as the worst hand in poker. Finally, there isn’t a such thing as “funsies,” 99% of the time you’re playing poker for a reason – normally to make some money.
Beyond that, the education of a poker player gets a bit grey. Here’s a basic thought on some hands that new players will play simply because “someone told them it was worthwhile” or “but (insert professional player here) always plays this hand” or even “I had a feeling.” If you can put these into your repertoire of hands you need to fold pre-flop, you’ll potentially find that your sessions are more profitable.
Jack-10 (Suited or unsuited)
At first glance, J-10 is a pretty sweet looking hand. It holds the potential to make four nut straights, the only two card combination to be able to do that, and it can let you float a bet on the flop if they are suited and two of that suit hit the felt. The problem with J-10 is that it doesn’t play well after the flop.
If you get a flop that contains a Jack, then you have issues with the kicker that, in most cases, is going to be dominated by an opponent playing Q-J, K-J, or A-J. If you pair the ten, then the same situation is in play with a similar number of options that beat you – A-10, K-10 and Q-10. If they are suited and the two matching suit cards that come on the flop are under the ten, then there is a chance (a slim one, about 1-in-592) that an A-K, A-Q, or K-Q is out there to clip you. And let’s not even get into the potential for straights (K-Q, Q-9, 9-8) should you flop two pair.
There are two options here: hit perfectly and hope someone ignores the straight potential of the board, calling your bets all the way, or missing and having to let the hand go. If you get a flop like K-Q-x, about the only people who might come with you are pocket pairs (King, Queen or “x”) or those that have you beaten (A-K, A-Q, K-Q, any King or Queen combination and the pairer for the “x”). If the flop comes empty – say A-7-4, for example – then you’re left with air to bluff with; most wouldn’t consider chasing it any further with this dismal holding.
Everyone loves to potentially crack a big pair by playing a small one – between deuces and fives – and set mining their way into the lead. But what happens when you’ve completely missed with your little ones? It gets pretty ugly in this case.
In pre-flop action, the baby pairs don’t hold up well if there is a great deal of action in front of you. Say you’re sitting on deuces on the button when someone fires a bet out of middle position, the hijack calls and the cutoff three-bets the situation. Your pocket deuces don’t look so good now, do they? There’s nothing wrong with sending the hand to the muck here and, in fact, it is the proper play with the flurry of activity ahead of you.
Top Poker Hands Pre Flop
The baby pairs don’t hold up well if the cards on the flop are all higher cards, at best giving you the fourth-best hand after the flop. They also don’t work well as a straight filler. For example, if you have pocket treys and fill out a 2-4-5 flop to make it an open ended straight draw, there are other potential players that crush your baby pair or could best you in a straight situation.
Extremely Gapped Suited Cards
If you were to get dealt two extremely gapped cards – say a K-2 or a Q-3, for example – there would, for most players, be little hesitation in putting those in the muck. Why then, if there is the same symbol in the corner for each card, does it make a difference? While their suited nature does open the potential for a flush, it isn’t going to do much in any other circumstance.
Top 20 Poker Hands Preflop
If that flush draw comes, then you’re committing with weak holdings – sneaky for the flush potential, yes, but weak otherwise. If you flop a King, then you have kicker issues that come up and the same works if you hit the kicker – your top card might not be enough to win at showdown unless you make trips with the kicker.
Best Poker Hands Preflop
Best Poker Hands Preflop And Win Percentages
We sometimes have to play hands we’d rather not play on certain occasions. But if you can control when you voluntarily put chips in play to hands, making sure they have strong potential (not always, mind you, but more often than not) instead of weaker holdings, you should find more success on the tables. And isn’t winning hands – and the chips that go along with those hands – why we sit down at the table?