No Limit Hand Values

In deep stack no limit, preflop hands have value based mostly on how well they extract money after the flop from your opponents. They don't have value based on how likely they are to win a showdown. That is, T494 is a far better no limit hand than

We use a few abbreviations. The first three have become relatively standard in the poker literature. LP means late position, and it indicates two seats: the button and one off the button. MP means middle position, and it indicates two seats: two and three off the button. EP means early position, and it indicates the other seats between the big blind and the first MP seat. (In a nine-handed game there will be three such seats, and in a ten-handed game there will be four.)

We also use three more abbreviations that are new with this book. UR means to "usually raise," UL means to "usually limp," and UF means to "usually fold." We introduce these abbreviations to emphasize how important balancing your strategy is in no limit. We don't feel you should make any play every time.

If we say a hand is a UR (usually raise), we mean that you should raise with it about 80 percent of the time and limp with it the other 20 percent. You can change that to 70/30 or 85/15 if you'd like; 80 percent isn't a magic number. (Though it's not completely meaningless either; a change to 95/5 or 55/45 would be a deviation from the strategy.)

If we say a hand is a UL (usually limp), we mean that you should limp with it about 80 percent of the time and raise it the other 20 percent. Again, those percentages are somewhat flexible.

If we say a hand is a UF (usually fold), we mean that you should fold it about 80 percent of the time, limp with it about 10 percent, and raise it the other 10 percent. Typically you'll be playing these UF hands for one of three reasons:

  1. Your opponents are particularly bad
  2. You are semi-bluffing
  3. You are balancing your strategy

Now here's the strategy. Hands are listed as UR, UL, or UF. If a hand doesn't appear in any of the three lists, we intend you to fold it. Also, we tell you how often to raise, but we don't tell you how much to raise. We provide that guidance in the chapter "Sizing Your Preflop Raises."

You are First to Enter the Pot

No one, except for the blinds, has entered the pot yet. Everyone has folded to you. If you are in EP:

  • UR — Big pairs (AA-QQ) and AK
  • UL — Other pairs (JJ-22), AQ, any two suited cards jack or higher (e.g., no gap suited connectors J4Ti down to and suited aces (e.g., AV4V). You may want to fold some of those hands instead of limp if the game is such that one of your opponents is likely to make a big preflop raise.
  • Up — One gap suited connectors queen-ten suited (e.g., QTTV) down to five-trey suited (e.g., 5^3*) (and four-trey suited)

In MP, use the requirements for EP, except promote JJ, AQ, and two suited jack or higher to UR and suited one-gappers to UL.

In LP, we unfortunately can't, in good faith, give you any specific guidance. While all deep stack preflop decisions depend on numerous factors, that dependency is enormous when everyone folds to you in LP. Exceptional players against weak blind players might well be able to play virtually any hand in this situation, while weaker players against strong blind players should still play fairly tightly.

We will offer two nuggets of advice, though:

  1. If you are new to the game or otherwise don't feel comfortable "going on your own," don't stray too far from the MP guidelines. You'll be folding some profitable hands, but that's the (temporary) price you will pay for your inexperience. Don't worry about it. Play what you're comfortable playing.
  2. Limping can definitely be ok. Some macho types will tell you never to limp first in from LP. But that advice belongs to limit games or tournaments. In deep stack cash games, limping, even on the button, will frequently be a fine play.

Exactly One Player Has Limped in Front of You

In EP and MP, use roughly the same strategy as you would if no one had yet entered the pot.

In LP, play somewhat looser than you would in MP. For instance, you might limp with TV7V or raise with 9*94.

Two or More Players Have Limped in Front of You

Play roughly the same range of hands in EP, MP, and LP that you would play against one limper, but make the following three adjustments:

  1. When you raise, your raise should be significantly bigger. Add at least one big blind to the size of your raise for each limper. See the chapter "Sizing Your Preflop Raises" for more information.
  2. Your "usually" plays should become "almost always" plays. That is, instead of an 80/20 ratio, you should adopt a 95/5 ratio.
  3. Raise more often (perhaps 20 percent of the time instead of 10 percent) with the best of your UF hands (e.g.,

These are semi-bluffs.

Someone Has Opened for a Raise, No Callers Yet

In EP and MP:

  • UR — Pocket aces and kings
  • UC — AK, AQ suited, QQ-99, and occasionally other bread and butter hands

Also reraise occasionally with the best hands not mentioned (that you would otherwise fold). For instance, sometimes reraise with hands like 6*64 and J4T4.

In LP, play the same as in EP and MP except add all pocket pairs and no gap suited connectors down to five-four suited (e.g. 5*44) to the UC list.

When the raise is to an amount larger than four times the big blind (i.e., in a $5-$ 10 game, the raise makes it more than $40 to go), tighten up from these suggestions. The bigger the raise, the more you tighten up. On the other hand, if the raiser is a loose and wild raiser, you can call and reraise more loosely than these suggestions.

Someone Has Opened for a Raise, One or More Callers

Play the same way that you would with no callers with one exception: With ace-king, usually make a big reraise instead of calling.

Someone Has Opened for a Raise, and Another Player Reraised

Move in with pocket aces or kings, and fold everything else.

From the Blinds

In all scenarios, tend to play somewhat tighter than you would in LP. You will be out of position postflop, so most hands won't be worth playing.

In particular, don't worry about "defending" your big blind. The small amount of blind money usually won't provide enough incentive to play a weak hand out of position. You should call raises sparingly from either blind.

But finally, if several players have limped into the pot, make a big raise occasionally as a semi-bluff. When you do this, choose your worst hands, stuff like to do it with. There's no sense in wasting a perfectly good hand like TV8V for a bluff when you can simply check (or throw in one chip) and see a flop. (Of course, raises will more often be made with your legitimate good hands.)

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