Pre-Flop Betting Strategies

If your answer to pre-flop betting is to go all-in every other bet, then you need some work in this department. Okay, maybe you’re not that extreme, but we could all use a little tweaking in our preflop betting strategy. This being said, let’s go over some tips and strategy for pre-flop betting by starting with typical pre-flop mistakes.

Pre-flop Betting Mistakes

The average poker player doesn’t have any sort of measuring stick for their pre-flop bets. Instead, they throw out inconsistent pre-flop raises based on how they’re feeling in the moment. What this results in is over-betting, under-betting and a whole host of other problems.

For example, many novice players get a decent hand like A-Q in middle position, and so they try to steal the blinds by betting one-third of their stack. The problem with this is that, while it may win you a lot of blinds, you’ll get burned when somebody calls with a really good pocket pair. As far as under-betting goes, the obvious fault with this is that your small raises won’t force anybody out of the pot. And if you’ve made the decision to play a hand, you don’t want four or five other players seeing the flop because it increases the chances that somebody will hit their drawing hand.

Another big pre-flop mistake that players make is being predictable with their raises. All of their bet sizes are predicated on the strength of their hand, which presents a pattern to opponents over the long-term. And if players have no trouble putting you on a range of cards based on your pre-flop raising, you stand little chance of getting maximum value out of your good hands.

The last pre-flop mistake that we’re going to mention here involves limping into pots by calling the big blind. Limping in is the most common pre-flop mistake, and it often results in a wasted bet(s), while also showing weakness. So how can you avoid the pitfalls of limping in, being predictable and making inconsistent raises? The answer is to size your pre-flop bets properly.

PreFlop Bet Sizing

The best way to remain unpredictable, limit the number of players in a pot, and avoid weakness by limping in is to pick a uniform bet size and stick with it. Now this isn’t to say that your bet size should always be one size because few things in poker are set in stone (pre-flop bet sizes are not one of them). However, by sticking to a universal range of pre-flop bets, you disguise the strength of your hand and keep players guessing.

So how should you determine this universal range of bets? A good rule of thumb is to come into a hand with a raise that’s 3-5 times the big blind (BB). The reason for the range of bets is that this allows you to adjust to the personality of the table. For instance, if you’re holding a big pocket pair on an aggressive table, and trying to limit the number of players in a hand, your 3xBB raise could get called by a lot of players; this is when you increase the range to 5xBB.

Another consideration with this is that you’ll sometimes be faced with several limpers in front of you, who won’t yield their initial bet to a 5xBB bet. So a good solution to this problem is to add 1BB to your pre-flop raise for every limper in the pot. On an aggressive table with three limpers in front, you would come into the pot with an 8xBB raise.

By sticking to a universal pre-flop betting range, with a few extra BB thrown in when limpers are involved, you solve the aforementioned three problems of under/over-betting, showing weakness, and being predictable. Of course, some people might say that you’re being predictable with a universal pre-flop betting range. So to answer the naysayers, let’s assume that you always bet big in late position with TT, but you merely call with this hand in early position. Now you’re varying bets, which may throw players off initially; however, they will eventually catch on to the range of hands that you will and won’t raise with.

By sticking to one range of pre-flop bets with every hand you raise with, players won’t know what you’re holding. After all, how can they get a good gauge on you when you’re making a 4xBB raise with pocket queens in early position and QJ in middle position? But as mentioned before, few things in poker are set in stone, so there are some exceptions to this pre-flop betting strategy.

Universal Bet Sizing Exceptions

For practical purposes, you should almost always enter a hand with a raise because, as we already discussed, limping in makes you look weak. However, there are times where limping in is an acceptable play, which is an exception to both opening with a raise and universal bet sizing.

One time where it’s acceptable to limp in is when you’ve got a decent drawing hand in late position, and you’re just looking to see the flop cheaply. This especially works when there have been limpers before you, and no aggressive players are acting behind you. One more time when it’s good to limp in is if you’re trying to create an unpredictable table image. Sure the universal betting range should take care of most of this for you, but an occasional limp here or there goes a long way to keeping opponents guessing.

Besides limping in, another situation where you want to break your rigid betting range is when there’s an anomaly in the game. This anomaly could be an exceptionally bad calling station that’s not only willing to call your 5xBB raise with K8, but also a 9xBB raise with the same hand. It could also include a table where two or three people call your 5xBB raise when you just want to isolate one player; in this case, you might need to pump up the raise size to 7xBB or 8xBB.

But in most situations, sticking with a 3-5xBB raise (with an extra BB for every limper) should work. Just be aware though that poker is a constant game of adjustments, so be ready to shift your pre-flop play accordingly.

We also recommend reading our preflop position article.