Preflop Hand Selection – Definitive Guide (2024)

  • 11 mins read

The decision you make most often during a poker game is if to fold or play the hand dealt. Infact, you make this decision every single hand! Therefore, it is vital you have a solid strategy regarding this!

  • If you get your preflop hand selection wrong, then you are setting yourself up for a fall postflop. It will be difficult to recover.
  • Find out in what circumstances you should memorise hand charts in advance, and when you absolutely shouldn’t.
  • Find out how position and stack depth affects the hands you should be playing.
  • We also cover important live poker preflop hand selection considerations.
  • Start reading our comprehensive guide, to learn everything about preflop hand selection.

Live poker players receive around 25-35 hands per hour. Online poker players receive 60 hands per hour (and that’s per table, as of course online players can multitable). That’s a lot of hands.

Why is preflop hand selection important?

  • One of the reasons why live low stakes poker can be profitable for studied players is because a lot of their unstudied (or poorly studied) opponents take the wrong hand selection to the flop. Usually they are playing way too many hands, and then they cannot profitably continue postflop. Once they have started off with too big of a preflop hand selection, they end up either:
    • playing fit or fold, and with so many weak hands in their range they eventually have to fold. If they are the type to go after every single draw, they usually put way too much money into the pot. OR,
    • they end up never folding once they have caught a sliver of the flop. They do this however weak their connection, allowing you to call them down with stronger hands.

Should I memorise hand charts?

preflop hand charts

If you are a live low stakes poker player, we do NOT recommend you memorise any starting hand charts whatsoever. This is even if you are a beginner. Instead learn the theory of what goes into preflop hand selection.

If you are an online player, there are many cases when memorising hand charts may be beneficial. This includes multitabling, and in games with consistent stack depths where opponents are playing close to GTO.

Live – No

Of course, have a rough idea of the types of hands you will be looking to get involved with, from each position. But, whilst you are playing be consistently on the lookout for potential profitable opportunities to vary this. There are 2 big reasons why we recommend this.

  • Stack depth can vary a lot from table to table or even from player to player on the table. This means even in the course of the same session you may be playing deepstacked poker for a while, shallow stacked poker for a while, and somewhere in between for a while.
  • You are looking to exploit your weaker low stakes opponents in every way possible. This is the best way to be profitable in the live arena. This is not possible online except at micro-stakes, because players are trying to play close to GTO. The best way to respond is to also try and play GTO. Sticking to a rigid preflop hand selection that you have memorised will not be optimal. This is because you will want to exploit the opportunities that may come your way.

Online – Maybe

  • Are you playing non micro-stakes online poker. And, are your opponents playing close to GTO. Are stack sizes are consistent (e.g. 100bb or 40bb). Then, there is absolutely a case for memorising quality starting hand charts.
  • There is an even stronger case, if your are multitabling online, as you have less time to make decisions. And, you will want to spend that time on important postflop decisions.
  • Having said that, if possible we would recommend that consider understanding the theory of what goes into preflop hand selection. Then, come up with your own charts, and adjust these based on what you learn as you play.

What factors do I need to consider?

preflop hand selection questions

For any hand that you are considering playing (i.e.not folding preflop), ask yourself the following:

HOW do you expect to make money (in the long run) by playing this hand? If you don’t know how you are going to make money by playing this hand, you should fold.

Position

UTG

  • Imagine you are playing 9 handed, and are UTG and thus are first to act preflop. You have to make your decision before knowing what the other 8 players are going to do.
    • Of course, you should have ideas of each of their general tendencies from previous hands on the table. You can also use other data you have. For example in the live arena, via profiling and from your previous experiences/notes on them. Or, via your HUD data, or notes online.
  • Nevertheless, you have not yet seen what they intend to do in this particular hand. If you decide to play, then postflop you will have to act first (unless, up against only the blinds). If one or more of the 6 players who have position on you also play, you won’t have absolute position.
  • Poker, is a turn based game, where players do not make their decisions simultaneously. Making your decision last is obviously going to be advantageous the majority of the time. All this leads to an obvious conclusion. That is the earlier your position, the more strict your starting hand requirements will have to be.

Button

On the button, the opposite is true – you are guaranteed position. Thus, you will get to see all other opponents actions on every street, before doing anything. You should look to be playing a wide range from the button.

In between

In between UTG and the button, the amount of hands in your starting range should increase position by position.

Blinds

  • The blinds are interesting, because preflop they act last. The small blind acts after the button, and the big blind acts last of all. But, postflop they will be at a positional disadvantage. This is unless it is folded to the small blind. In which case, if the big blind comes along he will be in position.
  • In the small blind, you will always be first to act postflop.
    • Preflop hand selection from the small blind is often poor from beginner players.
    • Also, a call from the small blind, can often give the big blind a great price to come along. This is because he only has to call the difference between the big blind amount and the call amount. This means you will be out of position to another player also.
    • This is why small blind preflop hand selection should involve a lot more 3 betting, and and a lot less calling, than you may think.
  • From the big blind, consider the price you are getting.
    • You should be able to continue with a wide range if you are getting a good price.
    • However, do not feel the need to continue with weak hands when the price is poor. For example in live poker, when opens can be large.

Stack depth

Shallower

  • The shallower the effective stacks, the more the (hot and cold) equity of your preflop hand is important versus your opponent(s) ranges.
    • This is because there is less money behind. So, your opponent(s) will find it more difficult to get you to fold your hand. This allows you to realise your raw equity more often.
  • You will also find it difficult to get your opponent(s) to fold out their equity, when stacks are shallow. This means you want to have as much (hot and cold) equity as possible.
  • You will not be punished as much for having capped ranges at shallower stack depths. However, nor can you punish your opponents as much for having capped ranges.

Deeper

  • The deeper the stacks, the more you would prefer to hold hands that can make the nuts postflop.
  • When effective stacks are deep, the hot and cold equity of your preflop hand versus your opponent(s) ranges is less important.
    • This is because there will be a lot of money behind.
    • This means it is easier for your opponent(s) to make you give up on your equity, when you are not overly confident in your hand. They can do this by aggressively betting. Or, overbetting – which may not even be possible with shallower stacks. Or, raising.
  • You have the opportunity to win a massive pot, when you make the nuts, versus a strong hand (that’s weaker than yours).
  • With deeper stacks your preflop hand selection will consist of hands than can retain their equity over multiple streets. And, board types.
  • Hands that have playability and the ability to signal to you if you should continue, are useful:
    • Small/medium pairs which can make sets go up in value the deeper the stacks.
    • Suited connectors (which can make flushes or straights)
    • Suited gappers (which can do the same, often in more hidden ways)
    • Suited aces (which can make the nut flush).
    • Broadway suited aces are even better, as they can make nut flushes and nut straights.
  • You do not want to cap your own ranges when playing deep stacked.
  • You should look to take advantage of any of your opponents who have capped their ranges.

Live poker preflop hand selection tips

poker look left

When playing live always look to your left at players who have still to act. Of course be subtle, so as not to give the game away.

You might be surprised as to how often some of your opponents, give away valuable information about what they are about to do.

Things you might learn by looking left

  1. A player who might be about to fold might be holding their cards slightly off the table. This is called a ‘fold hold.’ Once you start playing live poker, you will be able to recognise this.
  2. A player who might be thinking of calling or raising a previous bet, might have chips in their hand. It is less common to see players who want to raise have raising chips in their hands. This is because strong handed players should want to hide this, and want more money to go in before acting.
  3. A player not want to play their dealt hand who wants to leave the table. Perhaps, either temporarily, or because this was their last hand. However, they might be doing nothing to hide the fact. In most live cardrooms the rules/etiquette mean that you cannot fold out of turn.
  4. A player might be busy chatting away, but has stopped talking when he receives his cards. Perhaps he has a strong hand, and is considering what to do.

Considerations regarding looking left

  • Of course, all this varies from player to player. Strong players usually won’t give away any information (but even they might do so sometimes). Someone may also try and reverse these tells, so you need to be on the lookout for that also.
  • If you know one or more players who have position in you are folding, then your position improves. For example, if you can see the button is about to fold), and you are in the cutoff. You are effectively the button. Thus, you can play a wider hand range from the cutoff, as you know you will act last postflop.
  • Imagine if you know a player is likely to get involved, and they will have position on you. Consider if you want to play your hand at all. If it is folded to you on the button, and you can see the players in the blinds are not interested, open any 2 cards etc.
  • When playing live poker, it is often easy to spot the whale that comes to the table. You know this player is likely to lose all his money. And, you want to be the one to get it. Other players on your table may also have the same plan as you. This is where, you should really look to play hands you otherwise wouldn’t to get involved with this whale. It is even OK to make -EV decisions in one hand, if you think it will improve your EV overall.