The Doc answers …
No-Limit Hold’em Range Management Before the Flop
Pre-flop play in today’s no-limit hold’em games is based primarily around aggression. There is a lot of blind stealing and aggressive 3-betting going on, and other parts of the game tend to be neglected. Fortunately for players who are looking to cash in on the online poker scene, there are a lot of opportunities to take advantage of the weaknesses that this style of play creates. If you learn how to manage your entire range pre-flop instead of focusing on 3-betting and being aggressive as much as possible, then you’ll naturally build a big advantage over the players that you face.
If you’re facing a raise before the flop, then you have four main parts of your range. You have the hands that you 3-bet for value, the hands that you 3-bet as a bluff, the hands that you call and the hands that you fold. These four groups of hands have to be arranged in the correct order for you to maximize the value of your range as a whole.
Generally speaking, the way to do this is to order all of the possible starting hands from strongest to weakest. Then you will 3-bet for value with some number of hands starting at the very top of your range. Once you get to the end of that group of hands, you will start into the hands that you will call with. Next comes the hands that you 3-bet with as a bluff, and finally you have the hands that you should fold.
This is lost on a lot of people, so consider the following examples. Your best calling hand should be worth less than your worst value 3-betting hand. Along similar lines, your best 3-bet bluffing hand should be worth less than your worst calling hand. Also, you should never be folding a hand that’s better than your worst 3-bet bluffing hand.
Ordering your pre-flop hands in this way is the key to managing your entire range correctly. It doesn’t take a lot of thought to plan your range in this way. All you have to do when you’re dealt a hand and face a pre-flop raise is decide how the hands around the hand you actually have should be played. For example, if you’re dealt 99 and decide that you should definitely call with both TT and 88, then it’s obvious that you should call with 99.
Most players in most no-limit hold’em games today do not manage their pre-flop ranges in meaningful ways. This creates plenty of situations where you can get a massive advantage just by structuring your pre-flop play around these four groups of hands. This is easy money that comes around on a regular basis in today’s games.
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