I’ve always thought a true starting hand chart for no-limit was out of reach. Preflop play in no-limit cash games is very malleable; a wide array of different styles and strategies can work well, and your opponents’ stack sizes and styles matter a lot also.
But then I figured, what the heck. Let’s try to build a decent starting hand chart, step-by-step, on NPA. I’ll write about the reasoning that goes into the chart. Then at the end we’ll compile the whole thing. That way, if someone (mis)reads the chart without the reasoning behind it, which is the most important part, it’s not hanging over my head.
If you haven’t already, read the first seven parts of the series:
- Early Position Standards
- Playing In Early Position
- Middle Position Standards
- Playing In Middle Position
- Cutoff Standards
- Playing In The Cutoff
- The Button
Welcome to the penultimate installment in this apparently epic series on Building A No-Limit Hold’em Starting Hand Chart. Blind play. Here’s my advice: Don’t play.
I suppose I should be a little more specific than that. Playing from the blinds is tempting, but often I think it’s a bad idea and should be avoided, even if you feel like your opponent may be stealing. The main issue, obviously, is that you’ll be out of position for the entire hand. So while the fact that you’re in position preflop may tempt you to play, your postflop disadvantage will do you in.
This reasoning holds only if the postflop stacks will be significantly deeper than the preflop pot. That is, if the SPR is relatively high. If you’re going to have a low SPR (due to short stacks or preflop reraising), your positional disadvantage is blunted, and you can play slightly more aggressively.
That’s the overview. Remember, this is Poker Made Simple, and the advice will reflect that. Blind play can get very complex, and I’m aiming to remove nearly all of that complexity here. So please don’t take these recommendations as gospel. They are simple and solid, no more.
When One Or More Limpers Have Entered the Pot
If you have limpers and no raisers, and you’re in the big blind, check most hands. You can raise your tip top hands and some other ones as semibluffs, particularly when a squeeze is available. What you raise (and how much you raise it) depend on the stack sizes. For 100BB stacks and relatively docile opponents (i.e., the raise will get called or folded to, but very rarely reraised), I raise big pocket pairs and sometimes small ones all the way down to deuces. I also raise big cards down to about KJs or KQo if I can anticipate a good SPR for myself. I think it’s usually better to check these hands than to raise them setting up an awkward SPR out of position.
I do semibluff/squeeze with some frequency, because otherwise this raising range is very narrow and readable.
From the small blind I play similarly, though I’m slightly less willing to raise because I’m extra out of position, and the big blind is, as yet, unaccounted for.
When It’s Raised To You
I don’t play much in this situation in the big blind, even if it’s a cutoff open-raise. When the cutoff players are open-raising light, they’re saying, “I have position on you, and that means I can play against you with less of a starting hand and still make money.” And, depending on how well they play, they’re right.
Obviously I play all pocket pairs unless the stack sizes are totally wrong. I also play AK and AQ consistently. Against most players I also add some of the big suited hands like AJs, ATs, KQs, and KJs. I also frequently play KQo.
Notably, I don’t play most suited connectors, especially the ones lower than JTs. They don’t play well out of position, because they rely on lots of steal equity to be profitable, and you really suffer in that area when you’re out of position. I also don’t play small suited aces for the same reason. I definitely don’t play small offsuit aces.
Against players who I think are raising too loosely (or just normal loose button open-raises), I don’t fight back by calling. I fight back by reraising, both for value with good hands and as a semibluff with bad ones (including suited connectors). But if you do that, realize that you will walk into some sticky postflop situations if you get called.
In the small blind, I play the same way except, again, slightly tighter.
So, to sum up, I recommend with most hands that you find a reason not to play. You can play all pocket pairs and the big cards: AK, AQ, KQ, AJs, ATs, and KJs. As the raiser’s range gets looser, you can add more hands and reraise much more often, both for value and as a semibluff.
Against a Reraise
If there’s a raise and a reraise to you, then you should play very tightly and possibly push all-in with anything you choose to play. Candidate hands for playing this way are AA-QQ and AK. If the reraise is only 6-8% of your stack (and the stacks of the relevant opponents), you can consider calling with pocket pairs also.
Blind Versus Blind
When it’s folded to the blinds, the big blind has a big positional advantage. I play tightly out of the small blind. Sure, it’s only $1 more to call with Q5o in a $1-$2 game, and sure, the big blind probably doesn’t have much. But in no-limit the money is made postflop, and you’ll be at a positional disadvantage. In particular, I don’t do a ton of stealing out of the small blind, because most big blind players know they can call very light and count on their position to carry them through.
(For the curious, heads-up tables are quite different because the small blind is on the button.)
If you’re in the big blind, you can call the small blind fairly loosely. And you can also raise fairly loosely if the small blind just calls. I tend to play even more hands for raises here than I would opening from the button, since I know I have just one opponent, and they’ve already showed some weakness by merely calling.
Since it’s heads-up, the actual ranges to use depend very strongly on your opponent’s ranges. But in general, I just fold a lot of my small blinds when it’s folded to me, but I fairly rarely fold a big blind if it’s just me and the small blind.
So that’s all the positions. I hope you enjoyed this series.