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Building a No-Limit Hold’em Starting Hand Chart – The Blinds

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Simple Poker Tips from Noted Poker Authority

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:

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.

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16 Responses to “Building a No-Limit Hold’em Starting Hand Chart – The Blinds”

@ Tue Dec 11, 2007 09:16:47 PM

My starting hands in the blinds have been the same as my starting hands for first position although heads up against the small blind I play the same as I would on the button. The only losses I suffer with a half million hands since the first of the year are the blinds. Of course I would like to minimized my losses with blind play and improve the other positions.

Ed – Is it for me to treat the blinds the same as first posiion?

@ Tue Dec 11, 2007 10:34:12 PM

Does your play in the Blinds change much in a 6 max game?

The percentage of the hands that you play in the blinds is much higher. Is that a consideration?

@ Tue Dec 11, 2007 11:28:37 PM

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.

True, but….

Shouldn’t a big consideration (“you can consider…”) be how the first raiser plays? If you deem her likely to four-bet, you may be relatively likely to fold without seeing the flop. I’ve heard it said that a stack size of 13x is about right to get implied odds for a set, obviously dependent on the raiser you’re targeting. Hence it seems that calling a reraise for 8% of your stack without closing the action can only be correct if you’re pretty certain the raiser isn’t going to four-bet. That would most likely be a somewhat smart maniac who open-raises a lot of hands but doesn’t semibluff wildly preflop.

@ Wed Dec 12, 2007 05:09:42 AM

I don’t understand how you can “obvious call 22-88″ vs a button opener with 100bb stacks. You are not going to stack him enough to get the required IO for setmining.

@ Wed Dec 12, 2007 08:28:52 AM

How did you come up with the chart Ed? I mean, how do you know that those hands are profitable from those positions in those situations?

@ Wed Dec 12, 2007 11:14:34 AM

Ed – Is it for me to treat the blinds the same as first posiion?

For the most part, I play the same hands in the BB that I would play UTG. I will call a min-raise in the BB with some drawing hands if the pot is shaping up to be a multi-way monster. I don’t know if this is right or wrong, but I do.

To a real raise or a limp, I think it depends how you play. I don’t really open limp for the most part. I open raise something like 22+,AK UTG and UTG+1. Sometimes AQs and KQs as well, depending how frisky I feel. If it were a limped pot, I wouldn’t reopen the betting in the BB with 22-88 or 99. I’d just check it and see a flop. If it were a raised pot, depending on who did the raising, I’d flat call a lot of pairs and occasionally AK. I’d 3-bet with some harder to quantify group of hands that may be wider or narrower than my UTG range depending on the position on the 1st raiser, # of people in the pot, etc, etc. Sort of depends how likely it is you can take the pot down pre-flop and your range estimates of the players that will have position on you.

@ Thu Dec 13, 2007 07:39:43 PM

Hi Ed,

I met you and Elaine in NOLA last year (we ate at Jacques-Imo’s). Love your site and hope you are doing well.

Anyway, the relevant comment to this thread is a question regarding your squeeze raises from the BB. Are you generally making them with semibluff hands like, say, T9s or with complete garbage like 62o? Obviously, it depends on lots of factors like stack sizes, how likely people will call the raise loosely, but what are you generally looking for when you make a squeeze play? On the one hand, T9s will hit more flops which gives you more protection if you do get called; on the other hand, T9s has more value if you just check as you are much more likely to make a big hand that wins a big pot.

@ Fri Dec 14, 2007 04:50:25 PM


Both the concepts you mention are straight out of NLHE:TAP, but it’s the question of which to apply. I’m unfamiliar with a squeeze raise, but I would imagine Ed’s referring a squeeze reraise. (I suppose you could use squeeze to refer to raising a bunch of limpers, but that’s not usually how I’ve seen it, and not what I took Ed to be talking about. However, you should semibluff raise a bit with garbage hands, per NLHE:TAP)

In the squeeze reraise case, the concept of just checking to see a flop with your almost-decent hands and raising with your trash doesn’t apply. You obviously can’t check and see a free flop, so you’d rather reraise with the hands that have some value. You hope to take down the pot without a flop, but you might get called, so you may as well semibluff the hands that have a better-than-junk chance of outflopping your opponent’s likely big pair.

Gaston Jeremy
@ Sat Dec 15, 2007 01:11:04 PM

Great series again Ed – and so well written that its easily understandable.

I have always had this “fixation” about preflop charts/standards etc and these articles really put some order in the mess.

I always play online 6-handed and I mostly just limp with my decent-but-not-excellent hands in MP, now I try to knock out cutoff&button with a modest raise to get to play in position against blinds, and it seems to work most of the time, especially at the micro stakes I play in.

@ Mon Dec 17, 2007 12:54:16 PM


What sort of hands do you complete with when you have several limpers in?

@ Fri Jan 18, 2008 05:43:49 AM

So when will the chart be published????

@ Fri Feb 01, 2008 08:40:24 AM

We can’t wait for the last part and the final chart!

@ Sun Mar 02, 2008 10:42:55 PM

Was the notion of a “starting hand chart” really a gimmick? I for one (and maybe others?) read the articles with interest looking forward to the eventual chart. So, the title of the series got me to read about starting hands, and to think a little about when and how to play pre-flop. Now we have a nice set of articles and some readers thinking more about pre-flop play. Was that the real purpose of these articles? If so, no need for the chart, purpose fulfilled.

But I’d like to see the chart anyway.

@ Wed Apr 09, 2008 11:08:21 PM

Well I’m just going to make my own chart then so there

@ Thu Feb 11, 2010 09:07:56 PM

By my calculations, you’ll be playing about 45% of hands? Is this correct?

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