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

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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 six parts of the series:

Whew. The button. We’re almost there. Since most of the principles I use to build the chart should be fairly clear by now, I’m going to speed through these two final installments before I post the final chart.

Obviously, on the button you have all the advantages. So you want to play fairly loose as long as your opponents haven’t shown real strength yet.

If You’re Opening The Pot

When everyone folds to you on the button, you can play loose, and you should essentially always open-raise. How loose depends how well you play compared to the blinds. Which hands you choose depends somewhat on your opponents’ weaknesses. If your opponents tend to be “sticky” and call flop and turn bets without too much, then prefer hands that have better showdown value like stiff aces and kings. If your opponents play tighter or more aggressively, small suited cards are preferable because they give you more strength in semibluffing situations. If your opponents are really bad, play both. :)

I’m just going to put a range out there that’s a decent first approximation for what you should play first in from the button. Adjust it to suit your situation and play:

22+, A2+, K2s+, K5o+, Q9o+, Q5s+, J9o+, J8s+, T9o, 98o, T9s-54s, T8s-64s

That’s about 44% of all hands, and it still has a sizable equity edge against two random hands. You can get away with playing even looser in some situations.

If You’re Playing After One Or More Limpers

If you have one limper, and he’s bad, then you can play almost as if you’re opening the pot. Play the loose range listed above (perhaps slightly tighter), and raise with it. If he’s good, then obviously tighten up a bit, but you can still play loose with position.

Exceptions to raising would be if your opponents are so loose preflop that you will be guaranteed two and can reasonably expect all three remaining players to call. Then raising loses much of its upside with the weak hands (but gains value with many of the strong ones). Also, if your opponents are crazy wild postflop and love to play allin pots with bad hands and draws, then you can limp and rely on implied odds to carry the day. In most circumstances, however, you should raise one limper.

With two or more limpers, you can still play loose, a la the above range. Prefer suited hands to the big-little offsuit ones, though, so perhaps substitute out the K5o for J7s or 96s. If your opponents are bad, again you may not have to substitute anything out and can just add. And if they’re good, tighten up a bit.

It’s not a nearly automatic raise anymore, however. You have to consult SPR and see whether your hand will play well or be awkward in a three- or four-handed raised pot. Your advantage on the button is diminished if you jam the pot preflop to the point that the flop will put you in marginal situations that blunt your hand reading advantage.

If You’re Playing Against A Raise

Against a single raiser, you can play fairly loosely still against an aggressive or bad player. Don’t call with weak offsuit hands, though. Your playing range should perhaps look something like:

22+, A2s+, ATo+, K9s+, KJo+, QJo, Q9s+, JTo-98o, JTs-54s, J9s-64s

This playing range assumes that the raise is small (no more than 3-4%) compared to the stack sizes. If it’s bigger than that, you need to tighten up considerably. Your plan with the weaker suited hands is to use your position as a weapon to push your opponent off marginal hands.

It’s fine to tighten up from this range. If you don’t feel like you have control over your opponents, for instance, then surely tighten up – particularly omit the small card hands.

Reraise all of these hands occasionally and reraise your strong hands most of the time. Against a very tight raiser, perhaps only QQ+ and AK would qualify for a “most of the time” reraise. Against a looser raiser, perhaps 99+, AK-AJ, and KQ.

Against a raise and one or more calls, play a similar range, except dump the weakest hands because you have less fold equity. And reraise more often. Since there’s plenty of dead money from the callers, you have more upside to reraise with a hand like T9s.

If You’re Playing Against A Raise And A Reraise

A raise and a reraise usually means a strong hand is out against you, and the SPR will be low. That means you can’t play loose anymore, even though you have the button. Your positional advantage won’t work for you against a strong hand with a low SPR. Stick to the good stuff: QQ+ and AK. You might even fold QQ and AK against some reraisers. Against looser players, you might carefully add a couple more hands. See the advice from playing in the cutoff.

Wrapping Up

The button is a great position, and against bad players with medium and deep stacks, you can play loosely and use your position to generate postflop equity. If good players have entered the pot, particularly for a raise, you can still play fairly loosely, but toss some of the weakest hands that you might play against a typical player.

The next installment covers playing from the blinds.

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

@ Mon Nov 05, 2007 04:42:47 PM


Your button suggestions seem to be different from those laid out in Theory and Practice. There you (and David Sklansky) said that it is okay to limp first in on the button, here you say almost always open-raise. Also, against a raise, the TAP suggestions have you flat calling a lot of hands on the button, even as strong as QQ and AK. Here you say reraise your strong hands most of the time. What say you?

@ Mon Nov 05, 2007 08:10:31 PM

I think this is has a lot to do with stack depth. Deeper stacked NL poker as described in NLTAP is more conducive to open-limping and button smooth calling. I think this series or articles is geared more towards typical lower limit and internet games which are typically midstack games at 100BB or so. In those games the stack structures make open limping and not re-raising your stronger hands less optimal.

Baggie Boy
@ Tue Nov 06, 2007 08:36:51 AM

I was going to ask a similar question.

What specifically are the mechanics of a deeper stack game that lends itself more to open limping? Or for that matter what is it about a 100BB game that does not? Is it because of the large implied odds/semi bluff potential that suited connectors have in the deeper games? What about big cards and pairs?

I sometimes open limp 100BB games with big card hands in the hope of inducing a little action from hands that some blinds may fold to a raise (Ax, Kx, etc). Thoughts on this?

@ Tue Nov 06, 2007 09:14:33 AM

I’m no great expert in deep stack games, but I believe it has a lot to do with SPR’s. In 100BB games, you can drive the pot to build SP’s below 10 quite easily with bigger raises and re-raises. Your big A’s and overpairs play well if you end up all-in on the flop with top pair with an SPR between 4 and 10 depending on the competition, the strength of your hand, etc. For most online competition, if you always ended up all in with an overpair or a strong TPTK in pots with an SPR of 5 or less, you would most likely be a winning player. In a midstack game, many big pots revolve around 1 pair hands. The magnitude of mistakes you can make in 3-bet pots isn’t all that large.

With deeper stacks, more raising and re-raising leads to SPR’s that are in the 10+ range and often in the 13+ range. 1 pair hands don’t play well at all in that range, particularly out of position. So, there is no great incentive to build a pre-flop pot with an overpair or a hand likely to make a 1 pair hand. Big pots revolve around straights, sets and flushes.

That doesn’t mean you should never re-raise, but it does alter the criteria you use to re-raise. Position and your opponents playing style now takes on greater significance in choosing to re-raise.

Here’s a hand that I turned up on 2+2 that I really like for a couple of reasons. I love the way Tommy Angelo writes. It is a good example of decision making when you know, KNOW both players are conservative. And, I love the comments from Strasser and Durr about how they are thinking about the hand, especially this from Durr:

does he get his stack in on a turn 2/3/5?

If you read about and think about the hand, think about how this player is attacking an incredibly strong hand from position. The threat of a big pot in position is huge.

Ed Miller
@ Tue Nov 06, 2007 11:35:31 AM

Open limping makes sense sometimes if your opponents are very loose preflop and postflop. For instance, say you have J9s, and if you make a “standard” raise on the button, the blind is nearly guaranteed to call. In addition, this player is likely to go off for a large amount with top pair or a weak two pair if you make a big hand. In that case, open limping can be better than raising preflop because it gives you more flexibility, and there’s little benefit to “sweetening” the pot since you’re likely to win a big pot whether you raise preflop or not.

I recommend raising in general because most players will give you a shot to steal the blinds (particularly in small games online), and most will lose more out of position in a raised pot than out of position in an unraised pot.

@ Tue Nov 06, 2007 02:23:08 PM

Does the stuff in NLTAP specifically say not to open-raise on the button? I think it is left a little more open than that. I think it just shows the benefits of open-limping and what you should be considering when deciding which is better(raise or limp).

Ed Miller
@ Tue Nov 06, 2007 02:30:33 PM

NLTAP absolutely doesn’t say never to open-limp. In fact, IIRC, it specifically states that open-raising will usually be best. (I don’t remember if it says it, but David and I definitely discussed it while we were writing.)

There are a lot of advantages to open-raising. I think David’s main goal was to point out that open-limping is sometimes as good or better and to contrast that with limit hold’em (where open limping the button almost never has anything going for it).

@ Mon Nov 12, 2007 04:17:25 PM

Ed – I am curious why you are not addressing the blind play for NL and would like to know your recommendations are since that is where the money is lost.

@ Mon Nov 12, 2007 04:17:43 PM

Ed – I am curious why you are not addressing the blind play for NL and would like to know what your recommendations are since that is where the money is lost.

Ed Miller
@ Mon Nov 12, 2007 04:28:21 PM


It’s no conspiracy… blind play is the next post. It should be written and up here fairly soon.

@ Tue Nov 20, 2007 06:56:25 PM

I’d like to bring up a trend that I see so often on 1/2 PS. This has to do with raising otb with 100x stacks. AT PS 1/2, it’s very rare that someone actually calls the raise in the blinds. Better than 90% of the time, it’s not a call, it’s a raise. Sometimes it’s a light 3 bet too. This sucks for the hands that we want to see a flop with.

I’ve thought about minraising for this reason so that a 3bet isn’t as expensive for me to see a flop. The thing I didin’t like about it was the pot we steal is smaller…however, this isn’t happening often anyway.

Just wanted to throw that out there for thoughts.



William Newton
@ Thu Dec 06, 2007 11:48:40 PM

“The next installment covers playing from the blinds.”

Will this ever be published???

Ed Miller
@ Sat Dec 08, 2007 11:21:25 AM

Sorry guys… next installment is forthcoming. I took a two week trip after I posted this one, and I’m still trying to catch up on all my work.

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