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:
- Early Position Standards
- Playing In Early Position
- Middle Position Standards
- Playing In Middle Position
- Cutoff Standards
- Playing In The Cutoff
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.
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.