Cash game strategy basics: pre-flop and flop

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Cash game strategy basics: pre-flop and flop

In this article we will talk about the basics of poker strategy: play pre-flop and on the flop - the first two streets of betting. The strategy is very simple to understand, and you will have no difficulty applying it at the lower stakes.

Previous lessons:


Before the flop — is the simplest betting street in poker. Following these simple principles, you can avoid most of the mistakes novice players make and greatly facilitate playing your hand on later betting streets.

So, if you did not face raise, then preflop you should always have a choice only between calling and raising. Calling is simply matching the big blind's bet in the hope that nobody will raise and you will be able to see the flop cheaply, in any case it is impossible! There is a simple explanation: with strong hands you want to win a big pot and therefore it is necessary to build it on the very first betting street. With weak hands, you lose control over the game and force yourself to play with a weak hand without the initiative, that means that your chances of a successful bluff are greatly reduced as are the other opportunities to win the pot so you probably won't.

Whatever your cards were, remember, you have to play aggressively, to make opponents nervous and give strength to your hand. This is why we bet. Also with a simple preflop raise you significantly simplify your game and the identification of ranges in the future — it is unlikely opponents will call your raise with random cards, and you will have an idea of what is in their hands.

It is very rarely worth calling against a preflop raise from an opponent, what good would it do? Remember , the primary goal in poker - play aggressively, play tight and play the position. That is why we must focus on this, when we enter pots as often as possible, we want to be the aggressor, from late position and with strong hands - so you can take maximum advantage of your opponents.

Starting Hands

Here is the base table of starting hands for beginners (for short-handed games with 6 players). With these hands we recommend making a raise in their respective positions.

A few notes :

  • Designations A, K , Q, J and T are used for the cards "Ace", "King", "Queen", "Jack" and "Ten". In other words, the hand AK is read, as "Ace-King".
  • The designation "22-77" is used for all pocket pairs from 2-2 to 7-7.
  • The designation "s" is used for suited hands . So, "ATs" means all suited "Ace-Ten" combinations.  If you specify the hand "AT" unmarked, then it means that the action is recommended for all "Ace — Ten" hands.
  • If the recommendation is to call with a pocket pair, you need to make sure that the opponent has a stack of at least 70 big blinds.

Use this table is very simple. First, define your position, according to the notation in the top row and then choose your starting hand in these categories. After that you should take decisions based on what actions the opponents have taken to you:

  • Opponents might fold their cards (or just declare their intention to fold e.g. UTG).
  • One of the opponents could to limp preflop, putting one big blind into the pot to see the flop cheaply.
  • Also one of the opponents could make a preflop raise, and then maybe get called by one or more opponents.
  • And finally, one of the opponents could open-raise and get 3-bet back (a three-bet before the flop is usually called a reraise ) before you have time to have your say.

Selecting an appropriate situation, you can perform the proposed action. If your hand is not profitable under these game conditions, fold: an attempt to play it could lead to you losing more than you can win.

Bet sizes

Standard raise size, if all opponents folded to you, is 3-3.5 times the big blind.

If one or more players entered with a limp and you are going to raise, its size must be equal to 3 big blinds plus one BB for each limper.

If want to make a 3-bet, its size should be no more than three times the initial raise (usually 10-11 BB) in position and out of position-four (usually 12-15 BB).

All-in preflop

It is important to remember the hands that suitable for going all-in preflop. Regardless of the position you are in, these hands are: AA, KK, QQ.

With these hands in response to a three-bet into you, you must reraise (above size) and called all-in from the opponent.

If you three-bet preflop and your opponent 4bet, only these hands will be allowed to go all-in preflop in response. Remember that you AK should not go all-in pre-flop (except when your opponent has 30-50 big blinds or less).


Strategy on the flop can be divided into two broad categories: when you opened the betting for a raise preflop and got a call from one or more opponents and when you called a raise from one of the other players.

As it happens, the latter type of situations will occur much less frequently and therefore it will be easier to navigate them.

Flop Play as the aggressor

One of the most common actions in poker is the so-called "continuation bet". This bet is made on the flop by the preflop aggressor, confirming that he is still strong even if he's not! In the end, it may still be the best hand. And because the player who made the call on the flop will flop match in only 33 % of cases, the pre-flop aggressor can make bet on a lot of flops and pick up the pot without further resistance. C-betting usually has one of two purposes. First - to increase the bank (for value, i.e., to collect money from weak hands). In other words, making a continuation bet with top pair and top kicker, the player expects that weaker hands will call. Second - as a bluff, when a player makes a bet without pairing, or with a trash hand - in the hope that the opponent will fold their cards. A continuation bet is made only if you pre-flop aggressor. No matter if you hit the flop or not. However, not all flops are good for CBetting - there are good and bad flops:

  • A good situation for CBet is an unstructured flop, which is likely not have helped your opponent's range, one high card (A, K, Q or J) and two middle or lower card. Thus, a flop like A-4-3 is perfect for a CBet, as callers will rarely have cards like aces or A- 3. Much more likely he will not have anything in best case, 2nd pair, like 8-8 or even worse - "air" with his hands, like KQ.
  • Bad flops are those where all the cards are close to each other in rank, as well as (optionally) contains two cards of the same suit. An excellent example of such a board is 7-6-9 with a flush draw. This flop is not suitable for CBetting because it certainly connected with the sorts of hands, with which the opponent made the call: pocket pairs , connectors, etc.

While good flops are definitely worth a bet — refrain from betting on a poor flop so as not to get 3-bet back from an opponent who hit the flop.

Good flops

A♠8♥2♣   T♥T♦5♣   A♠6♦Q♣

T♥5♠4♥   K♥7♣2♦   Q♦8♥6♠

8♣5♠3♠   9♥7♦3♥   T♦9♠4♣

Bad flops

8♣9♠T♥   8♠4♥7♥   J♣8♥7♥   Q♠8♥9♦

5♠6♣7♦   K♥J♥9♥   6♠4♦2♣   J♠Q♦K♠

8♦6♦4♦   A♠K♣Q♣  2♥3♠4♣   9♥6♥T♥

Never forget the amount of the bet on the flop, as we mentioned in a previous article , the rate should range from 2/3 to 3/4 pot on the flop .

Flop Play as a Caller

You can learn more about playing the game without the initiative on the flop in our next article, but for now here are a few key observations.

When judging someone else bet, it is important to understand that your opponent will try to take the pot, in most cases, with a continuation bet. It should be called with all second pairs, top pairs and over-pairs (but never raise) . With these hands you will surely beat your opponent's hand on the flop , but in the case of a raise he will often only continue the hand only with more powerful hands.

Make the call to restrict the value of the CBet  and if your opponent has hit a bad flop, and you have the top pair or an over pair. Raise a CBetting opponent on the flop only with very strong hands: a set, two pair, straight or a pat flush, as well as with any draw, you got on the flop. In the latter case, you are semi-bluffing against an opponent with the hope of improving — it's always nice to have a "plan B" in case the opponent does not fold their hand! However, in response to a re-raise you should fold.

If the opponent did not make a Cbet, bet 2/3 of the pot, regardless of the flop and your hand, because your opponent will in most cases fold to a bet and you will take the pot on the flop.

In the next article we will talk about the game on the turn and river.


LESSON #7: Cash game strategy basics: turn and river