Every serious player knows that pre-flop strategy is an essential part of any poker game. I tell this to all of my students: if you are making mistakes pre-flop, it is close to impossible to play effectively post-flop because of very poor ranges that you end up having.
Thus, if you want to start building fundamentally correct strategy, I recommend checking out my printable poker hands cheat sheet so you can examine different opening hand strengths based on position and then adjust your plan accordingly. Beyond that, this article will explain three of the most critical areas where you should be looking to mix up your basic strategies based on different opponents’ tendencies.
Change your opening ranges
While having balanced and close to GTO poker ranges is probably the best starting point for most poker players, as you become more advanced, you should learn to adjust these ranges when facing recreational players.
If your opponents are very passive and make many mistakes post-flop, you can open quite a few more hands, especially from later positions. This way you will more often be involved in pots with people who can be outplayed. You’ll also probably be making much more money compared to playing tight.
However, if you find yourself at a very tough table that you cannot get up from, such as unlucky tournament draw, you should tighten up considerably and avoid big confrontations with marginal hands. Better players will put you in many tough spots post-flop so it’s preferable to at least have a wide enough range that it’s tough for them to pin down your holdings. If possible, you should avoid such games and find better tables.
Apart from the aforementioned exceptions, you can stick with your starting strategy in most of the games you play, which makes your life much easier (always knowing what to do next). Moreover, preparing yourself for post-flop action with right pre-flop decision making is the best thing you can do for yourself.
Adjust your 3-betting ranges
It is crucial to change your 3-betting strategy versus different players as well. Here are a couple examples of how a 12% range could look:
Bear in mind that both of these are very unbalanced ranges and cannot be used against good players. If you are playing against tough competition, you should balance your value and bluff ratios to be unexploitable so that no one can take advantage of your mistakes.
However, when playing against weak players, you can win much more with ranges that are not really geared towards value hands or bluffs. All you have to do is to identify the type of opponent you are up against and then choose your 3-betting strategy accordingly.
You should choose the range on the left if you are up against someone who opens wide and folds a lot to 3-bets. There is no point to 3-betting many value hands against these players. Rather, you should instead just call and keep all his bluffs in play, which he would otherwise fold.
Contrary to this, the range on the right is much better to have against a player who is not looking to fold much and calls a lot when he opens. When you face such an opponent, you should not 3-bet weak hands as bluffs because you do not accomplish anything by doing that. Instead you should try to 3-bet a wide range for value. You will likely dominate his calling range by quite a bit and will have many opportunities to win big pots when you both flop something because you are likely to have a better part of it most of the time.
Defend your big blind against different open sizing
If you defend the same ranges when facing 3x and 2x opens from your opponents, you’ll be in a lot of trouble. Understanding the difference in poker odds that you are getting and ranges that you should defend is critical.
This is extremely important in both cash games and tournaments. In the latter, you should be defending very wide even against 3x opens if you have antes in play and can call almost all playable hands facing a min-raise. When antes are in play, generally speaking you are getting far better odds so you can call way more often than in cash games.
For example, if your opponent is min-raising from middle position and everyone folds around to you in the big blind, you only need to call 1BB to play a 4.5BB pot (or even larger) when you have antes. Therefore, you only need to realize a small part of your equity to justify the call. It is entirely different to the scenario where you are facing a 3x raise without any antes in a cash game, and that’s without even taking ranges into consideration.
Therefore, always be aware of what odds are you getting for the call and do not be shy when calling small raises in games with antes because you usually will have enough equity to do so with any reasonable hand.
Making the above-named types of adjustments to your game, is something that behooves poker players trying to improve and broaden their arsenal of weapons to use at the table. Not only will this provide you with more offensive tools to scoop pots, but also with defensive measures to take against tough opponents.