6 Times to Raise Before the Flop

The decision on when is best to raise preflop is one of the strategies that set you on the path of a successful post-flop game. You may have heard from pros that playing aggressively from the word go is the best way to play preflop, but should you always be looking to raise preflop? In this article, I’ll be sharing with you a few tips on when you should look to raise preflop.

Raising preflop
Several factors will make raising preflop very profitable. But there are also some, that make your hand a fold.

When to raise before preflop? There are several instances when you should look to raise preflop. One of the most popular of those scenarios is when you’re the first player to enter a pot. This is because when you possess a strong hand, you would want to take the initiative, get value from the strong hand you hold, and try to take down the blinds. Other instances could depend on position, stack size, and table looseness.

Raising before the flop depends on several factors. At different positions and in different circumstances, raising could be a good or bad idea. Since your preflop play is the foundation upon which your post-flop strategy is built, you’d want to get everything right.

Below are times to raise before the Flop:

premium hands in poker
AQ+ and TT+ are the best hands to raise or 3bet with.
  1. Hand Strength: The stronger your hand is, the stronger your inclination to raise preflop.
    Premium hands like AQ, AK, and 1010(TT)+ are the best to raise or 3-bet with.
  2. Marginal hands like suited connectors and mid-pairs are also great to raise, although you need implied odds and good position to call raises with them.
    Unless you’re stealing, you should always look to throw away junk hands like A5o. If you’re the first player in a pot and you hold a strong hand, there’s only one option that makes the most sense, and that’s raising preflop.
  3. When There has Been no Raise Before you: When the action comes to you in a hand, you can either call, raise or fold your hand. If no one has raised before you, your best move is to play aggressively and raise preflop.
    If you call in this scenario, you’re simply limping in and that’s generally seen as a bad play, especially when you’re holding strong or premium cards.

In fact, the general advice is that if it’s profitable to limp, it will be even more profitable to raise.

If you limp with JTS on the button and the BB gets to see the flop with A♥2♣, he’ll have a 51% equity. If you force the BB to fold preflop with a big raise, you will force the player to surrender his/her equity.

  • Position on the Table: Positional advantage gives you the chance to play some of your best games. It could work for or against you depending on the position you’re in.
    Players on the button and CO should always look to raise or 3-bet opponents who hold marginal hands. This aggressive play gives you more information about your opponents and adds that positional edge in the coming streets. This means you can afford to float a loose-aggressive player’s cbets
  • Table Looseness: If you’re playing on a tight table, you should be more inclined to raise bets in position. The same rule applies to when everyone else on the table is short-stacked. You should either be looking to raise or even steal. On the other hand, if you’re on a loose table, you may want to stay away from 3-betting from an early position, especially when your hand is not that great.
  • M-Ratio & Stack Size in tournaments: If you’re stuck with a short stack size that’s less than 15 big blinds, you’re better off reducing your raises preflop to just value shoving. This rule should be specially adhered to when you’re in the (mid) late stages of a tournament. At this point, nothing else makes sense except to shove/fold.
equity A2o vs JTs
It is desirable to get SB and BB to fold if they have a hand like A2o against our JTs.

Also, depending on your M-ratio and your opponent’s stack size, you should stay away from pots if your hand strength is weak. This scenario could be when your opponent raises the pot to isolate other players who are deep stacked or when your opponents are deep stacked and forces you to move all in.

  • Your Image: In poker, no strategy is as terrible as playing a particular way without mixing things up once in a while. If you’re going to win a lot of pots, one of the things you need to balance is your image.
    If you have a knack for three-betting with strong hands, you can get more value by three-betting with marginal hands like suited connectors and J10o. Basically, your strategy is to lead your opponents on till they play into your hands.

Positional Play

As you may have heard, the position is everything in poker. There are certain positions where playing your hand could be highly profitable. Below are several positions on the table and the hands that are most profitable to open with.

Early Position

EP open raise
Opening around 10.5% of hands in UTG (early position) is a tight, but profitable, strategy for beginners. Later when you get more experienced, you can open more hands.

Being the first to act preflop comes with its own disadvantages when playing from UTG. While it’s okay to raise from early position, you need to play safe because your raise is more likely to be called from this position. The most profitable strategy from this position is to play strong hands. If you’re dealt premium hands like AQ+ and 1010+, you should always look to raise preflop.

With marginal hands, you have to be a little more strategic. While these hands are not the best to raise preflop with, you can still raise them just to disguise your table image. The most profitable hands from this position are AA, AKs, AQs, AJs, ATs, A9s, AKo, KK, KQs, KJs, KTs, AQo, KQo, QQ, QJs, QTs, AJo, JJ, JTs, TT, 99, 88, and 77.

Raising from Mid Position

Raising from the mid position should mostly be about stealing. Steals look much stronger in mid-position than in late position. Also, you get better fold equity from the middle position, and this can be crucial if you have a tight opposition in LP. When you’ve got nitty TAGs who fold a lot of hands-on the blinds, you should look to raise heavily especially if you’re holding pocket pairs or AJ+.

MP open raising range in poker
You can add a bit more hands to your preflop raising range in the middle position, compared to UTG.

This situation is also perfectly suited for stealing with suited connectors and low pairs, opening with marginal hands, and limp into pots with connectors. Primarily, you win more money by playing strong hands from this position. The best hands to open with from mid-position are AA, AQs, AKs, ATs, AJs, A9s, A8s, A7s, AKo, KK, KQs, KJs, KTs, K9s, AQo, KQo, QQ, QJs, QTs, AJo, QJo, KJo, JJ, JTs, ATo, TT, 99, 88, and 77.

Raising from Late Position

Once upon a time, many players always looked to steal from late positions. These days, this move is not as effective as it used to be. This is because MTT players now anticipate it, and the same goes for a cash game players. If you’re going to steal from a late position, the timing has to be right. If the big blind is fairly tight, you should be more inclined to steal from late position.

For example, if you open with a 3xbb raise with the blinds at 500/1,000 and a 100 ante, whenever you pick the blinds, you should earn 2,400 in chips. If you open 5 times with the bb playing back 1/5 times, you should end up with a 6,600(in chips) profit.

CO preflop raising range
On the cut-off you can add even more hands. This is an example of a tight, profitable preflop raising range.

When playing from the cut-off, you have the chance to play a wider range of hands as you have a positional advantage against all but the button. You can either play your strong hands or try to steal the blinds from this position. Your opening hands from CO include AA, AQs, AKs, ATs, AJs, A9s, A8s, A7s, A6s, A5s, A4s, A3s, A2s, AKo, KK, KQs, KJs, KTs, K9s, K8s, K7s, K6s, AQo, KQo, QQ, QJs, QTs, Q9s, Q8s, AJo, QJo, KJo, JJ, JTs, J9s, J8s, ATo, KTo, QTo, JTo, TT, T9s, T8s, A9o, 99, 98s, 97s, 88, 87, 87, 66, 55, 44, 33, and 22.

The button is regarded as the best position on the table.

The position is always last to act preflop, which gives it a positional advantage against everyone else on the table. Players from the button can play in position versus the blinds or simply steal the blinds. Most winning players are able to open about 65% against certain opponents. That said, beginners should still look to play tighter. From the button players can open with AA, AQs, AKs, ATs, AJs, A9s, A8s, A7s, A6s, A5s, A4s, A3s, A2s, AKo, KK, KQs, KJs, KTs, K9s, K8s, K7s, K6s, K5s, K4s, K3s, K2s, AQo, KQo, QQ, QJs, QTs, Q9s, Q8s, 87s, Q6s, Q5s, AJo, QJo, KJo, JJ, JTs, J9s, J8s, J7s, J6s, ATo, KTo, QTo, JTo, TT, T9s, T8s, T7s, T6s, A9o, K9o up to 96s, and A8o to 86s.

btn preflop raising range
Your winrate will be the biggest on the button. Always last to act postflop and ability to steal the blinds preflop, is very valuable. Pros might play 65% of hands, but as a beginner, you will still win nicely if you open 40% of hands.

Why Raise Preflop?

A guy once asked me why people raised preflop. According to him, it didn’t make much sense since making a raise preflop obviously alerts everyone that you have a good hand allowing players with premium hands to have a go at you. If you’re wondering the same thing, it’s an easy one.

One of the major reasons players raise preflop is to get more people on the table to fold their hands. The more opponents that fold to your raise, the fewer players you have to face on the table. Isolating the field ensures you only get to play against opponents who can afford to play in a raised pot against you.

With a lesser number of players in a hand, your premium hand has a better chance of winning. Another reason to raise preflop is to try and build the pot.

Since you have the best hand, you should also have the most equity in the pot. This gives you the confidence to build your pot.  If your raise gets called by a couple of players, you’ll have a bigger pot size which means bigger winnings. You can also raise preflop to steal the blinds. To do this, you only have to raise and hope that other players fold to your raise. If no one calls your raise, you’re awarded the dead money(blinds). And that is a desired outcome when you are going for a steal.

Even when we hold the best hand in poker (pocket aces – AA), we don’t want to really play postflop multi-way. Against a single opponent we will win a lot, but when we are up against 3, or even 4 people, our chances to win go down a lot.

Read more about chances of winning with AA and how more players affect our chances to win, in this article.

many poker players
Our goal when going for a steal is that everyone folds. With more players in the pot, our equity goes down, even with the best hands.

Hands to Raise with Preflop When Everyone Folds

If you’re raising preflop, one of the major things you need to take into account is the strength of your hands. As I have mentioned earlier, there are hands you should always look to raise with. The following are recommended preflop raising hands especially when everyone folds before you.

  • All Suited Aces: Suited aces are strong hands especially in cash games. This hand is so valuable because it allows you to hit the nut flush draw. If a player raises preflop, gets called and flops nut flush draw, the player will have sufficient equity to almost always consider betting the flop and turn. These hands are more profitable when you grab the initiative and take down the pot while semi-bluffing.
  • All Suited Broadway: Suited broadways and suited aces share similar qualities, although the suited broadway has pair value. When raising weaker suited broadway in early position, there are certain domination issues to worry about. Yet, these issues are negated by the straight draws and flush you make with your hands. In 6 max, I always open with QJ suited and TJ suited from under the gun. Meanwhile, QJ offsuit and TJ offsuit are hands I almost always fold.
  • Premium Broadway: Always look to raise AJo and KQo from under the gun as often as possible. The only scenario where you may want to hold back is when you’re on a tough table with a number of aggressive opponents on your left. Raise AQ and AK from any position in 6-max games.

How Much Should you Raise Preflop?

There are different schools of thought on how much you should raise preflop. Ultimately, your preflop betting size will depend on a number of factors. The industry standard recommends that you raise to 3 times the big blind. For example, let’s assume we’re playing a game with $400-$800 blinds and $100 ante. The minimum raise is double the BB, which works out at $1600. Yet, most pros don’t raise double the blinds. You’re more likely to see a $2,400 raise, which is 3 times the blind.

While most people agree that raising to 3 times the blinds is the ideal size for raising preflop, you don’t want to cultivate the habit of doing so all the time. If you regularly raise a particular size preflop, you’ll become far too predictable, and that’s a terrible dent on your game.

Moving forward, let’s say 2 opponents call (limp) before the action gets to you. If you’re going to raise in this situation, you must ensure you raise by an amount that’s greater than 3 times the blind. With the factors in play, it would seem that your opponents have shown a lucid interest in the hand and would be willing to call 4bb, and that could be exactly what you want them to do.

Aim to make your raise 3bb + 1bb extra for every limper.

The greater the number of opponents that limps in front of you, the bigger your preflop raise should be. When multiple players call preflop, the pot grows so big that your opponents might be lured to chase you down. When several opponents limp, and you want to raise, always ask yourself the following questions.

  • Do I want all my opponents to call?
  • Do I need everyone else to fold so I can steak the blind?

When you have made your choice, your next goal is to settle for a raise size that’s most appropriate for your preferred move. If your aim is to steal the pot and there’s already 5bb in the pot, your goal is to raise by a large amount of money that will likely kick out players with marginal hands. But you need to know the more players are already in the pot, the less likely everyone is to fold, so be careful with marginal hands.

As earlier mentioned, there’s no perfect amount to raise preflop to. Your job is to analyze the situation, choose your objective, and raise preflop to a level that best suits your objective.

Final Thoughts

You don’t always have to raise preflop, but certain scenarios make it almost impossible to overlook making a raise. Sometimes, it’s about what you want to do. It could be that you’re looking to isolate a player, steal the blinds, or build a pot.

It is your intention that will determine your preflop strategy.

Your main objective should always be a yardstick to measure how much to raise preflop.

Also, your hand can play a huge role in your decision to raise or not to raise preflop. Strong hands are almost always profitable to raise preflop with while other hands will need position and other parameters to fall in line.

Depending on your experience and skill-set, your preflop bet range can vary drastically. There are hands a beginner player might fold that a pro can raise with. It’s all about how good you are and how well you can exploit the situation. Lastly, always remember that practice makes perfect. The more you practice your preflop raising strategy, the better you’ll become.