Only The TOP 1% of Poker Players Know This

Only The TOP 1% of Poker Players Know This

This article was written by contributor Fran Ferlan.

If you’re even vaguely familiar with the fundamental winning poker strategy, you already know that the best way to win in poker is to play your strong hands aggressively in position.

These three components are the cornerstone of the tight and aggressive (TAG) strategy, and it’s by far the best formula to start winning money in poker quickly.

However, there are some caveats here, and a lot of players make the mistake of misinterpreting what it actually means to play tight.

This article will show you a common mistake a lot of poker players are guilty of, and that is playing way too tightly on the button.

1. What Does it Mean to Play Tight?

Since most amateur poker players make the mistake of playing too many hands for their own good, tightening up your range is probably sound advice for most players.

Only playing strong hands will save you from a lot of marginal situations where you could potentially make costly mistakes, and it makes the postflop play a lot simpler in general.

But it does come with a downside, and that is the danger of your game becoming too predictable.

While keeping things simple and straightforward works like a charm against most recreational players who aren’t paying attention, it’s not the most effective strategy against other competent players.

As you start climbing up the stakes and encounter more difficult opposition, you’ll need to mix up your game here and there in order to keep your opponents guessing.

You can check out my complete guide on playing a loose and aggressive (LAG) style if you want to delve deeper into this topic.

But for the purposes of this article, we need to redefine what it means to “just play tight” in the first place.

The advice to play tight is useful as a general idea, but what it means to play tight largely depends on the context.

It certainly doesn’t mean to fold all but your strongest cards in all situations.

The overall range you decide to play in each spot depends on a number of factors. And probably the most decisive factor in determining the range you decide to play is your table position.

The crux of the fundamental TAG strategy is playing less hands in early positions, and more hands in the late positions.

This brings us to the point that 99% of the players miss: 

You should play WAY MORE hands in position!

When playing on the button, you can often get away with open-raising an insane number of hands.

By the way, 99% of poker players don't know that you can ALSO get away with 4-betting like crazy on the button, as Nathan discusses in a recent video.

But I will leave that discussion for another article.  

Getting back to open raising on the button...

You know the conventional knowledge about not playing junk hands? That all goes out the window when playing on the button.

Basically, if your hand is even remotely playable post-flop, chances are that you can open-raise it profitably from the button.

In fact, here’s the best way to think about playing from the button: 

You should all but ABUSE this seat.

When you’re on the button, you will ALWAYS be the one to play in position. 

If you use a hand tracking software like PokerTracker 4, you can see how much money you earn when playing from different positions.

Chances are, you’ll be shocked at how vastly more profitable the button will be from other table positions.

Now, if playing from the button was profitable for you even without you knowing it, imagine how profitable it would be if you consciously make an effort to take advantage of it.

2. You Can Play an Insanely Wide Range on the Button

You probably already know that the easiest way to improve your poker results is to play a tight range, i.e. be more selective with the hands you choose to play preflop.

But the number of hands you play profitably depends largely on your position at the table.

When playing on the button, you can loosen up your range significantly. There are a couple of reasons for this.

A) You will ALWAYS play in position post flop.

Playing in position has a better expected value (EV) in virtually all spots in no-limit Texas Hold’em. 

I won’t get too deep into the benefits of playing in position, as I’ve already covered this extensively in my other articles, such as my Texas Hold'em cheat sheet.

B) You can often take down the pot preflop.

If you open-raise from the button, you only have two more players to beat, as opposed to open-rasing, say, from under the gun (UTG) where you need to beat 5 other players (in a 6-max game).

The more players left behind you to act, the more likely it is for some of them to have a stronger hand than you. This means that the earlier your position, the stronger hands you need on average to play them profitably.

Conversely, when playing on the button, you can get away with open-raising a lot more weaker and/or speculative hands, as there are only two players left that can have a stronger hand than you.

What Hands Should You Play?

As for what hands you should actually play on the button, there’s no one definitive answer. It depends on a lot of factors, namely:

A) What was the previous action?

Did someone open-raise before you or are you the one with the opportunity to open-raise?

Some hands are ok to open-raise with on the button, but aren’t strong enough to call an open-raise with from the same position. This is known as the gap concept.

The gap concept means that you need to play a stronger range to call an open raise than you would to open-raise from the same position yourself.

This was kind of a mouthful, so here’s an example to illustrate the point.

Let’s say a tight and aggressive villain open-raises from under the gun, and you are dealt A6♠ on the button.

You probably don’t want to call here, because you have a mediocre hand and a bad kicker.

By the way, check out Nathan's video on poker hands you probably shouldn't call with.

You will probably find yourself in an awkward spot post flop even if you do hit an Ace on the flop.

What’s more, you’re not the player who’s closing the action, and you can get squeezed from the blinds.

Check out my other article about advanced poker strategies where I talk in more detail about the squeeze play.

On the other hand, you can probably open-raise a mediocre hand like A6♠ profitably on the button. You only have two players to beat, and your hand has some sort of playability if you get called.

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B) What type of players are in the blinds?

If there are nits in the blinds (i.e. players that tend to play a very tight range), you can open-raise an extremely wide range indeed, as they won’t defend their blinds too often.

If there are recreational players in the blinds (aka the fish), you can try to get involved with them frequently, as you’ll be playing in position against them as the preflop aggressor. This means you can take advantage of all the post flop mistakes they’re bound to make.

Conversely, if there are more skilled and aggressive players in the blinds, you’ll want to tighten up your range a bit, because they can make your life harder by 3-betting (re-raising) and defending their blinds.

A hand like A6♠ can be played to steal the blinds, but it can’t stand the pressure of a 3-bet. If there are aggressive 3-bettors in the blinds, you don’t want to go overboard with abusing the button.

Basically, if you have unaware opponents in the blinds that won’t make proper adjustments in their game, you can go crazy with the blind stealing, but if your opponents are more skilled, you don’t want to make your blind stealing too obvious.

This is discussed in much more detail by the way in The Micro Stakes Playbook.

C) What hand do you have?

Finally, the third factor to consider is the cards you’re dealt. I’ve deliberately put this in the third place, because the range you decide to play on the button will depend largely on the first two factors.

For example, if you have two super-nits in the blinds and you have a chance to open-raise on the button, your hand strength is virtually irrelevant. 

If they fold to steal attempts more than say, 80% of the time, you can steal the blinds profitably with two napkins in your hand.

The more they fold, the less your hand strength plays a role in the profitability of your steal attempts.

If you play poker online, you can check out how often your opponents fold to steal attempts (FTS) using a hand tracking software like PokerTracker 4.

Giving you an exact range of hands to play on the button is counterproductive, as it obviously depends on a lot of dynamic factors. 

But as a general rule, if your hand has any remote playability post flop, chances are you can open-raise with it on the button profitably.

You should obviously open-raise the hands you would usually open-raise with from other positions.

You can check out my other article where I show you exactly which hands to play and how to play them.

But you can also play other hands you wouldn’t play from earlier positions. 

Here are a couple of examples:
  • Rag Aces like A2 or A♣7♠
  • Gappers like T♣8 or 9♣7
  • Suited one-gappers and two gappers like T♠8♠ or Q9
  • Suited Kings or Queens like K♣3♣ or Q5

The conventional advice is to avoid playing hands like these, and it’s true that hands like these can get you in a lot of trouble. But open-raising them from the button is an entirely different story.

In short, you can play almost 50% of all the hands dealt to you on the button in some cases. I’m talking about the top 50%, of course.

This may seem insanely loose at first, but the power of position is so strong that it justifies playing such a wide range.

In fact, one of the most common mistakes intermediate poker players make is not playing nearly as aggressively as they should on the button.

They learned the adage “tight is right” and they took it to heart. But playing too tight from the button leads you to missing out on a ton of +EV spots in the long run.

Winning poker is not just about winning chips. It’s about winning as many chips as possible.

And the only way to do that is finding and exploiting every tiny edge you can.

If you want to take your poker game knowledge beyond “just playing tight" enroll in BlackRain79 Elite Poker University.

The course goes deeper into the topic of getting max value from the button, as well as other positions at the table. 

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3. Call on the Button With Speculative Hands

You won’t always have the luxury of being able to open-raise on the button. More often than not, another player will open the pot with a raise before you get a chance.

When that’s the case, playing an insanely wide range is no longer an option. This has to do with the gap principle discussed above.

While you can often get away with open-raising a lot of mediocre hands from the button, you can’t call profitably with the same hands when facing an open raise.

That’s because you’ll run the risk of your hand being dominated.

A dominated hand is the one that’s unlikely to win against another hand.

For example, if you have a hand like Ace-Two, you are getting dominated by all other Ax hands due to the weak kicker.

Another problem with calling open-raises from earlier positions is the fact you’ll be playing postflop without the initiative and the range advantage.

call on the button

A player with the range advantage is the one that theoretically has more strong hands in their range than their opponent(s), since they were the preflop aggressor.

This also gives them the initiative, i.e. the opportunity to make a continuation bet on the flop.

For these reasons, calling preflop is the last option to consider when deciding what to do with your hand.

Still, it doesn’t mean that you don’t want to have a calling range on the button at all. You still have the absolute power of position in your favour.

You don’t want to call with marginal hands that could easily be dominated, but you CAN call with the so-called speculative hands.

A speculative hand is the one that isn’t strong enough in and of itself, but has the potential to make very strong combinations postflop, like straights, flushes and full houses.

These hands perform best in deep stack spots, and the deeper, the better. Since you probably won’t hit your desired hand combination, you need to make sure you’ll be able to get paid big time when you do.

In other words, you want a positive risk-to-reward ratio.

Another reason calling is preferable with speculative hands is that there might be callers behind you, which will lead to a multiway pot.

(A multiway pot is a pot with more than two players involved).

While playing in multiway pots means your hand equity goes down (the more players involved, the more likely it is for some of them to have a stronger hand than you), it’s good news when you do make a strong hand combination, because it’s more likely at least one player will be willing to pay you off.

In other words, the more players involved, the better your implied odds.

By the way, you can check my other article for my complete poker odds cheat sheet.

So which hands are good candidates to call with on the button? 

The best ones are the ones that are not strong enough to 3-bet (reraise) with, but too strong to fold preflop, and have decent playability postflop, like:

Suited connectors like 9♠8♠ or 76

Weak broadway hands like K♠T♣ or Q♠J♠

Suited Aces like A♣9♣ or A6

Medium or small pocket pairs like 88 or 4♠4♣

Some of these hands are also good 3-bet bluffing candidates as well, especially the ones with blockers (like Ax and Kx hands).

I won’t get too deep into the topic of 3-betting here, but if you want to know more, check out Nathan’s comprehensive guide on everything you need to know about 3-betting in this article.

Now, there are of course other factors to consider when deciding whether or not to call with these hands, namely the danger of getting squeezed from the blinds, the position of the open-raiser, the type of players you’re up against and so on.

But in short, you want to see the flop as cheaply as possible with speculative hands, so you have an adequate risk-to-reward ratio.

The more you need to pay up front and the less money there is to potentially earn, the less likely you should be to play speculative hands.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, playing on the button is such a dynamic and profitable spot that the conventional wisdom of “just playing tight” goes out the window.

This is something that you will learn early on in any good advanced poker training system.

You obviously don’t want to play just any random two cards dealt to you, but chances are, you can expand your range significantly when playing on the button.

There are a couple of reasons for this:

a) when open-raising on the button, you only have two players left to beat.

b) you will ALWAYS play in position post flop.

c) you can keep applying pressure post flop, regardless of your hand strength.

Most poker players don’t use this to their advantage nearly as much as they should. If you want to improve your poker game, but don’t know how, being more aggressive on the button is certainly a good place to start.

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Only The TOP 1% of Poker Players Know This