Ultimate Preflop Cheat Sheet 2024 (Free Download)

The Ultimate Preflop Guide for New Players

This article was written by blackrain79.com contributor Fran Ferlan.

When you first start learning about the poker strategy, preflop is a good place to start. Sound preflop play sets the tone for the entire hand, and makes your post flop play a lot easier as well.

However, with so many factors to consider, it’s easy to get overwhelmed, and it’s hard to know where you should even start.

With that in mind, here is a full, comprehensive guide of essential preflop concepts every aspiring poker player should know.

In this post, we’ll go over all the important aspects of preflop play you need to know to become a winning poker player.

Bear in mind that this is a long post, and it gets quite technical at times. Don’t feel the need to go through it all in one sitting.

Instead, feel free to jump around and explore. There will also be links to other articles for deeper dives into other topics that might interest you.

Free Preflop Poker Charts Download:

You will also be able to download my free preflop poker charts below, so you know exactly what hands to play.

Alright, let's jump into it!

1. Expected Value - The Currency of Preflop Poker Strategy

Before we get into the details of preflop play, there’s one crucial concept you need to be aware of, and that is the expected value (or EV for short).

In poker, the expected value (EV) is a statistical concept that represents the average amount of money you can expect to win or lose on average over the long run from a particular decision or action. 

It is a way to measure the potential profitability of a play based on the probability of different outcomes and the associated payoff.

Winning poker is all about maximizing EV, i.e. making the most profitable decisions at any moment, regardless of the outcome. 

The formula for calculating EV is simple. 

You multiply the chance of winning by the amount of money you can win, then multiply the chance of losing by the amount of money you stand to lose.

Then you subtract the results of the multiplication. If you get a positive number, your play has a positive expected value (it’s +EV). 

If you get a negative number, your play has a negative expected value, meaning it’s a losing play over the long run.

It’s not as complicated when you break it down. 

Here’s an example to illustrate it.

Example Preflop Hand #1

You are dealt AA, the strongest starting hand in No-Limit Hold’em. 

Your opponent shoves all-in for $100. 

Is calling +EV in this spot? 

Here’s the formula for calculating the expected value:

EV = (P1 * V1) + (P2 * V2)


EV = Expected Value

P1 = Probability of winning 

P2 = Probability of losing

V1 = Amount of money you can win

V2 = Amount of money you can lose.

You don’t know the exact chance of winning the hand, since you can’t see your opponent’s hole cards.

But for the sake of example, let’s say you have an 80% chance of winning the hand. This is roughly the amount of hand equity you would have if your opponent had pocket Kings or pocket Queens, for example.

If you win the pot, you win $100. If you lose the pot, you lose $100. The chance of winning is 80%, and the chance of losing is 20%.

When you plug in the numbers, you get:

EV = 0.8 * 200 - 0.2 * 100

EV = $60

This play clearly has positive expected value. 

However, just because the play is +EV, it doesn’t mean you will win every time. It just means that you are expected to win more than you lose over the long run.

With that in mind, winning poker is all about thinking in terms of EV, not the individual outcomes of the hand.

When looking at any decision you face at the felt, you should consider the EV of your play. Of course, this doesn’t mean taking out the calculator every time it’s your turn to act.

It just means that an optimal winning poker strategy is all about making logical decisions based on math and probabilities. 

Approaching poker with this mindset is guaranteed to give you better results than just relying on intuition or luck.

When going through different concepts in this article, always think in terms of expected value. When some action or spot is more or less profitable, it simply means that it’s either +EV or -EV.

Be sure to also check out my recent video with my 9 crucial preflop poker tips for beginners.

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2. Ultimate Preflop Poker Guide: Table Position

One of the first things you should consider preflop is your table position.

Your table position is important because it will dictate the number of hands you can play profitably.

That’s because if you play in an early position, there are more opponents left to act behind you. 

The more opponents left to act, the greater the chance of some of them having a stronger hand than you.

Conversely, the less opponents left to act, the less of a chance that some of them may have a stronger hand than you.

This means that you should play a tighter range from the early positions, and gradually loosen up as you approach the button.

When you play on the button in particular, you can often play quite a wide range, because you will always have positional advantage postflop.

Ultimate Preflop Cheat Sheet

For example, let’s say you are playing a 6-max poker game and you are playing under the gun (aka early position, EP). There are five players left to act after you, so you have an informational disadvantage.

For this reason, you should play a tight range when under the gun, i.e. only play strong starting hands.

The player who is playing under the gun is always the first player to enter the pot, whether you are playing a 6-max game or a full-ring game (a game with 9 players).

Alternatively, let’s say you are playing on the button and the action folds to you. 

Now there’s only two players left to act in the blinds, so you can play a wider range. You will also play the hand in position postflop, which gives you a huge advantage.

By the way, I have already written the ultimate "cheat sheet" for both 6max poker strategy and full ring poker strategy if you are curious about the differences.

Bottom line though, playing in position gives you an edge for several reasons, mainly due to the fact that your opponents have to act before you, which gives you an informational advantage. 

You can also dictate the price of the pot, as well as bluff more effectively when playing in position.

This brings us to the last two positions at the table, i.e. the blinds. When you are playing in the blinds, you will always play out of position postflop.

The only exception is if you are playing in the big blind and your opponent is playing in the small blind.

Since you will have a positional disadvantage in the blinds, these seats won’t be profitable for you over the long run, no matter how well you’re playing. 

Unless you’re Phil Ivey playing 2NL poker online, you will lose money when playing in the blinds over the long run.

So when playing in the blinds, your goal is not so much to win, but to lose as little as possible. You will hopefully make up for the losses when you’re playing in position.

This is just the nature of the game; the money flows from the players out of position to the players in position.

As Phil Ivey famously said: 

"Position is everything. I couldn’t beat my grandmother if she always played in position."

If you’re using a hand tracking software like PokerTracker 4, you can actually just go check how much money you win (or lose) in different table positions for yourself. 

Chances are, you’ll be shocked by just how much more money you win when playing in position.

Bottom line: when first starting out, you should play most of your hands in position, and be very selective with the hands you choose to play from the blinds.

3. Preflop Effective Stack Size

Another factor to consider preflop is the effective stack size(s) of the players involved in the pot.

Effective stack size is the smaller stack size of the players involved in the pot, because you can only win as much as you put into the pot.

For example, let’s say you are playing a 6-max cash game. Your stack size is 120 big blinds, and your opponent’s stack size is 40 big blinds. The effective stack size is 40 big blinds.

Determining the effective stack size is important because it will dictate your overall strategy, namely the hands you choose to play preflop.

It will also determine the way you play post flop, because the effective stack size will dictate how many streets you’re likely to play postflop before you put the rest of the stack in the middle.

Preflop Poker Cheat Sheet

If the effective stack size is small, you won’t have as much manoeuvrability post flop, meaning your play will be much more straightforward.

If the effective stack size is bigger, you will have a lot more options post flop.

If you’re playing tournaments, the effective stack sizes will usually be much smaller compared to cash games.

This makes poker tournaments arguably easier to play, because the post flop play is much less nuanced compared to cash games with deeper stack sizes.

So how does the effective stack size affect your overall strategy?

Simply put, it changes the value of your starting hands. 

In this regard, there are two types of starting poker hands: there are hands that are strong enough in and of themselves, and there are speculative hands that need to improve post flop in order to be played profitably.

The value of these hands changes based on the effective stack size.

Speculative hands decrease in value with smaller stack size, and increase in value with deeper stack size.

That’s because speculative hands (like small pocket pairs or suited connectors, for example) need good implied odds to be played profitably.

Implied odds refer to the amount of money you can potentially win on future streets if your drawing hand completes.

In other words, speculative hands need a good risk-to-reward ratio. If the effective stack size is small, the upside of hitting your draw isn’t as appealing.

Conversely, if the stack size is very deep, speculative hands shoot up in value, because the potential payout when you hit your draw is bigger.

The opposite is true for strong starting hands, because they are vulnerable to getting outdrawn on future streets.

For example, if you flop a top pair hand and the effective stack size is small, you can comfortably ship the rest of your stack in the middle, because your hand is likely ahead.

If the stack size is deeper, you can’t do the same, because a single pair hand is usually not strong enough to put your whole stack in the middle.

Determining the effective stack size is important because you need it to determine the stack-to-pot ratio, which brings us to the next preflop factor you need to consider.

4. Preflop Stack-to-Pot Ratio

No poker guide would be complete without a bit of math sprinkled in, but I promise to keep it light.

One of the key  preflop concepts you should be aware of is the stack-to-pot ratio (or SPR for short).

SPR is the ratio between the effective stack size and the size of the pot, and it shows you how committed you are to the pot.

In other words, it shows you how much you should be willing to play for the rest of your stack.

For example, if you have $80 in your stack, and the pot is $20. You divide 80 by 20.

So the SPR is 4.

The smaller the SPR, the more committed you are to the pot, and the more inclined you should be to put the rest of your money in the middle. 

The bigger the SPR, the less pot committed you are.

If the SPR is very small (3 or less), you are automatically pot committed with a top pair hand or better.

It’s important to mention that the SPR is a preflop and a flop metric, so it doesn’t change on the turn or river. You only calculate it once on the flop.

If you are not pot committed on the flop, you do not become pot committed if you put more money in the middle later in the hand.

Determining the SPR is important because it can help you decide whether or not you want to commit to playing the hand in the first place. 

If you do, it will help you create a strategy for postflop play.

For example, if you have a strong value hand (like a premium pocket pair, for example) you want to create a small SPR by increasing your preflop bet sizing. This will translate to easier post flop play, as well.

Conversely, if you have a speculative hand, you will prefer not to be automatically pot committed. In other words, you’ll want to see a cheap flop to get a better risk-to-reward ratio.

Example Preflop Hand #2

6-max cash game. Effective stack size: 60 BB

You are dealt AQ in the SB (small blind). 

A recreational player open-raises to 2x from the BU (button).

You 3-bet to 10x. Recreational player calls.

Pot: 21 BB.

Flop: Q92

First, let’s calculate the SPR to determine how pot committed you are.

The pot size is 21 BB, and your opponent has 50 BB left in their stack. 

50 / 21 = 2.38

In this spot, the SPR is very small. You have a top pair, top kicker hand, so you are automatically pot committed. This means you should be comfortable with putting the rest of your stack in the middle.

In this example, going for a big 3-bet helped you create a smaller SPR, which makes your life much easier if you connect with the flop.

A 3-bet preflop by the way is a re-raise against another player's open-raise. See my ultimate guide to 3-bet pot strategy for much more.

Your opponent is also likely to give you action with a lot of weaker hands, like Qx hands, medium pocket pair, drawing hands and so on.

You should always be aware of what kind of SPR pot you’re creating to help guide your decisions. 

Now that you’re familiar with most important technical preflop concepts, let’s get into the details of how you should actually play your hand.

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5. Ultimate Preflop Poker Cheat Sheet: How to Enter the Pot

If you are the first player to enter the pot, you should do so with an open-raise. A lot of beginner poker players make the mistake of open-limping when they first start playing.

Open-limping means just paying the big blind instead of open-raising.

They usually do this because they want to see a lot of cheap flops before they decide whether they like their hand or not.

But this often ends up backfiring, because another player open-raises instead of them, which prevents them from seeing the cheap flop they’re hoping for.

I won’t get too deep into why open-limping is such a bad play, as I’ve covered it extensively in some of my other articles. 

For example this is one of my top 5 bad poker strategies you should avoid at all costs.

Here’s a brief rundown of why you should enter the pot with an open-raise.

a) You can win the pot outright preflop.

In essence, the game of poker is all about blind stealing. Without the blinds, everybody would just fold indefinitely until they got dealt pocket Aces. 

The blinds stimulate the action, so it pays to look for good opportunities for blind stealing.

If you open-limp, on the other hand, your opponents don’t have any incentive to fold, so you can’t win the pot right away.

Stealing the blinds may not seem like it’s worth the hassle, but these blinds add up tremendously over the long run.

b) You are building up the pot with strong hands.

If you want to win big in poker, you need to win big pots. And the best way to do that is to build up the pot yourself! 

Don’t rely on other players building up the pot for you. If you have a strong hand, go ahead and raise. 

The bigger the pot you build preflop, the easier it will be to ship the rest of your money in the middle postflop.

c) You get initiative.

If you are the preflop aggressor, you are the one that’s perceived to have the strongest hand. This gives you the opportunity to continue the aggression post flop.

As a preflop aggressor, you have the opportunity to make a continuation bet (or a c-bet for short) on the flop.

Preflop Poker Cheat Sheet

C-bets are usually profitable, and you should make one unless there’s a very specific reason not to. 

Check out my ultimate flop cheat sheet for much more including how much to bet.

If you are not the first player to enter the pot (i.e. another player open-raised before you), you have 3 options.

You can either fold, call, or 3-bet (re-raise).

A 3-bet preflop is a strong play that can be done either to build up the pot with your strong hands (a value 3-bet), or to make your opponent fold (a bluff 3-bet or a bluff 3-bet).

When first starting out, I would advise to keep your 3-bet range value heavy, i.e. only 3-bet with strong premium hands.

This includes big pocket pairs (pocket Jacks or better), Ace-King, and maybe Ace-Queen.

As you get more comfortable, you can start adding other, non-premium hands to your 3-betting range, and throw out an occasional 3-bet bluff to keep your opponents guessing.

But as a new player, you’re better off keeping it simple and only 3-bet with strong value hands.

Example Preflop Hand #3

You are dealt QQ in the SB (small blind). villain open-raises to 3x from MP (middle position). 

You: ???

You should 3-bet to 12x.

In this spot, you have a strong value hand, so your goal should be to build up the pot as soon as possible. 

You will also be playing out of position. To offset the positional disadvantage, you can increase your 3-betting size to 4 times the open-raise (so 3 x 4 = 12 BB).

Increasing your 3-bet size will also make the effective stack size smaller, which will make your post flop play easier as well.

By the way, check out my recent video on advanced 3-betting for a much deeper dive on this.

I release 2 new advanced poker strategy videos like this on YouTube every single week. 

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6. When to Call Preflop

Aside from 3-betting when facing an open-raise, your other two options preflop are to call or fold.

As a general rule, calling is the last option you should consider. This is true for both preflop and post flop situations. 

That’s because calling preflop automatically puts you at a disadvantage, because you’re not the one that’s perceived to have the strongest hand. This allows your opponent to dictate the tempo of the hand, instead of the other way around.

A lot of beginner players tend to call a lot, which is usually not the most profitable play.

As mentioned, being the preflop aggressor is statistically more profitable than being the preflop caller. 

If you’re using a free HUD online by the way, you can check these stats yourself.

This means you should enter most pots with either an open-raise or a 3-bet. If neither is an option, you should fold most of the time.

However, there are situations in which calling preflop is the most profitable option.

For example, if you have a speculative hand that isn’t quite strong on its own, but has the potential to make strong combinations postflop, you can go ahead and flat call with it.

This includes hands like suited connectors (T9s or 87s) or small pocket pairs (pocket Sixes or pocket Twos).

However, you should only call preflop if you are getting favourable pot odds on a call. In other words, you only want to call if you’re getting a favourable risk-to-reward ratio.

Check out my other article on everything you need to know about poker pot odds for more info on the topic.

Of course, you should also consider other factors, like your table position, the type of opponents you’re up against, the effective stack size and so on.

Here is a brief summary of situations where calling preflop may be the most profitable play:

Here are a few spots where calling could be a good idea.

a) when your hand is not strong enough to 3-bet, but too strong to fold

b) when you are getting favourable pot odds on a call

Poker is all about the risk-to-reward ratio. The better the ratio, the more hands you can play profitably. 

This is what the pot odds are all about: how much you’re risking vs how much you’re potentially getting. The better the pot odds, the more hands you can call with.

For much more, I already wrote the ultimate guide to pot odds.

c) when you have a speculative hand that wants to see a cheap flop

d) when you are closing the action

When you are playing in the big blind, you are getting a better price on a call, because you’ve already committed a single blind into the pot. 

For example, if you call an open raise on the button, the price of a call is 3 BB, but when you’re playing in the big blind, the price of a call is only 2 BB. 

This means you’re getting more favourable odds on a call in the big blind compared to other positions.

However, you should still be careful with calling from the big blind, because you will still have a positional disadvantage post flop (unless you are playing against the player in the small blind).

Example Preflop Hand #4

You are dealt 87 in the BB (big blind). 

A tight and aggressive (TAG) player open-raises to 3x from the MP (middle position).

A loose and passive player calls from the SB (small blind).

You: ???

You should call.

In this spot, calling is the most +EV option for several reasons.

First of all, you’re playing in the big blind, so you’re getting a discount to get involved in the hand. Since you have already posted a single blind, it only takes you two additional big blinds to see the flop instead of three. 

This gives you better pot odds than you would have at the other positions at the table.

You are also the last player to act, so you are closing the action. This means you don’t have to worry about another player 3-betting behind you.

You have a decent speculative hand that can hit a lot of strong combinations post flop, and there are two players involved in the pot with you, one of them being a recreational player.

All of this means you’re getting great implied odds. In other words, you have the potential to take down a huge pot if you manage to hit a strong combination post flop.

However, you don’t want to commit too much money to the pot outright, because it’s hard to hit strong combinations in no-limit hold’em.

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7. Preflop Bet Sizing

Now, let’s talk about one of the most important aspects of preflop play, and that is bet sizing. Choosing a correct bet sizing preflop will make your postflop play easier as well.

Let’s talk about open-raising first.

As mentioned, if you are the first player to enter the pot, you should do so with an open-raise.

A standard open-raise is 3 big blinds. 

Example: $1/$2 cash game.

3 x the big blind would be $6.

However, you can also adjust your open-raise size in certain spots.

For example, you can increase your open-raise size to 4 big blinds if you’re playing in early position and/or there are recreational players in the blinds.

This way, you’re discouraging other players to try and play in position against you, and you’re increasing your chances of playing a heads-up pot with a recreational player, aka the fish.

You’re also building up the pot with your strong value hands this way.

Alternatively, you can decrease your open-raise size if you expect to encounter a lot of 3-bets, for example.

You can also decrease your open-raise size to 2.5 BB if you’re stealing the blinds to get yourself a better risk-to-reward ratio.

The smaller your open-raise size, the less often the blinds need to fold for your stealing attempt to be profitable.

Bottom line: if you’re the first player to enter the pot, a standard open-raise is 3 BB, but you can adjust your open-raise size if the situation calls for it.

Check out my ultimate preflop bet sizing cheat sheet for more info on the topic.

Now, let’s examine the situation in which another player has limped into the pot.

8. Preflop Isolation Raising

When a player open-limps into the pot, this is a sign of a recreational player 99% of the time.

So when you see a player open-limping, you can make an open-raise to try to isolate this player and play a heads-up pot with them post flop.

When you make a raise after one or more players have limped into the pot, this is called an isolation-raise (or iso-raise for short).

Iso-raise is an important aspect of the preflop play because it will put you in a profitable money-making situation post flop.

The goal of the iso-raise is to play a heads-up pot as a preflop aggressor against a weaker opponent (preferably in position).

So what bet sizing should you use for an iso-raise?

As a general rule, the iso-raise size formula is 3 BB + 1 BB per limper.

So 4 big blinds if there is a single limper, 5 big blinds if there are two limpers and so on.

If you are playing out of position, you can add an additional big blind to offset the positional disadvantage.

If your opponent is a giant fish, you can dispense with these guidelines and open-raise as much as you think they’d be willing to pay.

Preflop poker cheat sheet

These players will be your biggest profit source and often the rules go right out the window versus them.

Increasing your iso-raise size will also deter other players from getting involved in the pot with you.

Of course, you don’t want to go overboard with this, because not even the fish will get involved with you if you open-raise for an absurdly high amount.

Example Preflop Hand #5

You are dealt JJ in the SB (small blind). 

A recreational player open-limps UTG (under the gun). Another player limps behind in the CO (cutoff).

You: ???

You should iso-raise to 6 BB.

In this spot, you have a strong premium hand, and you want to build up the pot against the recreational players ASAP.

There are two limpers, so you increase your iso-raise by 1 BB per limper, and add another BB because you’re playing out of position.

This adds up to 6 BB. If any, or both of the limpers are huge calling stations, you can even bump it up to 7, or even 8 BB.

This over-raising strategy was how I was able to create some of the highest winrates of all-time in low stakes games, as explained in Crushing the Microstakes.

9. Ultimate Preflop Cheat Sheet: Types of Opponents

This factor goes a bit beyond the scope of this guide, but it’s worth mentioning nonetheless. 

Your preflop strategy will be influenced by the type of opponents you are up against.

And here by the way are my 5 Major Poker Player types that you need to know.

1) Nit - tightest player at the table, small winners at best, not recommended.

2) TAG - tight and aggressive, best overall play style, recommended for beginners. My free poker cheat sheet shows you exactly how to play TAG.

3) LAG - loose and aggressive, highly effective, a bit more advanced though.

4) Whale - recreational losing poker player.

5) Maniac - recreational massive losing poker player.

I go into much more detail about the specific strengths and weaknesses of each of these 5 player types in all my books by the way.

In fact, I rank them according to dozens of data points in Modern Small Stakes and provide countless strategies to exploit each one with over 100 example hands. 

While no two players are exactly alike, most players share some similarities in their playstyles. These similarities allow you to put them in distinct player categories and adjust your preflop strategy.

Poker players differ in two important ways:

a) how many starting hands they choose to play and

b) how aggressively they play these hands, both preflop and post flop.

I won’t get into too much detail about different player types, because it’s a topic in and of itself. 

You can check out my ultimate Texas hold'em cheat sheet on how to beat different player types for more info on the topic.

But for the purposes of this article, it’s worth knowing that different player types will affect your overall preflop strategy, namely the ranges you choose to play from different positions.

As a general rule, the best strategy is to play the opposite style of your opponents. 

For example, if you’re up against tight opponents, you should play a wider range and bluff them more, as they won’t be likely to fight back.

If your opponents are very loose, on the other hand, your best bet is to play a tight range, which will allow you to make stronger post flop combinations.

By figuring out your opponent type, you can anticipate what you can expect from them, which will help you make better preflop decisions.

Example Preflop Hand #6

You are dealt J♣9 on the BU (button).

Everyone folds to you.

You should either open-raise or fold.

In this spot, the most +EV play will depend on the type of opponents left to act in the blinds.

For example, if both of opponents left to act are very nitty (meaning they play very tight ranges), you can open-raise this hand and try to steal their blinds.

Since this player type doesn’t play a lot of starting hands, it’s safe to assume they will fold most of the time. They also don’t defend their blinds too often because they don’t like playing out of position.

Similarly, if one or both opponents in the blinds is a recreational player (aka fish), you can profitably open-raise in this spot because they will often play a lot of worse hands than yours.

They are also likely to make a lot of post flop mistakes you can exploit. You’re also playing in position, which makes it even easier to exploit their post flop mistakes.

Conversely, if both players in the blinds are aggressive regulars, you might want to refrain from open-raising with mediocre hands.

One of the players may choose to 3-bet you, and your hand is not in a great shape against their 3-betting range.

Also, it’s harder to extract value post flop from more skilled players, which makes open-raising against them less profitable.

Check out my recent video by the way on how to beat those loose and cocky poker players.

10. Which Starting Hands to Play Preflop? (Free Download)

Finally, the last factor to consider is your actual hole cards. 

I’ve deliberately left this one last, because the hands you choose to play will depend greatly on the other factors mentioned above, namely your table position, the type of opponents you are up against, the previous action, the effective stack sizes and so on.

Only after you’ve considered these factors can you figure out whether or not you can profitably play a certain hand.

A lot of amateur poker players make the mistake of only considering their hole cards preflop to determine whether or not they should play the hand.

Some of them rely on preflop charts to tell them exactly which ranges they should play from a certain position.

My Preflop Poker Charts (Free Download)

Here are my free Preflop Poker Charts by the way for both 6 play and 9 player poker games.

Preflop Poker Charts

I am posting them here for free for readers of my poker blog.

Preflop Poker Charts

Just right click and save these free preflop poker charts to your computer.

You can also find these charts included in my free poker "cheat sheet"

As you can see above, I recommend playing the top 20% of your hands preflop in a 6 player poker game and the top 15% of your hands preflop in a 9 player poker game.

Why the difference you are probably asking?

It's simple.

When there are less people at the table, there is a lower chance that somebody has something good, so you want to get more involved in the action.

And the opposite is also true.

Also, why 20% and 15%? 

Through extensive database analysis, I have found these ranges to be optimal for 6 player and 9 player poker games.

There will be more below on the software I used to come to these conclusions by analyzing my database of 10 million+ hands of poker.

I have personally used these charts to create some of the highest winnings of all time in small stakes cash games online, as a 10+ year professional poker player.

I initially started my poker career with just these charts and a $60 bankroll by the way!

So I know how well they work.

Now, while preflop charts can certainly be a useful learning tool, it’s important not to rely on them too much to make your preflop decisions.

One of the problems with preflop charts is that they are static. 

For example, let’s say you are studying an open-raising range from the cutoff. The correct range to play will depend greatly on the type of opponents left to act.

Are the opponents in the blinds very passive, or are they likely to 3-bet you aggressively? 

What are the effective stack sizes? Do you have any sort of history with these players? Are there any other factors that could influence your open-raising range?

Preflop charts can’t give you answers to these questions, and you have to figure this out yourself.

Mechanically following preflop charts is not how you become a profitable long term winner in this game.

With that said, preflop charts can be useful when you’re first starting out, because they can serve as general guidelines to help your decision making. 

So which starting hands should you actually play?

As mentioned, the number of hands you choose to play preflop will depend on your table position. As you move closer to the button, you can expand your open-raising range.

When you’re first starting out, your best bet is to follow a tight and aggressive (TAG) poker strategy.

This means only playing strong starting hands (preferably in position) and playing them aggressively both preflop and post flop.

These strong starting hands fall in a number of categories, so we’ll briefly go over them one by one.

Here are the basic hand categories you should play preflop:

a) Pocket pairs (AA through 22)

Strong pocket pairs (pocket Tens or better) should usually be played very aggressively preflop, because they are strong enough in and of themselves and often don’t need to improve post flop to make the best hand.

Small pocket pairs (66 through 22) usually rely on hitting a set post flop to be played profitably, so they’re more speculative hands. 

Check out my article on everything you need to know about set mining for more info on the topic.

The way to play medium pocket pairs (99 through 77) can be a bit trickier to play. You can sometimes play them aggressively or slow down and set mine with them, depending on the situation.

b) Broadway hands

These are the hands that can make the strongest possible straight (Ace-King offsuit or Queen-Jack suited, for example.

These hands will often make strong pairs post flop, but it’s important not to overplay them. 

Some broadway hands can be deceptively strong, and can get you in trouble if you overvalue them. For example, a hand like Queen-Ten suited can often be dominated.

That is why this hand made the list of my top 5 bad poker hands you must avoid playing.

c) Suited connectors (Ace-King suited to Three-Two suited)

Suited connectors are great speculative hands that can hit monster combinations post flop, namely straights and flushes.

However, you should exercise caution when you’re playing small suited connectors, because you’re running the risk of your opponent making a stronger combination than you.

For example, if you hit a flush with a hand like 54s, there are a number of stronger flushes that can potentially have you beat.

Suited connectors require deep stack sizes to be played profitably due to their great potential upside.

d) Suited Aces

Suited Aces have an insane nuts potential, with their ability to make the strongest possible flush. Small suited Aces (A5s through A2s) also have the ability to make a straight.

These hands account for the top 20% of all starting hands in no-limit hold’em.

They neatly follow the Pareto distribution: the top 20% of hands will bring you 80% of the profit.

The rest of the hands are trash and should be thrown away.

Take this with a grain of salt, of course. 

There are other hands you can play profitably at times, namely the unsuited connectors (Ten-Nine offsuit or Eight-Seven offsuit) suited one-gappers (like Jack-Nine suited or Ten-Eight suited) and so on.

You should open-raise less than 20% of hands in early positions, and more in the late positions (namely the cutoff and the button).

When you’re playing on the button in particular, you can often get away with open-raising a very wide range indeed.

But again, when first starting out, your best bet is to keep it simple and play tight ranges.

This will make your post flop play easier as well, and you will encounter less awkward, marginal situations in which you are not sure what to do.

As you get more comfortable, you start adding hands to your range and mix up your game with a loose and aggressive playstyle.

Check out my other article for a full guide on how to play a loose and aggressive poker style.

11. What Are the 10 Best Preflop Starting Hands? (Bonus)

As a bonus I am now going to list the top 10 statistically proven best preflop starting hands.

Please note however, while all of the hands below should be big winners for you, it is extremely important that you understand how to play them optimally versus each player type.

For example, I might go all-in preflop with a hand like Ace Queen versus a Loose and Aggressive player.

But I might fold to an all-in shove with Ace Queen versus a Tight Rock.

Table positions also play a vital role as mentioned above.

And lastly, while these are the best preflop starting hands, the real money in poker comes from playing your mediocre hands.

That is where the real cream of the crop rises to the top.

But without any further ado.

Here are the top 10 best poker starting hands.

1. AA

2. KK

3. QQ

4. JJ

5. AK

6. TT

7. 99

8. 88

9. 77

10. AQ

I have written entire articles on how to play many of the hands above, because they are so important.

For example, here is my comprehensive guide to playing Ace King.

Should You Play GTO Preflop Poker?

Lastly, I want to touch on GTO poker because I get asked about this a lot and whether or not you should play GTO preflop poker.

GTO stands for game theory optimal by the way and it is a style of poker (often used with the aid of a solver), that attempts to play a perfect mathematically un-exploitable style of poker.

The problem though, is that 95% of people play poker at small stakes with relative beginners who simply aren't paying enough attention for this to even matter.

Preflop poker gto

So if you are like the vast majority of people who play in low stakes games like NL2 to NL100 online, $100 tournaments and below, or $1/$2 to $2/$5 live cash games, I would recommend not playing GTO preflop poker.

I think it will actually end up hurting your results in most cases, because your advanced play-style will just go right over the heads of most of your beginner level competition.

It is much better instead to use the Preflop Exploitative strategies that I have out-lined throughout this entire article.

For example, the preflop over-raising strategy versus the recreational players discussed above. 

Just this one Exploitative Preflop strategy alone allowed me to create some of the highest winnings of all-time in low stakes games online as a 10+ year professional poker player.

Versus low stakes fishy players, having a flexible preflop exploitative strategy like this will always yield far superior results to a rigid GTO preflop style.

Bottom line: If you play low stakes, avoid playing GTO poker. Also, avoid solvers. These are tools which work best in high stakes games versus world class competition.

What Are the Best Preflop Poker Software/Tools? (Free and Paid)

Speaking of which, what are the best preflop poker software and tools these days?

Well, I would definitely recommend using a good HUD. I think this is an absolute must for any serious online poker player.

As I have mentioned before on this blog, using a HUD (heads up display) goes way beyond just having your opponent's stats on your online poker table.

preflop poker software

These are great to have, don't get me wrong. And have saved me tens of thousands of dollars by having crucial live reads like this in online poker.

But what most people don't realize is that there is also a vast database built into these HUD programs, which allows you to study your hands and find out where your leaks are away from the tables.

I have spent countless hours in a HUD program fixing my Preflop leaks over my 10+ year career as an online poker pro.

I have also used these HUD programs extensively to study the other good players in my games, especially to find out what they might be doing better than me!

This has been one of my biggest "secrets" to getting ahead. Find out what the other good players are doing better than me, and incorporate it into my own game.

Simple as that.

Secondly, I would recommend enrolling in a good advanced poker training program, ideally one which incorporates plenty of preflop strategy advice.

Luckily there are tons of good ones to choose from these days.

Lastly, I would recommend using some good free preflop poker charts like the ones available in this article above.

I have already written a mega article on all of the best poker software and tools used by serious online pros in today's games.

This includes many free and paid options and every preflop poker software and tool that I have used throughout my professional career.

I would recommend checking that out for much more.

Optimal Preflop Poker Strategy for Tournaments

Finally, it is very important to  remember that our preflop poker strategy will often change dramatically depending on whether we are playing cash games or tournaments.

We already discussed this above in sections 3 and 4 when discussing effective stack size and stack to pot ratio for preflop decision making.

But it is important to remember that typically in a cash game the stacks sizes will be about 100bb (big blinds).

And everything in this article was based around this assumption. But in a tournament your stack size will often only be in the 100bb range during the early stages.

In fact, often by the middle and late stages of a tournament, your stack size will be 30bb, 20bb or even 10bb!

In those cases, you have to change your preflop strategy significantly.

Here are some rough tournament preflop rules of thumb for me:

A) 30bb Stack:

Short stack but it's not panic time. I am going to play a mostly normal range of hands, as listed above on the free preflop starting hand charts.

But any 3-bet will be committing my stack. In other words, if I choose to play a 3-bet pot, all of the money is going in the middle, no matter what.

I am not folding. 

B) 20bb Stack: 

My stack size is getting critical. I will fold some of the weaker hands on the preflop starting hand charts above.

Any 3-bet pot will be all-in for me, and I will often be all-in if I choose to play a single raised pot as well.

I will be shoving preflop over most opens with the top end of the ranges listed in the preflop charts above as well.

C) 10bb Stack:

Stack size is critical. Red alert, emergency.

I will be open shoving (or shoving over top) with most of the hands listed in the free preflop charts above in this article.

There is no time for nuance or tricky preflop strategy. It's time to shove and pray.

May you run good and win all your flips!

For a much deeper dive by the way, check out my massively popular 21 Texas Holdem tips that the pros don't want you to know.

Important Tournament Preflop Bet Sizing Considerations

Also, it is important to know about the differences between preflop bet sizing in tournaments and cash games.

As mentioned above, 3x the big blind is a standard amount in many cash games these days.

So for example, in a $1/$2 cash game, you raise to $6.

However, in a tournament most people use 2x the big blind these days.

As an example once again, say the blinds are 50/100, you raise to 200.

The reason for this is simple.

Your chips in a poker tournament are your life. When you lose them all, you are finished, done.

This is not the case in a cash game because you can reload at any time.

Therefore, you don't need to raise preflop as much in a tournament to get the same effect.

People know that chips are precious in a tournament and any raise is powerful.

Whereas in cash game, as we already discussed above, it is often correct to make it 3x, 4x or even more depending on the situation and player types involved.

Bottom Line: In general, you want to make your preflop bet sizes smaller in poker tournaments.

The Ultimate Preflop Poker Cheat Sheet for New Players - Summary

As you can see, there's a lot more factors to consider for your overall preflop strategy than just your hole cards.

But luckily you also don't need to spend years and years studying advanced preflop poker strategies in order to play this crucial street optimally, either. 

To sum up, here are the most important factors to consider when making your preflop decisions. 

1. Expected Value (EV)

Expected value measures the profitability of each and every action you make at the felt. Winning poker strategy is all about maximizing EV. Always think in terms of EV, regardless of potential bad short-term results.

2. Your table position

The earlier your table position, the less hands you can play profitably because there are more players left to act behind you. As you get closer to the button, you can gradually expand your open-raising range.

Playing in position makes virtually any spot you encounter more +EV, so always consider whether or not you’re likely to play in position post flop.

3. Effective stack size

The effective stack size is the smaller stack size of the players involved in the pot. Effective stack sizes determine the strength of the hands you choose to play preflop. Strong starting hands prefer smaller stack sizes, while more speculative hands prefer a deeper stack size to be played profitably.

4. Stack-to-Pot Ratio (SPR)

Stack-to-pot ratio is the ratio between the effective stack size and the size of the pot. It’s a preflop and flop metric that determines how committed you are to the pot, and how inclined you should be to play for the rest of your stack.

If the SPR is very small (3 or less), you are automatically pot-committed with a top pair hand or better. When getting involved in the pot, always consider what kind of SPR you are going to get to make a plan for your post flop play.

5. How to enter the pot

As a general rule, you should enter the pot with an open-raise if you can. If not, you can either 3-bet or call. When first starting out, you should 3-bet (re-raise) only with strong value hands.

6. When to call preflop

Calling preflop is usually the last option you should consider. Calling can be +EV if you're getting decent pot odds on a call and/or you have a speculative hand that wants to see a cheap flop.

7. Bet sizing

The standard open-raise size is 3 big blinds. You can go for a smaller size to give yourself a better risk-to-reward ratio, or increase the bet size if you are likely to get called by weaker hands.

8. Isolation raising

When another player limps into the pot, you can try to isolate them and play a heads-up pot against them post flop. The isolation raising formula is 3 BB + 1 BB per limper, but you can adjust this just like the open-raising size based on the situation.

9. Your opponent type

Not every player will play the same, and your overall strategy will depend on the type of opponents you’re up against. As a general rule, the best strategy to employ is the one that’s opposite of your opponent’s playstyle.

If your opponents are very loose, your best bet is to tighten up. If your opponents are very tight, you should play a looser range and try to bluff more.

10. Your hole cards

You should only play starting hands that have a reasonable chance of connecting with the flop in some meaningful way. This includes pocket pairs, broadway hands, suited Aces, and suited connectors.

These hands make up the top 20% of all starting hands in no-limit hold’em. The rest is trash and should be thrown away.

Keeping track of all these factors may seem daunting at first, but it gets easier with practice. 

After a while, you will process all these factors without too much conscious effort, and it will become second nature to you.

I hope you enjoyed my free ultimate preflop poker cheat sheet!

A ton of work went into this article. 

This is now the longest and most comprehensive article in the 15+ year history of my poker blog.

So if you found it useful, please consider sharing it online.

For a list of all of my most popular poker strategy articles over the years, click here.

Thank you to all my loyal readers. I appreciate you!

All the best at the poker tables, unless you're on mine :)

Lastly, if you want to know the complete strategy I use as a 10+ year professional poker player, grab a copy of my free poker cheat sheet.

Preflop poker strategy cheat sheet