5 Preflop Poker Tips For Beginners (Just Do This!)

5 Simple Preflop Poker Tips for Beginners

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

If you want to quickly improve your poker game, preflop is usually a good starting point.

However, with so much information to consider, it can be hard to know where to even start.

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

If you’re a beginner poker player looking to take your game to the next level, this is a post for you.

Let’s get right into it.

Preflop Poker Tip #1: Enter the Pot With a Raise

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

Raise This Amount:

I would recommend raising it to 3 times the size of the big blind, as a default strategy in all poker games.

Entering the pot with a raise is statistically proven to be more profitable over the long run than open-limping.

Open-limping means paying the big blind instead of open-raising, and is usually a sign of recreational poker players.

There are multiple reasons why open-raising is preferable to open limping:

A) You will play the hand with the initiative

The player who open-raises is perceived to have a stronger hand than the player who calls or limps preflop. 

This gives them the initiative post flop, i.e. the opportunity to continue with the aggression with a continuation bet (or a c-bet for short) on the flop.

C-bets are usually profitable, and you should be inclined to make a c-bet on most flops unless there’s a good reason not to.

When you open-limp, however, you have no initiative, so you don’t have the opportunity to make a c-bet on the flop. 

This means that you automatically put yourself at a disadvantage through the rest of the hand.

B) You can win the pot outright preflop

When you open-raise, you can win the pot right away if all of the other players fold their hands.

If you open-limp, on the other hand, you’re giving your opponents zero reasons to fold their hand, and you are letting them realize their hand equity for cheap.

Worse yet, you will often get raised yourself, so you often won’t be able to see a cheap flop, either.

C) You are building up the pot with your strong hands

If you want to win big in poker, you need to win big pots. 

And the best way to go about it is to try and build up the pot yourself, preferably as early on in the hand as possible.

The bigger the pot preflop, the easier it is to ship the rest of your money later in the middle later on in the hand.

This has to do with pot geometry; seemingly small adjustments in your initial open-raise size can lead to dramatically bigger pots on future streets.

So if you are dealt a strong starting hand, your best bet is to build up the pot with it as soon as possible.

Unlike open-limping, limping behind can sometimes be a viable strategy, especially if you’re playing in passive games with a lot of recreational players around.

To limp behind means to limp in after one or more players have already limped into the pot.

Limping behind can work if you have a speculative hand that wants to see a cheap flop and potentially flop a strong hand or a strong draw.

Speculative hands are starting hands that aren’t strong in and of themselves, but have the potential of making strong combinations post flop.

Hands like small pocket pairs and suited connectors are considered speculative hands.

Small pocket pairs have the potential of making sets post flop, while suited connectors have the potential of making straights and flushes.

By the way, check out my recent video on the 5 easy poker strategies every beginner must know.

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Preflop Poker Tip #2: Punish the Open-limpers With an Isolation Raise

As mentioned, open-limping is a telltale sign of recreational poker players 99% of the time.

So when you see a player open-limping, you can try to isolate them with an isolation-raise (or an iso-raise for short).

An iso-raise is an open-raise when one or more players have open-limped into the pot.

As the name suggests, the goal of an iso-raise is to isolate the recreational player and hopefully play a heads-up pot against them post flop (heads-up pot means a pot with only two players involved).

If you also manage to make an iso-raise while playing in position, all the better.

Playing a heads-up pot in position as a preflop aggressor against a single opponent (preferably a recreational player) is just about the most profitable money-making spot in no-limit hold’em, period.

That’s because it gives you the opportunity to take advantage of numerous mistakes recreational players are bound to make in their post flop play.

This includes playing too passively, calling too much, chasing bad draws, making bad bluffs and so on.

Check out my other article by the way, for the 5 most common amateur poker mistakes all beginners make.

As for which iso-raise size you should use, this depends a lot on the situation.

But as a general rule, the “standard” iso-raise size is 3 big blinds plus an additional big blind per limper.

So a "standard" iso-raise size is 4 big blinds for a single limper, 5 for two limpers and so on.

Also, you can add an additional big blind if you are playing the hand out of position.

If there are aggressive 3-bettors left to act behind you, you can decrease your iso-raise size to 3 big blinds.

A 3-bet preflop is a re-raise against another player’s open-raise.

If you’re up against skilled, observant opponents, they may notice your iso-raising attempts against fish, and can punish you by 3-bettling liberally when you iso-raise.

To counteract this, you can either decrease your iso-raise size to 3 big blinds, or iso-raise with a stronger range of hands.

Preflop Poker Example Hand #1

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

A loose and passive player open-limps from the MP (middle position).

Another player limps behind on the BU (button).

You: ??? 

You should iso-raise to 6 BB.

This is a good spot to make your iso-raise bigger.

You are dealt a strong hand that is likely to get action against a lot of weaker hands, namely other Ax hands.

There are two limpers in front of you, so you open raise to 3 BB plus 2 BB for each limper.

Finally, you can add an additional BB because you are playing in the small blind, and you will play the rest of the hand out of position.

Important note: if you are up against particularly awful players that can’t fold anything, you can bump up your iso-raise size even more.

This is especially the case if you have a strong value hand (like a premium pocket pair) and your opponent is a giant calling station.

A calling station refers to a recreational, passive player who has a very hard time folding anything, and will continue to play the hand if they catch any remote piece of the board.

These players are ideal candidates for iso-raising and value betting post flop with your strong hands.

This is discussed in much more detail in Crushing the Microstakes.

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Preflop Poker Tip #3: Play More Hands in Late Positions

One of the easiest ways to quickly improve your poker results is to simply play more hands in late positions, namely the cutoff and the button.

By being more selective with the hands you play from earlier table positions, and playing more hand in the cutoff and the button, you will often play in position post flop.

Playing in position means being the last player to act in a betting round, and it is just about the biggest edge you can have in no-limit hold’em, period.

There are multiple advantages of playing in position:

A) You have an informational advantage

Poker is a game of incomplete information, and the player with the informational advantage will come out on top more often than not. 

If you are the last player to act in a betting round, you get to see what your opponents did, while they have no idea what you are going to do.

B) You can dictate the price of the pot

By being the last player to act, you get a final say at the price of the pot. If you have a strong value hand, you can bet if your opponent checks to you, or you can raise if your opponent bets first.

Conversely, if you have a mediocre or a drawing hand, you can exercise pot control by checking back or flat calling your opponent's bet.

C) You can bluff more effectively

Due to the informational disadvantage, your opponents won’t be as willing to fight back against you. 

This means you can often push them out of the pot with a well timed bluff.

However, you should be careful when trying to bluff recreational players, because they usually have a hard time folding and tend to overcall.

Against recreational players, it’s usually better to keep it simple and stick with value betting your strong hands.

So how does playing more hands in position look like in practice?

It simply means open-raising (or 3-betting) more hands in the cutoff and the button.

When you are playing on the button, you will ALWAYS have a positional advantage post flop.

5 Preflop Poker Tips For Beginners (Just Do This!)

This is why the button will be your most profitable seat by far.

If you’re using a hand tracking program like PokerTracker 4, you can check these stats yourself.

Chances are, you’d be surprised by just how much more money you earn on the button compared to other table positions.

Conversely, when you are playing in the blinds, you will actually lose money over the long run, no matter how well you’re playing from these positions.

This is simply how the game is structured: the money always flows from the players out of position to the players playing in position.

So when playing in the blinds, your goal is not winning money, but losing as little as possible, and making it up when you are playing in position.

Of course, that’s not to say that you should fold almost every hand that’s dealt to you in the blinds.

If you do that, your opponents may notice this and punish you by trying to steal your blinds with impunity.

That’s why it’s crucial to learn the optimal blind defense strategy, especially once you start climbing up the stakes and encountering tougher opponents.

If you want to know more about blind defence and other advanced poker strategies, enroll in Blackrain79 Elite Poker University.

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Preflop Poker Tip #4: Master the Art of the Light 3-Bet

Being the preflop aggressor is statistically more profitable over the long run than being the preflop caller.

If another player open-raises before you, you have the option to either call the open-raise or re-raise (i.e. make a 3-bet).

If you have a strong hand, you should make a 3-bet for value, and build up the pot as soon as possible.

However, if you only 3-bet your strong value hands, you run the risk of your 3-betting range becoming too predictable.

Observant opponents will figure out you’re only 3-betting for value, and may adjust by simply folding to your 3-bets unless they happen to have a strong hand themselves.

When you’re first starting out, it’s usually best to make your 3-betting range value heavy, i.e. 3 bet mainly with strong starting hands.

However, against more skilled opponents, it’s a good idea to mix up your game and balance your 3-betting range with a couple of 3-bet bluffs as well.

When you are 3-betting with the expectation of getting your opponent to fold (i.e. 3-bet bluffing), this is known as a light 3-bet.

There are a few reasons why you should adopt a light 3-bet in your arsenal.

First of all, as mentioned, strong value hands don’t come around too often in no-limit hold’em. 

So by the time you actually do get a strong hand, there’s no guarantee you’re going to get any action with it, because it may be too obvious that you have a strong hand.

By throwing out an occasional light 3-bet, you will always keep your opponents guessing at your hand strength.

This means you’ll be more likely to get paid off once you actually wake up with pocket Aces or pocket Kings.

Another reason to throw out an occasional light 3-bet is that it makes you much harder to play against.

Your opponent will have to think twice before trying to get involved in a pot with you.

You will also deter them from stealing your blinds with impunity.

Now let’s talk about 3-bet sizing.

As a general rule, you should make your 3-bet 3 times the size of the open raise when playing in position, and 4 times the size of the open raise when you are playing out of position.

The reason to go for a bigger 3-bet size out of position is to charge your opponents a premium if they want the privilege of having a positional advantage during the hand.

Also, by increasing the 3-bet size, you’re creating a smaller effective stack size, which makes your post flop play easier as well.

Check out my ultimate preflop bet sizing cheat sheet for more information on preflop bet sizing.

Finally, let’s discuss the actual hands you want to 3-bet light with.

You obviously don’t want to 3-bet with just about any random hand just for the sake of it.

You want to choose hands that have decent equity in case your 3-bet bluff gets called.

But by far the best light 3-betting hands are suited Aces, especially small suited Aces (A2s through A5s).

Small suited Aces make for great light 3-betting candidates for multiple reasons.

First of all, they have great playability postflop. Suited Aces have an insane nuts potential, with the ability to make a nuts flush.

Small suited Aces have the ability to make straights, as well.

For Example: 

A5 on 234

Second, suited Aces have blocker power.

A blocker is a card in your hand that reduces the number of strong combinations from your opponent’s range.

For example, if you have A5s, it’s less likely for your opponent to have strong Ax combinations like pocket Aces, Ace-King, Ace-Queen and so on.

Preflop Poker Example Hand #2

You are dealt A3 in the (SB) small blind.

A tight and aggressive (TAG) player open-raises to 2.5 BB from the CO (cutoff).

You: ???

You should light 3-bet to 10 BB.

This is a textbook spot to attempt a light 3-bet.

Let’s first consider the type of opponent you are up against and try to figure out their range. 

Tight and aggressive opponents usually open-raise with a wider range from the late table positions (i.e. the cutoff and the button).

This means that a lot of hands in their range won’t be able to stand the pressure of a 3-bet, so they are likely to fold quite often in similar spots.

You have a decent speculative hand, and you have a ton of equity to fall back on in case your 3-bet gets called.

You make your 3-bet 4 times the open-raise size to offset your positional disadvantage.

For more advanced poker strategies like light 3-betting and 4-betting, check out my latest book, The Microstakes Playbook.

Preflop Poker Tip #5: Flat Call With Speculative Hands

We’ve already discussed how being the preflop aggressor is more profitable than being the preflop caller.

This means that you want to enter the pot by open-raising or 3-betting most of the time.

However, this doesn’t mean you should have no calling range preflop whatsoever.

There will be times where either open-raising or 3-betting won’t be an option.

A lot of amateur poker players make the mistake of calling too much preflop. They also call too much postflop as well, but that is the topic for a whole other article! 

This is especially problematic when they call with weak or marginal hands that are easily dominated.

So when you are thinking about which line to take preflop, calling is usually the last option to consider.

As the old saying goes, if it’s good enough for a call, it’s good enough for a raise.

Take this with a grain of salt, of course, since there will certainly be times where calling will be the most +EV option.

For example, you can try to see a cheap flop by flat calling with speculative hands.

Speculative hands are not strong enough in and of themselves, but have the potential of making strong combinations post flop.

Speculative hands include small pairs and suited connectors (like 44 or 76, for example).

When you get dealt a small pocket pair, you can try to set mine and potentially take down a big pot post flop.

Set mining means calling with a small pocket pair with the intention of hitting a set post flop.

Similarly, suited connectors like JTs or 87s have the potential of making strong combinations like straights and flushes.

When you are dealt speculative hands, you want to have decent implied odds in order to play them profitably.

The implied odds refer to the amount of money you can potentially earn on future streets if you complete your hand combination.

You also want to consider the pot odds in order to figure out if your preflop call is profitable.

Pot odds are exact and precise, while implied odds require a bit of guesswork.

Check out my ultimate guide to poker odds by the way to learn all the basic math.

Your implied odds will depend on a number of factors, namely the effective stack size, the type of opponent you are up against, your hand strength, and your opponent’s hand strength, just to name a few.

You will also get better implied odds if your hand strength is well concealed.

As a general rule, straight draws have better implied odds than flush draws because straights are usually better concealed on a given board.

Completed flush draws, on the other hand, are fairly easier to spot. Even a recreational player can see a potential flush completing when a third heart comes on the turn, for example.

Let’s look at the two board runouts to illustrate this point

Let’s say you are dealt JT  

Board #1:


Board #2:


All other things being equal, you will probably have better implied odds with a completed straight, because your hand strength is well concealed.

Moreover, you have the stone cold nuts on the board #1, while there are multiple stronger flushes on board #2 that potentially have you beat.

This means you need to take the reverse implied odds into account on board #2.

Reverse implied odds refer to the amount of money you can potentially lose if your draw completes, but your opponent ends up having an even stronger hand than you.

Bottom line: calling preflop is usually the last option to consider, but there will be times where it will be the most profitable play.

If you decide to call preflop, make sure you’re getting decent pot odds and implied odds on a call.

5 Simple Preflop Poker Tips for Beginners - Summary

You can’t learn any advanced poker strategy without a solid grasp of the preflop fundamentals first.

Mastering the fundamentals of the preflop strategy is a good starting point to improving your game, because you can see a positive impact on your results almost immediately.

With that said, here are 5 simple preflop poker tips every good poker player should know.

1. Enter the pot with a raise

Being the preflop aggressor is statistically way more profitable over the long run than being the preflop caller.

By entering the pot with a raise (or a 3-bet), you are building up the pot with your strong hands, you get the initiative to continue the aggression post flop, and can often take down the pot outright preflop.

2. Iso-raise against open-limpers

Open-limping is a telltale sign of a recreational poker player 99% of the time. 

When you see a player open-limping, you can isolate them with an open-raise and play a heads-up pot against them with the initiative and the range advantage. 

Bonus points if you also play the pot in position.

3. Play more hands in late positions

If you are the last player to act in a betting round, you have an informational advantage, you can build up the pot with your strong hands, and you can bluff more effectively.

To play more hands in position, try open-raising more hands when you are on the cutoff and the button, and be more selective with the hands you choose to play from earlier table positions and from the blinds.

4. Master the light 3-bet

If you only 3-bet with your strong premium hands, you might become too predictable to players who are paying attention to your betting patterns. 

To counteract that, try to add a few bluffing hands to your 3-betting range.

Some of the best hands to 3-bet light with are suited Aces due to their great playability post flop, insane nuts potential, and their blocker power.

5. Call with speculative hands preflop

Even though open-raising and 3-betting is preferable to flat calling preflop, there will be times where flat calling is the most +EV option.

One of these situations is when you are dealt a speculative hand and are getting decent odds on a call. In other words, you have the opportunity to see a cheap flop with a lot of upside potential.

Lastly, if you want to know the complete strategy I use to make $2000+ per month in small/mid stakes games, grab a copy of my free poker cheat sheet.

5 Preflop Poker Tips For Beginners (Just Do This!)