4 Preflop Poker Tips EVERY Beginner Should Know

4 Preflop Tips For Beginners

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

If you want to quickly improve your poker game, the preflop play is usually a good place to start.

That’s because you will likely encounter similar preflop spots over and over again, so it makes sense to focus more on this part of the game than check-raising the turn or triple barrel bluffing, for example.

In this article, we’ll go through the best preflop poker tips for beginners.

These tips are guaranteed to improve your preflop game, and they will translate to easier (and more profitable) post flop play as well.

Let’s get right into it.

Preflop Poker Tip #1: Only Play Strong Starting Hands

One of the most common preflop mistakes amateur poker players make is playing too many hands.

If you want to quickly improve your poker results, the best way to go about it is to simply be more selective with the hands you choose to play preflop.

In fact, just play the hands marked in yellow below:

4 Preflop Poker Tips EVERY Beginner Should Know

In no-limit hold’em, most hands miss most flops, so you should only play hands that have a reasonable chance of connecting with the flop in some meaningful way.

If you play a bunch of junk hands, you’re going to miss the flop more often than not, and since you need to pay money to see the flop, the more flops you see, the more money you’ll lose over the long run.

And the times you do connect with the flop won’t make up for all the losses.

That’s because some starting hands simply perform much better post flop than others.

While you can technically smash the flop with any two cards, some hands will connect with the flop much more often than others.

Let’s take a random hand like J♥️2♥️ to illustrate the point.

Hands like J♥️2♥️ suited fall into the category of suited junk.

A lot of amateur poker players play just about any random hand for the prospect of catching a flush post flop, but this is a big mistake.

That’s because it’s exceedingly rare to make a flush in no-limit hold’em.

The chance of flopping a flush with a suited hand is only 0.8%.

You have a better chance of flopping a flush draw, but this is also far from likely.

And even if you make a flush, you’re still not guaranteed to win the hand, because your opponent could have a stronger flush than you.

If you make a flush with J2, any suited Ace, King or Queen of the same suit can potentially have you beat.

That’s an insane number of combinations to worry about.

Apart from the potential of making mediocre flushes, a hand like J♥️2♥️ has very little going for it in terms of post flop playability.

It can’t make any straights, and it will flop a top pair only about 8% of the time.

And even if you flop a top pair, you still have a weak kicker to worry about.

A kicker is a card in your hand that doesn’t help you make a certain hand combination, but can often determine the winner if both players have the same combination.

For example, if both players have a pair of Jacks, the player with the stronger kicker wins the hand.

And since the most common hand combination you’ll make in no-limit hold’em is single pair, you want to avoid playing hands with weak kickers, because you run the risk of your hand being dominated.

A dominated hand is the one that’s unlikely to win against a stronger hand due to an inferior kicker.

You always want your hand to dominate your opponent’s hand, instead of the other way around.

Bottom line: junk hands will often miss the flop completely, and even if you connect with the flop in some way, you still run the risk of your hand being dominated.

So which hands should you be playing preflop then?

You should only play hands that are either very strong in and of themselves (like premium pocket pairs) or hands that can often improve to strong combinations post flop.

There are 3 main criteria to consider when determining your starting hand strength:

a) high ranking hands are stronger than low ranking hands

This one is fairly obvious. High ranking hands will flop a top pair more frequently than low ranking hands.

b) connected hands are stronger than unconnected hands

Cards that are adjacent to each other will make a straight more frequently than cards with a gap between them (one-gappers, two-gappers etc.)

For example, a hand like Jack-Ten can make a straight 4 different ways, while a two-gapper like Jack-Seven can only make a straight two diffferent ways.

c) Suited hands are stronger than unsuited hands

Suited hands will make a flush more frequently than unsuited hands, but you shouldn’t play a certain hand just because it’s suited.

Remember, suited junk is still junk.

Check out my other article on EXACTLY which hands to play preflop for much more.

But for a brief overview, it’s advised to play the top 20% of all starting hands in no-limit hold’em.

This includes:

a) pocket pairs (AA through 22)

b) suited Aces (AKs through A2s)

c) broadway hands - high ranking cards that can make the strongest possible straight, like AJ or KQ

d) suited connectors (like JTs or 98s)

The rest is trash and should be thrown away.

Of course, this is just a rough guideline, so take it with a grain of salt.

The actual number of hands you can play will depend a lot on your table position and other considerations, like your opponent’s type, effective stack sizes and so on.

Also, more experienced players can often get away with playing more marginal holdings, like when they are playing a loose and aggressive play-style.

But for beginner poker players, it’s advised to stick with a simple tight and aggressive strategy, and avoid a lot of marginal spots that can get you in trouble post flop.

Now, folding 80% of the time may seem boring, and fair enough.

If you just want to have fun, you can play just about any hand that’s dealt to you.

But if you want to become a winning poker player, you may need to endure a bit of boredom from time to time.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you should just tune out whenever you’re not directly involved in the hand.

You can use this downtime to observe the action and try to pick up on tells from your opponents.

You can look for physical and timing tells, betting patterns, and so on.

You should also pay attention to the action sequence and try to read your opponent’s hand based on their actions.

By the way, check out my recent video on the 7 easy ways to spot tells for a much deeper dive.

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Preflop Poker Tip #2: Enter Most Pots With a Raise

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

A lot of amateur poker players make the mistake of open-limping instead of open-raising.

To open-limp means to just pay the big blind instead of open-raising, which is a big mistake for a number of reasons.

Here’s why you should always open-raise instead of open-limping:

1. To get initiative

If you are the preflop aggressor, you are perceived to have the strongest hand. This puts you in the driver’s seat, meaning you can dictate the tempo of the hand throughout the streets.

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

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

Check out my other article on expert flop strategy for more information on when (and when not) to c-bet.

2. To steal the blinds

If you open-raise, you can sometimes win the pot outright preflop if all your opponents fold.

If you open-limp, on the other hand, you are giving the players in the blinds absolutely no incentive to fold.

This means you’re allowing them to see cheap flop and realize their equity against you.

In essence, poker is all about blind stealing. Without the blinds, the players would simply wait around for pocket Aces all day, and fold all their other hands.

The blinds stimulate the action because they give players something to fight for. 

Learning to steal the blinds effectively is one of the best ways to consistently print expected value (or EV for short).

Blind stealing spots come around fairly frequently, so it’s worth keeping an eye out for them, especially if your opponent don’t defend their blinds often enough.

Blinds stealing spots refer to situations where you have the opportunity to open-raise from the late position (the cutoff, the button or the small blind).

The importance of playing most hands in late position will be discussed below.

3. To build up the pot

In poker, you will earn most of your money with your strong value hands. So if you get dealt a strong hand, your best bet is to build up the pot with it as soon as possible.

The bigger the pot you build preflop, the easier it is to ship the rest of your stack in the middle post flop.

This means you should usually avoid slowplaying your strong hands.

To slowplay means to play your hand passively (check or call instead of betting and raising) in order to conceal your hand strength.

When you’re slowplaying, you are essentially relying on your opponents to build up the pot for you.

This is great if you’re playing against very aggressive players, but it’s usually not the case when playing low stakes poker games.

At the lower stakes, players tend to play passively, meaning you can’t rely on them to build up the pot for you.

So if you want to build up a big pot, your best bet is to do it yourself, and let your opponents call you with weaker hands.

4. To avoid multiway pots

Finally, open-raising allows you to “thin the field” preflop, and ideally get to the flop against only one opponent.

In other words, open-raising discourages multiway pots, i.e. pots with more than two players involved.

The more players involved in the pot, the harder it is for you to win the hand.

That’s because every player will have a certain chunk of equity against you, even if you have a strong hand.

Let’s take pocket Aces, the strongest starting hand in no-limit hold’em as an example.

Against a random hand, pocket Aces have a whopping 85% hand equity.

But if you were to play against 4 players with random hands, your hand equity falls to only 56%.

So when players complain about always getting their Aces cracked, this may be one of the reasons why.

You don’t want to allow your opponents to draw out on you for cheap. 

You want to let them know right away that if they want to get involved in a pot with you, they’re going to have to pay up.

Now that we’ve covered the main reasons why you should open-raise instead of open-limping, let’s discuss which bet sizing you should use.

The standard open-raise size is 3 big blinds.

So if you’re playing a $1/$2 cash game in your local casino, the standard open-raise would bet $6.

You can increase or decrease your bet size depending on the situation.

For example, if another player limped into the pot before you, you can try to isolate that limper with an isolation raise (or iso-raise for short).

The standard iso-raise size is 3 BB + 1 BB per limper.

So 4 big blinds for 1 limper, 5 big blinds for two limpers etc.

You can add an additional big blind if you’re playing out of position, or to build up a bigger pot if you’re playing against a particularly bad opponent.

Conversely, you can decrease your open-raise size to 2.5 BB (or even 2 BB) if you’re stealing the blinds, for example.

By decreasing your open-raise size, you’re giving yourself a better risk-to-reward ratio, meaning your opponents need to fold less often for your stealing attempt to be profitable.

Check out my other article on preflop bet sizing for a much deeper dive on this.

Preflop Example Hand #1

$1/$2 Cash Game, Effective Stack Size: 100 BB

You are dealt QQ 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 open-raise to $12.

This is a good spot to go for a bigger bet size, and take advantage of your opponent’s overcalling tendencies.

To overcall means to call more often than would be considered “optimal”. In other words, calling so much that it leaves you vulnerable to getting exploited.

In this spot, you have a premium hand, meaning you can get action by a lot of weaker hands.

As for the best bet sizing to use, there are two limpers, so you should add a big blind for each limper, plus an additional big blind because you’re playing out of position.

This brings us to the total of 6 big blinds, or $12.

If you suspect that one or both of the limpers happen to be huge calling stations, you can bump up your bet size even more.

This helps you build up the pot while you are likely to have the best hand, and it makes it easier to ship the rest of your stack in post flop.

For much more info on exploitative bet sizing, check out my book Crushing the Microstakes.

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Preflop Poker Tip #3: Play More Hands in Position to Get an Edge

A solid tight and aggressive (TAG) strategy entails only playing strong starting hands and playing them aggressively (i.e. betting and raising) both preflop and post flop.

The third key component of TAG strategy is playing most hands in position.

Playing in position means being the last player to act in a betting round.

Playing in position is just about the biggest advantage you can have in no-limit hold’em, short of actually seeing your opponent’s hole cards.

Here’s why you should play most of your hands in position:

a) To get more information

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

In a skill game like chess, all the players have access to the same information. Both players can see the board and all the pieces at all times.

In poker, you can’t see your opponent’s hole cards, but you can get a better feel of their hand strength by playing in position.

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

That’s why Phil Ivey famously said that he couldn’t even beat his grandmother if he was forced to play every hand out of position.

You can learn Phil Ivey's entire strategy in his Masterclass by the way.

b) To control the size of the pot

If you’re the last player to act, you get the final say at the size of the pot.

Playing in position simply gives you more options.

For example, if a player checks to you, you can either check back to control the pot size and get a free card, or you can bet to inflate the pot if you have a strong hand.

Conversely, if your opponent bets, you can either call or raise yourself. 

c) To bluff more effectively 

Due to the informational disadvantage, most players simply won’t be willing to fight back as often if they are playing out of position.

This means you can often push them out of pots with a well-timed bluff.

In other words, playing in position will allow you to win “more than your fair share”, and pick up a few pots even if you don’t have a particularly strong hand.

A word of caution: you should be careful when trying to bluff recreational players, because they generally dislike folding, and will often call you down if they catch any remote piece of the board.

An exception to this rule may be when you’re playing against a player who likes to see a lot of flops, but gives up pretty easily if they miss the board (which will be most of the time).

Against these “fit-or-fold” players, you can make a c-bet on most flops since you can expect them to fold every time they miss the flop, which will happen 2 out of 3 times on average.

So how do you play more hands in position?

You simpy open-raise more hands in the late table positions (the cutoff and the button), and play less hands when you’re in early table positions.

You should also be careful when playing in the blinds, because you will ALWAYS have the positional disadvantage when you’re in the blinds.

The only exception is if you’re playing in the big blind against the small blind.

When playing in the blinds, you will lose money over the long run, no matter how well you’re playing.

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

So when playing in the blinds, your goal isn’t to win money, but to lose as little as possible, then make up for the difference when you’re playing in position.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you should fold every hand you’re dealt in the blinds, because it may leave you vulnerable to getting exploited.

If you don’t defend your blinds often enough, other players may try to steal your blinds every chance they get.

For more advanced poker strategies like blind defence, check out The Microstakes Playbook.

Preflop Poker Tip #4: Light 3-bet More Often to Keep Your Opponents Guessing

This play is a bit more advanced, but it’s well worth incorporating into your game even as a beginner poker player.

To 3-bet preflop means to re-raise against another player’s open-raise.

To 3-bet light (aka to 3-bet as a bluff) means to 3-bet with the intention of getting your opponent to fold and taking down the pot preflop.

If you’re a beginner poker player, your best bet is to keep your 3-betting range value-heavy.

This means you should mainly 3-bet with your strong value hands, namely premium pocket pairs, strong broadways etc.

If you’re a beginner poker player, you will ideally play in low stakes poker games with other beginners.

This means your best bet is to keep things simple and play your strong hands very straightforwardly (i.e. bet and raise when you believe you have the best hand).

That’s because you will often get called by a number of weaker hands.

In no-limit hold’em, most of the money you’ll earn will come from your strong value hands where your opponent is willing to pay you off with a weaker hand.

However, if you only ever 3-bet with very strong hands, over time you may become too predictable to players who are paying attention to your betting patterns.

I’m not talking about recreational players here, since they won’t be paying attention to your betting frequencies.

I’m talking about regular players who take the time to improve their game by studying off the felt and actually pay attention to your actions.

Against these players, it’s a good idea to add a few 3-bet bluffing hands in your range.

For example, let’s say you usually only 3-bet premium pocket pairs (pocket Jacks or better) and Ace-King.

This is a reasonable range to 3-bet with, albeit a really tight one.

This range consists of only the top 3% of all starting hands in no-limit hold’em.

So against players who are paying attention to your betting frequencies, it will be as though you are playing your cards face-up.

Your opponents may adjust their game by simply refusing to give you action every time you 3-bet.

And since these strong value hands will form the majority of your winnings, it’s important to be able to extract as much value with them as possible.

This is where light 3-betting comes into play.

By throwing out an occasional light 3-bet, you’ll be able to take down a few pots even without a particularly strong hand.

You will also constantly keep your opponents guessing at your hand strength.

This means that once you actually do wake up with pocket Aces, you’re more likely to get paid off.

Now, this doesn’t mean you should start 3-betting with a bunch of random hands just for the sake of it.

Ideally, you want to 3-bet light with hands that have some sort of playability post flop in case your light 3-bet gets called.

The best hands to 3-bet (and even 4-bet) light with are small suited Aces (A5s through A2s).

These hands have great playability post flop, with the ability to make nuts flushes, as well as straights.

You can also make a top pair if another Ace comes on the board.

The range of A5s through A2s will flop a top pair or better 19.5% of the time.

“Or better” means two pair, three of a kind and so on.

Suited Aces also have blocker power, meaning it’s more likely for your opponent to fold to your 3-bet.

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 an Ace in your hand, it’s less likely for your opponent to have strong combinations like pocket Aces, Ace-King, Ace-Queen and so on.

An Ace in your hand reduces the number of combos of pocket Aces from 6 to only 3, and the number of combos of Ace-King from 16 to 12.

Preflop Example Hand #2

Cash Game, Effective Stack Size: 100 BB

You are dealt A4 in the SB (small blind).

A tight and aggressive player open-raises to $5.

You: ???

You should 3-bet to $20.

This is a great spot for a light 3-bet.

In this spot, the villain is likely blind stealing, so you can assume their range is quite wide.

Tight and aggressive players will gradually expand their open-raising range as they get closer to the button.

And a lot of hands in their range won’t stand the pressure of a 3-bet, meaning you can get your opponent to fold quite often.

You also have a blocker in your hand, meaning it’s even more likely for your opponent to fold.

Even if you get called, you still have a great speculative hand that can connect with the flop in a number of different ways.

In today’s games, it takes more than waiting around for a premium hand to be a profitable long term winner.

You also need to look for edges in less than ideal circumstances. This means knowing how to play out of position against skilled opponents who won’t just roll over.

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4 Preflop Tips For Beginners - Summary

You don’t have to learn a lot of advanced poker strategy to improve your preflop game.

All you have to do is get familiar with the basic tight and aggressive (TAG) strategy, which includes only playing strong starting hands in position, and playing them aggressively both preflop and post flop.

With that in mind, here are 5 preflop tips every beginner poker player should know:

1. Enter most pots with a raise

If you are the first player to enter the pot, you should do so with an open-raise (or a 3-bet).

By being the preflop aggressor, you will get the initiative, you will build up the pot with your strong hands, and you will “thin the field” by avoiding big, multiway pots.

You can also occasionally win the pot outright if all the other players fold.

2. Only play strong starting hands

If you only play strong starting hands, you will connect with the flop and make strong combinations more often than players who play just about any two random cards.

Your hand will also often dominate your opponent’s, instead of the other way around.

You should only play strong starting hands like pocket pairs, broadway hands, suited Aces and suited connectors.

The rest is trash and should be thrown away.

3. Play most hands in position

By being the last player to act in a betting round, you get the informational advantage, you can dictate the size of the pot, and you can value bet or bluff more effectively.

To play more hands in position, simply open-raise more hands in late table positions (the cutoff and the button) and play less hands in early table positions and in the blinds.

4. 3-bet light more often

By adding a few bluffing hands into your 3-betting range, you will always keep your opponents guessing at your hand strength.

This will make you more difficult to play against, and it will be easier for you to get action once you actually do wake up with pocket Aces.

The best hands to 3-bet bluff with are (small) suited Aces, due to their great nuts potential, as well as their blocker power.


This article was written by Fran Ferlan

Poker player, writer and coach
Specializing in live and online cash games

For coaching enquiries, contact Fran at email@franferlan.com
Or apply directly for poker coaching with Fran, right here

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.

4 Preflop Poker Tips EVERY Beginner Should Know