Ultimate When to Call Preflop Cheat Sheet (2024)

When to Call Preflop

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

One of the most common amateur poker mistakes is calling too much.

This includes chasing bad draws, clinging to mediocre hands, hero calling in wrong spots and so on.

And a lot of these mistakes can be avoided if you simply fold your hand preflop in the first place.

However, this doesn’t mean you should never call preflop.

This article will tell you everything you need to know about preflop calling, and will prevent you from making a lot of costly post flop mistakes.

There’s a lot to cover, so let’s get right into it.

1. Calling Preflop Should be an Exception

As a general rule, calling is the last action you should consider preflop.

In other words, you should only call preflop if other actions (folding or 3-betting) don’t make sense.

Being the preflop caller is statistically far less profitable than being the preflop raiser.

If you’re using some good poker software like PokerTracker, you can literally go and verify this for yourself, based on your own hands that you have played.

That’s because the preflop aggressor goes to the flop with the initiative and the range advantage.

When you are the preflop aggressor, you are perceived to have the strongest hand, which gives you the initiative to continue the aggression post flop.

This means you can 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.

When you’re the preflop caller, on the other hand, you don’t have the opportunity to make a c-bet, which makes it harder for you to win the hand.

Also, when you are the preflop aggressor, you have the range advantage, meaning you theoretically have more strong hands in your range than the preflop caller.

That’s because calling preflop is a range-capping action.

When a player calls preflop, their range is capped, meaning they can’t have very strong hands like pocket Aces or pocket Kings in their range.

That’s because they would have probably 3-bet those hands instead of calling.

(A 3-bet preflop is a re-raise against another player's open-raise).

The preflop aggressor, on the other hand, has an uncapped range, meaning they can have all these strong hands in their range.

This allows them to credibly represent a strong hand on the flop, even if they miss it completely.

So if you’re the first player to enter the pot, you should do so with an open-raise, since it automatically puts you at an advantage throughout the hand.

If another player open-raises before you, you can either fold, call, or 3-bet.

A lot of amateur poker players make the mistake of calling too much preflop, which puts them at a disadvantage for the reasons outlined above.

So if you can’t make a profitable 3-bet, you’re usually better off just folding your hand and waiting for a better spot.

However, you will certainly encounter spots where calling will be the most profitable option, which is what we’re going to discuss in the rest of the article.

By the way, if you just want some charts showing you exactly what hands to play, these are included in my free poker cheat sheet.

I also show you exactly what hands to play in my viral video on YouTube: 9 preflop poker tips for beginners

I put out brand new poker videos every week. Join 110,000+ who are already subscribed.

2. Call Preflop With Good Pot Odds and Implied Odds

As mentioned, calling preflop puts you at a disadvantage throughout the hand, so you should only call preflop if the reward justifies the risk.

In other words, you should only call preflop if you’re getting decent pot odds and implied odds on a call.

The pot odds are the ratio between the pot size and the price you need to call to continue playing the hand.

When pondering a call, you should always consider the pot odds you’re getting on a call, not just preflop, but in every spot you play.

Pot odds are very simple to calculate, so there’s no excuse not to consider them in every spot you play.

To calculate the pot odds, simply divide the pot size with the price you need to call to get a ratio.

For example:

The pot size is $100 and the villain fires a half-pot bet of $50. 

Now the pot size is $150, and you have $50 to call.

So the pot odds are 3:1, since 150 / 50 = 3

When to Call Preflop

Bear in mind that the first, bigger number in the ratio represents the pot size, and the second number (which is always 1) represents the amount you need to call.

Check out my ultimate pot odds cheat sheet for a much deeper dive on this.

So how can pot odds help you better calling decisions preflop?

It’s simple: the better the pot odds you’re getting on a call, the more often you can continue playing the hand profitably.

In other words, the better the pot odds, the less hand equity you need to continue the hand.

Hand equity simply refers to the percentage chance of you winning the hand.

To figure out the hand equity you need to continue playing the hand, you can convert the pot odds into a percentage.

To turn the pot odds into a percentage, simply add the two numbers, and divide 100 by the sum.

For example, if you are getting 3:1 odds, add 3+1 and divide 100 by the result.

100 / 4 = 25

So if you are getting 3:1 pot odds, you need 25% hand equity to call profitably.

And if you’re getting 9:1 odds, for example, you only need 10% hand equity to call.

Of course, you can’t know your exact hand equity, since you can’t see your opponent’s hole cards.

But you can estimate your opponent’s range in a given situation, and try to assess how much equity you have against their perceived range.

This takes a fair bit of practice and studying off the felt.

You can also just use the Equity Calculator that comes with any good free poker HUD to help you with this.

Equity calculators let you plug in your hole cards and your opponent’s range, then tell you how much equity your hand has against that particular range.

Again, this takes a bit of practice, but it can do wonders with improving your hand reading skills.

The pot odds tell you if your call is outright profitable. In other words, pot odds don’t tell you anything about how much money you can potentially earn on future streets.

This is where implied odds come into play.

Implied odds tell you how much money you can potentially earn on future streets. While pot odds are exact, the implied odds require a bit of guesswork.

To figure out the implied odds, it’s not enough to just look at the remaining stack size and call it a day.

Also, when trying to figure out the implied odds, it’s better to err on the conservative side.

That’s because you’re not always guaranteed to win a big pot even if you do manage to make a monster hand post flop.

Of course, if you play a LAG poker strategy, you are much more likely to get paid off, but that is a topic which is beyond the scope of this article.

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3. Call Preflop With Big Stack-to-Pot Ratio

Aside from the pot odds and implied odds, another useful metric you can use to figure out whether or not you can call profitably preflop is the stack-to-pot-ratio (or SPR for short).

As the name suggests, the SPR is a (pre)flop metric that shows you the ratio between the effective stack size and the price of the pot.

The effective stack size is the smaller stack size of the players involved in the pot. For example, if your stack size is $100, and your opponent’s stack size is $80, the effective stack size is $80.

So how do you calculate the SPR?

You simply divide the effective stack size with the effective stack size.

Preflop Calling Example Hand #1

Cash Game, Effective Stack Size: 100 BB

You are dealt 87 in the BB. Villain open-raises to 3 BB from the MP (middle position). 

Everybody folds to you.

If you make a call here, the pot size will be 6.5 BB, and the effective stack size is 97 BB.

So the SPR is 97 / 6.5 = 15

The SPR shows you how committed you are to the pot.

In other words, it shows you 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 top pair hands or better.

Conversely, if the SPR is big, (6 or more), you are not automatically pot committed, so you’d usually need a stronger hand to put additional money into the pot.

So what does SPR have to do with calling preflop?

It’s usually better to call preflop when the SPR is big, since you are getting better implied odds with deep SPR pots.

Also, as discussed before, calling preflop automatically puts you at a disadvantage post flop.

So if you call preflop and you’re already pot committed, you may feel like you need to keep putting money into the pot, even though your hand may already be behind.

That’s why calling 3-bets preflop is likely to be a losing proposition over the long run.

When you call a 3-bet, you’re creating a smaller SPR, meaning a big chunk of your stack is already in the pot.

On top of that, the 3-bettor has the range advantage, meaning they can have a number of strong hands in their range like pocket Aces, pocket Kings and so on.

So calling 3-bets preflop will likely have a negative expected value (-EV) over the long run.

This doesn’t mean you should never call a 3-bet preflop, of course.

Calling 3-bets preflop can be profitable if you have some other factors going in your favour.

For example, calling in position, getting decent pot odds or implied odds, or having some sort of a skill edge over your opponent.

But as a general rule, you’re better of 3-betting yourself and getting to the flop as the preflop aggressor.

Calling open-raises is likely to be more profitable than calling 3-bets, since you’re not risking as much money outright, and you’re getting better implied odds.

By the way, never call with these 5 hands in particular!

4. Call Preflop When You Are Playing in Position

If you’re considering calling preflop, it’s better to do it when you are likely to play in position post flop.

Playing in position is just about the biggest advantage you can have in no limit hold’em.

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

This gives you an informational advantage over your opponents. You get to see what they do, while they have no idea what you’re going to do.

It also allows you to control the pot size, meaning you get a final say at the price of the pot.

This is very important if you call preflop with speculative hands, for example.

Depending on the flop, you can choose to inflate the pot size if you have a good hand, or you can just call or check behind in order to keep the pot size smaller.

Since being the preflop caller puts you at a disadvantage throughout the hand, you at least want to have the positional advantage to give yourself a fighting chance.

If you call out of position, on the other hand, it’s going to be very hard to play your hand profitably, and it will likely cost you money over the long run.

In poker, the money always flows from players playing out of position to players playing in position.

So if you want to call preflop, it’s best to do it in the late table positions (the cutoff and the button).

When to Call Preflop

When you’re playing on the button in particular, you will ALWAYS have the positional advantage post flop.

That’s why the button will be the most profitable seat over the long run.

Of course, it goes without saying that you can also look for opportunities to 3-bet in the late position, as well.

Calling from the blinds, on the other hand, is not likely to be profitable over the long run.

That’s because the preflop aggressor will have both the range advantage and the positional advantage, which is very hard to overcome, no matter how well you’re playing.

When playing in the blinds, you will always have the positional disadvantage post flop.

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

This is the only case where you should call with a wide range because:

A) You will play in position post flop 


B) The small blind is likely to steal with quite a wide range, so you can defend with a wider range, as well.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you should just fold every hand you’re dealt in the blinds.

If you do that, you leave yourself vulnerable to getting exploited. In other words, you’re inviting other players to steal your blinds every chance they get.

This means you need to defend your blinds from time to time.

However, since you will be playing with a disadvantage, you should only defend your blinds often enough so other players don’t try to steal them with impunity, but not so often that you put yourself in a lot of awkward post flop situations.

If you do decide to defend your blinds, it’s better to defend when you’re playing in the big blind.

There are a few key reasons why:

A) If you call from the small blind, you’re not closing the action.

When you call from the small blind, the big blind is left to act behind you, so they can potentially make a 3-bet squeeze.

A 3-bet squeeze is a 3-bet where there has been at least one preflop caller. 

Check out my other article on the advanced 3-bet squeeze play for much in depth walkthrough of this crucial strategy.

B) Calling from the small blind is more expensive relative to big blind.

When you’re playing in the big blind, you’ve already committed one big blind. This makes it cheaper to call from the big blind, as opposed to the small blind.

In other words, calling from the big blind offers you better implied odds, and therefore a better risk-to reward ratio.

This is especially the case if another player has already called in front of you.

If that’s the case, you should consider making a 3-bet squeeze, especially if the original aggressor open-raised from the late position.

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5. Call Preflop With Speculative Hands

We’ve already established you should get to most flops as the preflop aggressor. This means open-raising or 3-betting most of the hands you decide to play.

However, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a preflop calling range.

This begs the question which hands are the most suitable to call with preflop.

The best hands to call with preflop are speculative hands with good nuts potential.

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

This includes hands like small pocket pairs and suited connectors.

When you call preflop with a small suited pair, you’re essentially set mining.

Set mining means calling preflop with a small pocket pair with the intention of hitting a set post flop and potentially taking down a big pot.


You call preflop with 55 and the flop comes: K54

Small pocket pairs usually refer to pocket Sixes to pocket Twos.

These hands are very hit-or-miss, meaning you will either hit a set, or miss the flop completely and be forced to fold to a c-bet from your opponents.

If you don’t hit a set, you will often have a very weak hand like a third or even fourth pair. Worse yet, you will only have two outs to improve to a set on future streets.

Also, making a set with a pocket pair is highly unlikely in the first place.

The chance of hitting a set with a paired hand is only 11.8%.

So if you do decide to set mine, it’s important to be aware of the fact that you’re going to miss your set most of the time.

This means you should only set mine if you’re getting good pot odds and/or implied odds on a call.

With that in mind, calling 3-bets with small suited pairs is not likely to be profitable over the long run.

There are a few key reasons why:

A) You’re very unlikely to hit a set in the first place

B) You have to risk a significant chunk of your stack outright, which drastically cuts your implied odds.

In other words, set mining favours deep effective stack sizes, and the deeper, the better.

Ideally, you want to see a cheap flop to get yourself a better risk-to-reward ratio.

This means you can sometimes limp into the pot with small pocket pairs if another player or players have limped in front of you.

Unlike open-limping, limping behind can be a viable strategy, especially if you’re playing in very passive games.

If you’re the first player to enter the pot, though, you’re still better off open-raising, instead.

Calling Preflop Example Hand #2

Cash Game, Effective Stack Size: 100 BB 

You are dealt 22 in the SB (small blind). MP (middle position) open-limps. BU (button) limps behind.

You: ???

You should call 0.5 BB.

Completing the small blind is likely to be the best play here, especially if the player in the big blind is likely to check instead of raising.

In this spot, you don’t really mind playing in a multiway pot, because it bolsters your implied odds.

The more players involved in the pot, the better the chance of at least one of them having a hand that’s willing to give you action if you manage to hit your set.

You’re also getting an insanely good price on a call here.

You only need to pay half a big blind, so you’re getting 7:1 pot odds on a call. This means you only need 12.5% hand equity to break even on a call.

Your implied odds are also great since you’ll be playing in a pot with what seem to be recreational players.

Another hand category you can call with preflop are suited connectors.

Suited connectors have great nuts potential, with the ability to make both straights and flushes.

Like other speculative hands, suited connectors favour deep effective stack sizes.

That’s because making a strong combination like a straight or a flush is quite rare in no-limit hold’em, so you want to make up for all the instances you’ll inevitably miss the flop.

Also, you’re much more likely to flop a straight or a flush draw than an actual straight or a flush.

Let’s use a hand like 87 as an example.

87 suited will flop a straight and a flush 1.29% and 0.82% of the time, respectively. However, you have a much better chance of flopping a drawing hand.

Chance of flopping...

Open-ended straight draw: 9.6%
Inside straight draw: 16.6%
Flush draw: 10.9%

If you do hit some sort of a draw, you’ll still need to hit one of your outs on future streets. 

That’s why suited connectors favour deep stack sizes, because you want to have enough manoeuvrability post flop to play your hand profitably.

Conversely, If the stack sizes are very small and you face a big bet on the flop, you might feel compelled to call with a weaker hand.

Drawing hands are almost always an underdog to a made hand on the flop in no-limit hold’em.

So if you’re forced to chase a draw, it’s better to have a lot of money left in your opponent’s stack to make chasing worth your while.

To be clear, chasing in this context means calling with a drawing hand.

If you do decide to chase a draw, you obviously need to have sufficient pot odds or implied odds to do so.

Chasing bad draws that are either unlikely to complete or don’t give you sufficient odds on a call is one of the 5 most common amateur poker mistakes.

So when in doubt, always consider the odds first.

The last hand category you can consider calling with preflop are suited Aces.

Suited Aces are slightly different from other speculative hands in so far that they’re often strong enough to 3-bet with instead of flat calling.

Also, there’s a slight overlap between suited Aces and the broadway hands category.

For example, a hand like AJ is both a suited Ace and a broadway hand.

So when talking about suited Aces in this context, I’m talking about the range from A9s to A2s.

These hands are certainly good enough to call with preflop, but you can also 3-bet them from time to time.

Here are a few reasons why suited Aces are great 3-betting hands:

A) Suited Aces have great nuts potential

Suited Aces can make the nuts flush post flop, which is a very strong combination. Since you’re drawing to the nuts, you don’t have to worry about your opponent having a stronger flush.

B) Suited Aces can flop a top pair

The most common hand combination you’re going to make in no-limit hold’em is one pair, so you want to play hands that can make a top pair post flop.

However, you should be careful when playing hands with weak to mediocre kickers, since these can often determine the winner of the hand.

C) Suited Aces have blocker power

A blocker is a card in your hand that reduces the number of strong combinations from your opponents 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.

This makes it more likely for your opponent to fold to your 3-bet bluffs.

Bottom line: suited Aces are great versatile hands you can play in a different way depending on the situation.

You can certainly call with them preflop, but you can also look for spots to throw out a 3-bet and win the pot outright preflop.

I discuss this in much greater detail in my 2nd book, Modern Small Stakes.

The Ultimate When to Call Preflop Cheat Sheet - Summary

Knowing when (and when not to) call preflop is an essential part of any advanced poker strategy.

A lot of players struggle with this aspect of the game, and usually tend to call way too often, which leads them to a lot of awkward post flop spots.

So calling preflop should be more of an exception than the rule.

With that in mind, here’s everything you need to know about preflop calling.

1. Preflop calling puts you at a disadvantage

When you call preflop, your opponent has the initiative and the range advantage. This means they theoretically have more strong hands in their range, and have the opportunity to make a c-bet on the flop.

So you should only call preflop if other factors are working in your favour.

2. Call with good pot odds and implied odds

Pot odds tell you whether or not you can call profitably in a certain spot. Implied odds allow you to call even if you’re not getting sufficient pot odds on a call.

However, when assessing your implied odds, it’s better to err on the conservative side.

3. Call with deep SPR

One of the factors that drastically bolster your implied odds is the effective stack sizes. The deeper the stack size, the wider you can call, since you’re getting a better risk-to-reward ratio.

4. Call in position

If you decide to call preflop, it’s better to do it if you can play in position post flop.

Playing in position gives you an informational advantage, and it allows you to control the pot size.

It also gives you better opportunities to take down the pot with a well-timed bluff if you happen to miss the board.

5. Call with speculative hands

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

This includes hands like small to medium pocket pairs, suited connectors, and suited Aces.


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.

When to Call Preflop