Thursday, July 3, 2014

Preflop Starting Hand Selection - Part 2

[This is the second installment in a multi-part series on starting hand selection for the beginning level-1 player. Click here if you want to start back at the beginning...]

Open Raising: the Position Factor

In the first installment of this miniseries, I implied that for most micro- and low-stakes games, you can do quite well with your preflop hand selection if you simply follow a rote-type starting hand selection method that was based on four primary factors: 1) position; 2) upstream villain action; 3) effective stack sizes; and, 4) your two hole cards.  Since then, I've given this quite a bit more thought (primarily due to working on the ABC training app that Le Monsieur and I are developing). What I have now is a slight variation of my original statement; namely that the starting hand factors you should consider when playing solid level-1 poker are (in order): 1) Your Position; 2) Any Upstream Villain Action; 3) Any Downstream Villain Reactions; and 4) Misc. Adjusters, such as effective stack sizes, number of opponents, and the like.

I've built my starting hand selection chart by following this basic framework. In other words, I've created an opening chart that factors in only pure position; i.e., the situation where the action at the table folds to you, and you have to decide whether you should open (raise) or fold. Once we have that basic framework in mind, we can modify and tweak it based on the subsequent factors like upstream villain action, what the downstream villains then do, etc... Further, as we progress from the low-stakes games into tougher mid-stakes games, and we have to start learning and employing hand reading into our decisions (e.g,. level-2 REDi), we can further modify our starting hand selection based on villain types and tendencies, tells, and specific reads of both the upstream and downstream action. And then, as we move into even higher stakes and tough games, and therefore have to play a level-3 "what does villain think I have" approach to the game, we can dynamically adjust our starting hand selection choices in real time based on things like our own table image, the range our opponents are putting us on, meta game inputs, and factors like leveling, balancing, and frequencies.

But for now, we're starting very simply: we're at a generic table, the action has folded to us preflop and we have to decide whether to open our hand for a raise, or fold it. We'll assume an average 10-handed, low-stakes game, with 100bb effective stacks, and standard/generic villains. The primary level-1 factor in this decision is position.

But what does this mean? We've all read ad nauseam how important position is relative to the button (including herein this blog). The reasons include information, pot control, easier bluffing, etc. I won't rehash those things in depth now, but these factors are important not only postflop, but preflop as well. In other words, before the flop, position gives you more information on the actions of your opponents before you have to decide whether to enter the pot or not. Position also affords you the ability to add money to the pot or just call behind if you decide you want to play your hand. And position preflop is a key factor in your ability to steal the blinds, which is essentially a form of bluffing.

The general rule is this: you should play more hands in later position, and fewer in early position. But how many? The short glib answer is more than you think in later position, and fewer than you probably are in early. The longer answer is, well longer. Again, I won't go into too may details here, but it turns out you can calculate a) the probability that one or more of the remaining players left to act has a stronger hand than yours; and b) the expected value of any given starting hand against those remaining ranges on random flops. You can also factor in whether you'll have position on the villains after the flop, plus adjust for your ability to play post flop poker (e.g., read board texture; float bad players when in position and you miss the flop; get off second best hands when facing action; etc.).

Don't worry; I'm not going to make you do any of those things; I've already done the hard calculations. I also sanity checked my results against thinks like Sklansky's Tiers and Chen's starting formula. Finally, students of mine like e-Pal are crushing the online game using these charts.

So let's cut to the chase. Assuming you're a halfway decent postflop player, and can reasonably read board text post flop as well as your opponents' actions, here's my recommended conservative starting hand chart if/when the action folds to you preflop at a 100bb effective stack, low-stakes 10-handed Texas Holdem table (click to enlarge). (Note that it does include hands that you should limp or cold-call behind) (Note also that you should essentially never open-limp any of these hands; either raise or fold preflop is a very good general rule):

This is fairly conservative, especially in EP. But it keeps you out of trouble in EP, too. I play somewhat looser than this, but my style is a higher variance (but higher profit) LAggy approach, and frankly I'm a pretty good postflop level-2 and -3 hand reader. For new level-1 students to the game, however, the chart above is where I recommend starting.

In the next installment, I'll make adjustments to the chart to factor in upstream villain action. Stay tuned...

All-in for now...

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