On the surface preflop play in Texas Hold’Em appears to be very straightforward, but there is quite a bit of necessary strategy that is commonly overlooked.
Digging into this strategy can really help us to excel our game to the next level and find leaks to exploit in our opponent’s games.
In this article, we are going to break down 4 of the more common mistakes made my players preflop and what we can do to plug these holes.
Preflop Mistake #1) Over-relying on pre-made starting hand charts.
There are hundreds and hundreds of charts on the internet that are supposed to tell you exactly what to do from every seat position preflop. Are these bad? Yes and no.
The great part about these charts is they will give you a fairly strong baseline to start working from. Typically they will help you rule out hands you should never play and help you to avoid the associated costly mistakes. This is great for new players and beginners but it can be limiting severely as you try and grow your game.
Preflop poker should not be robotic. There are a lot more forces at work than just your position. Determining which hands to play depends on way more than just what seat you’re in as the charts would lead you to believe.
Remember, the charts are a solution for newbies who are incapable of working with ranges properly and players who want to establish some sort of rough baseline. As your poker skills develop you’ll feel less of a need to peek at your charts every hand.
Preflop Mistake #2) Not Paying Enough Attention to Table Dynamics
This is another common issue that is born out of over-reliance on software. There are multiple tools to adjust your preflop strategy and lots of people are using them as an additional advantage. However, poker is still a game of situations and taking maximum advantage of the table dynamics. There are lots of spots where we should adjust your range based on the opponent(s).
Example: You are approaching the bubble of a tournament and the 3 players to your left are playing absurdly tight. It folds to you and you in the Cutoff and you look down at:
Conventional wisdom and the almighty charts say you should fold, but table dynamics say you should be opening insanely wide here. 98o is more than enough.
Your opponents are already playing way too tight and with the bubble approaching; they will probably play even tighter (if that is even possible). They are going to fold such a high percentage of the time that opening almost any 2 cards here is the correct play. This is an extreme example of how table dynamics can adjust your optimal preflop opening range.
Another example would be if the players to your left were playing very aggressively and loosely. The charts might say there are certain marginal hands you should open but according to table dynamics, you should fold to avoid the tricky spot.
So we’ve proven that table dynamics are important, but how do we know what the dynamics are? Simple, just pay attention!
If you pay attention to all hands, including the ones you are not involved in, you should start to be able to see the flow of the table and how players are interacting and playing against each other.
Preflop Mistake #3) Not 3-betting Often Enough
Lots of players feel uncomfortable 3-betting preflop since it requires a larger investment and makes the pot big early. This can get a bit scary, causing many players to tighten their 3-bet range to only the very top hands, which is a big mistake.
It can be very profitable with a broader range if done correctly. Timing is always crucial and you can put lots of pressure on your opponents and capitalize on the larger pot sizes.
The important thing to remember when 3-betting preflop is it is not something you just want to do just for the sake of it. What I mean is that when you look to increase how often you 3-bet preflop, it should always be done in a situation or with a hand that has a reason behind it.
You should never 3-bet just because you haven’t done it in a while or something silly like that. Defending your blinds, isolating fish, exploiting a player who folds/calls against 3-bets too often are all good viable reasons for 3-betting a player.
Just keep in mind that 3-betting preflop can be a bit of a new concept for players (outside of doing it with premium hands) so you should spend a considerable amount of time studying the concept and being able to decipher what is a good and what is not a good situation to employ this tactic.
Preflop Mistake #4) Not Utilizing Software
Back in the ole days, it would take long hours to break down analysis of your game or of your opponent’s game. You would have to do everything manually and typically with just your memory of how things went.
Today, there are tons of different software programs and applications that can break this data down for you in a heartbeat. Not only can these programs break the data down for you but it can help to spit out strategic solutions and fixes that can help increase your win rate.
A lot of people that have been in the game for a long time have refused to accept the reality that these programs and software exist. They refer to them as cheat-ware but in reality they are just tools and resources available to everyone to help improve your game. You can deny their existence and probably get a lot of high-fives from the old timers but the game will quickly leave you behind.
Final Thoughts on Preflop Play
If you are a beginner, you probably make most or all of these mistakes. There is a lot more to preflop play than meets the eye, but if you start by avoiding these mistakes you’ll be way ahead of the game.
Even an advanced player would probably find a leak or two that can be fixed. Try to get the best out of your reads on the table and the software available and you will see your profit rise.
I’m Matt “Checkmate” Colletta. I’ve been playing poker professionally since about 2004.
As one of the poker pros on UpswingPoker.com, my goal here is to help transform at least one hobbyist poker player into a self made millionaire.