Preflop is the most common and important street to get right.
Having a solid preflop strategy that is well-considered and difficult to exploit is the foundation of any great player. If your preflop game is strong, it will set you up for profitable scenarios postflop and make your future decisions less difficult.
This article will discuss the act of raising first in (RFI), outlining some of the most important things to consider when constructing a preflop RFI strategy such as:
- The ranges of hands suitable to raise first in.
- The most profitable size to use when opening the action.
Before we get to those RFI specific topics, let’s talk about why raising is better than calling preflop.
Why You Should Always Raise First In
Limping is one of the most common preflop mistakes new players make. It is crucial to realize that you should always raise–rather than limp–when opening the preflop action. There are many reasons why limping is laughed at by educated poker players and should be avoided, but two stand out:
- You want to ensure that you get maximum value from your playable holdings by building the pot preflop. If you elect to limp, you fail to do this and will reduce the expected value of your hand.
- If you limp your stronger holdings, you incentivize other players to see a cheap flop. This will lead to multi-way pots where the equity of your hand decreases significantly.
You have probably heard a recreational player moaning after limping their Aces and getting outdrawn by a weak hand. Little do they know, once a certain amount of players enter the pot, their Aces’ equity shrivels up.
For example, in a pot with five other opponents each playing a range of the top 20% of hands, a player with AA is expected to lose over 47% of the time:
There are some rare situations where limping can be justified:
- Certain spots from the small blind after the action has folded around to you.
- Pots where multiple players in front of you have already limped.
Aside from those occasions, you should always raise first in rather than call.
Which Hands Should Be RFI?
As previously mentioned, hand selection and range construction are the first key components to developing a strong RFI strategy. Given that folding yields an expected value (EV) of zero, you want to choose to raise with hands which will have a positive EV.
Below is a chart outlining the RFI ranges for a 6-max table (taken from our free preflop charts), assuming effective stack sizes are 100 big blinds:
55+, A2s+, K9s+, Q9s+, J9s+, T8s+, 98s, 87s, 76s, AJo+, KQo
44+, A2s+, K9s+, Q9s+, J9s+, T8s+, 97s+, 87s, 76s, 65s, ATo+, KJo+, QJo
22+, A2s+, K8s+, Q8s+, J8s+, T8s+, 97s+, 86s+, 76s, 65s, 54s, ATo+, KTo+, QTo+, JTo
22+, A2s+, K3s+, Q5s+, J6s+, T6s+, 96s+, 85s+, 75s+, 64s+, 54s, 43s, A2o+, K9o+, Q9o+, J9o+, T9o
22+, A2s+, K2s+, Q4s+, J6s+, T6s+, 95s+, 84s+, 74s+, 63s+, 53s+, 43s, 32s, A2o+, K8o+, Q8o+, J8o+, T8o+, 98o
*The hands in this chart should all yield a positive expected value from a theoretically optimal standpoint, though it should be noted that the bottom of each range will be marginal in its results. You can and should fold the worst hands in these ranges with loose opponents behind or in the blinds.
Notice that the ranges in earlier positions (UTG, MP) will be tighter than those in later positions. This is because those acting earlier in a hand have more opponents posing potentially aggressive actions than those acting later.
(Note: Serious about improving your preflop skills? The Upswing Lab has an extensive preflop game plan covering RFI strategy, 3-betting, facing 3-bets and more!)
These ranges will serve as a great starting point for constructing your own RFI range. That said, you should be encouraged to deviate when doing so will have a higher EV against exploitable opponents.
For example, if the player on your left is extremely tight and over-folds their big blind, you should raise a larger percentage of hands as there is dead money to be taken.
Conversely, if the big blind is aggressively defending by 3-betting your raise, you should consider lowering the percentage of hands which you are opening.
How Do I Choose My Bet Size When Raising First In?
There are two common approaches when it comes to RFI size:
- Raise to the same size from every position (except the Small Blind). That size should be 2.25bb or thereabouts. The upside of this strategy is how easy it is to execute.
- Use a smaller raise size from early position and increase your size as you get closer to the Button. This is the more theoretically sound strategy that might be a bit tougher to execute.
Most players who increase their preflop raise size in later position only do so from the button. For example, they may raise to 2bb from every position except the Button, in which case they’d raise to 2.5bb. That’s the strategy we see most of the world’s best players using.
There are occasions when you will be playing against opponents where deviating from a fixed 2.25bb opening size will be the most profitable line to take.
For example, if you notice that there is one or several calling stations at your table that seems to call opens irrespective of their size, you can raise a larger amount with your strong value hands until they correctly adjust.
This often applies to live games more so than online, so if you are an online player who is making the transition to live play, don’t be scared to use a larger opening size if it is shown to yield a greater expected value than using a smaller one.
Developing a good RFI strategy is a fundamental requirement for any aspiring poker player. Always remember the rules below to make sure that you open the action like a pro.
(Note: Want to take your preflop game to the next level? Check out the Upswing Lab, an A-to-Z poker training course created by Doug Polk & Ryan Fee. The Lab is the best and most convenient way to improve your poker game, but don’t take my word for it, see what our members are saying!)