preflop sizing tells live

How to Spot Preflop Sizing Tells in Live Cash Games

If you pay enough attention at a low stakes live poker table, you may notice that some (or all) of your opponents have preflop sizing tells. You just have to know what to look for…

These sizing tells, found particularly at live $1/$2 through $2/$5, will be the focus of today’s article.

Let’s dive in.

Note: This is the second article in our series about crushing low stakes live poker. Check out the first article “The Golden Rule for Low Stakes Cash” here.

Live Poker Tip: Pay Attention to Your Opponent’s Opening Sizes (Sizing Tells Are Everywhere)

Adjusting to sizing tells, both preflop and postflop, is perhaps the single most important exploitative adjustment you can make at low limit live poker. In this article, I’ll be focusing on preflop.

At a typical $1/$3 live game, there are usually at least 3 players using a highly variable preflop opening strategy based on hand strength. In other words, these players don’t use a consistent size when raising first in, and they probably limp some of the time as well.

If you see a player using a number of different preflop raise sizes, you can gain a big edge by paying close attention. After seeing them reach showdown in a few hands, you can oftentimes piece together a player’s preflop strategy. Once you’ve done that, you can make super-profitable exploitative adjustments against them.

For example, suppose you sit at a $1/$3 table and you notice a player — let’s call him James — using a variable preflop opening strategy. Sometimes he opens to $7, sometimes $9, occasionally $15, and the rest of the time he limps.

Suppose you play with James for a handful of orbits and notice the following:

  • He raised to $9 from middle position with Pocket Eights.
  • He raised to $7 from late position with Ace-Eight suited.
  • He limped from early position with Pocket Fours.
  • He raised to $15 from late position with Pocket Kings.
  • He limped from late position with Nine-Seven suited.
  • He raised to $9 from late position with Ace-Ten suited.

Now, this is too few hands to make any strong conclusions, but the picture is starting to come into frame. It seems like James is doing what many low stakes players do — he raises big when he has great hands, sizes down when he has decent hands, and limps when he has speculative hands.

As you play more with James, you can continue to hone in on his preflop strategy. Once you’ve done that, you can absolutely destroy this guy by attacking his weaker ranges and steering clear of his stronger ranges.

I’ll go over some specific preflop exploits that have been battle-tested in low stakes live games at the end of this article, but first…

The Most Common Preflop Sizing Scheme for Low Stakes Live Players

In my experience, casual low stakes live players who have live tells often have very similar sizing schemes.

The specific sizes they use may change from player to player, and their ranges aren’t exactly the same, but I’ve seen countless players who approach preflop similar to this:

Limping range:

  • Weak Ace-x hands (usually suited, but sometimes offsuit as well depending on position)
  • Weak King-x suited hands
  • Suited Queen-x and Jack-x gappers
  • Suited connectors and low pocket pairs
  • Offsuit broadways (from early position)

Small raise range (usually 2-3x):

  • Offsuit broadways (from middle to late position)
  • Low-middling pocket pairs
  • Middling/high suited connectors
  • ATo and AJo
  • Suited Ace-x (from late position)

Big raise range (usually 4-5x):

Huge raise range (5x+):

Obviously, the exact ranges will depend based on the player. But if you notice a player with a variable preflop raising strategy in your low stakes live games, there’s a good chance it looks something like this list.

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Adjusting To Sizing Tells

Assuming one of your opponents is using a preflop sizing scheme similar to the one above, let’s consider what kind of adjustments can be made to exploit their preflop strategy.

  • 3-bet bluff more often against the small size
  • Widen your 3-bet value range against small and medium sizes
  • Tighten your 3-bet range when faced with a big size
  • Raise wide over their limps if their limping range seems weak, tight if their limping range seems strong

With practice spotting and adjusting to sizing tells, you can quickly develop a dynamic preflop strategy that prints money versus your opponents.

The Importance of Overfolding Preflop Based on Sizing Tells

When thinking about exploitative play, what usually comes to mind is taking some form of aggressive action, such as 3-bet bluffing against an opponent with a weak range.

However, playing tight versus strong ranges will have the biggest impact on your bottom line. In other words, the real money earned from preflop sizing tells is usually money being saved. Countless situations will arise in which a sizing tell will prevent you from making a bad 3-bet or a bad call against a very strong range.

In spots where you are unsure, it won’t hurt too much to play your default ranges. However, doing simple equity calculations in your free time — plugging their perceived range into a poker equity calculator and seeing if you can profitably play certain hands — can also go a long way in honing your range adjustments.

Final Thoughts

It’s important to remember that these adjustments should only be made against relatively weak players. Against good regulars, you should stick with a mostly balanced approach.

It is often agreed upon by smart poker players that preflop, while not the most exciting street, is certainly the most important to your win rate. 

This is because the sheer number of preflop decisions you have to make in comparison to postflop creates a compounding effect that makes a big difference. On top of that, the entire game tree stems from preflop. So, if your preflop decision-making is good, then postflop is more likely to go well. 

That’s why is so important to start working on detecting and adjusting to preflop sizing tells if you want to crush live cash. Hopefully, you will be surprised to realize how much money you were giving away by not paying attention to sizing tells before.

As always, any thoughts, comments, or ideas for future articles are welcomed in the comments section, and check in soon for the next article in this low stakes live poker series.

In the meantime, you can read this article to continue improving your skills for free: Garrett Flops the Nuts and Plays a $180,000 Pot (Analysis).

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About the Author
Jake Godshall

Jake Godshall

Former high stakes HUSNG player, now a mid stakes cash game player.

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