This article is intended to give a beginning/intermediate player a general idea on how to play a solid pre-flop game at micro NL 6-max. Hopefully someone can build on a few of these ideas and become a winning player.
Position is Everything
I’ll start out talking about position because it is one of the biggest aspects of the game that is frequently overlooked by beginners (and even experienced players). This will probably get a big yawn out of some people but I cannot stress the importance of position enough if you want to play a profitable game.
It is important to understand that the strength of your hand is relative to how many players are still waiting to act behind you and whether you’ll be in or out of position after the flop. I’ll try a general analogy to explain it better. Suppose you are one of 5 people in a line that are given a random number ranging from 1 to 10. You are first in line and you are given the number 7, would you bet me 20$ that your number is highest than all 4 people behind you? What if you were next to last on line, and given the number 7 again? Would you bet that your number is higher than the person behind you? I know I sure would. If you are first in line, the number 7 has around a 13% chance to be the highest number of the 5, if you are next to last it has a 60% of being higher than the number of the person is holding behind you. Not brain surgery here, but it’s this same concept that many people ignore on the poker table. This is why standard opening ranges change with your position relative to the button.
This is only half the story of position. Suppose you open raise with AQ under the gun and the button calls you. After the flop you are going to be ‘out of position’ as the first person to act. The button will be ‘in position’ because he gets to see you act first, and therefore has an advantage over you. The value of your hand decreases when you are OOP (out of position) because of this concept. Strong players like Daniel Negreanu and Phil Ivey both know the value of having position and wield it like a sword to outplay their opponents or make thin value-bets that are much harder to do OOP. You need to make it a habit to be conscience of your position at the table at all times, because it is the rock on which strong hold’em play is built.
I always say never open limp. It’s going to allow strong players behind you to raise with position, and most of the time you’ll be out of position with a piece of the flop in a family pot and not knowing where you are at. There are tables where open limping isn’t that bad, like limping with a tiny pair UTG at a very loose-passive table, but the majority of the time you shouldn’t be doing it and is going to cost you money in the long run. Also, get out of the habit of completing in the small blind with trash. Most players think “oh it’s only another half of a blind” but don’t think of the money they could potentially be losing on future streets because they are stuck OOP with a marginal hand in a tough spot. And let me define trash. KT suited is trash. A9 off is trash in the small blind. Avoid them; it’ll save you a lot of money.
A standard raise at the micros is 4 x bb + 1 for every limper already in the pot. Get in the habit of raising like this or else you will be giving odds for people to limp-call your raise and we generally want to isolate and play our hand against a single opponent. Here is a general opening range chart for 6-max beginners. Notice I said general, and notice I said beginners. Nothing in poker is set in stone and you need to eventually be able to change gears in tandem with the table dynamic and adding/removing hands in your range accordingly.
UTG: 22+, AQo+, AJs+,
UTG-1: 22+, AJo+, ATs+, KQ, KJs
MP: 22+, ATo+, A8s+, KJo+, 9Ts+
CO: 22+, A8o+, A6s+, KTo+, K8s+. QJo+, 78s+
BTN: 22+ A6o+, Axs+, K8o+ K6s+, Q8s+, 89o+, 54s+
NEVER limp on the button. Notice how wide this button range might seem. This is a pretty tight range for raising on the button. The button is going to be your most profitable position, you need to abuse it as much as possible, especially if people aren’t adapting to your aggression. If you are going to play recklessly, the button is the place to do it.
If it’s folded to you in the SB and you have any one of these hands you should raise; unless the BB is a very loose passive opponent who lets you limp on his blind for free. If there’re limpers behind and you’re in the blinds with 77+, AJs+, AQo+, depending on how many limpers there are or how loose the table is you should raise. 99+, AK, AQs+ should always be a raise from the blinds no matter how many limped in or what table you are at.
You should generally always be re-raising (3-betting) all premium pairs (QQ+). A standard re-raise is generally 3 times the original opener’s raise + 1bb for every limper in before him if he made a standard raise. The reason you can’t cold call is you are pricing people in behind you; you are also 3-betting for value. If faced with a min-raise and you are holding 99+, AQ+ in any position you should 3B to at least 4 times the min-raise or 8bbs. When facing a frequent positional raiser who likes to abuse his positional advantage, you should generally 3-bet lighter than a UTG raise for instance. When an aggressive player raises from the CO or BTN and you hold AQ+, 99+ in the blinds you should generally 3-bet him because his range is so wide you are likely to be ahead. I’m usually 3-betting AK from any position, except if a nit raises from early position, you’ll have to play it a little more cautiously. As you move up in limits your 3-betting range is going to have to get wider and wider as players get more aggressive and better at hand reading, you’ll have to 3-bet light to keep them guessing. Don’t worry about this now, but keep an open mind to it.
Trouble Hands & Implied Odds
You need to stay away from weak unsuited aces. You should never be limping with them and you should definitely not be calling raises with them. The reason being is you are often not going to extract any value from worse hands, and you’ll wind up stacking off when someone has your ace dominated, or you’ll get in a jam in an ugly family pot. You also want to stay away AJ & AQ OOP when faced with a raise from early position readless; same thing with weak kings and queens. Calling with AQ is ok on the button, but you should play it cautiously after the flop. Either 3-bet them or fold OOP if there is a positional raiser as I said earlier.
You should always be calling raises from any position with any pocket pair from a full stack. Don’t bother calling with 55 and smaller unless he has at least around 60bbs or else you won’t be getting the implied odds (or the odds you need to draw and stack him on future streets) you need to call and hit your set. This is another thing many players over look is stack size. It’s important to realize that as stack sizes go down the value of small pairs and suited connectors also go down. You’ll want to be either raising your suited connectors or calling in position with implied odds, or sometimes limping behind with them on a loose table. Don’t call OOP with 78s if a 40bb stack raised on the button; you won’t be getting enough implied odds. Not only that but he will likely be playing a push-botty style that will make it impossible to draw with correct odds. Also don’t be afraid to raise with suited connectors or small pairs on the button with limpers behind on a tight table. Generally stay away from suited connectors OOP, unless you know the raiser is extremely loose and will stack off when you hit. The value of SC’s also goes down the more aggressive your opponent is. If he is betting big, he isn’t dishing out good odds, and they aren’t going to be profitable to play for monster value; you’ll need to be able to outplay your opponents on top of that.
There was plenty of sticky stuff I didn’t get into here like what to do when you are 3-bet or 4-bet. I mainly wrote this to give a beginning player a good foundation to work from and maybe help someone realize the consequences of bad pre-flop plays that seem like innocent mistakes, but wind up costing you big money down the road. Good luck.