Fixed Limit Hold’em: Pre-Flop Play

This article outlines some key points when playing pre-flop in Limit Hold’em. In general, the betting round before the flop is the easiest in Limit Hold’em, because it involves nothing more complex than deciding whether or not to play your hand.

It’s a good idea to follow the starting hand chart included in this article, but it’s also important to understand the basic ideas of pre-flop play. This enables you to make good decisions, if for example you don’t have the starting hand chart handy. It’s also worth considering deviating from the standard strategy in special situations, or when you are up against tricky opponents. These are the criteria you should consider pre-flop:

Live Poker Action PokerStars

1. The quality of your own hand
It is very important to play good hands and fold weak hands. This is because strong hands are easier to play than weak ones.

With marginal hands (hands with a slightly positive or negative expected value) you often end up in situations where you have to make very difficult decisions. That’s why it’s important to follow the starting hand chart at first. It will help prevent you from making expensive mistakes. You can occasionally deviate from basic strategy, but not until you master the fundamentals of pre-flop play in Limit Hold’em.

2. Your position at the table
Your position at the table is often just as important as your hole cards. If you are in good position (late), you have a big advantage in terms of information. With good position you can dodge bets when you have a weak hand, and win bets when you have the best hand.

In Limit Hold’em you should play very tight in early position, i.e. only play strong starting hands.

3. The number of players in the hand
The number of players often has a large influence on the decisions made during a hand. It is recommended that you play small pairs and suited connectors (two connected cards of the same suit e.g. or ) when you are up against a lot of opponents, whereas big aces are best played against only one or two opponents.

4. Raised/unraised pot
In addition to the number of opponents, the quality of a starting hand also depends on whether or not the pot has already been raised. A raise indicates that your opponent has a strong hand, making hands like , and much more difficult to play, because you will be dominated too often by hands like or . This significantly reduces your chances of winning the hand.

5. The quality of your own post-flop game
Pre-flop is all about playing profitable starting hands. If you are a better post-flop player than your opponent, you can have an additional advantage. Therefore hands you would usually fold can often be played profitably. The better you can play post-flop, the more hands you can play. That is because you can avoid expensive mistakes later in the hand, which often cost beginners a lot of money. A professional player can maximize profit with marginal starting hands by playing well post-flop, in contrast to a player with less experience. However, you shouldn’t overplay this idea – even the best players should play tight overall. In the long run, even professionals aren’t able to play really weak starting hands profitably, but they are able to minimize their losses.

6. Your opponents’ skill level
The lower your opponents’ skill level, the easier it is for you to win. Some hands can therefore be played against weak players, but have to be folded against average and good players. The basic idea is similar to point 5. If the opponent often makes expensive mistakes after the flop, you can benefit from that and play weaker hands. But the same can be said as before – you shouldn’t rely too heavily on this idea.

If you are a beginner, you should try to only play at tables with ten seats that are as full as possible. This gives you more time to wait for good starting hands.

The following starting hand chart is based on a table with nine players. If there are less than nine players, decisions are more difficult to make, and beginners may have problems coping.

Here is the starting hand chart for Limit Hold’em:


How to read the chart:

  • F = Fold, R = Raise, RR = Reraise, C = Call, CH = Check
  • The information in the ‘unraised’ column applies if no one has raised before it’s your turn to act. The information in the ‘raised’ column applies if there was a raise in front of you.
  • If there is a raise and a re-raise, you should only play hands with the ‘re-raise’ symbol.
  • Always call a raise behind you if you are already in the hand.
  • Call: You call.
  • Call 1, 2, 3, etc: You call if the corresponding number of players or more before you have entered the hand; otherwise fold. In a raised pot it doesn’t matter whether there was a call first and then a raise, or vice versa.
  • Raise: Raise.
  • Raise 0, 1, 2, etc: Raise if the corresponding number of players or fewer before you have entered the hand; otherwise call (whereas raise 0 means that you only raise if nobody has called yet).
  • Re-raise: Raise or re-raise as often as possible.
  • Check: Check. This is only possible when you are in the big blind and no one has raised.

Starting hand selection is of paramount importance in Limit Hold’em. For this reason, you should stick strictly to the recommendations in the starting hand chart at first. You should also consider position, number of players in the hand and the strength of your opponents. If you follow these guidelines, the pre-flop betting round shouldn’t be too much of a problem.