The following article aims to talk about the optimal preflop strategy for cash games. What is optimal changes based on various factors. You have your stack size, your opponents tendencies, your opponents stack size, the number of people left to act after you and many more variables. For that reason, a one size fits all preflop strategy for cash games does not exist. That being said, the following article aims to give you a brief overview of the different things a winning player thinks about before the flop.
Your stack sizes effects your preflop decisions. The deeper the effective stacks the more valuable hands like suited aces, suited connectors and pocket pairs become. The reason for this is that these hands are implied odds hands that make strong hands when they hit. For example suited aces make the nut flush, pairs make a set and suited connectors make straights. Generally these hands play better at deeper stacks because when you do hit your hand there is more money left behind to win from your opponent. For example, if you have the nut flush, its much better for you to be 250 blinds deep compared to 25 blinds deep. That is self explanatory. On the flip side, the shorter stacked you are, the more value there is in big cards and big pairs. This is because you are counting more on the hot and cold equity vs your opponents range and will likely see showdown very often. So 250 blinds deep A4s is greater than ATo, however 25 big blinds deep ATo is a vastly superior hand.
Who is left to act behind you
The crux of your preflop strategy should be based on the opponentsleft to act behind you. For example, you are in the cuttoff with J9 offsuit. If the button and the blinds are aggressive players who will call or 3bet your raise frequently, you will want to consider folding this. However, if your opponents are tight and play few hands, it becomes profitable to raise this hand preflop. On top of that, when your opponents do play back when they are playing a tight range they telegraph the strength of their hand range and you can get away with losing less. In general, with tighter players left to act behind you, you want to widen your preflop raising range. With looser and more aggressive players left to act you want to tightened your preflop raising range. Obviously the more players that are left to act behind you the stronger hand you need to raise preflop. So for example under the gun in a 10 handed game, you need a very strong hand to raise preflop. Whereas in a headsup game on the button you need a very weak hand to raise.
Position in poker is of course very important. Its been statistically proven that winning players win the most money on the button. The button allows you to act last preflop and acting last is a serious advantage in poker. In general when it is folded to you on the button you want to raise a large variety of hands. If your opponents fold you win the blinds, if they call they have to play a hand out of position. Frequently when i am on the button i will start out by raising approximately 60 or 70% of hands when it is folded to me. I do this to judge my opponents reactions to my play. If they start re-raising me i will then start tightening up my range, if they call and fold to my flop continuation bets i continue doing what i am doing, if they just keep folding i obviously keep on doing what i am doing. A lot of my play is based around adjusting to my opponents. I feel like i can adjust to my opponents play better than they can adjust to mine. The key is not overadjusting and making the correct adjustments to your opponents play. So for example, if i raise the button a lot and my opponent starts 3betting me more frequently i have a few choices to make:
- Raise less hands (tighten up)
- Call the 3bet and make moves postflop
- 4bet bluff
- Slowplay if i have a big hand or 4bet to induce a light shove.
In general i will do a combination of all of the above and try to do it in a counter-intuitive way, so in a way that my opponent cant peg what i am doing. As well as adjusting to my opponents weaknesses, if i think my opponent is over aggressive i am less likely to 4bet bluff. If my opponent is aggressive but wont realize i am adjusting to his 3betting i will start 4bet bluffing. If my opponent will give me credit for a big hand by flatting preflop and raising the flop, i may consider doing that. If i think my opponent is likely to fold to a preflop 4bet but might barrel off if i just call preflop and the flop continuation bet, i am likely to slowplay a big hand like pocket aces vs him.
Ideally the expert player will want to do all of these at various times to keep their opponent guessing. The trick is to understand your opponent, the way they play and their most likely course of action.