Building Pre Flop Ranges

Just a thread to share ideas on how to build pre flop ranges. Here are some ideas I use:

  • How many players have not yet folded? If I’m 1 of 9, then that pushes me toward using the best 11% of hands. 1 of 5 pushes me roughly to picking the best 20% of hands.
  • How many players still in will have a post flop positional edge against me? Under the gun, I’ll have position on 2, and be at a disadvantage against 6. On the cutoff, only the button will have position on me, and in the high jack, it’s even, at 2 and 2. So from the button, while the first bullet would say I could play 33% of hands, you often see opening charts pushing that close to 50%, as you will have a positional edge on both opponents. Conversely, you likely often want to open less than 11% from under the gun.
  • Do I have a post flop edge? You can really get yourself in trouble with this one, as it is quite common to think you have an edge when you don’t, but still, if you are brand new, and worse post flop than most, you’ll want to further tighten your ranges, while if you are much stronger than most of the folks that might come along, you can really widen the ranges profitably.
  • The hands you pick don’t matter that much. Yes, you’ll really want to include AA, KK, QQ and AK suited, but beyond that, you can mostly just pick whatever hands you like the most to hit your target percentages (though I’d mostly avoid off suit, disconnected low card hands like 82 off).
  • Consider stack depths: when effective stacks are deep, card properties like being suited or connected matter more. When stacks get more shallow, direct equity (card value) begins to dominate.

So let’s assume we’re 200 big blinds deep (usually the maximum buy in here), and let’s just arbitrarily say we’re going for the following percentages (which would constitute moderately tight opening ranges):

  • 6 (UG): 6%
  • 5: 8%
  • 4: 10%
  • 3: 13%
  • 2: 16%
  • 1 (CO): 20%
  • 0 (button): 33%

Here’s what each of these ranges might look like:







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I dont agree with using those preflop ranges because it doesn’t count positional advantages from late position and the disadvantages of early position. Also, like you said, if you have an edge on your opponent you can play more hands profitably so those percentages can change due to those factors.

Why nothing from the blinds?

Are you playing strictly open or fold, or do you limp at some frequency from these ranges?

Do you modify your base ranges depending on the number of limpers?

Do you modify ranges based on the tendencies/frequencies of those already in the pot?

As a tournament player, I rarely have anywhere close to 200 BBs except maybe at the start of some tournaments. To me, “suited” and “connected” gain value the more people in the pot, because I will be getting better direct pot odds if I flop a good draw.

I’m starting to think that my ranges are more dynamic than most. Note that I’m not claiming this is a good thing, but it is what it is.

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Yes, I’m not really proposing that these are pre-flop ranges you should use, just that they are possible opening ranges you might select if you decided to open the percentages listed from each seat. You could have reasons you might want to pick different percentages for each seat, and you might also have different preferences about which hands to play within the same percentages.

Getting familiar with what a 10% range might look like, or a 20% range, can also help you better visualize ranges you are up against post flop, or what kind of 3 betting or 4 betting strategy you might want to pick against a particular opponent.

Why nothing from the blinds?

I’m lazy, and find it harder to define play from the blinds simply. From the small blind, I tend to play quite tight, with a raise in front. With prior limpers I’ll limp behind about as wide as my button range (unless the big blind raises a lot), and if everyone folds to me, I’ll raise almost as wide as my button range. So in all of those cases, I’m using a range I’ve already defined for another seat.

For the big blind, I’ll attack limpers with strong hands (seat 6 to seat 3 depending on mood and other factors), and will defend to a single raise moderately wide (generally a bit wider than the opening range I think I’m facing).

Are you playing strictly open or fold, or do you limp at some frequency from these ranges?

I generally have no open limping range, but change that occasionally. I will limp behind reasonably often with small pairs, Ax suited, and various types of suited connectors, especially if I’m not often seeing raises from the seats behind.

Do you modify ranges based on the tendencies/frequencies of those already in the pot?

Yes, based on anyone that might still potentially enter the pot (and those already in). Especially if there is someone that will make giant post flop errors, I will significantly widen my ranges.

As a tournament player, I rarely have anywhere close to 200 BBs except maybe at the start of some tournaments. To me, “suited” and “connected” gain value the more people in the pot, because I will be getting better direct pot odds if I flop a good draw.

Great point. Having multiple limpers in front of you has an effect similar to having deeper stacks, by improving your implied odds, and adds value to hands with a propensity to be able to hit monsters more often.

I’m starting to think that my ranges are more dynamic than most. Note that I’m not claiming this is a good thing, but it is what it is.

My ranges are usually a lot wider than what I’m showing here also. But in general, I wouldn’t want to recommend super wide ranges as a point to start, and I think ranges significantly tighter than my examples would be a good place to start for someone just beginning (maybe from 4% UG to 15% on the button, even). But as new players gain more confidence in their game, it’s worth very gradually trying some new hands and seeing how they work.

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Is there a logical explanation for this other than 11% = 1/9 etc.? In heads-up, good players open significantly more than 50% rom the SB.

I’m wondering if there is a heuristic, but quantitative approach to determine “good” pre-flop ranges based on assumptions on calling and 3-betting frequencies of the players still to act? Raise-first-in is so frequent that you get a feeling for what works well and what doesn’t work well after playing enough hands. But when it comes to how to react to raise-first-in or to 3-bets, it would be good to have a quantitative approach to evaluate your decisions.

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Preflop range construction is the hardest topic in all of poker and the most important. Optimal ranges are highly sensitive to population and to specific player tendencies. They change drastically depending on opening size as well. Rake is another huge variable. They will also depend on your post flop abilities (not just presumed skill edges).

I shared some solved preflop ranges with another player here - tailored to a certain online cash stake. If anyone is looking for ranges to play against a particular population, I’m happy to help you find them.

WUT???!!! I may be missing something because if this is actually implemented as written, it would be a disaster. Hand selection preflop is critical to every other decision you make throughout the hand. Select inefficiently and you are just SOL if you see a flop vs anything but the worst fit-or-fold players.

MTT ranges are harder to get right than cash game ranges because they change so much with stack depths and presence/lack of antes. If your ranges weren’t more dynamic than they are for ring game players, you wouldn’t be as successful in MTTs as you are.

There are and I’ll be happy to help if @Yorunoame is ok with that. This is his thread and if he has a specific approach he is trying to convey, I don’t want to muddy the waters.

These decisions can be reduced to simple math, assuming you have the proper inputs regarding opponents’ ranges and % of that range they will fold to a raise. Once you have the quantitative method worked out, then you can adjust for your assumptions of players left to act. Again, I’d be happy to help if that is something the OP wants to include in this thread.


Yeah, can’t argue that. I just can’t see the point of adding mostly marginal hands in order to hit some theoretically “optimal” percentage. I don’t usually have the stack to speculate on too many marginal hands.

Also, in the highly dynamic environments I face, it’s difficult to impossible to calculate “optimal” in the first place.

One of my goals is to minimize variance when and where possible. Playing marginal hands doesn’t usually help me accomplish that goal.


There are and I’ll be happy to help if @Yorunoame is ok with that. This is his thread and if he has a specific approach he is trying to convey, I don’t want to muddy the waters.

Nope, my hope in creating this thread was to have lots of people share their ideas about constructing pre flop ranges, and would love anything anyone has to offer.

WUT???!!! I may be missing something because if this is actually implemented as written, it would be a disaster. Hand selection preflop is critical to every other decision you make throughout the hand. Select inefficiently and you are just SOL if you see a flop vs anything but the worst fit-or-fold players.

LOL… I could have perhaps said that a bit differently, but I stand by the idea that I was attempting to communicate. Pick the hands you think are best after you decide on your percentage target. Sure you’ll make some mistakes, but the EV difference of your picks versus the best picks you might make against the population of players in your pool… this is not going to be a big EV leak relative to the other 1,816 other big mistakes you are making. Will you bleed EV if you play hands like T3 off from early position regularly? Yes you will. What if you pick A4 suited to round out your highjack range when A5 suited would have actually been a better pick? Really, you’re not going to notice the difference, even with 7 or 8 other small range construction mistakes like that.

Now all of this assumes you are not playing high stakes real cash games against horrifically strong opponents. In an environment like that, there’s just not much wiggle room, and in general, as the competition gets better, you’re not going to be able to be as lazy as I’m suggesting.


Yes, I’m not trying to push people into picking wide targets. You really don’t need to push toward 50% of hands on the button, or even 33%, and you’ll see many very high ranked players on this site that play much tighter ranges than I’ve listed.

In tournaments, I also tend to mostly play quite a bit tighter than I do in cash games.

  • Stack depth is almost never as deep, diminishing the value of speculative holdings. Here I almost always buy in at 200BB, and it’s not rare to get 500 or even 1,000 big blinds deep.
  • In a cash game, I can refresh my investment capital at any time I’d like (as long as I’m managing bank roll properly), and so I’m not only fine to make a .01 EV play, I’m actually fine making a small number of -EV plays if I think they will drive up the EV of my overall ranges.
  • Like Warlock has said, factors for pre flop construction in tournaments is more complex, with M (ratio of effective stack to all blinds and antes) in particular playing a big role. This occurs in cash games also, but is not nearly as pervasive in its influence.

I’m looking forward to Warlock’s reply on this, but for me, I’d just say that the number of players that are still in the hand is just one important statistical factor among many. It sets some of the parameters, but there are also:

  • likelihood of positional advantage post flop
  • size of post flop errors made by opponents
  • the basic advantage of aggressive play (fold equity, initiative, etc.)
  • frequency of pre flop aggression from other players
  • size and presence of blinds and antes

Edit: I’ll also have to admit, I’m one of those players that attacks wide as SB against BB (as many have probably noticed). I’m embarrassed to say I don’t really know the theoretical foundation for this. I’ve just noticed that over the years it has worked for me.

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I should 'splain why I keep bringing up tourney stuff in threads mostly focused on ring games…

I suspect a fair number of less-experienced tourney players read the forum, so it seems useful to talk a litle about the differences.

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Yes, happy to include tournament pre flop ranges in this discussion. I mostly play cash games, and so typically that’s what I’m thinking about when I post something.

I’d be interested in seeing how some people like to modify opening ranges across different stages of a tournament (or even how they start, when stack depth will look more like a cash game).

I think that tournament play is very different from ring games and does require much more dynamic ranges.

In tournament play you are always going to be short stacked except at the start of tournaments, and at the start of tournaments players will think nothing of calling off 10 BB raises with the most speculative of hands, because in tournament play the most important number is not necessarily the number of blinds, but the percentage of your stack.

Another important number in tournaments is what your stack would look like if doubled. If you can double your way into the top ten in a 30 player tournament, you are still live, but as you fall below that number, increasingly less so and you become a target for table bullies who can easily back off if you turn nasty on them when you get a hand. If you have enough chips to see plenty of flops, you will have a much greater chance of flopping monsters and stacking people.

In the early rounds of a tournament you might be on the button and see an early raiser to 10BB and then a call, and you are sitting there with 98s. Do you call? If you win the pot, you could have a chance to treble up and take the tournament lead, and with a bit of luck both the callers ahead of you will have aces and be blocking each other. Let’s say the tournament gives you 5000 chips to start, then that call is only 4% of your stack, so yes, you need to call.

Later in tournaments as the blinds escalate, it becomes more and more necessary to play hands or get blinded , and above all what you look for is some kind of high-card strength.

My rule for late tournament play is to raise preflop and take down the blinds as much as possible, and to call a preflop raise as little as possible. Maybe just with AA, KK, QQ and AKs if the raiser has a larger stack than me, but expanding the range for a stack less than half the size of yours.

Again say UTG raises and your are in the button. With what hands are you willing to call off your whole stack if BB shoves. If your hand is that good, then a better play is to shove/reraise and try to get UTG to back off, or hope that he has AK or AQ and whiffs.

And then there is the whole question of preflop bluffs.

If you raise preflop in a tournament you can win three main ways:

  1. Everyone fold and you take the blinds.
  2. You get at least one caller and the flop goes your way. You have AK and you get an AK on the flop. Nice. Opponents are scared by this flop and check to you. You bet, they fold.
  1. The flop misses you, opponent checks to you, probably having missed (or is he slow playing?) and you bet (bluff) and take down the pot.

I am leaving out post flop play here, because late in tournaments it is difficult to play post flop at all.

But basically, leaving aside ranges for a moment, there are two kinds of hands you can open with.

AK, for example, has high card strength. Not only can it make top pair top kicker about 1/3 of the time, but the real strength is that if both players whiff and there is no pocket pair, then AK is still ahead and opponent will have to hit a draw on later streets to win the pot. AK also dominates all hole cards except for pocket pairs.

When you are playing in tournaments you need to be very wary about playing dominated hands like KQ , KJ, and KT. They can win you a lot of pots, but they can lose some huge pots when they make second best hand. KJ is a decent hand until it comes up againt AJ, in which case it could lose you a lot of chips.

The second type is the drawing hand. As is well known hands like JT, QJ, QT, J9, T9, T8 make the most straights and the most nut straights. If they are suited, then they also have flush potential, but will rarely make the nut flush.

All straights require a T or a 5, so with these hands you need to see a T on the flop or in your hand, otherwise you might as well fold unless you have hit a pair or two.

With these drawing hands, you can have AK, AQ in trouble if the flop comes medium or low or ragged and probably want to at least see a turn card if you have one pair and three to a flush and there could be as many as 19 cards out of 47 that could improve your hand on the turn giving you trips, two pairs, or an open ended straight draw, or a flush draw on the river,

If you hit one of those cards, then a stiff bet or semi-bluff on the turn is probably going to make AK or AQ fold as they may think that you have already made a flush or straight and that they would be drawing dead with two overcards.

I would be a bit more reluctant to continue with these hands after the flop if there is no T in your hand or the flop, as that could open the door to a straight draw for an opponent with something like AT, KT, or QT.

So dynamic ranges in tournaments–yes. And sometimes you are just going to have to raise from late position or the blinds with nothing at all if you sense weakness in opponents just because taking down a set of blinds may buy you time for another round and a chance to get some better cards.

All in all, in tournament I prefer to avoid dominated hands and high-low hands even if they are in the top 5% or 10% or to play them extremely warily and fold them to three-bets.

Ring games, I agree, are a completely different card game.

The prevailing wisdom in tournaments is “tight is right” at the start of a tournament, so I generally play much wider ranges and higher aggro at the start. This can work for several reasons…

The average skill level is at it’s lowest at the start. Something like half the field will be gone soon, and someone has to take their chips. This is when I have my biggest edge, so it might as well be me.

I think my wider range still has a range advantage over most of the field’s redonkulous ranges. Also, people call any raise with any draw, min bet, check too much fold too much and generally act silly.

I usually play tournies with 20k buyin or 50k buyin, and there’s always another one about to start. Basically, I treat them like rebuys. I can afford to play a high variance game early on. Double or triple me up in the first few levels or see me in the next one!

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I agree exactly with your “rebuy” strategy and play the same way in the higher buy in tourneys. In the early stages your whole stack is your weapon and to get a good stack you need to attack as much as possible. You cannot win every tournament and even a figure like one win in 10 tournaments or even 20 tournaments if a winning strategy.

So expand your raising range, but keep your calling range tight, because early raisers are likely to want to fight for pots, whereas blinds callers are more likely to fold if the flop misses them.

I play a kind of loose martingale system by which I will raise pots, but if I lose them I will raise the succeeding pots even higher in order to recoup prior losses and get back to the par figure, which is the number of starting chips.

This can work very well from late position if you have an early raiser and caller. By reraising from late position you are likely to knock out the blinds and get called by both early position players and therefore have excellent pot odds.

Another useful play in early tournament play is to loosen your raising range to raise from the cutoff with the intention of knocking out the Button and playing against the blinds from position. The strength of the button allows you to open your range. Even if button calls, you will probably knock out SB, so you will only see a flop wtih one or two opponents, one of whom is out of position.

In particular I will raise to attack the blinds since most players in RP have very wide calling ranges in the blinds and the combined odds of 1) blinds folding, 2) blinds whiffing flop and surrendering to continuation bet or bluff, 3) you actually flop something like a pair or a good draw.

In general on RP Big Blinds will call with a super-wide range, but if an Ace appears on the flop, they will fold to any bet if they do not have an Ace or a draw. If they flat call the bet with an ace on the flop, this often indicates that they have an ace with a low kicker and are hoping to hang on and make a second pair. A good ace will often try to raise you off the pot.

It is worth noting that if you do NOT have an ace in your hole cards, then an ace is MORE likely to appear on the flop, and that the appearance of an ace on the flop REDUCES the probability that opponent also has an ace. And if he has a pocket pair, he is going to be reluctant to bet big against that ace on the flop when your raised preflop, so with something like TT he will often try to hang on for trips on a later street but check back to you on the river if he misses. So the combination of your raise preflop, an ace on the flop, your bet on the flop, and your bet on the river may often convince him to fold his pocket pair that is actually ahead.

However if I start to develop a healthy size stack, then I will tighten up as I have more to lose and can afford to pick my spot.

A common theme in RP tournaments is that players in the blinds with flush draws will shove. With a top pair of ace or king or two pairs, it is often profitable to call these shoves and double up. With a top pair of 8 or 9, then less so as the shover may have the flush draw plus 2 overcards.

The problem with playing tight early on is that you may not get many good opening hands and when you win pots you may just take down low level blinds, so you may find yourself with a shrinking stack after half an hour when the blinds start to elevate and playing on a table with big bullies.

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Bumping this up so I don’t forget about it - I’m also waiting to see if @BlackWidow (or someone else) has a specific opponent / population type she wanted to construct ranges for. It might be a good exercise to build an implementable range tailored to a set of assumptions rather than build an “optimal” one that exists only for theory’s sake.

I’m primarily interested in the logic behind range construction. And as you say, I’m not looking for “GTO” ranges, but instead I want to understand how to construct good ranges against players who are far away from GTO.

It might be best if you choose the opponent types that best illustrate the concepts behind range construction. But, specifically, the opponent types I go up against the most are (in decreasing order of frequency):

  • Typical Replay tournament players that limp/call OOP and flat call IP a lot and raise only the strongest hands. In particular, full ring tournament situations where you end up in multi-way pots a lot.
  • Elite-stakes ring game nits that try to trap LAG and TAG players.
  • Elite-stakes LAG and TAG players.

I am also interested @1Warlock because it seems to me that it is necessary to play all two cards at some frequency.

I think we also need to discuss the difference between GTO play (can’t be exploited in the long term) versus exploitative play which doesn’t necessarily require long term so much as a changing pool of players.


@BlackWidow and @theanalyst01 - I’m trying to develop a response now. The topic has so many components that I don’t want to just fire out random thoughts and get everyone, including myself, lost. Bear with me while I organize concepts to present.

One thing I can get out there straight away is that a proper preflop range is meant to give a player as many profitable hands to play by position as possible. Some hands may be very profitable from any position (AA, KK) and some may be marginal (66, AJo). Prior to online poker, players developed their ranges from experience. These ranges tended to be extremely tight by today’s standards and were fairly static across positions (88+, AQo+, ATs+, and some suited Broadway for the adventurous). This range would probably be more than fine for most recreational-level games today.

When online poker came around and the ability to capture and crunch data was created, preflop ranges became a matter of database analysis. We can now look into 100 million+ hand samples and see which starting hands are profitable by position and by how much. Select the hands that are profitable and fold the rest - easy. Of course this left out postflop skill and table dynamics but it was a big leap forward. If you think you are one of the better players at the table, expand the range all the way to the boundary. If you are one of the weaker players, tighten the range to the hands that give you enough margin for your skill deficit.

We are finally at the point where preflop solvers are a thing. They require massive computing power and spit out solutions that are extremely sensitive to the inputs. I think they are very useful if you know the population you will be facing regularly, say if you are against the same 2 dozen high stakes pros all the time. I don’t think they add much to database analysis for most players though.

I’ll be back shortly with more. In the meantime, it would be great to get input from as many players as possible so we can flesh out how people think about this topic.