Facing Pre-flop Raises

In the mood this morning to post some ideas on pre-flop range construction when you are facing a raise.

First, some high level thoughts:

  • None of this will apply to min raises, which I tend to view as open limps (though of course they differ from that in many ways – but still, in general they create a dynamic that is quite different), or to raises that significantly over-bet the current pot
  • When can I have a calling range?
    • when last to act
    • as the button
    • if players behind are passive, and rarely squeeze
  • From most seats, on an aggressive table, only raise or fold

In spots where it is only raise or fold, I think you can largely throw out the 3 betting charts you see on line, for the simple reason that the raising range you are facing is rarely anything close to the equilibrium strategy for that seat. Your 3 betting range should be a function of the RFI range you are facing, and in the real world, that range is extraordinarily player dependent. And so this gets me to what I think is the single most important piece of advise: pay attention to the raising frequency of all of your opponents by seat.

This is surprisingly easy data to gather, and also converges fairly rapidly, so you don’t even need to be continuously gathering it. It also gives you a data point for the general population at a given level that you can treat as a default as you face new players. This is the first and most important ingredient in deciding what your 3 betting range should look like.

  • what does the raising range look like?
  • do I have position against the raiser?
  • how many opponents behind me might still call or squeeze?
  • how many opponents behind me will have position on me if they continue?
  • how often are players left to act 4 betting?
  • do people over fold to 3 bets?

All example below will assume effective stacks of 100bb to 200bb.

Case 1: 0.5% range
You’d need a lot of hands to confidently say someone has a 0.5% raising range, but lets say you have 1,000 hands against a particular opponent, and you’ve only seen them raise 5 times from any position. That range generally consists of only AA. If you are last to act, have an appropriate drawing hand (pocket pair, Ax suited, suited connector or gapper), and are deep stacked (200bb+), you can call and hope to stack the player, but the general play here is just to fold.

Case 2: 3% range
This is now the classic super strong range that you might often see in 3 bets or 4 bets, consisting of AA-QQ, AK, and then some mix of AQs, AJs and JJ. Whether it is AA-JJ and AK, or AA-QQ, AK, AQs and AJs makes a pretty big difference, but usually takes more data. I would generally 3 bet here with AA, KK, AKs, and some smaller fraction of AKo. If last to act with deep effective stacks, you can again call some of the time with more speculative hands.

Case 3: as highjack facing 6% UG open with aggressive players behind
3 bet or fold. Your opponents range probably has all pocket pairs through TT, AK and AQ, KQs, AJs, and then some mix of additional smaller pocket pairs and suited hands. I’d default to 3 betting a linear 3% range.

Case 4: as CO facing 15% LJ open, with a strong, aggressive players on the button and the big blind
A player opening 15% from low jack is probably a fairly strong player, as that is only a little below a typical equilibrium opening range. With strong players behind you it’s usually raise or fold, though if either of the players behind is addicted to squeeze plays, you could consider cold calling with AA, KK and AKs. The low jack probably has pocket pairs down to 77, suited broadway, aces down to ATo, KQo, and most Ax suited. The balance of the range then probably will vary by opponent, consisting of some smaller pairs, suited connectors or gappers, and Kx suited. 3 bet a core range of AA-JJ, AK-AQ, AJs-ATs, A5s, KQs-KJs, and QJs, and then 3 bet all other pairs a smaller fraction of the time, with TT around 50% to 60%, 99 at 20% to 30%, 88 through 66 maybe 10% to 20%, and just rarely with 55 to 22. Also mix in some rare small suited connectors. A4s could also be in the mix some fraction of the time.

Case 5: as button against a 25% LJ range, passive players behind
This low jack is strong and in general very active pre-flop, opening significantly more hands from each seat than a solver would normally recommend. You want to attack ranges like this pre-flop, as the highjack will either have to defend too small a fraction of their range, or will be going post flop with hands that will under realize equity out of position. Still, you’ll have a lot of hands that will just be happy to see a flop, and won’t care too much if the small blind or big blind join in the fun to improve your implied odds, and so a mixed strategy of calls and raises is nice here, playing most hands in your range both ways.

  • Raise only hands: AA-QQ, AK, AQs, AT
  • Mostly calls: 99-55, ATs, QJs, T9s
  • Mostly raises: all other suited aces, AQ and AJ, JJ and TT, KQ-KJ, KTs-K9s, Q9s and J9s
  • Rare calls: smaller pairs, 98s, 87s, 65s, 54s
  • Rare raises: QJ, KT, K6s

Closing thoughts:

  • begin with the shape of the raising range you are facing
  • I’ll generally want to 3 bet with a range half as big as what I think I am facing (so 5% 3 bet into 10% raising range, or 10% 3 bet into 20% raising range)
  • mostly polarize your 3 bets if you will also have a calling range, or if you think the raiser will over fold to a 3 bet
  • avoid calling with aggressive players left to act behind you, except perhaps as the button when you are deep enough to be happy to play post flop with a reasonable SPR if you get squeezed
  • out of position I will raise more, call less, and fold more
  • in position, I will raise less, call more, and fold slightly less
  • last to act, I will have a calling range, and a polarized raising range

That’s it for now. Hope others have some ideas on how to play pre flop facing a raise.


I think your assuming your opponents are way too good. For example, you say he is probably fairly strong with a 15% range, just a bit over equilibrium. Are we assuming this is a game with all GTO robots? Why are we assuming that the GTO range is the optimal range in this scenario? Assuming a player is stronger than the rest of the table, it is common for stronger players to open more because they can play more hands profitably. It is quite possible for a 25% opening range from LJ to be better than a 15% range against tight straightforward players that you can beat.


I actually had real opponents in mind with this example, and I imagine my assessment of their strength colored my commentary here. Both the player with the 15% range and the player with the 25% range are higher ranking than me.

But in general, when I see new players with ranges that are relatively close to equilibrium, I do default to assuming they are stronger, and that players with ranges that are far off of that are weaker. As I play with people more, I do find that some that have very strange pre-flop strategies are quite competent post flop, but statistically, I still think it holds up.

Looking at a deeper analysis at your post, I can see a few more things Id like to comment on.

First, I think its much more important to base your ranges off how your opponents to respond to 3-bets. If you know the exact percentage of how much an opponent raises, you should know how they respond to 3-bets (except for perhaps cases 1).

I find it surprising you talk about absurdly tight players in case 1 while the most aggressive opponent you speak about is only 25%. I think you should also talk about how to deal with maniac raisers too
In case 2 I would suggest a 0% 3betting range in position and instead create a calling range that is balanced with implied odds hands and premium hands. However, out of position you should 3bet AA KK and AK, (perhaps fold or call with AKo some of the time)while calling with other pocket pairs and suitied connectors.

In case 3, I don’t understand the reasoning for a 3bet or fold. With position you want to see a pot with a high SPR, and to include implied odds hands in your range. If you just 3bet for value, you are missing a lot of opportunities and decreasing your positional value. Against squeezes, you can do a back 4bet raise with your premium hands that you call with and turn the tables against the squeezers.

In case 4, I agree with you mostly, but I still think you can develop a calling range

In case 5, I think your too nice too the overly agressive HJ you should be punishing him with constant 3bets with hands you want to play heads up, while calling with implied odds hands.

If a player on replay was really playing GTO (although none do) it would not be the best strategy. Other strategies work better than GTO against amatuer players so to assume that a player who is playing GTO is strong can be true, but it still is not the best play and a larger raising range is better if your opponents are not good enough too defend it. For example, many tournament players on Replay under defend their blinds, especially to smaller raises. Im pretty sure this is true because I have played over 50k tournament hands ranging from freerolls to 1M tournaments. And its pretty much true for all of them. With a 20BB stack, GTO from button when folded to you may be 50% min raise, 50% fold, but I will end up minraising between 80-100% of all hands due to how commonly they fold and never 3betting light.


Another great topic for generating conversations about strategies. Preflop decisions are the foundation of a solid strategy and don’t get nearly enough discussion IMO. Huge bluffs and hero calls get all the attention but this is the meat and potatoes of the game.

Question - How are you accounting for opening size (aside from min raise that you addressed)? Responses to a 2.25x open and a 5x open are quite different.

The full context was “with aggressive players behind” - flat calling in a situation like this is going to result in being squeezed a good amount of the time. The more flats that stack up behind the opener, the more incentive there is for remaining players to squeeze. You won’t get to see the flop at all when this happens.

With passive players behind, its not that big of a deal and you can get away with flatting more. Still, you will likely generate more EV from 3-betting. The other nice thing about 3! or fold is that you don’t have to worry about balancing your ranges between calling and 3!. I’ve switched over to a 3! or fold strategy from all positions other than the BB in some online tougher games. Its very efficient and makes your postflop play simpler because you haven’t split your range yet.


But how often can agressive players really squeeze against 6% UG open? Doesnt that seem crazy to do? Maybe a few hands especially if the Under the Gun player is passive but I wouldnt squeeze all that often against an extremely strong range from early position especially if Im in the blinds so I’ll be OOP.


Meant to reply to this post

Yipes - Nice catch! I caught the part about aggressive players behind but I didn’t pay attention to the 6% part. My head went to a normal LJ opening range (I also assumed this was 6-max so UTG is LJ).

So yeah, its problematic squeezing against this range. If you can shed the flat callers and get it heads-up, you will still be getting a great price to squeeze and can work in some speculative hands. If the IR isn’t 4 betting a ton, you can get away with this. If the flat callers are coming along no matter what, then this strategy can’t be used.

The 3! or fold strategy should also take into account postflop if there are aggressive players in the game. If you flat, you are likely to be sandwiched between players who will not allow you to realize your equity. You will probably be OOP vs one/some of them. I think I’d still rather 3! or fold for this reason. Its going to be a ton of folding and 3! a strong linear range.


I still dont think a 3bet or fold strategy is good in every spot except the BB. Especially since your 3betting range is so straightforward and linear. Im pretty sure this isnt the GTO play and Im pretty sure it isnt the most exploitative play.

You are only playing around 10% of hands at the most, and when you do play you always have big cards or pairs. Arent your ranges too obvious and straightforward in tough real money games?

Any time it comes 3 middle or low cards your stuck in an awkward spot because half of your range likely loses to bottom pair and your opponents should know it. When deep stacked, there is no reason you shouldnt mix it up a bit. Squeezes commonly come from the blinds (at least from what ive heard and my own common sense) so you will have position on those and when they do come from in position you should include enough premium cards to 4bet (or even bluff!) That squeezing becomes dangerous.

If your known for being a tricky caller, most squeezers will back off, they want you to fold, so when you dont they wont want to squeeze anymore. I think 3betting or folding is best in Hijack, Lojack and SB. In late position it just doesnt make sense because you want high SPRs when you have position. You could technically in EP, but it seems unnecessary because a 3bet from EP screams AA-QQ so your premium holdings wont make much money.

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Meant to reply to this post (sorry!)

It actually is a solver generated strategy for strong games that are raked and have a “no flop no drop” policy (500nl in this case). Its not nearly as face up as you’d think and has significant board coverage. It is not the only viable strategy but it is an actual thing. For the games I’m playing and my current stage of development as a player, this strategy seems to work best.

I’ll be happy to address it more at some other time but as an example, my 100bb 3! or fold range HJ vs LJ open (assuming ~16% RFI , 2.25-2.5x open size) is this as a default:
A4-A5s, A9s+, AQo+, KTs+, QJs, 99+, mixing 5/4s-7/6s. That’s about 8% of hands in the tightest configuration I face. For the observant among you, yes I am just folding pocket pairs 88 and below in this spot. The solver would 3! a few of them here and there at like 10% frequencies but IMO that overly complicates things.

I have had flatting ranges from the BTN and CO before but have found more success with this strategy in the games I’m playing. I’d be far more inclined to reintroduce the flatting ranges in games where I’m not all that concerned with the players left to act. In fact, if there are weak players in the blinds, I generally want them in the pot and so will do a lot more calling from late position.

To be fair, I may be giving up fractional EV preflop vs some opponents but I am more than making up for it by having a postflop strategy that I can actually implement.


My BTN vs CO range is nearly 15% using just a 3! or fold approach.

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Many other cases are good to think about, as there are a lot of situations where you’ll often be facing 40% to 100% raising ranges, and yes, you’ll want to construct a very different 3 betting range for that. I was just worried my initial post was getting too long already, and I think very tight open raising ranges are much more common here on Replay than wider opening ranges (at least in cash games… perhaps not quite so much so in tournaments).

My own raising ranges will often approach 80% in some spots, and there are strong players on the site that open more aggressively than I do. I might come back to add a few more cases, as these are worth thinking about, and even at lower levels you will often see a few hyper aggressive types.

On the button or with fairly good position and passive players behind, this might be ok. In general though, you have a lot of hands that are ahead of the raising range that will not have as high an EV in a multi player pot. Also, if you are like me, and 3 bet frequently, you can get a lot of value just raising, as JJ and AQs even are usually not going to fold to the 3 bet. You’ll also run into AA with KK some of the time, and that often won’t turn out as well, but oh well…

  • you’ll usually have a flatting range from the button and as the big blind
  • you can add flats with speculative hands if the players behind you almost never squeeze (and I think you’re right that you’ll see fewer squeezes if the initial raiser is perceived to have a very tight range)
  • a linear 3 betting range is usually best if you decide you don’t have any flats in a given spot; you can still polarize, especially if you think you’ll get too many folds
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I personally like the low frequency 3 bets with the small pairs for board coverage. Obviously, you get some of the that with the small suited connectors, but I like having a mix of sets and boats thrown in with my straights and flushes (made or draws) on lower card boards. So long as you decide in advance on your percentages, and then have some kind of reasonably reliable randomizer, and keep the frequency for each pretty low.

Is this really necessary? I’d imagine not, especially if you’re not facing the same crowd regularly. In general though, I like mixed strategies, and don’t aim as much for simplification. I think that adds some mistakes to my games, as it means there’s too much for me to store in my head, but at the same time I think it makes me a little more difficult to play against, and I get some more mistakes from my opponents in return.

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This was just HJ vs LJ - I wanted to show that you can have a robust range in the tightest configuration, even with a 3-bet or fold strategy. In later positions I add more suited connectors and I prefer them to the pairs. I have thought about adding in 66 specifically at a high frequency to improve some board coverage rather than add more pairs at lower frequencies.

FWIW, its not as common to have a FH on low card boards in these games. LJ is mixing opening 55 and just folding 22-44. CO is the first position to open all pairs.

There are tons of ways to approach the game. Your preflop strategy must fit your postflop strategy. I find that I am making fewer mistakes for longer stretches of time using this approach. Again, it is my default strategy only - if and when the situation calls for a deviation, I’m all for it. Multi tabling anonymous sites or ones that don’t allow for HUD’s, this is my go-to strategy.

Not sure how to quote so this post may be a bit hap-hazard, I also would like to say I am still a new player, only playing seriously on this site for a year. I am mostly basing my strategies for tournaments that I am playing right now, which is 250k-1M and in private league play, including the donks league and barnyard muckers league although I think this information applies elsewhere because early stages of a tournament are very similar to cash games except the play is better, and their is less limping. (Although I havent been in cash games since I was playing 1k/2k).

I am also basing this on a book I recently said which was very in deprh and focused on range analysis called “Mastering Small Stakes No Limit Holdem” by Jonathan Little, who is an accomplished poker player who is very into the logical side of poker. It was meant to be applied to all the way up to 100NL (.50/1). Almost never does it suggest a 3bet or fold strategy and I agree.

In @Yorunoame post I dont see a clear way to play when your up against a big pair in case 2, but I think getting stacked by AA or KK is just so common. What are you going to do if a player folds the bottom of his range and 4bets the rest? You are missing out on opportunities to stack opponents with implied odds hands (especially at passive tables) so this situation kinda sucks and is only best in very specific situations that rarely apply on replay.

I understand the value of 3betting, especially against players who are clueless to 3bet pots and are very exploitable, but getting rid of being able to call with speculative hands in almost all spots seems surprising to me and it seems like you are missing out on a lot of opportunities.

I am somewhat surprised this is a viable strategy but I guess I can understand it. It seems like that strategy is only one of the best in very specific scenarios. The only upside I see to it is it is probably more simple and since you have a smaller vpip, you probably can play more tables, which is important in real money poker.


I like Jonathan Little and have used his training site. Its mostly tournament content but he does have cash game content as well. He is teaching solid fundamental concepts that will generate EV for the vast majority of players in the vast majority of games.

I started using the 3! or fold strategy as I struggled to achieve a decent winrate at 500nl. I started studying with someone who is beating this game for a substantial amount and this is one of the options he laid out as viable. Working through the sims and the underlying rationales led me to adopt it as a baseline. Just guessing about this but I think it would be a viable strategy even at microstakes. With the high rake and the softer fields, it should be workable. If I have time, I’ll try to get a few thousand hands in on microstakes zoom tables using this approach and see what happens. I’ll post results if I get to do this.

Anyway, the most important part of building preflop strategies is that they must align with your postflop abilities, strategies and games. I think this is the conversation @Yorunoame was trying to kick off. Yes, there is some value to learning basic charts as a starting point but that will only take you so far. Getting into the ‘why’ is where the real learning begins. You don’t want to 3! the same range vs a 3% RFI as you do vs a 30% RFI. You can’t 3! the same range with 4 players left to act as you can with only 2.

Preflop is extremely complex. It is the last part of the game tree in NLHE that will be solved, if it even can be. It is also the foundation of all strategies beyond the most basic (seeing flops and betting when we smash them).

As an aside, if you look at the data, most players aren’t 3! anywhere near the frequencies they should be. Even if you don’t want to try a 3! or fold from all positions except the BB, I’d suggest forcing yourself to 3! a lot more. Yes, its comfortable to flat QJs on the BTN when CO opens but you will be shocked at how much extra EV you generate from 3! it instead.

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Here is an example of having a calling range HJ vs LJ open (solved range from Jonathan Little’s site). Compare that to the 8% 3! or fold range I described earlier (A4-A5s, A9s+, AQo+, KTs+, QJs, 99+, mixing 5/4s-7/6s) and tell me which you’d rather implement. For the ability to play an extra 1% of hands, you have to split your ranges and increase the complexity of your game tree exponentially. You’d also have to know how to play those fractional suited Kx and Ax combos when your 3! gets called or you’ll be bleeding EV out of your ears. You will also see more multiway flops, which will kill your equity realization.

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Interesting to see 77 as a pure fold, while 66 and 55 get a fair number of calls. Kind of similar to the isolated K6s and K5s raises. I’ve often struggled to understand why the solver picks some of these more isolated cases.