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5 Biggest Preflop Strategy Mistakes

After coaching hundreds of poker players, I am noticing some common mistakes among those struggling to win. Many of you at the micro-stakes have the same holes in your preflop strategy. And plugging these “leaks” is a quick way to boost your win-rate.

Below I’ll be discussing some specific statistics available in your poker database and HUD that can help you determine whether you have these leaks. If you’re unfamiliar with the statistics or software used to find them, then I suggest you watch my free 3-part video series: How to Setup your Poker HUD.

1) Folding Too Much in the Blinds

While you do want to limit the number of hands you have to play out of position, you don’t want to take that too far. You don’t want to let the guy on the button run over you by opening any two cards for a profit. You and your friend sitting next to you (the other blind) have a duty to defend enough such that the button can’t do that.

To give you some numbers, try to keep your small blind fold-to-steal under 80% and your big blind fold-to-steal under 65% for the micro-stakes. As your post-flop skills improve, you can take these numbers even lower.

If you’re looking for a good blind strategy to use that will guarantee you’re not leaking money, then check out my Preflop Strategy Guide.

2) Not 3-betting Enough

This relates to folding in the blinds too much. An easy way to fix that is to ramp up your 3-betting from the blinds. You could start by trying to get your 3-bet versus button up to 12-15%.

But this applies to other positions as well. Increasing your overall 3-betting (both bluffs and value) is one of the easiest most reliable ways to tack on a couple bb’s per 100 to your winrate!

If your current total 3-bet percentage is under 8%, then I challenge you to add 2% to whatever it is! If you’re at 5%, try to get to 7%. If you’re at 7%, take it to 9%. I can pretty much guarantee that you will see a jump in your win-rate (given a meaningful sample).

This is why it works: 1) you start taking it down pre-flop more often, 2) you build bigger pots and then take it down when players fold to c-bets too much, and 3) you are being more aggressive! Learning to be more aggressive will help you in many other aspects of your game as well.

3) Keeping the Fish Involved

Let me quickly follow up that last suggestion with this one: keep those fish in the pot! Before you 3-bet your nemesis with Aheart5heart, look behind you. PhilIvey69 in the big blind is eager to share his 84bb stack with you, if you’ll only let him into the pot. However once you 3-bet, he may actually find a fold with 9heart3club.

Don’t forget that most of your money comes from these “recreational” players. This is evident if you look up how these players are doing on sites like pokertableratings.com. They can have win-rates in the range of -10 bb/100 to -100 bb/100 !! Whereas a regular with a whole bunch of leaks is still only going to fall in the -5 bb/100 range on the low end.

4) Calling Too Wide

It is certainly possible to take the last suggestion too far. I’ve done it. You’re sitting on the button with Kdiamond6diamond and an aggressive fish has opened to 3 big blinds. Let it go!

It’s tempting to say: well, he’s really bad, and I have position, but that doesn’t mean you should start playing the same fishy range. One of the main reasons we make so much money off these guys is that we play much stronger hands than they do. Remember they usually don’t like to fold, so it’s more about having a better kicker than raising them off their hands when you have a good draw.

This also applies to other regulars. If you’re struggling against them postflop, then an easy way to make your life easier is to tighten up that calling range preflop. I’ll give you an easy test. Look up what your cold call percentage (cc%) is for MP vs EP. I bet for a lot of you, it’s over 10%! Try to get it down under 8%.

5) Inconsistency

This one is more general but still crucial. How many of you pick up AKo on the button (or maybe QQ) and can’t decide whether to 3-bet or just call versus some regular that opened? Or how many of you don’t know what to do with those baby pairs from the blinds?

And so every time these spots come up you just guess. You do whatever feels right at the time. You’re using a random strategy instead of figuring out what the best thing to do is in these spots and doing that every time. Not only will you then ensure you’re maximizing the EV (i.e. profit) with each of these decisions, but once you decide what the best play is, you won’t have to agonize over the decision anymore!

There is something magic about REALLY learning your preflop strategy. It takes so much stress out of the game. Your actions get faster as you figure out what is “standard”. You free up your mind to think about more information, such as what your plan is going to be postflop.

I’ve Done the Work for You

If you still haven’t setup all of your ranges in a range tool like Flopzilla or Poker Ranger like a good grinder, then I’d get to work on that today. I just gave you many reasons why this is so important.

If you’re interested, I have built a complete preflop strategy guide that includes what to do in all of these spots: open-raising, cold-calling, 3-bets, folding to 3-bets, 4-bets, all-ins, etc. It’s broken down for position versus position (e.g. SB vs BU), and I provide both graphs and textual descriptions that you can paste right into the range software.

Check it out.

7 Comments
  • Junglefever1121
    September 23, 2015 at 6:59 pm

    Great Mike! Being a balanced person guaranties that everything you do will make you better cause passion leads to success. And you are an alrounder getting what you deserve, cause you know the importance of sharing.

    • Mike "fooz" Gano
      September 25, 2015 at 1:34 am

      Kind words Junglefever. A reflection of the man that wrote them I’m sure!

      • Stuart
        October 31, 2015 at 9:47 am

        I am grinding still got 16000 hands only In various types of games of 6 max. One question…

        “Comparing normal speed nl and the every round meeting a different player nl”

        ….how does this effect our raising size from all positions comparing those 2 games? I mainly or 2x from the button and co, the rest I open 3x. I notice though that at the normal speed people seems to defend more therefore and at the fast speed villains seems to defend less. Does this effect our open raising size as well than?

        I thought this would be a relevant question cause it pops up in my mind!

  • brian- Coach @ PokerInABox
    September 24, 2015 at 2:09 am

    Really great post!
    Another very common preflop mistake many regs make:
    opening too wide EP and MP. If you are opening 19% EP or 21% MP you are generally going to run into a lot of tough spots post flop with weak hands, and many good regs will punish you by 3betting from late position or even the blinds.
    Remember, you want to be tight in early positions and nice and loose in late positions.
    Mike’s preflop strategy guide covers this extremely well!

  • Skilful
    October 5, 2015 at 6:58 pm

    Hey Mike! Nice article! You just encouraged me to go check my sb fold to steal stat.. 85 looks like I may have some work to do!!

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