AngusD switched from pro chess to poker two decades ago and has been professionally involved in the game on numerous levels since the very beginning of online poker, including playing as a poker ambassador both online and at major festivals around the globe. He has written much about the game over the years, and brings to YPD a wealth of experience in all aspects of the poker industry. Meanwhile, his many years on the pro chess circuit (he’s an International Master and prolific author) afford him an interesting perspective on the psychology of poker.

· Published 26.11.2020 · last updated 15.03.2021

Limping in has become tantamount to a poker sin.

The very nature of 6-Max No-Limit Hold’em nowadays necessitates an aggressive pre-flop strategy that doesn’t hold much space for ‘just’ calling. If a typical player were to have a confidence-inspiring mantra during a poker session it would inevitably revolve around aggression, taking control, being the architect of our own destiny, and so on. ‘Calling’ in the context of pre-flop play is a dirty word.

Ironically, today’s brave new poker warriors, brought up watching clip after clip of gladiatorial encounters featuring bold opening gambits and brinkmanship, feel almost peer-pressured into demonstrating how aggressive they can be. This, incidentally, is all the more evident in poker rooms around the globe, where table image is given a higher priority than in online poker, and it’s very useful to have a believable aggressive presence that makes bullying the opposition into submission an easier task. But, regardless of how they might arrive at their no-nonsense, uncompromising styles, the result is justified nevertheless. Aggression, albeit selected (indeed, refined), is key.

Striving to take the initiative by being the first to raise pre-flop affords us a number of potentials – and actual! – advantages, and with the Blinds coming around more frequently in 6-max than in the old days of full ring games, we absolutely need to be pro-active.

It’s imperative, then, that we get to grips with the subject of open-raising pre-flop. This is a complex part of the game for even the most battle-hardened veterans, never mind less experienced or even new players. There are obviously numerous factors that go into deciding when is a good time to jump in with the first raise.

Starting Hands

One of them, of course, concerns starting hands. As much as I like to concentrate on the psychological elements of poker, and would love to get all zen-like and focus purely on manipulating an opponent’s thought processes, such magical powers are hard to come by, and the reality is that we must – at least to some degree – respect both our own cards and those that appear in the middle. This doesn’t mean having to become mathematicians or experts in statistical probability, but a solid grounding in how this or that holding tends to fare in typical scenarios is a vital part of our armoury.

We all appreciate why 72, for example, is a weak starting hand with which we would lose money in the long-run were we to always open-raise with it. An effective starting hand policy is a matter of tinkering with the parameters until we find a balanced mix of hands that we can play with confidence.

If our ‘range’ is too wide and we get busy with too many hands, then we’re simply creating problems for ourselves and such aggression would be foolhardy rather than part of an effective, streamlined strategy.

Be pro-active

However, we do need to be prepared to get our hands dirty. Otherwise, if we wait a little too patiently for only the cream of premium starting hands to arrive, we’ll simply be crippled by having to part with Blinds in literally a third of the hands we play – at dozens of hands per hour that’s a lot of money we’re essentially donating to other people’s bankrolls without then making a concerted effort to grab their chips when they’re there for the taking! So – not only is a robust but quality range of starting hands important, we also need to be prepared to play them.


We can’t, of course, forget Position in all of this. It’s all well and good getting to grips with a practicable range of starting hands, but how much faith we put in certain hands, and how aggressively we play them, isn’t going to be the same every time. We need to remember that the range of hands with which we can open-raise becomes increasingly wider as the Button draws closer. The strength of any holding is going to be affected accordingly by where we’re seated in relation to our opponents. Being conscious of this comes with experience, but in the meantime it’s a good idea, every single hand, to remind ourselves exactly what our position is before deciding whether to open-raise.

Have fun!

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