By Jason Lake
Post-flop might be where all the intrigue is, but the most important decisions you'll make in no-limit Texas Hold 'em come during preflop play. Every hand starts at the beginning; you chart your destiny by choosing which two cards to open in which position, when to raise/call/fold, and how big to make your bets. A small mistake now could cost big-time you when you see the river.
Preflop decisions become even more important when you're below 40 big blinds. This will happen mostly in tournaments and SNGs, but it applies to cash games – there's nothing wrong with being a short-stacker. Here are five classic exploitative plays you can and should add to your preflop repertoire if you haven't already.
If someone limps in front of you, and you're holding something like a decent Broadway hand or better, put in a raise to about 4X. This “isolates” the limper by encouraging everyone else to fold. The limper might fold, too. If he or she calls, make a c-bet on the flop; you've got a good chance of getting a fold here, but if the limper calls you again or raises, prepare to dump your hand. This play is effective against people who like to speculate with baby pairs and suited stuff.
Once you get down to about 10 to 15 big blinds in a tournament, it's time to start thinking about going all-in preflop instead of open-raising. When your stack is that small, picking up the blinds and antes uncontested is a very good thing. You can maximize your leverage by putting all your chips in now. Recommended open-shove ranges are widely available on the Internet and fairly easy to learn.
The re-shove is the deluxe version of the open-shove. If someone ahead of you opens, and you've got up to 18 to 20 big blinds or so, this is another opportunity for you to push that stack into the middle. The looser your opponent is, the more likely you'll either get a fold or have the better hand at showdown.
There's nothing better than a really good squeeze. Let's say someone opens from the cutoff, the button calls, and you're in the small blind with the same kind of hand you might iso-raise with. It's squeezin' time. The cutoff is more likely to fold because the button is in the hand, and the button is more likely to fold because he or she called instead of open-raised. Again, if anyone calls your squeeze instead, c-bet the flop like a boss.
The Cold 4-Bet
This is the play that will make everyone at the poker table go “Ooooooh.” Take the scenario we just had with the squeeze, but instead of the button calling, he or she 3-bets. Now you're in the small blind. Against top-shelf opponents, you might not do this without either a very strong hand like QQ+ and AK, or maybe some suited wheel aces for “balance.” But if the cutoff and button are loose, you can 4-bet with almost anything that's not complete trash, and c-bet the flop if they haven't already folded to your aggression. Eat my 4-bet.