QuickConcept #11: When Youʼre In The CO, Donʼt Forget To Look Whoʼs Behind You.
Early Position Opening Ranges
As stated, pre-flop decisions are based almost entirely on creating the most profitable post-flop situation in terms of the Big Three. Moving forward, the primary consideration for whether to enter the pot will be centered on what our position, SPR, and number of opponents is likely to be post-flop.
Let’s begin with early position opening ranges. More often than not, opening under the gun creates a single-raised, multi-way pot where we are OOP on all streets. Using everything we’ve learned so far, what types of hands can we profitably open from early position?
Unsurprisingly, your tightest opening range should be from UTG, and it’s composed of strong, nutty, multiple-component hands like A♣A♦8♣7♦, A♥K♣J♦9♥, and J♠T♣9♥8♠. Most good players open anywhere from 8-15% of hands from UTG, but you can make adjustments depending on table dynamics. With a fish in the blinds and a table full of nits, you can open a wider range of hands because you’ll have position on the fish more often. At a table filled with strong aggressive players, tightening up is a good adjustment. Regardless of table dynamics, it’s typically safe to open with any four cards 9 or higher that are suited to the Ace from any position at the table.
Here’s something else to help you remember what to open from early position with. In high school, one of my buddies came up with a nickname to describe the girls that had really sexy bodies, but faces that looked like catchers mitts. He called them “but-a-faces”. Everything “but-a-face”, get it? Calling a girl a but-a-face probably won’t help your love life, but it’s useful for describing what a profitable UTG opening range looks like. If your hand has everything but a face-card, it’s worth giving it a second thought before opening it. Some exceptions to the but-a-face rule are hands with supreme connectedness, like T♠9♣8♦7♣, or double paired hands like T♥T♣9♥9♦. These hands play well in almost any scenario regardless of number of opponents and position.
Opening too loosely UTG is one of the most common leaks I plug in my students. Hands like Q♥T♦8♥6♦, or 7♣6♥5♣3♦ are easy opens in late position, and easy folds from UTG. Let me explain a bit further. See, a few paragraphs ago, we established that without holding a card advantage, it’s necessary to have a positional advantage, or a skill edge to play any given hand profitably. Since the equities are closer in PLO, position becomes a more important factor, particularly since there is more multi-way action.
Consider what kind of post-flop situation is created when a hand like 7♣6♥5♣3♦ is opened from UTG. Pretend there is one caller in late position, and one out of the blinds. How do we proceed when we miss the board? How many boards are we comfortable taking some heat on? When we don’t flop a straight or two pair, how many boards can we comfortably c-bet bluff into two other players? Now imagine we c-bet and get called by the player in position. How do we feel about barreling with a hand that doesn’t pick up equity on later streets nearly as often as big cards?
There are a few problems with opening lower single-suited and double-suited categories of hands. First, recall that players are more likely to play big cards than small cards. Consequently, it will be challenging to win stacks on the boards that 7♣6♥5♣3♦ flops strong on, because most of the hands that fit into that board texture are usually in the muck pre-flop.
Additionally, the hands they peel with pre-flop have an inherent domination advantage. Mid-rundowns and broadways flop stronger one pair and two pair flops, as well as stronger straight draws. All of this is compounded by being OOP, which means getting value out of our hand is a challenge, as is barreling later streets, especially since a hand like 7♣6♥5♣3♦ doesn’t pick up very many nutty turn cards. Put more simply, when playing OOP, it’s not only about flopping nutty hands and draws; it’s also about turning nutty made hands and equity as well, because for the most part our early position range will dominate our opponent’s peeling range.
Late Position Opening Ranges
Playing a wide range of hands in position is the bread and butter of any successful player’s game, and it’s where the majority of profits come from. Position helps us accumulate profit, because information in poker is where all the money comes from. When it folds to us in the CO or the BTN, we have a much clearer picture of the number, and type of players that will be in the pot with us. As a result, having steal percentage’s in the 40-50% range is common for any competent player.
The range of hands you can play profitably in position is obviously much wider than the other positions at the table. Multiple hands with mediocre components that are generally easy folds from early position become standard opens in the CO and on the button.
I generally try to avoid using words like “always” or “never” when giving advice about opening ranges. From the CO, don’t forget to check what types of players are on the button and in the blinds, because how wide your opening ranges are is strongly influenced by the players behind you. If the button is very loose or aggressive, there’s really not much else you can do besides tightening up your opening range, otherwise you will bleed away chips by opening and folding to three-bets. Additionally, it’s necessary to tighten up because you will be OOP post-flop when the pots are the biggest, and where they can apply the most pressure.
At typical online six-max low and mid-stakes tables, besides the standard premium opens, anything double-suited or suited to the Ace can typically be opened profitably on the button. Additionally, hands that are terrible opens from EP and MP become standard opens when in the CO or on the BTN. Examples of these include hands like K♦Q♣T♥5♦, 8♠7♣5♠4♦, 9♣9♥7♣6♦, and A♠K♦8♠6♣.
One of the main benefits from playing the majority of your hands in position is that many players misinterpret your style for being looser and more aggressive than you really are. If you play the same tight ranges from every position at the table, anyone paying attention will figure out that you’re opening with only the top part of the deck; making it very easy to play against you post-flop. All they have to do is give you some heat on the low boards and give up on the wet and heavy boards.
In other words, playing more hands in position keeps your image loose enough to get paid when you have the goods. One of the biggest mistakes I see from beginning players is making blanket-generalizations by glancing at an opponent’s HUD stat, without accounting for their positional opening stats.
For example, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done a hand history review with a student, where I see him three-bet an UTG open from an aggressive player with a hand that doesn’t play well against a standard UTG opening range. When I ask why they three-bet, they usually say, “I looked at his HUD, and it said he was playing a 35/25, which means he’s going off!” The problem with this reasoning is that HUD’s only give you an average of their stats for the entire table, not position specific stats.
If you examine positional stats, you’ll notice player’s ranges are normally tighter from early position, and progressively looser as they get closer to the button. Some players are positionally aware, and others aren’t. Regardless, it’s important to be familiar with how tight or loose their opening ranges are from each position at the table if you want to make the correct decision. To get this information, you usually have to extend the display on your HUD.
The point of that mini-rant was to encourage you to do the same thing as the opponent in the example. Play more hands in late position, and stab at many small and medium-sized pots to develop a loose enough image so that you can still get paid off when you have the goods. In Chapter 10, titled Post-flop Warfare, we will explore more specific strategies to take down small and medium pots.
Late Position Opening Sizes
Since we’re playing a wide range of hands in late position, it’s important to recognize and understand if, how, and when to adjust your opening sizes. Picking the correct open size mainly depends on two things: player tendencies and stack sizes.
Against weak or passive players, it’s best to open for pot, because the majority of profit comes in two ways. First, you can pick up a lot of dead money from these players when they check-fold the flop. One of the biggest leaks that weak and beginning PLO players have is calling too loosely out of the blinds with trashy hands that don’t flop equity often enough to continue. Not only that, even if they do check-call the flop, they check-fold the turn more often as well, which means that the bigger the size of the pot, the more profitable double-barreling becomes. Likewise, weak and passive players call down more often and get their stacks in lighter, so obviously we’d prefer to have the pot as big as possible to maximize the value we get in these situations.
Against nits or aggressive players, the better option is to open smaller (2x-3x). Against nits or multi-tabling robots, it gives us a better price on our steal, which they’ll allow us to do more often than other players. Facing aggressive three-bettors, it leaves us with a higher post-flop SPR, so that we save money when we fold to their three-bet pre-flop, or their c-bet post-flop. In typical three-bet pots when the open is pot-sized, the SPR is ~4-5, but if we decide to min-open, the SPR is usually ~6-7 when starting stacks are 100bbs. The latter provides more advantageous post-flop situations for the IP player. We get a better price to float and take it away on later streets, as well as a better price for leveraging our stack on the turn. For the times they decide to slow down, we also get a chance to check back and realize our equity; all while preserving the ability to play profitably on later streets.