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StrategyNo Limit

Short-handed: Pre-flop Basics


In this article
  • Strengths and weaknesses of an open raising chart
  • When you should deviate from the indicated ranges
  • When you should be 3-betting yourself and how to play against 3-betting opponents
In this article, you will acquire some basic and important knowledge about playing before the flop on tables with 6 or less players. The dynamics of playing shorthanded are fundamentally different from playing full ring. The goal is to understand the differences in preflop playing and to put them into practice.

With the help of this open raising chart and the analysis of selected hands you will learn how to adjust your ranges to find a profitable entry into playing shorthanded.

Finally, you will learn some basics for your behaviour regarding 3-bet pots.

Why use an open raising chart (ORC) ?

The general arguments for and against charts have been thoroughly discussed elsewhere and will not be dealt with in this article. We will concentrate on introducing the ORC for shorthanded no-limit, and its strengths and weaknesses.

The chart is a starting point from whereon you develop your game. Thus it is merely a tool to help inexperienced players in the beginning.

The more experienced you get and the more you analyse individual situations, the more your game will develop away from the chart towards your very own style. A chart is never the optimum solution because the individual situation in poker is well above general rules.

The chart's purpose is to guide you through your first hands and to provide you with a solid overview of the game. To start with, we suggest you follow the chart closely, but always be aware: the more experienced you get, the more often will you find yourself in situations, where the game of the highest EV will not be the game of the chart.


Standard table short-handed:
Pocket  pairs 22+
22+ 22+
AT+ A9o+
- - Q9o+
- - J9+
- - 78o+
- - T8s+ 79+
Maximum table short-handed:
Pocket pairs 22+
 22+ 22+ 22+
AT+ A9+
- QJo+
- - J8o+
56s+ 56s+
- -
Minimum table short-handed:
Pocket pairs 66+
22+ 22+
- -
- - J9+
- -
- -

The chart as PDF file

How to use the ORC
There are three different ranges: the standard range, the loose range and the tight range. You will have to decide for yourself, whether you will want to raise loosely, tightly or just the average amount in any situation that presents itself to you.

You should use the respective range for open raising, depending on how you judge your table. At a very loose table you should rather play tight, and at a tight table, you should open raise loose. In doing so, no explicit statement is made about your game after limpers or open raises.

Once you have made up your mind about a range, the subsequent action is quite simple: You raise the hands first in that are listed and fold all others. The size of your raise should be 4BB in the beginning; alternatively you may also raise only 3BB when you are on the button.
Some explanations regarding the ranges

The range in the standard-table should correspond to the standard poker table. You will find a good mixture of value hands and deceptive hands, which mainly profit from initiative and position. You should select this range when:

  • you are not able to judge your opponents any further
  • there are neither reasons for a looser raise nor reasons for a tighter raise (e.g. average opponents behind you)
  • there are equally good reasons for a loose or a tight raise (e.g. a very tight TAG as well as a very loose TAG/LAG at the blinds)

You should deviate for the following reasons:

Looser raises:

  • Your opponents are very tight and fold a lot pre- and postflop.
  • Your opponents are very bad players and allow you to win a lot of money from them postflop. At the same time, they are able to fold their hands.
  • Short-term reasons (very tight playing in the last hands, tight image).

Tighter raises:

  • Your opponents are playing aggressively back at you.
  • Loose shortstacks are sitting at the blinds.
  • Short-term reasons, such as loss of image (just lost a pot/showed a bluff/loose image).

This is of course not a complete list of possible reasons why you may deviate from the standard range. You will have to get a feeling for this over time. There are other specific situations when you should adjust your ranges, such as:

Very bad calling stations at the blinds:

  • It will not pay off here to steal any trash at random. At the same time value hands are much more profitable.

Players who cold call a lot of medium strong hands:

  • To avoid domination here, it will pay off to raise more deceptive hands with clean pairs instead of dubious value hands.

Many relatively tight and reasonable players:

  • In this case it will pay off to raise deceptive hands early in the game.

As you can see now, this chart does not at all specify the perfect range for you in a specific situation. As already mentioned earlier, it is just a guideline.


There is no chart for this case. The situations here, just as in full ring, are too diverse to deal with them conclusively in a chart. You will have to decide, using similar criteria as in stealing blinds, whether it will pay off to attack the additional dead money or not.

There are players against which you may raise almost as much as against the blinds, and there are players against which this would be highly unprofitable. As a general rule of thumb, you should ask yourself some questions (similar to those you would ask when stealing blinds):

  • Is your hand stronger than the range of the limper?
  • Is the limper going to fold often after a raise?
  • Will you often find yourself in a heads-up situation with the limper (also consider the blinds here) and can he fold postflop?
  • Is the effective stack size sufficient for postflop play? Are you able to place a continuation bet?

Based on the answers to these questions you will have to decide for or against raising.


Something important first off: Don't change your 3-betting behaviour too abruptly. You should become accustomed to the new dynamics in 3-betting slowly. Put the suggestions made here into practice one by one. This way you will avoid heavy losses due to your inexperience.

Now, this section will deal with playing against thinking and good players. It should be obvious to you that when playing against very weak opponents, you do not have to pay attention to the spread of your range in a specific situation.  This is assumed, and will not be mentioned again.

No chart can be designed for 3-betting in shorthanded games due to the dynamics of these games. In this case it is important to assess correctly whether the current hand in the current situation requires a re-raise. Generally you will have to distinguish between the different goals of your 3-bets.

3 –Bets for Value:

  • You have the best hand and expect calls or 4-bets from weaker hands.

Deceptive 3-Bets:

Your hand is not the best, but your expected value is positive because of:

  • the folding of stronger hands.
  • the winning of larger pots upon hits.
  • the expansion of your 3-betting range (this will only have some effect in the future).

To play a 3-bet for value, your hand should be better than the range that your opponent is probably playing. You can always 3-bet QQ+, AK (but you do not always have to!) or even TT, JJ or AQ.

Moreover, you should know how you would react to a 4-bet or a call if you want to 3-bet for value. It is quite possible that you would 3-bet for value with a hand that you would fold upon a 4-bet. And that is when you expect your opponent to call your 3-bet with a range which you are ahead of, but he 4-bets with a range against which you cannot go profitably all-in.

It is also possible to 3-bet a wider range for value against loose opponents. You will have to decide that for yourself.

All 3-bets that do not fall into the category of 3-bets for value, pursue several goals. For one, expanding your general 3-betting range. You are not so easy to read. As a result, thinking players will have a harder time playing against you. Your ranges will not be so easily seen through. Thus you will get more money into the pot when you have a strong hand.

Ranges for deceptive 3-bets

So now it remains to define an acceptable range for deceptive 3-bets. Suitable hands are those that will not be dominated in case of a call and have a high potential to be a hand, with which you would play for the whole stack. Examples are:

Suited Connectors

  • Straight and flushes as well as some combo draws that will have enough equity in a 3-bet pot for an all-in.

Small Pockets

  • Sets

Suited (wheel) aces do also qualify to a limited extent. Similar to suited connectors, there is another reason for a 3-bet here:

  • With one of 4 aces, you are holding a card that makes AA, AK, AQ less likely.

A reason against it:

  • If your opponent does hold an ace you will be dominated quite often.
Less qualified for a 3-bet are all hands that do not fall into either category. Hands with which you are dominited are particularly problematic. Similar to a simply raised pot, it could happen to you at a 3-bet pot, that you end up with a 3-outer and top pair which you usually will not be able to let go of because of the larger pot.

Now you have a first impression of how you can 3-bet in addition to 3-betting for value. Next, we will have to clarify when and against whom this makes any sense at all. Deceptive 3-bets are something like a semibluff before the flop. The conditions for the respective profitabilities are comparable. One part comes from the fold equity, the other part from the pots which you win in a showdown.

Generally, you should not play too many semibluffs preflop. That would only lead to you not getting credit anymore, which is not your intention at the beginning. A healthy mixture of 3-bets for value and semibluffs will ensure that you are not too easy to read, and at the same time not be rebluffed too often.

In the beginning you should always play 3-bets for value. There are specific situations when a call with a value hand will have the higher EV, but this is advanced theory and will not be discussed here.

Whether you play a deceptive 3-bet or not will depend on several factors. Some of them will be listed here together with their effect on your decision-making. But again, the decision is yours to make.

The qualities of your opponents will have the following effects:

Your opponent folds a lot on 3-bets:

  • Semibluff more by 3-betting.

Your opponent 4-bets a lot on 3-bets:

  • Less semibluffing, less playing 3-bet/fold, but more 3-bet/broke.

Your opponent calls a lot on 3-bets:

  • Less semibluffing and more 3-betting for value.

Your image will have the following effects:

Tight image

  • More semibluffing, because your fold equity is higher with a tight image.

Loose image

  • Less semibluffing and more 3-betting for value, because your opponents are folding less often.

A preflop value range is usually between 3 and 4.5%. If you play approximately just as many semibluffs as 3-bets for value, then this will be an overall good mixture.

Some particularities when playing out of position
So far, we have only discussed things in general. In the following we will go into detail regarding the dynamics of playing out of position. When you are out of position, you have to consider the disadvantage of position. The probability that the villain will call you is usually considerably higher than when you are in position.

This is logical since your opponent will have position on you after the flop. You should always be aware of this when you are 3-betting out of position. You should also decide beforehand, which boards you are going to contibet, if any.

At the same time you will have to consider the preflop fold equity. Should you come to the conclusion that neither your preflop bluff nor your postflop bluff will be successful often enough, then just don't do it. In those cases you will have no other choice than to play for value.

You will also have to pay attention to your mixture in a blind defense. If you only 3-bet for value you will get no payoff. If you bluff too much, then in the long run you will find yourself in unprofitable situations against better opponents too often. So either you will run into problems after the flop out of position or you will have to fold preflop on 4-bets too often.

How do you play against 3-bets?

Now you know how to play 3-bets yourself. What remains is the question of how to react to 3-bets from your opponents. First, as always, you should identify the range you are playing against and then make your decision accordingly.

Any available information can help you to identify the range. For one the exact stats, that will become statistically relevant at a certain sample size, will help just as much as the player's overall impression:

Which range do you expect from someone with specific qualities?

Once you have roughly identified the range, you will have to work out how he might react to any possible action from you and which part of his range he will use. Of course it is also important that you consider what range he will give you for your particular action.

Naturally you cannot identify the range here in terms of exact hand ranges, but rather in terms of the proportion of semibluffs (pockets, connectors, etc.) and value hands (big aces, big pockets).

And then, of course, you will again have your three options: raise, call or fold.

In regard to all of your actions against 3-bets, it is self-evident that the following rule applies: you should not be polarising. If you are 4-betting strong hands then you should every once in a while also 4-bet bluffs (provided your opponent is able to fold). If you are calling medium strong hands, then you should also call weaker hands and monsters from time to time.


There are similar reasons in favour of a 4-bet after a 3-bet as there are for the 3-bet itself. Either you have a strong hand and 4-bet with the intention to go all-in, or you want to force your opponent to fold.

Reasons for 4-betting with a strong hand:

  • To balance your 4-bet bluffs.
  • The assumption that your opponent will go broke with many hands with which he is 3-betting.
  • The prevention of own mistakes at the flop.

Reasons for 4-betting as a bluff:

  • Your opponent believes that you have a strong 4-betting range and thus will fold many hands. Naturally, he will need a relatively loose 3-betting range of his own to do that.

Factors that play a role when making your decision:

  • Your opponent (how loosely will he go broke?)
  • Your image, especially preflop (many/few 3-bets/4-bets)    

Hands qualified for a bluff are: On the one hand, those with which your opponent would go all-in and which make these hands on your opponent's side less likely (e.g. Ax reduces the probability of AA by 50%, and the probability of AK or AQ by 25% each). On the other hand there are those hands, which you can fold on an all-in with confidence .

A reference value of 2.5 times the 3-bet has proven to be a good 4-betting size. You should start with that.
Calling a 3-bet
The expectation of winning more money in the pot from your opponent postflop than you would preflop speaks for calling a 3-bet with a strong hand. This can be the case when the fold equity for a 4-bet is too high, but also when your opponent likes to bluff after the flop.

Take a look at this example:

You are UTG and raise 4BB. The SB 3-bets after several folds to 14BB, BB folds. If you were to 4-bet now, you would frequently generate enormous fold equities. If you were to just call, you would often keep those hands in the pot that would otherwise fold preflop and that would often lose a lot of money postflop out of position. If you have a value hand now, then calling would be preferred to 4-betting.

The expectation of winning the pot unimproved as well of receiving a payoff in case of a hit speaks for calling with a weaker hand. In most cases though, a call would make more sense when in position.

Reasons for that could be:
  • Your opponent bluffs a lot preflop and therefore does not have a strong range.
  • Your image speaks for a strong hand; your opponent is not bluffing you too hard.
  • You already know your opponent well enough to be able to judge his multibarrel behaviour.

Reasons against that could be:

  • Your opponent is not giving you much credit.
  • Your opponent is generally bluffing a lot postflop.
  • Your opponent is very much showdown-bound.
  • Your opponent rarely 3-bets and therefore has a strong range.

This topic, too, is only touched on in brief, and will not be dealt with in any depth


Comments (33)

#1 kazadmaiss, 18 Mar 10 14:10

nice, thanks!

#2 roswellx, 18 Mar 10 14:15


#3 Fongie, 18 Mar 10 14:41

Solid stuff ^^

#4 Skeat, 18 Mar 10 14:48

Great !!

#5 vhallee, 18 Mar 10 17:28

Great article! Hasenbraten owning it up as always :D

#6 shanshichi, 19 Mar 10 17:01

10x hansenbraten!

#7 MadisRa, 23 Mar 10 14:25

Very helpful. Thanks.

#8 arisko, 25 Mar 10 15:29

very good. More SH-specific material :)

#9 Titicamara, 26 Mar 10 12:13


#10 Gabinr1, 01 Aug 10 17:33

Nice article. Very useful.

#11 Skraggy, 04 Nov 10 10:34

One of the best articles on PS (:

#12 aquinna, 14 Dec 10 13:40

very helpfull thanks

#13 TheRealTgb1, 28 Jan 11 09:29

He's my hero :-)

#14 Gadsotek, 13 Feb 11 12:45

Very nice article. Thx :-)

#15 tac3znarf, 22 Feb 11 11:46

Very very nice. Until what blind are these effective?

#16 Navrark, 29 Mar 11 21:48

The link to the chart in PDF form is broken.

#17 Tr3LoS, 13 Aug 11 09:58

Really helpful. It's a nice guideline for a beginner to follow for his first steps in short-handed play. I will review it soon as I will try short-handed games sooner than later. Thanks!

#18 Strongsl, 09 Oct 11 14:07


#19 roopopper, 24 Mar 12 05:26

nice article really informative :-)

#20 RiverSpeaker, 03 Jul 12 18:26

as it turns out,I was already thinking this way but thanks for giving me the confidence I need when doing this:)

#21 Imimba1, 30 Nov 12 12:52

Gives a nice foundation.

#22 enepple, 13 Aug 14 14:40

Nice article, covers a lot! Would appreciate more SH material.

#23 Lathdari, 05 Nov 14 14:52

This is very helpful. As it covers a lot of ground, it would be even better if there was a quiz to consolidate what we've learnt.

#24 adimiz, 28 Nov 14 14:38


#25 toske1, 13 Mar 15 18:38


#26 mirth, 29 Mar 15 12:05

4 betting has been my weakness. only did it with really strong hands, and that has been picked up on. now i see i have to "mix it up!"

#27 qstreb54, 07 Jun 15 14:02


#28 PokarFace, 26 Jul 15 16:40

Wow! This is becoming more like chess and baseball already :D

#29 moou1126, 01 Nov 15 07:15


#30 bubamarasr, 25 Jan 16 03:02

Read it. Thank you!

#31 royalecraig, 30 May 16 01:41

where's the BB pre flop hands ?

#32 adisalibabic, 27 Oct 16 01:04

I love poker

#33 MikeIronTyson, 03 Nov 16 13:44

is there any article about the amount i should raise in these situations? i found it for full ring plays, but not for short handed plays :) thank you