Long term online poker success with winning strategies – register for free!

The best strategies With the correct strategy, poker becomes an easy game. Our authors show you how to succeed, one step at a time.

The smartest thinkers Learn from and with internationally successful poker pros, in our live coaching sessions and in the forum.

Free poker money PokerStrategy.com is free of charge. Additionally there is free poker money waiting for you.

You are already a PokerStrategy.com member? Log in here!

StrategyNo Limit Midstack

How to Play Before the Flop


What do you need before you get started?

Let’s get down to business. You sat down at a table, and eventually got dealt 2 cards. The question you're asking is: Should I play with these, or not?

Typically with the Short Stack Strategy:

  • You only raise or fold. You never just call.
  • You play very few hands. When you do play, it’s because you have a strong hand.

But in order to decide whether you will raise or fold, you must understand a very important concept in poker: position.

Watch these lessons on video:

The Short Stack Strategy is also available as video. There is a video dedicated to each article: The Basics, Playing Before the Flop, and Playing After the Flop.

The basics Before the Flop After the Flop

What is your position?

Your position refers to where you are seated in relation to the dealer and tells you when it will be your turn to act. The more players left to act between you and the dealer during the betting round (counted clockwise), the earlier your position and the sooner you have to act.

The four position groups at a 10-seat table

There are four position groups at a 10-seat table: 3 early positions, 3 middle positions, 2 late positions and 2 blinds.

2 late positions
3 middle positions
3 early positions
2 blind positions
Move the cursor over each group to see the corresponding seats.

The dealer and the player to his right are in the late positions.

The next three players (anti-clockwise from the late positions) are in the middle positions.

The next three players (anti-clockwise from the middle positions) are in the early positions.

The two players who post the Small and Big Blind are in the blinds.

What if there are less than 10 players at the table?

If there are only 9 players at the table, you drop one early position. If there are only 8 players at the table, there is only one early position. With 7 players or less at the table, there are no early positions at all.

Every time a seat is vacated you drop a position, starting with the early positions, then the middle, and so on. And remember: if the number of players falls below 7, or there are over 2 short-stacks present, go find a different table.

Which hands should you play?

The Starting Hands Chart

You will find your entire pre-flop strategy in the Starting Hands Chart. This chart shows you how to play a given hand in a given situation. This may be confusing at first, but don't worry. We will explain how to use the chart, and once you've understood it, you'll see how valuable it can be.

The strategy overview incl. Starting Hands Chart

If no one has raised before you, you raise when ...
You are in early position and have JJ - AA
You are in middle position and have 99 - AA
You are in late position/blinds and have 77 - AA
If an opponent starts action, you go all-in ...
When 1 raise was made before you and you have JJ - AA
When 2 or more raises were made before you and you have KK, AA
When a raise was made after you and you have TT - AA
Re-steal with 88 - AA
If an opponent re-steals, go all-in with 99 - AA
How much should you raise?
If no one has raised before you 4 Big Blinds + 1 Big Blind for every player who has already entered the hand
If someone raised before/after you Go all-in
When you or an opponent re-steal Go all-in

What do the abbreviations mean?

You may have already guessed it: The letters/numbers represent the cards. Q, for example, means queen.

Card abbreviations

  A   Ace
  K   King
  Q   Queen
  J   Jack
  T   Ten
  9   Nine

AA stands for two aces, while AK stands for an ace and a king. If you see 77 - AA in the chart, it means you play every pair between 77 and AA. The suit doesn't play a role; in other words, it doesn't matter if one card is diamonds and the other spades.

If no one has raised before you...

If no player has raised before you, your position becomes decisive. Look at this section in the chart and then look for the row corresponding to your position. If you see your hand listed in that row, you raise. If you don't see your hand listed in that row, you fold.

Deciding how much to raise is easy.

Your raise =

  • 4 times the Big Blind
  • plus 1 Big Blind per player that has already entered the hand

Assume you are playing NL 10 (0.05/0.10). The Big Blind at this limit is $0.10.

If you want to raise, you raise to at least 4 * $0.10 = $0.40.

For each player that entered the hand before you, you add $0.10 to your raise. If one player has called before you, you raise to $0.50, if two players have called before you, you raise to $0.60, etc.

If an opponent raises before you...

The situation is different if someone raises before you. Or you started the action with a raise, but then someone raised after you.

If this happens, look at the second section of the Starting Hands Chart. Pick out the row with your situation, and if that row has your cards listed on the right, go all-in. If it's not listed, fold.

Any time someone raises before/after you, and you have a playable hand, you go all-in.

With exactly what cards you should go all-in depends on the situation (as seen in chart):

  • Exactly 1 raise was made before you.
  • Two or more raises have been made.
  • A raise was made after you (no matter how many).


Re-steals, which are covered in the next section of the chart, are a bit more complicated. But first, you need to learn about two new concepts: steals and re-steals.

Steals: A raise made by a player in late position or the Small Blind, after every other player before him has folded. This raise directly attacks the only players left (on the blinds). That's why this is also called a blindsteal, as it can also be made with weaker hands, with the simple aim of stealing the blinds.

Re-steals: If a player in a blind position is confronted with a steal raise, and reraises again or even goes all-in to fight it, this is called a re-steal. It's like stealing back.

This section of the Starting Hands Chart tells you two things:

  • When you should re-steal, meaning you go all-in after being confronted by a steal raise.
  • When you should go all-in after your opponent outdoes your steal raise with a re-steal.

Too complicated? Just take a look at some examples below. And don't forget to download the printable version of the entire Short Stack Strategy and the Starting Hands Chart. Print it out and have it handy while playing.

Overview of the strategy incl. Starting Hands Chart


Limit NL 10 $0.05/$0.10 (Big Blind = $0.10)
Position Early position
Situation There are two players before you. Both fold. Now it's your turn to make a decision.

An ace and a queen in hearts looks good, but the chart is very clear: You should fold this hand when you are in early position. As nice as it may seem, playing AQ from early position results in long term loss.

Limit NL 10 $0.05/$0.10 (Big Blind = $0.10)
Position Middle position
Situation There are five players before you. Two enter the hand by calling, and three fold.

According to the Starting Hands Chart you should raise from middle position with a pair of nines when no one has raised before you. The only question is, how much?

The rule says: 4 Big Blinds + Big Blind for each player who has already entered the hand. 2 in this case. This means you should raise a total of 6 Big Blinds.

The Big Blind at this limit is $0.10, so you raise to 6 * $0.10 = $0.60.

Limit NL 10 $0.05/$0.10 (Big Blind = $0.10)
Position Late position
Situation You are the dealer and one player raised from middle position. Everyone else has folded.

Since a raise was made before you, you look at the second section of the Starting Hands Chart: "If an opponents starts action, go all-in ..."

Look at the row: "When 1 raise was made before you ...." You can see that you should go all-in with JJ - AA and AK. This is where you go all-in.

Limit NL 10 $0.05/$0.10 (Big Blind = $0.10)
Position Blind position
Situation You are the Big Blind. Everyone folds, except for one opponent in late position. He raises to $0.40. Everyone else folds.

When a player raises from late position after everyone folded to him, he is making a so-called steal. You can either fold or re-steal, in which case you go all-in.

Time to look at the last section of the Starting Hands Chart: "Re-steals." There you can see that you should re-steal with all pairs 88+, as well as with AJ, AQ and AK.

You have two eights, which means you can re-steal and go all-in.

Limit NL 10 $0.05/$0.10 (Big Blind = $0.10)
Position Late position
Situation All players before you fold. You look at the Starting Hands Chart and see that you should raise with a pair of nines from late position. You raise to $0.40 (4 Big Blinds). Then the player in the Big Blind decides to start trouble and raises to $1.20.

Once again you must look at the section: "Re-steals." You raised from late position after everyone folded before you. Your raise was a steal raise.

And now one of the blinds has decided to re-steal. Look to the Starting Hands Chart to see if you should go all-in or fold.

According to the chart you can go all-in with any pair 99+, as well as with AJ, AQ and AK. Your hand is on the list, so you should go all-in.


So far, you have learned ...

  • ...that you should never call before the flop. If you play, you raise.
  • ...how to know what position you're in.
  • ...which hands to play depending on the situation
  • ...that you always raise to 4 Big Blinds + 1 Big Blind for each player that has entered the hand before you, when no one before you has raised.
  • ...that you go all-in when someone raises before/after you, as long as your hand is playable (meaning it's in the chart).
  • ...what steals and re-steals are and when to make use of these tactics.

The last article in the series will cover the betting rounds after the flop:

Go to the next article: How to Play After the Flop


Comments (29)

#1 N3mm, 10 Mar 09 08:09

The "raise after you" ratios to go all-in are not in the pdf, which are extremely important imo.

i ment the 2,5:1 ratio you go all-in with any hand you raised before.

pls add it.

#2 danielish, 18 Mar 09 15:57

4:1 or higher

Between 4:1 and 2,5:1

2,5:1 or less
With every hand you raised with

#3 mrvalle82, 01 Apr 09 02:29

I should play at the blinds positions as Early positions, right?

#4 csx5, 15 Apr 09 12:07

You should play at the blinds positions as Late positions.

#5 4BET4YOU, 06 May 09 18:45

this is kind of funny

#6 cjbridle, 22 Jun 09 08:26

i find SSS is the only way to profitably play at micro stakes because players will call with basically any two pre flop and on all streets. this cuts out all post flop play and works well to isolate loose calling donks pre flop (which is basically everyone in micro stakes)

#7 mikelstwe, 09 Jul 09 10:59

Anybody know why the ratios were removed? I hadn't played sss for a very long time and when I wanted to recap the articles I noticed this - it seems kinda weird

#8 c0pykill, 02 Aug 09 21:03

Example 4 is wrong because you go all-in with AK against a raise in front of you...
...and it doesnt fit to the other examples there because it is about a raise in front of you...

its on the wrong place with the wrong content

#9 ElCreaDor, 12 Sep 09 18:26

So, on what limit does the SSS become no longer profitable?

#10 kenshin79, 21 Oct 09 01:58

I have tried to apply SSS. Many times everyone fold, I take some chip. But when they call, they have strong hand, and I lose more. what does this method means? Anyone could show me?

#11 builthard30, 27 Oct 09 07:21

example 4 isnt wrong its actually saying the chart cant help you not the hand it has been poorly written yes you do raise with the AK what the example is actually saying is if you look at the chart it doesnt tell you what to do in that situation as that chart is for when nobody rasies against you but the chart in the next chapter will help as that is what that chart is for

#12 wilcos, 19 Dec 09 15:32

What happens if only 1 guy raised befor me but everybody else called, still counts as 1 raise only?

#13 rex99, 07 Jan 10 23:37


#14 frnak, 14 Feb 10 00:45

Your raise = 4 times the Big Blind and plus 1 Big Blind per player that has already entered the hand = call or fold.

#15 eints59, 23 Feb 10 12:05

should i play in early positions J10/Q10/K10/A10?

#16 silman, 11 Mar 10 11:51

Can someone explain the "raise after you" ratios? I understood it to mean the ratio of their bet to your bet, ie if you raise 40 and they raise 80 that's a ratio of 2:1, but that would imply you would continue playing AQ, though that's an example fold in one of their questions?

#17 phuongbui, 21 May 10 06:43

You can play in early position with A10 suited and J10 suited

#18 DAVROS5555, 27 Jun 10 09:07

a raise before me+one call-do i count as one raiser or two raisers?

#19 ristky169, 04 Jul 10 00:39

how does it work!

#20 majk24, 12 Jul 10 02:41

I must say im sceptic about this....im playin this strategy now for couple of days...completely by the book(Chart)...and it doesnt look good at all....lost about 12 dollars in 2 days...all with hands played like i suposed to...will see in next couple of days...keep u posted!!!!

#22 tzagman, 27 Jul 10 00:09

According the chart we go all-in:
When a raise was made before you and you have
JJ - AA - AK
When a raise was made after you and you have
TT - AA - AK

But a raise behind means more strength than a raise in front! (gap concept)
Is there something I miss?

#24 edilgreve, 11 Oct 10 16:28

I find this article a bit misleading I mean I know A Q isn't the best of hands but it treats it like dirt, unless I see a big raise or feel I am actually being beat pre-flop for whatever reason that is the only time I'll fold this hand pre-flop..

I almost always call this hand even if there are two big raises in front of me, what if the two players in front of me are blind stealing? Or they're on a total bluff with 96s? Maybe its just a bit too early in the guide to talk in depth about the situations in which you fold maybe I'm just jumping the gun lol, but does anyone see what I am saying?

#26 AngryJack7, 23 Nov 10 21:30

if you wanna be a good poker player on a long term,then dont follow thir article

#28 m00m1lk, 09 Dec 10 15:29

why do i have to raise 4 Big Blinds + 1 Big Blind for every player who has already entered the hand? can i bet lower (i.e. 3 BB + 1)?

#29 delanonunes, 30 Oct 11 18:17

Have seen a lot of " Spanish shortstackers" doing this, makes it very easy to put them on a hand, and if i'm on a draw and i hit i tend to stack their Aces and kings over and over again......love it.....wouldnt play it though.......lol, i find MSS much more profitable imo : )

#30 tmannie, 04 Jul 12 06:27

delanonunes are you saying you stack them more often with your draws than they double up with AA etc against you

#31 philly12, 17 Aug 12 01:46

Does what I push with matter depending on how many raises after my initial raise there are? The chart only details what to push with after you have made a raise and someone raises after you, but what if more than one raise is made after your own? If you raise in mid position with TT and two people raise in a row after you, are you still supposed to push?

#32 k3ntt, 22 Feb 13 00:22

i wasnt hoping from this article what i expected, but, good thing for any, beginner player anyways. (:

#33 kaulaz, 08 Jul 13 05:51

If i Open Raise from Cut-Off and was raised by BU, should i consider this as a RE-STEAL (and thus go all in with 99 - AA ; AJ - AK)?
should i consider this as A RAISE AFTER ME (and thus go all in with TT - AA; AK)?