One of the first things you learn when you play poker is that you should only play a certain number of hands. But how do you know how many to play?
In this article, we'll be looking a what percentage of hands you should play in poker.
Ideal Poker Hand Percentage
The percentage of hands you should play in poker will vary depending on certain factors. These factors include your relative position at the table, the size of your stack, and the kind of opponents you're playing against. When looking at a hand that you're dealt, you should consider all of these factors before deciding whether or not to play your starting hands or not.
Your relative position at the table is arguably the most important factor when making your decision as it influences whether or not you'll be in a position or out of position for the rest of the hand, as well as the ranges that your opponents will be playing back at you with.
The earlier your position, the tighter your opening range should be and as you get further round the table you should be adding hands to these initial early position ranges. From an early position at a 9-handed table, you should be playing around 12-14% of hands. This range is going to be made up of pocket pairs, strong Ax hands, and strong broadway hands such as KQ.
As we move towards the middle position we can add more suited connectors and suited Ax hands, and as we get closer to the button we can add more offsuit hands. The reason we can widen our ranges as we get closer to the button is that there are fewer players to act behind us that can defend against our raise.
Our stack size matters when playing hands as certain types of hands benefit from certain stack sizes. Hands that have the potential to make very strong hands such as pocket pairs (flop a set) and suited connectors (make straights/flushes) benefit from deeper stacks as we won't often make our hand but when we do we have the potential to win a big pot.
Hands such as strong Ax and broadway hands benefit more from shallower stacks as they often make good top pair hands that are good for winning smaller pots.
Poker Hand Percentage to Play Per Stack Sizes
Your stack size should influence the types of hands you play and therefore the percentage of hands you play:
10-15BB Poker Hand Percentage
The shorter your stack is, the tighter you should play as you're more likely to be all-in when playing post-flop. A tight play with a short stack is an essential poker strategy for beginners and professionals. This means that you want to play hands that are likely to make strong hands or flop strong equity.
We want to be playing strong Ax hands, big pocket pairs, and broadway hands. If we have smaller pocket pairs we're better off going all-in before the flop as they have good poker equity against your opponent's range but do not flop very well.
On average, we don't want to be opening more than 18% with a stack size this short.
15-40BB Poker Hand Percentage
When we have 15-40bb we have a lot more breathing room - especially as we get closer to 40bb. This means we can start to open a wider range of hands, knowing that we won't necessarily be all-in post-flop.
We can raise with a wider range of pocket pairs instead of just going all-in pre-flop as well as weaker broadway/Ax hands. These broadway/Ax hands are played because they make a lot of good top pair hands which at these stack depths is enough to be getting in the majority of your stack with post-flop.
40-70BB Poker Hand Percentage
At this stack depth, we can start to open up even more. We can open pretty much any pocket pair, any suited Ax hand, and a majority of broadway hands. Now, the exact range we can open will depend on our position, but we can start to steal more aggressively knowing that we're not risking a large percentage of our stack to do so.
Hands like suited connectors go up in value from all positions as we're starting to get deep enough where our implied odds for making our hand make it worth the investment. You can see the value of specific hands for these stacks through a Texas Holdem odds calculator.
70+BB Poker hand Percentage
When we have 70+bb we can play a very wide range of hands, especially from a late position. This is because stealing the blinds/antes becomes a very cheap prospect for our stack, and our implied odds from playing different parts of the deck go up as our stack size goes up.
Other hands such as weak Ax and weak broadway hands go down in value the deeper stacked we have more money to lose if we make a second-best hand. These hands are still playable but you should exercise caution if the pot starts to get large.
Poker Hand Percentage for Positions
Another factor that will influence what percentage of hands we should play is our position at the table.
Early Position Poker Hand Percentage
The earlier position we are in at the table, the fewer hands we should play. The reason for this is twofold. First of all, from an early position we have the highest number of players left to act behind us who can defend against our raise, which means our hand needs to be strong.
Second of all, we're very likely to be out of position when playing post-flop, putting us at a disadvantage and thus requiring a stronger than average hand. We should be playing only our strongest hands such as AA/KK/QQ/JJ/TT/AK/AQ and a few other strong pairs/broadway hands. You do not want to be stuck with non-face cards and make one of the worst possible hands in this position.
Middle Position Poker Hand Percentage
In the middle position, we can start to open up a little more as we don't have quite as many players left to act behind us. However, our chance of having to play out of position is still relatively high so we can't go overboard when it comes to the range of hands we play.
We should raise all of the hands we raised from the early position and add some more such as 66/55/44/98 suited/87 suited. As we get closer to the button, our opportunity to steal increases, therefore the range of hands we play will increase and the range of hands our opponent will defend with will also increase.
This is why playing these weaker hands is profitable from the middle position as we know our opponent will be defending with a weaker range than if we were raising from an early position.
Late Position Poker Hand Percentage
We want to be raising our widest range when playing in late positions. From the button, there are only two players left to act so our chances of winning the blinds/antes with a raise are very high. Not only that but from the button, we're guaranteed to be in position post-flop which gives us an advantage. We see a similar advantage from the cutoff and hijack, though not to the same extent.
To ensure we maximize this advantage, we raise a wide range - anywhere around 25% from the hijack to over 50% from the button. This range is going to include the majority of Ax and Kx hands as well as a lot of suited connectors/broadway hands.
Adjusting Your Poker Hand Percentage
The percentage of hands you play should also be influenced by the playing style of your opponents at the table, as some are easily exploited by others. For example, if your opponents are playing extremely tight preflop, we want to play an extremely loose style to win the blinds/antes the majority of the time.
This means that instead of only playing a wide range from the button/cutoff, we want to be raising that wide range from a lot more positions to best take advantage of our opponent's mistakes. However, we need to make sure that these are genuine mistakes that our opponent is making, and not a fortunate/unfortunate run of cards. Catching a mistake and turning that against them is a solid poker strategy.
It's common that when a player gets a run of good cards within several hands other players will assume that they're playing too wide - especially if those hands don't get to showdown. It pays to take notice of your opponents and see if they're the kind of player who plays a wide range the majority of the time or if this recent uptick in VPIP is just the result of some fortunate hands.
Being able to spot this difference at the table will prevent you from making a costly mistake based on your "read" on how your opponent was playing.
There are several factors you should consider when thinking of what percentage of hands to play in poker and good players will go through each of these before making their decision. Playing the right percentage of poker hands is a good way to profit from poker games.
This article was published on July 15, 2022, and last updated on October 26, 2022.