In poker, most players are familiar with the hands they should be raising with pre-flop (preflop opening ranges), but what about the hands their calling ranges? Pre-flop calling ranges aren't as drilled into us as pre-flop opening ranges are so it's time we give them some attention.
Pre-Flop Calling Ranges By Position
In poker, most of your betting decisions are informed by your position at the table. You should not call with the same hole cards if you are the button or the first to speak on the flop. So here are guidelines on what calling ranges you should consider based on your position.
Calling From The BB
This is the most common position that you'll be calling pre-flop, some players will only call from the big blind and will play 3bet or fold from all other positions! This is because when we play in the BB we already have 1 big blind invested in the pot, meaning we're getting a significant discount to call most raises.
The range that we call will heavily depend on the player type and the position that they raise from. For example, defending against a UTG raise we should be much tighter than if we defend against a BTN raise.
BB Call vs BTN Raise: 88-22, A9-A2, KJs-K2s, QTs-Q2s, JT-J4s, T9-T6s, 98-96s, 87-85s, 76s-74s, 65s-63s, 54s, 53s, 43s, 42s, 32s, KJo-K7o, QJo-Q8o, JTo-J8o, T9o, 98o, 87o
BB Call vs UTG Raise: TT-22, AJs-A2s, KQs-K8s, QJs-Q9s, JTs, J9s, T9s, T8s, 98s, 97s, 87s, 86s, 76s, 75s, 65s, 64s, 54s, 53s, 43s, AQo-ATo, KQo, KJo, QJo, JTo
If we look at the two ranges we can see just how wide we can defend against a late position open compared to an early position one. As opening ranges become wider, more and more hands have the correct equity to call so we adjust our range to include these hands.
Calling From The BTN
Another position that is popular to call from is the BTN. This is because when you call on the BTN you're guaranteed to be in position post-flop and as we've covered, position is power in poker.
The problem with having a BTN call range is that we don't want to call so often that we're forced to fold a lot of the time to aggression, but also we don't want to call so infrequently that we cap our range and allow ourselves to be bluffed on a lot of board textures.
BTN Call vs CO Raise: 88,77,66,55,44,33,22,A5s,A4s,A3s,A2s,KTs,K9s,K8s,Q9s,Q8s,J9s,T9s,T8s,98s,97s,87s,86s,76s,65s,54s
If you call a range similar to the one posted above, we control the amount we're calling by only calling suited combinations and call with enough parts of the deck that we can defend on a lot of boards.
When it comes to calling ranges there are various paths you can take that all have merit, try experimenting with some of your own and see what you're comfortable playing.
Preflop Calling Range Chart
Use the below preflop calling range chart to memorize the various recommended actions based on your position and hand.
Strategies Using Pre-Flop Calling Ranges
Before we look into exactly what ranges we'll be calling pre-flop, we need to think of our overall strategy and how much pre-flop calling there is in it.
What you should consider when considering a pre-flop calling range:
- Rake Levels
- Skill Level of Opponents
- Stack Depth
- Pre-flop Raise Size
- Your Position
- Your Opponent's Position
- Hand Choice
How Does Rake Affect Pre-flop Calling Ranges
If you're playing in a cash game then rake is going to be a factor and should be considered when constructing your strategy. Rake is a percentage of the pot that is taken by the casino/poker site for hosting the game. This is bad for us as it's less money that we can win!
However, rake is usually only taken when the hand gets to the flop (if the hand ends pre-flop there is no rake taken) so calling pre-flop means that you're going to see a flop and therefore the pot will be raked.
How Much to Call
The amount our opponent raises should have an impact on the range of hands we call. The bigger our opponent raises, the less we should be calling against it, and the smaller they raise, the more hands become a profitable call.
This is because when our opponent uses a bigger sizing pre-flop, they're risking more money to win the blinds and therefore should have a tighter range. When our opponent is raising a tighter range we need to adjust by also tightening our range.
Responding to Bets in Specific Positions
If your opponent is at all decent, they're going to be 'positionally aware - meaning that the range of hands they raise will be different depending on the position they're in. If that's the case then we also want to change our calling ranges in return.
For example, if we're in the big blind and we face a raise from a regular who is UTG, we know that this is going to be very strong with a lot of strong Ax/pocket pairs/broadway hands. Therefore we want to be folding hands that are likely dominated and calling hands that can outdraw those hands.
However, if our opponent raises from the BTN, we know that they're going to raise a much wider range of hands so we in turn can defend a much wider range of hands.
Taking Advantage of Position
Position is power in poker. Most of our win rate comes from playing hands in position so naturally, we want to try and play as many hands in position as we can. One way we can increase the number of hands we play in position is by calling pre-flop raises.
When we call a pre-flop raise, we're often fighting an uphill battle as we don't have the betting lead in the pot and we're often going to be at a range disadvantage (assuming we 3bet our strongest hands). We don't want to add to that disadvantage by also being out of position - that might be a bridge too far for some hands to stay profitable!
Unless you're in the big blind, you'll want to try and stick to calling when you're going to be in position unless you have a very strong read on one of your opponents that you feel negates your positional disadvantage.
Noting an Opponent's Chip Stack
Being aware of how many chips your opponent has remaining is important when trying to make optimal decisions. If your opponent has a very short stack (less than 10bb remaining) there are some hands that become more profitable as raises than calls.
This is because they don't have a lot of money behind and therefore there is very little room for post-flop play. Instead, we should decide if our hand has good enough equity against their range and re-raise to get it all in. A benefit of this is that it allows us to realize 100% of our equity, whereas if we call and see a bad flop there are times where we have to fold to further aggression.
On the flip side, if we're very deep stacked with our opponents we'll want to call more speculative hands that have a chance of either making a very strong hand post-flop or can apply a lot of pressure to their marginal hands.
Responses to Specific Player Types
Depending on the playing style and type of player that raises, we're going to want to adjust our ranges in order to best play against them
TAG is the player profile of your standard regular player, they won't be playing a particularly wide range of hands but when they do they'll play them aggressively.
As we know that they're on the tighter side, we don't want to be playing a wide range against them as our weak hands are going to lose a lot of money against their strong range. We also know that they're going to be positionally aware so we need to react differently depending on the position they raise from (call tighter if they raise from early position and looser if they raise from late position).
Given that they're aggressive players we aren't going to make a lot of money calling hands pre-flop as we can expect them to bet a lot of flops and turns, making our marginal hands tough to play.
A lot of nits tend to play a tight-passive style and take tight to the extreme. Against players who play an extremely tight range, we can call more often with speculative hands that will flop large amounts of equity some of the time (rather than hands that flop decent amounts of equity most of the time).
This is because flopping a set with a hand like 33 against players who likely have overpairs will win us a lot of money, however, flopping a medium-strength top pair against players who likely have overpairs will lose us a lot of money.
You'll find a mix of good and bad players play with a LAG style. They do so with varying degrees of success and it's important to recognize which one your opponent is before you start planning your call ranges.
If they're a good aggressive player, you'll find that they're going to put you under a lot of pressure post-flop and it will be tough to be able to call down your more marginal hands, meaning you're relying on making big hands.
However, if they're a bad aggressive player, they'll end up bluffing way too often which allows us to call down our marginal hands with a lot more confidence. It will be high variance as these players can make hands too but they can be exploited.
Loose passive style is the player profile of most recreational players you'll play against. They play too many hands pre-flop and aren't particularly aggressive unless they make a good hand.
Playing against these players is great as their wide pre-flop range means they'll often miss the flop, and their passivity means they won't be bluffing too often which allows us to often pick up the pot when they don't c-bet.
Against these players, the hands that we call pre-flop don't matter too much but we don't want to be calling too much as it allows us to be exploited by good players left to act. Stick to calling a reasonable pre-flop range, but be aware that these player types will allow you to take down the pot if they don't show any aggression post-flop.
Poker Ranges Explained
If you've been around poker at all the past few years you will have heard the term 'range' used - but what does it mean?
Someone's 'range' refers to a collection of hands that they play in exactly the same way. For example, you're on the button, everyone has folded to you and you look down at- what do you do? If you know anything about poker you're going to raise. What if you get dealt ? Or ? Or ? All of these hands should be raised in this scenario, so as long as you're not giving away your hand strength by your sizing, your opponent won't know if you have or .
Every hand that you would raise on the button can be grouped into your button-raising range. As we can never know what exact hand our opponent has, we must think in terms of ranges as we can then analyze how our hand does against all our opponent's possible hands.
How Ranges are Illustrated
It can be very hard for new, or even experienced players to think about ranges entirely in their head so there are ways of displaying them that make things a little easier.
Poker Hand Matrix
This is the most common one you'll find as it gives a visual representation of each possible hand. If you're looking at images of opening ranges you can see that the hands that you're supposed to play are highlighted and you can even highlight different hands in different colors depending on if they should be 3bet or called, making it easy to differentiate strategies.
There are various pieces of software that allow you to input your own ranges. Not only do you then get to change the pre-flop ranges depending on the player you're playing against, but you can also remove different hands as you analyze the flop, turn, and river. Being able to visualize how these ranges change as you move through the hand makes it a lot easier when you have to think about them in-game.
Each hand has a specific number of possible combos - unpaired hands have 4 suited combos and 12 unsuited combos for a total of 16, paired hands have a total of 6 combos. The 13 pairs and 156 unpaired hands give a total of 1326 unique combos of hands.
When ranges get particularly narrow, such as by the river or in 4bet pots it's possible to count the specific number of combos you or your opponent has in a specific spot, allowing you to make extremely precise decisions. However, the ranges you assign need to be correct if it's going to help you make the right decision!
A range strand is a long string of text detailing a hand range, such as AA, KK, QQ, AK, AJo, A9s, A5s, A4s, A3s, A2s, KJo, K9s.
These aren't much fun to look at and can be very hard to read. They're mostly used to import and export ranges from different bits of software.
There are times where people will use these range strands in forums rather than post images of a poker hand matrix but often they'll shorten the strand by abbreviating hands that go up in sequence. For example, if they're opening every pair then instead of typing out each pair they'll just put 22-AA, or 22+ to signify that every pair better than 22 will be played.
This is where we think of a range as a percentage of all possible hands. For example, if you give someone a range of just pocket aces then that will be 6 combos out of a total of 1326 - or 0.45% of hands.
Looking at hands in this way is most useful when you have data on your opponents from your heads-up display. If you're looking at a spot and you can see that they've raised 24% of hands from the CO over 1000 hands, it's a great starting point to be able to look at what the top 24% of hands looks like and do some range analysis from there.
Preflop Calling Ranges: FAQ
We've collected and answered the internet's most common questions about preflop calling ranges.
What exactly are poker ranges?
Poker ranges are a way of thinking about the collection of different hands a player can play in a certain way, rather than thinking about one or two specific hands.
Is position important when calling pre-flop?
Position is important in poker as a whole, not just when calling preflop. The more often you're playing from in position, the more profitable you'll be so try and avoid calling when out of position where you can.
What hands are ideal pre-flop calling ranges?
We want to try and be calling hands that flop good amounts of equity; so hands like pocket pairs, suited connectors, suited Ax, and broadway hands will make up a good pre-flop call range or a percentage of hands to play pre-flop.
What hands should you bet on the first street?
If we're out of position after calling pre-flop we don't want to be doing any donk betting unless you've spent some time studying that spot. If we're in position we want to be betting a mix of good value bets and some bluffs.
How to play against tight players during pre-flop?
If players are only opening a very tight range of hands then we need to be folding more often, specifically folding more pre-flop hands that can be dominated by their range and calling hands that have the potential to win a big pot if they improve such as suited connectors and small pocket pairs.
Calling in single-raised pots is a very common occurrence so having a well-thought-out preflop calling range is vital to being a winning poker player in the long run.