The Ultimate Guide to Pre-Flop Raising in Texas Hold’Em


Texas hold’em players have a common saying about pre-flop strategy: If your hand is good enough to call with, it’s good enough to raise with.

This philosophy alludes to how you should come into pots aggressively. Raising pre-flop shows strength to other opponents and sets you up for another potential bet/raise after the flop (a.k.a. continuation bet).

Of course, you need to be selective when making pre-flop raises; otherwise, you’ll be spewing chips. And knowing a few crucial factors will help greatly in this department.

Keep reading as I cover the most important aspects regarding Texas hold’em pre-flop raising, including goals, table position, hand strength, bet sizing, knowing opponents, table size, and cash games vs. tournaments.

Why Should You Normally Consider Raising Pre-Flop?

Poker is always more fun when you get to see the flop because this gives you more action and extra chances to make great hands.

This is why many new poker players call the big blind (a.k.a. limping) instead of raising. Limping into pots is the cheapest way to see the flop.

But limping is also one of the worst plays in poker because it shows little strength in your hand. Furthermore, you can easily be raised by an opponent acting after you.

You especially want to avoid open limping, where you open the pre-flop betting action by calling the big blind. In addition to showing little hand strength, you also can’t take down the pot right away by calling.

Another problem with limping is that you make things easier on your opponents. They can either call behind you to see the flop for cheap or raise and put you in a difficult position.

One more downside to limping is that more players can see the flop cheaply. This gives you less pot equity, or the odds that you’ll have the best hand.

Of course, like anything else with Texas hold’em, there are exceptions when calling the big blind that can work. One example is when there are other limpers at the table whom you can outplay post-flop.

But generally speaking, you want to enter pots with a raise, or at least calling another player’s raise. The key is to look aggressive from the outset so that you deter other players from raising while representing strong cards.

Pre-Flop Raising Can Accomplish Multiple Goals

One of the most important things behind raising pre-flop is to have a plan. Furthermore, you want to accomplish specific goals with your raise.

Sometimes your pre-flop raise will check off multiple objectives. Other times, you may be raising with the single goal of stealing the blinds.

Below are some of the most important goals that you can accomplish with a pre-flop raise.

Fold Equity

Raising indicates to opponents that you have a good hand, thus increasing the chances that they’ll fold marginal cards. And this is where your fold equity comes from.

Another good thing about fold equity is that it allows you to steal pots even when you don’t improve on the flop. Of course, you should keep the pot small in these situations in case an opponent calls or re-raises.

Pot Equity

Having the best hand gives you the most equity in the pot. And you want to build the pot as much as possible when you think that you’re in the lead.

Isolating a Single Opponent

Earlier, I mentioned that raising prevents multiple players from seeing the flop and reducing your pot equity. Ideally, you’ll isolate a single player when raising with a strong hand.

Pocket aces, kings, or queens offer a much stronger chance to win when you’re only facing a single opponent. The goal here is to raise just enough to where only one player will call.

Table Position Is a Crucial Factor

Many beginning poker players focus too much on their hand strength when deciding whether to raise. You also need to strongly consider your table position before raising.

Here are the table positions based on a 9-handed game.

  • Early position – Small blind, big blind, seat to big blind’s left (i.e., under the gun or “UTG”)
  • Middle position – 3 seats to the left of UTG
  • Late position – Dealer (a.k.a. button), seat to dealer’s right (a.k.a. cut-off), and seat to cut-off’s right

Acting earlier in a hand means that you’ll have less information on opponents. Therefore, a pre-flop raise from early position means that you’re acting before an opponent(s) post-flop.

The general idea is to widen the number of hands you raise with in later seats. This lets you better judge an opponent’s hand strength after the flop.

Here’s an example.

  • A tight-aggressive player from middle position raises 3x big blind (bb)
  • You’re in the cut-off with pocket 10s
  • You re-raise them
  • They call
  • The flop comes out Qs-Jh-3d
  • They make a pot-sized raise into a board with overpair potential. You fold because you’re likely beaten

Assuming you were acting in early position post-flop, you’d be left checking and giving the opponent a greenlight to steal. Or you might even bet to steal the pot, only to be called or raised.

But being in position allows you to see that your opponent likely has a better hand and to fold without losing additional money.

What Hands Are Good for Raising Pre-Flop?

No two poker games are exactly the same, and there’s no uniform way to play every hand in each situation. But there are some generalities that work with certain hands.

One example is when you have a premium pocket pair in a pot where nobody has raised. Outside of rare limp/re-raise opportunities, you should almost always raise in this situation.

For the most part, though, you want to use specific situations to decide when you do and don’t raise. Here’s advice for playing different pre-flop hands in a full-ring game, based on your table position and the actions before you.

  • AA and KK – Raise in every situation from any table position. If somebody raises you, re-raise (a.k.a. 3-bet) them.
  • QQ – Raise in every situation from any table position. If somebody raises you, be willing to call up to 20xbb or 25xbb.
  • AK – Raise in every situation from any table position. Fold if anybody re-raises you.
  • JJ – Raise in every situation, except when somebody has raised before you (call 20xbb). Also, call up to 20xbb if somebody re-raises you.
  • TT and 99 – Fold in early position, but raise from any other spot in unopened pots. Call up to 20xbb if somebody raises beforehand or re-raises you.
  • 88 through 22 – Fold in early position, call in the blinds and middle position, and raise from late position in unopened pots. Call (20xbb) in other situations, including when loose-aggressive players raise, since you have position.
  • AQ through AT offsuit – Fold in early position and when anybody raises or re-raises you. Raise in unopened pots from middle position, late position, and the blinds. Call from middle position and the blinds if there are other limpers.
  • A9 through A2 suited – Fold in early position and when anybody raises the pot or re-raises you. Raise in unopened pots from middle position, late position, and the blinds. Call from the blinds if there are other limpers.
  • KQ, KJ, KT, QJ, QT, JT unsuited – Fold in early and middle position. Raise in late position and from the blinds in unopened pots, but call from these same positions if there are other limpers.
  • JT through 54 suited – Fold in early and middle position. Raise from late position in unopened pots, but call from middle and late position if there are other limpers.
  • Any other cards – Fold/check in every situation.

Again, there are exceptions to any hand based on your opponents and the overall table dynamic. But this guide will get you started when figuring out how to play hands pre-flop.

Bet Sizing with Pre-Flop Raises

Bet sizing is another area of pre-flop play that varies based on the situation. But a good guideline is to enter pre-flop pots with a 3xbb or 4xbb raise.

The goal is to bet enough to where most players will be deterred from calling, while isolating a single player. Anything less than 3xbb usually draws multiple callers and defeats the purpose of raising pre-flop in the first place.

Sometimes you’ll find that even a 3-4xbb pre-flop raise doesn’t discourage players from calling. This is especially the case in the micro stakes, where low blind sizes encourage more players to see the flop.

In these situations, you’ll need to consider entering pots with a 5xbb raise or higher. This is something that you’ll just have to feel out after playing some hands and studying the table dynamic.

Study Opponents Before Raising Pre-Flop

Knowing individual opponents is crucial to making good pre-flop raises because it helps you better accomplish your raising goals.

Here’s an example.

  • You have AJ on the button, and everybody has folded
  • Normally you’d raise in this situation
  • But both blinds are major calling stations and bad post-flop players
  • You instead limp in while looking to outplay your opponents post-flop

You should stick with the pre-flop hand advice discussed before when coming onto a new table. But also watch for opportunities to break out of ABC poker based on whom you’re playing against.

Keep in mind that reading opponents and adjusting your pre-flop raising strategy accordingly requires experience. The last thing you want to do is burn through chips by making fancy moves against players that you don’t have any info on.

Table Size Affects Pre-Flop Raising

The pre-flop hand advice that I covered before works as a general guideline for 9- and 10-player tables. But when you’re playing with 6 people (6-max) or fewer, you need to open up your starting hand requirements.

One reason why is because winning hands aren’t as strong on average due to fewer players. Secondly, you’ll see the blinds more often per hour, and you don’t want to miss out on extra opportunities to win money and cover these blinds.

How wide you increase your starting hand selection depends upon the number of players at your table.

In a 6-max game, you could open your early position raising range to include 9s, 8s, and AQ. At a 3-handed table, you can even add 7s, 6s, AJ, offsuit, ATo, A9 suited, and A8s to this range.

The general rule of thumb is that you need to expand the number of hands you’re willing to raise with on a short-handed table. Likewise, you should be more selective in full-ring games because winning hands will be stronger.

3-Betting Pre-Flop

A 3-bet is simply the third bet of a round. Here’s the basic sequence of how 3-betting works in pre-flop play:

  • 1st bet = Small and big blinds
  • 2nd bet = Open-raise
  • 3rd bet = Re-raise

3-bets have become more common in poker these days, as players look to turn up the aggression on their opponents. Unfortunately, this move is overused by players who blindly show aggression.

You should always have a plan when 3-betting pre-flop. The two reasons to use this play include 3-betting for value or for a bluff.

A value 3-bet means that you’re in the lead (e.g., with AA, KK, or QQ) and building the pot while isolating one player. The purpose of a bluff 3-bet is to steal the pot from an opponent who’s likely in the lead.

A good bet size, in either case, includes 2x to 3x the pot, depending upon the table dynamic, opponents, your cards, and your position.

If an opponent raises 3xbb (4.5bb in pot), you would re-raise them with between 9bb and 13bb.

I recommend sticking with value 3-bets until you can fully identify situations where bluff 3-bets can work. Here are different things that you need to consider before bluffing with this play.

  • Your opponents, including ones who’ll fold to a 3-bet in a specific situation
  • What range of hands the open-raiser likes to play
  • Knowing who’s likely to 4-bet
  • Knowing what 4-bettors will have the nuts and which ones won’t
  • Stack sizes (in tournaments), because shorter stacks are more likely to 3-bet to steal blinds
  • Your table image and if opponents will think you actually have a strong hand
  • Table position. You generally want to avoid 3-betting from out of position until you master hold’em

Cash Games vs. Tournaments

Another important distinction in pre-flop raising involves whether you’re playing a cash game or tournament.

The main reason for this distinction is that you have a finite number of chips in a tourney. Therefore, you can’t just reload when playing speculative hands that don’t work out.

Experienced tournament players usually have a tight pre-flop style. This keeps them from wasting blinds while chasing drawing hands with long odds.

Of course, you never want to play too many hands in cash games or tournaments. But the latter requires an even tighter style to avoid blowing your limited chips.

Texas hold’em tournament players are often very aggressive when they raise pre-flop, especially in the later stages of a tournament.

At this point, the blinds begin taking away a player’s chip stack. And you need to steal blinds and small pots to stay alive.

Cash game raising differs, though, because you’re always looking at plays that offer the maximum expected value.

Cash game players will rarely find it profitable to raise with pocket 3s in middle position. But tournament players are often forced to make decisions like this because of the rising blinds.

You’ll also find more opportunities to set mine with lower pocket pairs in cash games.

In contrast, it’s almost never a good idea to set mine in tourneys. You have a really low chance of actually flopping your set (11.8%), meaning that you’ll waste valuable chips chasing these draws.

5 Common Texas Hold’Em Pre-Flop Mistakes

One more important topic I’d like to cover in this discussion is the most common pre-flop mistakes by Texas hold’em players.

Some of these blunders were covered to a degree beforehand. But it’s worth reiterating everything just so that you don’t fall victim to these mistakes.

Mistake #1: Not Taking Your Position into Account When Raising

Poker players lose the most money when playing out of position. And while there are times when you do need to play in front of opponents, you should work to minimize these situations.

One of the worst things you can do out of position is make frequent raises. You leave yourself open to a large number of re-raising opportunities in these cases.

Even if you’re not re-raised, open-raising from early or even middle position puts you at a disadvantage post-flop. You should only open up the range of hands that you’re willing to raise with in later seats.

Mistake #2: Raising with Too Many Hands on the Button

While late position gives you important information on opponents, don’t overvalue the button by raising too often.

Some players get overconfident on the button and open their raising range too wide. You can get away with this on passive tables, but you’ll eventually bleed out money by being too optimistic with your hand range.

Remember that just because you have position doesn’t mean a strong hand will automatically fold to your raises.

Mistake #3: Raising Just to Mix Up Your Playing Style

It’s always nice to remain unpredictable to your opponents. But this can go too far when you’re making unconventional moves just to mix up your play.

Sure, you might throw off an open-raiser by flatting them with pocket kings, but chances are that you’re just giving away value by not 3-betting in this situation.

As you become more advanced, there’ll be situations where mixing up your playing style produces good results.

But you’re better off in the long run by making conventional pre-flop raises and re-raises, rather than worrying too much about mixing it up.

Mistake #4: Raising Too Often with Offsuit Broadway Cards

If you’re going to chase a straight draw, there’s no better way to do it than with broadway cards. But you also can’t raise with broadway cards too often, especially when they’re not suited.

Suited connectors like JT often play better than KJ offsuit because your hand is unlikely to be dominated when you hit a flush or straight.

Meanwhile, the only thing you have to fall back on when your KJ combo doesn’t connect is a high pair. Kings could be dominated by aces, while jacks can be beaten by three different high pairs.

Mistake #5: Failing to Have a Plan

As I touched on before, you want a plan when raising before the flop. This is especially crucial when your raising goals don’t work out exactly as planned.

Here are some different factors to consider.

  • What hands are you willing to open-raise with? 3-bet with?
  • What will you do if an opponent 3-bets your opening raise?
  • How will the player to your left react to a raise?
  • When is it best to limp in or call another raise?


A Texas hold’em hand features four streets, and it’s important to master each street on your way to becoming a great player.

But you should fully learn pre-flop play before anything else because this sets the tone for the entire hand.

Coming into pots aggressively with a raise shows strength and forces opponents into more-difficult decisions. It also gives you a chance to win the pot with the best cards, or by forcing your opponents to fold.

Again, consult the advice I gave on what hands are good for raising pre-flop. This will give you a reference point to work off of in the beginning.

But you should adjust your starting hand range as you learn your opponents and table dynamic. Also, keep in mind that the table size will play a large role in what cards you raise with.

The more Texas hold’em you play, the better you’ll be at making pre-flop raising adjustments.

Petko Stoyanov
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About Petko Stoyanov
My name is Petko Stoyanov, and I've been a gambling writer for more than ten years. I guess that was the natural path for me since I've loved soccer and card games for as long as I can remember! I have a long and fairly successful history with English Premier League betting and online poker, but I follow many other sports. I watch all big European soccer leagues, basketball, football, and tennis regularly, and I keep an eye on snooker, volleyball, and major UFC events.