Open raising is one of the most fundamental areas of the game
where many players seem to struggle. Whether it means that a
player can’t determine what types of hands to open raise with,
how much to raise, what to fold to, or anything else, it’s
definitely a major problem area. Since every game is so
different, it becomes very impossible to define set ranges of
hands to raise with and the proper correlated bet sizes. With
that said, however, we hope that this article will serve as a
useful guide towards understanding the basic concepts behind
In reality, open raising is an initial process of trial and
error. Once you get past the stage of trial, you need to be able
to critically analyze what does and doesn’t work. Taking it one
step further, you’ll then be forced to determine why any play
worked or didn’t work. Poker is always about digging deeper
until you find the absolute most simplistic reasoning behind why
something will work. You should never open raise to open raise,
and in understanding this much alone, you’ll have already
conquered half of the battle.
Short Handed vs. Full Ring Games and Online vs. Live Games
One of the primary disparities between open raise ranges and
bet sizing is found in the format of the game that you are
playing in. Where AT might be a fold in a
full ring game, it’s most often worthy of a raise in a
short handed game. Being able to determine how ranges shift
depending upon how many people are playing is one of the most
important things that you can do. While it will ultimately only
change a handful of borderline hands from folds to raises, these
marginal differences can make all of the difference in the long
In live play, a general open range in short handed games is
A9/AT+, any two face cards, and any pocket pair. Though this
range is quite specific, you’ll likely find that it’s also
quite useless, given that most live cash games don’t play short
handed, and when they do they are likely to break relatively
quickly. Of course, knowing which types of hands should call for
a raise is still going to be valuable, even if only on rare
Again in live play, standard full ring games will call for a
bit different range of open raise worthy hands. QK is on the
borderline of open raises, QJ is almost always out of the
equation, and AT is very marginal. AJ+ is an open in most
situations, and 88+ is usually worth opening with. The reasoning
for only opening 88+ is the simple fact that
smaller pocket pairs will find most all of their value in
set mining. As a result, raising with 55, for example, is going
to be difficult if you are faced with a re-raise.
If you limp in, however, you can safely call an open raise from your
opponent and still be playing in the pot at a reasonable price.
For AJ, 88-99, a re-raise will frequently be enough to denote a
fold, depending upon the size of the raise and how many others
called. If you open with AJ, get re raised by one player, and
then are the only one left in the hand and are sitting out of
position, you should be folding. If you raise with 88, get re
raised, see two calls, and can play in position, it’s a clear
cut call. In full ring games, the expanded player base will
dramatically shift how and what hands are able to be played.
Online play is much more universal across the different types
of tables that are available. Any pocket pair, QJ/QK+ and AT+
are the standard hands for which an open raise should be made.
Of course there will be exceptions that are going to apply, but
No Limit Hold’em cash games should generally abide by this
specific base range of hands. Open limping is just not an option
in online poker as it is in live poker.
Position will allow for you to expand the number of hands
that are going to be fit for open raising. K8 suited isn’t
going to make sense to open raise with from under the gun, but
it will be the perfect open raise if you are on the button and
are looking to steal. The less action that there is and the
closer to the button that you are, the more value that every
single hand will have. This doesn’t mean that you should be
firing out raises with reckless abandon, but that you should
seek out opportunities to be aggressive when possible and
logical. The more that you stray from typical open raising
hands, the less useful that any guidelines for raise worthy
hands will be.
Bet sizing is something that’s so incredibly simplistic, even
systematic, yet so terribly executed by so many players.
Have you ever noticed that some people will open with a 4x raise
one time, a 5x raise the next, and then a 10x raise? These
types of players telegraph their hands with the size of their
open raises and are easy to play against. If you want to win,
however, you should be making your open raises as deceptive as
In live games, a general range of 3-6x times the big blind
will be ideal for open raise bet sizing. In a $2/$5 game, a
$15-$30 open raise will work just fine. You should adjust the
exact sizing based on your opponents’ likelihood to call. At a
loose table, make bigger open raises, at a tight table, remain
moderate in your bets.
When you are open raising but are facing a pot with limpers,
you should again adjust your raise size. If you were open
raising to 5x at $2/$5 when under the gun (to $25), add 1 big
blind to that raise per limper. For example, with one limper the
raise would be to $30. With two limpers the open raise would be
to $35. All things considered, bet sizing is actually one of the
easiest to understand dynamics involved in open raising.
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