Preflop Opening Ranges

By Kyle Garner

14 Apr, 2011

This is a guest post by Kyle "SHIPIT2KG" Garner. He was a coach at Jack Wilcox's old training site. I decided to transfer Jack's articles to this website in August 2020, and thought I'd include the articles by other coaches whilst I was at it.

In NLHE there are 1,326 different starting hands.

That's a lot of hands, and we must arrange these hands in some sort of order to give us an idea of each one's strength, or in some cases, lack of strength.

Hand Combinations.

Different combinations of cards produce different types of hands, and some are more likely to be dealt than others:

  • Pocket Pair: 6 combinations (e.g. 99)
  • Suited Hand: 4 combinations (e.g. AKs)
  • Off-Suit Hand: 12 combinations (e.g. AKo)

Note: So AKo + AKs = 16 combos in total.

To figure out the number of combos for an off-suit hand, you would be multiplying the (4 various suits)(3 other suits) = 12 combos. For a suited hand, there's only 1 of each suit, equaling 4 combos. To figure out a pair you would use (3x1)+(2x1)+(1x1) = 6 combos.

Now you have an idea of where all those combinations come from.

See this combinations article for more on the mathematics.

Hand Strength.

The next step is to determine which hands hold the most value and why.

The most obvious answers are AA/KK/QQ, and the list continues down. But when you have finished listing the premium hands, things can get slightly more complicated.

For instance, why is A9o such a horrible hand to open the raise with UTG?

You may think, "I have an Ace, that’s a good card, I should raise!", but when you open A9o UTG, there is an extremely high likelihood that a player calling you not only has position on you postflop, but also has a hand that has you crushed in terms of equity (for example if they have a better Ace like AQ). Both of these things will lead to you leaking money, which is something we want to avoid.

"Ok, so we know we don’t want to open A9o UTG, then what do we open?”

The answer to this is elastic and will vary from player to player depending on a combination of things:

With all that in mind, we have to start somewhere. And that somewhere for a beginning player, in my opinion, is something around the top 12.5% of hands in No Limit Hold'em.

The top 12.5% of hands can also be expressed as the 166 strongest combos in the game. Those combos are 22+/AJo+/JTs/QTs+.

This is a solid opening range that will help keep you out of tons of difficult spots OOP postflop. The tool I am using to figure out these percentages is a program called PokerStove — it's freeware you can download, and is a must have for anyone looking to improve, or take the game even semi-seriously.

So we have an UTG opening range, now we need an opening range for the remaining positions, MP/CO/BTN/SB. Once again these will vary from player to player and change as you improve, but I have created a list of opening ranges that should work fairly well for players just beginning.

The list is as follows:

Opening Ranges. (6max cash games)

UTG: Top 12.5% (166 combos): 22+,ATs+,KTs+,QTs+,JTs,AJo+,JTo

UTG Opening Range (PokerStove Screenshot)

MP: Top 14% (185 combos): 22+,ATs+,A5s-A3s,KTs+,QTs+,JTs,T9s,98s,AJo+,JTo

MP Opening Range (PokerStove Screenshot)

CO: Top 23.4% (310 combos): 22+,ATs+,KTs+,Q9s+,JTs,T9s,96s+,87s,76s,65s,54s,ATo+,KJo+,QTo+,J9o+,T8o+,98o

CO Opening Range (PokerStove Screenshot)

BTN: Top 40% (530 combos): 22+,A2s+,K4s+,Q8s+,J8s+,T7s+,96s+,86s+,75s+,64s+,54s,A2o+,K9o+,Q9o+,J9o+,T8o+,98o

BTN Opening Range (PokerStove Screenshot)

SB: Top 22.5% (298 combos): 22+,A2s+,KTs+,Q9s+,J9s+,T8s+,98s,87s,76s,ATo+,KTo+,QTo+,JTo

SB Opening Range (PokerStove Screenshot)

Obviously these numbers aren't the "answer", but they should be a solid starting point for your online poker endeavors.

Over time you will learn that some hands are so close in equity preflop that they are interchangeable. Basically, this means that nobody (theoretically) can quantify whether it is better to open A4s or 98s in Middle Position. Some people prefer one hand over the other, some will open both. What works best for you is what should dictate decisions like this.

Be aware that these are only recommendations for a new player looking to play a solid TAG style. As you become a better hand reader, and more capable post-flop, these ranges will widen and change.


If you notice in the charts, our opening ranges become wider as we move into later positions.

This is because we can play a wider range more effectively in position as opposed to OOP, so naturally we open more hands as we get closer to the button. At the end of your poker "career" you will make the most money from the latest position, which is the button.

The button also has the most dynamic range of all positions because it is so drastically affected by players in the blinds in un-opened pots. If the players in the blinds are playing too tight, then it's profitable to open almost any hand, because they are not defending their blinds with a high enough frequency to prevent you from showing an immediate profit.

As a result, we should be widening our button opening range dramatically.


I hope this article has given you a better understanding of what hands are suitable to play from varying positions, and how those positions affect our hand selection.

Question everything when learning; don’t take someone's word for it, that’s how you improve. See what works for you, and know why it works for you.

GL everyone! See you at the tables.


Terms and Abbreviations.

No Limit Texas Hold'em.
The number of possible ways a two card hand can be composed.
Under the Gun; first player to act.
Middle Position; second player to act.
Cutoff; third player to act.
Button; player with the button and last to act before the blinds.
Small Blind.
Big Blind.
Dead Money
Money that is posted in the pot that wouldn’t ordinarily be there; if a player posts the BB rather than waiting for to actually be the BB, there is extra or "dead" money in the pot.
How you are perceived by other players at the table; examples are: Tight, Loose, Crazy, Passive, Aggressive, etc.
Opening Range
The range of hands you choose to raise when the pot hasn't been raised prior to your action.
In Position.
Out of Position

About The Author: Kyle "SHIPIT2KG" Garner

Higher Level Poker

I started playing almost 2 years ago, figured out how to mass table and get tons of rakeback, back then I thought I would be rich 16 tabling 100NL with a 1bb/100 winrate. Then I got coached for the first time, realized how horrible I was and began working on improving.

I met a couple of other online guys and chatted strategy with them, improved a bit more. I was then mediocre but still not very good. Then I started working with my current coach who absolutely changed the way I think about NLHE entirely, playing the game with a new perspective.

Currently I play a mix of 200nl/400nl Rush and do very well for myself. Rush is my area of expertise and I haven't really played hands outside of Rush Poker except when taking shots at higher stakes which are not offered at Rush currently.