The Preflop Poker Checklist (Updated In 2019)

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Preflop play should be fairly simple, but most players struggle preflop because they lack a plan. So to make your life easier, I put together my preflop checklist that you can begin using in your next session. This checklist contains just 6 things that will keep you focused on the right information preflop and help you decide if you should fold, limp-behind, or attack with a big raise.

Most players build their preflop strategy solely around a hand chart they found online. Now don’t get me wrong – a hand range chart can be helpful. But charts are limiting if you don’t know when (and how) to deviate from them. So instead of trying to remember 128 different ranges from each position – let’s focus on the big 6 things that impact your ranges, sizes, and edges preflop. And to make life easier, I’ve named this the PLANES Method since it’s easy to remember!

So let’s break down each letter in this checklist…

Position (Where Are You?)

Position is crucial in poker. Being in position postflop means that you will have final say on whether money goes in on a given street – and if it will, exactly how much. This means you can apply pot control more easily, apply pressure more easily, and overall have an easier time making decisions.

This isn’t to say that you will fold all hands when you may end up being out of position (OOP) postflop. You certainly wouldn’t fold AA from the small blind just because you’d be OOP if you went postflop. But when you do rate to be OOP postflop, especially in a multi-way pot, you want to be much more selective with the hands you play preflop. This results in being tighter and playing marginal hands (like KJ and AT) less often – especially when playing from UTG.

Preflop Poker Positions
  • Be more selective from early position where your likelihood of being OOP if you go postflop is much higher
  • Given the table, is it likely that a pot is going to go multiway (MW) or heads up (HU)? Being OOP is much tougher in MW pots than HU pots
  • Before limping behind, especially from MP, consider how likely it is that you will have position (and if a HU or MW pot is inevitable)

Location Of Weaker Players

The L in PLANES is for “location of weaker players”. Whenever you sit at a table and play your first 10 poker hands you want to immediately suss out where the weaker players are that you have strong edges on. Are they in the blinds which will give you position on them if you go postflop? Or are they on the button and likely to put you out of position if you go postflop?

In Position If Postflop

Always know who the weaker players are, and be objective here. Far too many people fall into the trap of thinking they are better than everyone at the table – and they end up missing that a few people at the table are actually strong players. Also, remember that some players are strong preflop and weak postflop – so don’t assume that regs with decent preflop strategies are always going to be solid postflop.

In general, focusing on the weaker players helps you discern how likely it is that a pot goes HU vs MW vs 0-way, and can be the guiding factor in either expanding or constricting your preflop ranges. The more likely a pot is to get folded preflop or maybe get 1 caller, the wider you want to be. The more likely a pot is to go MW, the tighter you want to be on average.

Aggression (Raise, Raise, Raise)

Keep in mind that solid aggressive play can put you in the driver’s seat, can create discomfort in your opponents, and has the chance of picking up the pot uncontested preflop. It may not seem valuable to fight for 1.5bb preflop, but those extra pots add up at the end of the day, especially when you are stealing them with cards you would have otherwise folded.

This is NOT to say that limping or calling raises doesn’t have a place in your preflop strategy, but too many players default take the passive line and miss heaps of spots where aggression in ANY capacity is far better.

So before you automatically limp that AJo behind a limper or fold that J9s instead of 3betting it preflop – pause and ask yourself if a more aggressive line would create more profit. Honestly, if you get in the habit of always asking yourself “what would the aggressive option accomplish here?”, you’ll make better decisions both preflop and postflop.

No Limit To Your Raise Sizes

The N in PLANES is for No Limit, and is a general reminder that we have MANY sizing options when being aggressive. Now there are plenty of sizes that players consider “normal” such as

  • Opening 2.2bb in tournaments
  • Raising over limpers for 3bb+1x per limper
  • 3betting 3.5x the open-raise size

While these can be fine starting points, they are rarely OPTIMAL for the exact spot you find yourself in.

Remember, default ranges & sizes are exactly that – they allow you to default back to them when you don’t have better information to inform a more profitable response.

My suggestion is to understand what the common sizing defaults are, and then BEFORE you make your play, ask yourself what going a little larger might do (and if that outcome is better or worse) and what going a little smaller might do (and again, if that outcome is better or worse).

Bet Sizing Image

This gets easier with practice & lots of off-table poker hand analysis on bet sizing math and hand reading – but exploring this off-table will help you make better real-time decisions since you’ve trained your brain to focus on the right stuff and not get lazy using a rigid sizing strategy that everyone else in your game is using.


Now truthfully, when I first released this model, I ended it at PLAN. But upon further reflection, I think we need to add an E and S to make it this model more robust.


Edges & EV

Edges are an objective way of saying “my strategy will beat my opponent’s strategy using X, Y, and Z and I generate an edge by implementing X, Y, and Z against them as often as possible.” Essentially, when you are +EV in a given spot against an opponent, you have an edge in that spot.

If you are newer to the game, chances are you don’t have a great edge yet. But with time, study, and the right thought process – you will generate one for sure.

Also included in E is EV, short for expected value. Our goal in poker is always to maximize our EV and ensure the plays we make rate to make us money in the long run. So even though we may not catch a set all that often with a small pair, if we rate to make enough money the rare times we hit compared to the money we lose all of the times we hit, the EV of setmining can still be positive.

By focusing on our edges and the EV of our lines, we can choose our lines more correctly. For instance, say we are facing a raise and have TT on the button. Well we certainly aren’t going to fold, but we need to decide if calling or 3betting will generate a higher EV. If our preflop edges are high and our opponent tends to put far too much money in preflop with inferior hands – then the EV likely slants higher when 3betting – even though flatting is profitable.

But if our opponent plays well against 3bets and tends to spew postflop when they have the lead in the hand, then it’s easy to see how flatting likely generates a higher EV.

Both EV and edges go hand in hand, and making them a focal point in your preflop decision making will help you guide your exact lines more often. And keep in mind that your edges can differ between live and online (even from site to site like PokerStars to 888 Poker) and limit to limit. But EV will be the same regardless since it’s static math!

SPR (What Is It Likely To Be?)

And finally, the S in PLANES stands for SPR. SPR, short for stack to pot ratio, is a number that we calculate on the flop to determine how committed – or not – we are to a pot. If you’ve never heard of SPR before, be sure to read my complete guide on SPR in poker.

Even though SPR is a flop metric, we can still consider if preflop. When it comes to small SPRs, 3 or less, we won’t have the room postflop to run multi-street bluffs or take creative lines with drawing hands. So by being proactive and considering the SPR BEFORE making our preflop action, we can get rid of implied odds hands like setmines & suited connectors in spots where too many players get involved and find themselves missing a ton and unable to bluff their way out postflop.

Calculate SPR

We can also consider SPR and Edges together. When facing a preflop raise we should consider what our edge is when flatting and playing a deeper SPR pot vs. 3betting and having a much smaller SPR if our opponent continues. Sure, the SPR will always be smaller in the 3bet pot, but edges might run close in the 3bet pot yet be very large when utilizing your position, card edge, and bluffing edge if you flat instead.


And that is the preflop model I suggest using.

Again, that’s PLANES for:

  • Position
  • Location of weaker players
  • Aggression
  • No limit
  • Edges & EV
  • SPR

Keep in mind that these are all singular pieces that, when considered together, guide your preflop lines and ranges in every hand. And sure, there are other factors to consider as well – but if you only focused on PLANES for the time being – you would be so much better off than relying solely on a preflop hand chart.

FWIW, if you are looking for the other preflop considerations ALONG with this same kind of framework for POSTFLOP play, I couldn’t recommend enrolling in CORE highly enough. CORE is the complete A-Z poker course that I built with the rest of the team at Red Chip Poker to layout out ultimate poker syllabus and to build your strategy the right way. That means building a strong foundation and then adding brick-upon-brick, play-upon-play, to keep your strategy strong for years to come.

CORE includes over 100 lessons (many of them doable in a single sitting), quizzes, achievements, and a slew of in-depth hand breakdowns to show you how everything pieces together in a coherent and easy to follow structure. And best yet, any bankroll can afford CORE at just $5/week.

SplitSuit

My name is James "SplitSuit" Sweeney and I'm a poker player, coach, and author. I've released 500+ videos, coached 500+ players, and co-founded the training site Red Chip Poker. Contact me if you need any help improving your poker game!

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