Stealing From Under The Gun

poker table with players around it
Players compete during the Winamax Poker Tour. Thomas Samson/AFP

Stealing From Under The Gun 

If you’re a poker player of a certain age, you’ll remember how big the European Poker Tour was back in the day. With PokerStars at the top of their game, the EPT was basically the flagship show of online poker, setting the tone for the Moneymaker Era with their major tournaments and high-quality production values. 

Think of all the catchphrases that EPT commentators James Hartigan and Joe Stapleton have given us over the years: 

– Everyone loves a chopped pot 
– Domination Nation/Rotation
– Like X vs. Y, one of these hands has a slight mathematical advantage

Here’s a somewhat lesser-known phrase from about 10 years ago: Under the gun is the new button.

This was just before the first wave of solvers like PokerSnowie hit the market. Smart players had already discovered the value of sprinkling in a few unexpected hands from early position, especially suited connectors. Let’s pop the hood open and see what makes these “steals” so effective. 

Board Coverage in Texas Hold’em

You’re probably familiar already with the idea that you shouldn’t open-raise too often from early position. You’ve got all those other players to contend with, so if you’re opening junk like King-Ten offsuit from under the gun at a full-ring table, you’re lighting money on fire

This is true. Here’s a typical UTG range that might have been recommended just before the solvers arrived: 

– 88+ 
– AQ+ 
– AJs, ATs, KQs

Add all those combos together, and you get 86 out of a possible 1,326 starting hands, or 6.5%.

This very tight range would still be a good idea for most players today, but it has one specific weakness. Can you spot it? 
Okay, you already saw that we’re talking about board coverage, so good job: There are no cards lower than Eight in this opening range. What happens when the flop comes Seven-Six-Deuce? That hits your opponent’s calling range, not yours. 

Widening Your UTG Range

The solution is to get some of those baby cards into the mix. Suited Aces are the best candidates for the task, giving you the opportunity to make the nut flush as well as Top Pair-Top Kicker (TPTK). Many modern players will gladly open any suited Ace from any position, anytime.

You’ll also find a lot of players who will open any pocket pair from any position. This does indeed get some more of those baby cards involved, but it’s usually a bad idea. You’re putting yourself in a position to get felted set-over-set when someone else has a higher pocket pair that connects with the board. 

With that in mind, skip those baby pairs when you’re “stealing” from under the gun, and mix in a few of those premium-suited connectors instead. Only a few, though. Here’s my personal recommendation: 

– 87s 
– 76s 
– 65s

That’s it. You don’t want to put in stuff like Ten-Nine suited too often because you’re once again in danger of getting creamed by a bigger straight, flush or Top Pair. On top of that, you don’t want to put in lower connectors because they’re not going to complete often enough

Now that we’ve got these hands in our range, imagine the board comes out Seven-Six-Deuce again after we’ve opened with 76s. Your opponent, if they’re thinking at all, is likely to assume you’ve missed the board completely. They might try to bluff you aggressively, giving you the chance to call down and take their chips with your Two Pair. Delicious.

You’ll sometimes have a strong draw in this situation as well, like when the board comes Eight-Five-Three with two more cards of your suit. We’ll leave the specific strategies for these hands for another day.

For now, recognize the value behind attempting the occasional UTG steal, and don’t forget the most important poker catchphrase of them all: May the rectangles be with you.