Do You Need to Raise to Find Out Where You Stand?
by Dusty Schmidt | Published: Jan 23, 2013
Contrary to what has become popular opinion in poker circles, you do not need to raise to find out where you stand in a hand. In fact, I can promise you with absolute assurance that raising to protect your hand when you play no-limit hold’em is 100 percent wrong-headed.
One of the most common phrases you’ll hear in a poker room is, “Don’t let them draw out on you. You’ve got to raise to protect your hand.” This notion of protecting your hand originally came primarily from limit poker, where the price of a bet is quite small compared to the cost of losing a pot altogether. Somewhere along the line, “protecting your hand” eventually became passé in limit hold’em. But in no-limit hold’em, raising to protect your hand is downright silly.
Here is a pretty good example taken from a $.50-$1 table that I played once upon a time:
Everyone folds to the small blind who open raises to $3, and the big blind re-raises to $10. The small blind calls with his pocket fours, and the flop comes out 8 5 2. The small blind checks, the big blind bets $13, and the small blind raises to $37.
When asked why he raised, the small blind replies, “I want to protect my hand and find out where I’m at.” We’ll leave the grammar alone, as this is a perfectly legitimate construction in Standard Poker English, just like “Two Pair.” The bigger problem here is that it is an awful play.
Before tossing a third of your stack into the middle, just take a single moment to consider the value of the information you stand to obtain in this situation. When your opponent folds, you find out that you had the best hand. Was it worth it? When your opponent re-raises, you find out that you didn’t have the best hand.
Unless you did.
You need to please remember this: just because your opponent re-raises the flop, that does not always mean he has you beat. Many opponents can shove over your raise with semi-bluffs like six-seven and heart draws, or even just two overcards like ace-king. Check-raising the flop and getting re-raised does not tell you “where you’re at.” You are asking a question with your raise. Just don’t expect an honest answer. This is poker, not a game of “Go Fish.”
Calling a shove here would be as bad as the check-raise, but it would at least make that first play make sense. The only legitimate reason to check-raise here would be if your opponent is so aggressive that you can actually put all of your money in on the flop and still be ahead of your opponent’s range. As I have said time and again in previous Card Player columns, being ahead of your opponent’s betting range is not the same as being ahead of his shoving range. That is a critical difference that you must keep in mind at all times.
So what is the correct play on this flop? Well, calling is an acceptable play if you know one of the following to be true:
• Your opponent is extremely passive and straightforward and will never bet the turn unless you’re drawing almost dead. In this case, you could call the flop bet and get to the showdown for no additional charge when you hold the best hand. When he bets the turn, you can fold with a clear conscience. While your opponent will still draw out on you about a quarter of the time, you will typically never end up folding the best hand against this type of passive player.
• Your opponent is just incredibly aggressive and will barrel all three streets blindly. Against a player with a huge number of bluffs in his range, you can call down the whole way, allowing him to bluff off his stack.
Unfortunately, most opponents fall somewhere in the middle. You’ll wind up folding too much equity or paying too much to get to showdown. It is not that the cost is too high in absolute dollars. The problem is that you will not be getting the right price. If there is $20 in the middle before the flop with $90 left to bet after the flop, you will have to win 45 percent of showdowns to justify calling all the way down (90 / (20 + 90 + 90) = .45, or 45 percent). If your opponent bluffs and barrels with discretion, that is simply not going to happen. Your other alternative is to call the flop and fold the turn or river. But the showdown value of your hand is not worth anything if you do not get to showdown. You’ve got a rock-in-a-hard-place situation on your hands. So what is the answer?
In fact, you should fold to the preflop re-raise against most opponents. You will miss the flop 7.5 times out of 8.5 and usually just check/fold. You are just not getting the right odds to play this hand out of position against most players. Against a very strong range you can call the three-bet, hoping to spike a set. Against a player who will fold a huge portion of his range to a four-bet, you can consider playing back. But against most players, just avoid the situation entirely. As we have seen time and again, the truth about no-limit hold’em is that good players often fold the best hand. It costs less than trying to “find out where you’re at.” ♠
Dusty Schmidt is the author of the new book Don’t Listen To Phil Hellmuth: Correcting The 50 Worst Pieces of Poker Advice You’ve Ever Heard, as well as Treat Your Poker Like A Business. In his seven-year online-poker career, Schmidt has played nearly 11 million hands and won more than $4 million, without ever having a losing month. He blogs several times a week at www.dustyschmidt.net, and is an instructor at PokerStrategy.com and AmericasCardroom.net.
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