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A Good Decision Is Based On Knowledge, Not Numbers

by Ian Simpson |  Published: Feb 11, '13

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“How much is that, John?” asked Plato.

“Come on, Plato, it’s me. You know I always raise 2.25x” said Mr Thorn-in-my-side-four-bettor.

I saw this exchange recently at a live event and it got me wondering about bet sizing and its trend over the past few years. The above player, Mr Thorn-in-my-side-four-bettor, had been just that; a very good player, applying a very aggressive game, and generally being a nightmare to his opponents at the table. However he is making a mistake here, as are a lot of very good poker players. He used the word “always”.

If you’ve been playing online for as long as I have (since about 1 minute into my 18th birthday) you will have no doubt noticed the change in trends when it comes to bet sizing. Back in the day 3x the blind was THE preflop raise size. Except with a tricky, but strong hand like pocket tens or jacks, and then it was 4x (Exploitable much?).

As the game evolved 2.5x became the norm. With the sound reasoning that it reduced the pot size when called and hence reduced the variance. It also meant that anyone threebetting you would be doing so for a smaller amount making it easier for you to either call or re raise.

A little later and 2.25 became the norm or even just a “click” raise to 2x the BB, with the same reasoning as above but combined with more people learning that investing more money passively out of position (OOP) from the blinds with marginal hands was a bad thing.
The problem that some players have is that they stick to a rigid bet size with the thinking that people won’t get a read on them based on it. I’ve always considered that thinking a bit woolly. If you aren’t disciplined enough to make sure that when you raise 2x the BB you do so with a variety of hands and not just K-K+ then your problem isn’t your bet sizing, it’s your discipline and your whole game would do well if you improve upon it.

There are a number of factors that make me want to change how much I am raising preflop.
Let’s say the big blind is on 12x the blind and seldom threebets light. He is also at least semi-competent, so you assume he is either going to be pushing or folding, not passively investing any more chips OOP with a precarious stack. You look down and see 7-6 suited and next to those beautiful cards is the dealer button. Everyone folds to you. Does it get more exciting?

You notice that the small blind (SB) has 20x the big blind (BB), which is around the same as you. What is a correct raise size?

There is no need to raise too much here. In fact I would personally min-raise my entire range in this situation. If either player does wake up with a threebet then I lose less when I fold my 7 high. I don’t think raising an extra quarter or an extra half a BB gives us that much more fold equity at all in this specific situation, so there’s no point putting it into the pot. A penny saved and all that. Note it is extremely important to have the discipline to min-raise your monster hands here as well in order to balance your range. That’s how you become unexploitable, not by having a rigid opening raise size for every situation.

If the BB has a bigger stack, and has shown a tendency to defend his BB then make it a larger raise and force him to invest more chips OOP against you. It would be a mistake to stick to a rigid 2x the BB raise here since he is willing to put in more money when you have a positional advantage on him.

Let’s look at a different situation. It’s in the early stages of the tournament and the players are all deep stacked and we look down at A-A. Now with the blinds so small in relation to the stacks I want to be raising 3×. I’m raising larger so that Jonny-set-miner has worse implied odds against me. I make the same raise with J-10 so that, again,

I am unexploitable. The same raise size for each unique situation, not the same raise size period.

When I was in Las Vegas there was often five or more players going to the flop, even if it was raised. In these situations you can go ahead and make your raise sizes even bigger preflop to minimise your number of opponents and to punish the limpers. I’d also put even more focus on exploiting your position vs. loose passive players by widening your range with favourable position.

What’s your thinking on preflop raise sizes and the examples in the blog? Do you have a specific strategy you follow? And how and when do you alter it if at all?

After spending a year sponsored by Paddy Power Poker through their Sole Survivor promotion, Ian Simpson went on to win the 2013 Irish Poker Open to take home €265,000 euros. He currently plans on doing some work in schools in between travelling the tournament circuit and writing for Card Player Magazine. You can find him on twitter @IanSimpsonPoker

 
Any views or opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the ownership or management of CardPlayer.com.
 

Comments

thereyougoagain
almost 2 years ago

i think you hit the nail on the head when you say to remain unexploitable you raise the same amount for each unique situation, not just the same amount period. one time ill adjust preflop raise sizing is in, say, the middle stages of a tournament, if i see the player in the big blind is tilting. ill open a big hand from late position to an amount that i think will manipulate our tilting friend to do what i want him to do(maybe a min raise will annoy him into making a huge tilting 3 bet..or maybe a 4x raise will do the same thing)..its a unique spot and i have to feel like i can sense hes about to blow up

 
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IanSimpson
almost 2 years ago

Ah, interesting scenario. Relies on your spidey senses lining up with a big hand!

 
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Tyler2
almost 2 years ago

When putting together a solid game do you ever write down (on paper) what you will be raising with say Aces to Queens, Eights to Jacks, Nines to Deuces etc...or do you just kinda do what I do a total amateur (guessing you don't) and wing it during play thinking that I am so sporadic its not as exploitable because most the time I don't even really know what I am gonna do before I do it lol. My question is basically what's a good way to formulate a game plan and stick to it? and is there Plus EV in writing down bet sizes and common situations and playing rigidly off it? and lastly if I should write down and formulate basic situations and bet sizes whats a good way to figure out optimal plays, or is poker to complicated to do that?

 
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IanSimpson
almost 2 years ago

Tyler2:
Lets say the blinds are 50/100 in your local tournament. If I always raise 250 with Aces to Queens and 300 with everything else, people will realise this and never give me action. Therefore make your raise size the same with all your hands here. That raise size is dependant on a few factors. Will raising smaller encourage multiple callers? If so raise larger. Is your stack on the shorter side? If so raise the smaller amount.

The trick is to not give the game away by your raise size in each unique situation.

Try not to wing it, take your time and think about what might happen. Treat it like a game of chess. "If I bet here and he calls and the turn is another heart then I will check/fold, but if the turn doesn't complete the draw then I will bet again"

As far as figuring out optimal plays goes my best advice would be to join a poker forum and post your hand examples on there and talk through them. The more you discuss hands with others the better your thinking process will get and the easier decisions will get at the table.

There's also no harm in writing things down if it helps your learn it, or if you are playing online and want to have a few tips next to you. I do the same thing myself.

Hope this helps!

 
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answer20
almost 2 years ago

I think you hit on some good points late in the piece. One, if you know there is an opponent willing to put in more, then play for more if you 'know' that this player is still to act. Also I agree that when my 'normal' (3.5x for cash) raise has worn out it's welcome after I have shown a complete range of holdings (which causes an extra player or 2 to enter the pot each time) that you should increaase the raise to thin the herd back down. Of course you need the stack size to do this. This other option is to do a little extra limp-3betting and then go back to 'standard'.

When playing at the 'right' table (players who can actually pick up on what I am doing) I will have bigger raises in early or late position, but more standard raises in middle position where it's harder to play the Turn and River. A higher raise early will limit the field while you can play for a slightly bigger pot from late position with that same raise.

This may sound contradictive, but I use 3 raise sizes (3.5x, 6x and 8.5x) in my cash games once I have worn out my 'welcome' with the 3.5x raise. I will use these raises with all kinds of hands and make sure to show enough so that everyone knows that AA can be played at any raise 'level'. This keeps the table guessing nicely.

I try to mentally, not exactly, keep track of which raise size I have last used for various categories of holdings (pairs, suited, paint, connected) and thus creating an evolving untrackable pattern of raises based on the cards I get from the dealer ... thus AA has potentially 3 different OPENING raises attached to it that rotate.

How to deal with re-raising someone is a whole differnt discussion.

 
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Daniel14
almost 2 years ago

This happened to me the other day at aspers, i was sitting in the BB with T6s it gets raised 2.5x UTG, there are 4 callers im getting 8-1 on a call so i limp in. The flop comes A66 i check letting the UTG raiser to C-bet she bets 750 (everyone folds) i 3-bet to 1850 she goes all in for 60% of my stack i call and she flips over aces.

thinking back she is a tight player and i have played with her a few times before. her range pre-flop could have only been QQ-AA.

would you have done anything different in the had or was it just a cooler?

congratulations on your PCA cash

+ u still owe me a heads up (daniel BCHS)

 
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thereyougoagain
almost 2 years ago

in my opinion , knowing how tight she plays, you should have just checked and called down each street..once you raise shes only gonna give you action with aa or maybe ak on the flop, but then shed fold ak to turn bet.theres really no reason to raise as she will fold ALL other hands but aa or ak on flop..if flop was j66 now you can make a raise cuz in her mind shes still beating aj, qq and kk

 
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Foucault82
almost 2 years ago

Very nice article. A poker player I admire once said something along the lines of "Being able to bet any amount you want is THE defining characteristic of no-limit hold 'em. Artificially restricting yourself to specific sizes is a big handicap."

 
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IanSimpson
almost 2 years ago

Answer20 - nice post, a nice way to help randomise what raise size you use rather than just memory is to use the tournament clock or your watch to determine what size you pick. I think I heard thats what Dan Harrington does. I.e. if the second hand on your watch is on an even number raise "x" if it is on an odd number raise "y" if it is a multiple of 5 raise "z". This adds an element of randomness to your thought process that is difficult for other players to pick up on.

Thank you, Foucault - very nice quote there!

Daniel - Didnt realise any BCHSers read my blog!

The questions you have to ask are "is she strong enough to lay down AK given your check raise?" and "Has she seen you bluffing which may lead her to think that AK is still good?" If she has, then the money goes in and its just a cooler. If she hasnt, and you think she is incapable of a bluff in this spot and strong enough to lay down AK then a very tough laydown may be in order. I think I go broke in this spot too!

 
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Daniel14
almost 2 years ago

Thanks for the feedback.

i think the hand was a good learning curve for me and that i can improve my game from it.

you should come and play a wednesday torny at aspers on the 27th? it starts at 3pm bad prize pool but it should be fun!

i won my second time of playing there feels good to get my first win!

 
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IanSimpson
almost 2 years ago

Congrats on the win, unfortunately I'm busy on wednesday but I'm sure Ill catch you there at some point.

 
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