Poker Strategy -- Vary The Size Of Your Preflop Raises
Ask Yourself Questions To Determine Your Raise Amount
A common piece of advice is to make all of your preflop raises the same size. The theory is that by always raising the same amount you guard against leaking information about the quality of your hand. This is a simple and safe solution to raise sizing. It has an attractive logic, and we’ve all played around with it. It’s also really easy to do.
There are players who raise to three blinds with most of their hands, but four or five blinds with only their strongest hands. This is an awful strategy and you should not seek to emulate it. These guys would do well to always raise the same amount, since their current strategy telegraphs their hand strength. But we can do better.
Many factors come into play when deciding how to size your raise:
Are there short stacks behind you?
Some players like to simplify the game by playing with the minimum buy-in, which is as small as 20 blinds in many online games. They leverage the fact that they can shove all of their chips in against a raise and avoid playing post-flop poker. If one of these players is left to act behind you, open raising to three or more blinds is usually a mistake. A normal-to-large sized raise gives them good odds to shove over your open. Instead, make your raises smaller, effectively making their stack play deeper against you. This makes their short-stacking strategy less profitable. It also costs less when you open and then fold to their reraise.
Are there big calling stations in the blinds?
If so, you should make your open raises a bit larger. They will be calling with a weaker range both before and after the flop. By raising more, you bloat the pot and allow yourself to get more value on every street. They’ll miss a lot of flops – everyone does – so you’ll take down larger pots with your continuation bets. They’ll also call too often on the turn and river those times they do flop something decent. The larger preflop pot will allow you to get more chips in with your strong hands on the turn and river. You’ll have a good chance to take his stack.
Are there very aggressive players in the blinds?
When the blinds like to reraise a ton, min-raising can be a good option. Your opponents may call more often, but that’s okay since you’re getting a better price on your steal (4-to-3 instead of the usual 2-to-1). They may also reraise a bit less frequently, since they’re getting a worse price on a resteal with less money in the pot. Experience shows that many aggressive opponents will still make their “standard” sized reraise to 10 or 11 blinds. Your smaller raise size means you lose less when you fold to these raises. You also get a great price on a small four-bet bluff when they do have a wide range. There’s no need to make a large four-bet, since they’ll almost always shove or fold.
Do you have an edge on the blinds?
When you’re on the button and the blinds play at least as well as you do, this is another good spot to min-raise. You’re effectively cutting the stakes against the good players. (An ancillary benefit at small to medium stakes is paying less rake the times the blinds call and you take a flop.) With bad players in the blinds, you’ll be making larger raises and playing larger pots. Just like you’d prefer to play big pots with big hands, you’d also prefer to play big pots against bad players.
Do the blinds call a lot preflop and fold a lot post-flop?
This is a specific manner of playing poorly, and it gives you a huge incentive to make some slightly larger raises. Don’t make your raises so big that the blinds start folding a bunch. You want them to call so you can pick up a more profitable spot after the flop.
Are there limpers ahead of you?
A common practice is to add one blind to your raise size for every limper. This is a good default, but when the limper is a big calling station, you can often extract more value after the flop by raising a bit more before the flop. Calling an extra seven blinds may not seem much different to them than calling an extra five blinds, but it has a snowballing effect. Your post-flop bets can be progressively larger on each street with the larger preflop raise. An extra two blinds now could mean an extra four blinds on the flop, another eight on the turn, and a bonus of 16 blinds on the river. Those two blinds quickly compounded to 30 blinds. With something like a big pair or suited big cards, you should go for the bigger raise if you think the limper will call it.
You will find plenty of other opportunities to vary your raise size if you look for them. It’s fine to have a default open-raise size (three blinds is good for most games). But don’t get hemmed in and always raise the same amount. Overly static preflop play can lead to overly static post-flop play. Before you know it, you can be auto-piloting ABC poker on all four streets. Starting your imagination and paying attention preflop is like eating a good breakfast. It gets your hand started on the right track.
Don’t waste chips by raising more than necessary, and don’t fail to take as much off the weaker players as you can. ♠
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 five-year online-poker career, Schmidt has played nearly 9 million hands and won close to $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 bluefirepoker.com.
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