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Reraising Light

by Andrew Brokos |  Published: Jun 27, 2012

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Andrew BrokosTo the uninitiated, the level of preflop aggression exhibited by many successful tournament players can seem random and psychotic. These players three, four, and sometimes even five-bet with shockingly weak holdings, but rest assured, there’s nothing arbitrary about it. When they reraise light, they have good reason to believe that, based on various situational factors, their opponents will fold more often than not. In this article, I’m going to explore the thought process behind a few such plays that I made in the main event of the European Poker Tour Berlin in the hopes of elucidating when and how to execute such bluffs.

The first and most important factor is for the original raiser to have an extremely wide range. This occurs most often when he is in late position or when the player in the big blind can be expected to fold very often to a raise. Knowing that the original raiser will rarely have a premium hand gives you leeway to reraise him liberally. It may also lead other attentive players to reraise him liberally, which opens up the opportunity for you to four-bet them liberally.

In all three of the hands below, the player in the big blind is the same older gentleman with a stack of roughly twenty times the big blind. I believed that his age would lead other players at the table, rightly or wrongly, to stereotype him as a tight player whose blinds were ripe for stealing. Moreover, players with a stack size of twenty big blinds or fewer will not often call raises, preferring either to raise all-in or fold. Of course his standards for putting his whole stack at risk must be higher when he has twenty blinds than when he has ten, so a minimum raise makes good use of leverage, putting him to a big decision with relatively little risk to the raiser.

A Light Three-Bet

Blinds were 400-800 (100 ante). My opponent and I both began the hand with about 35K. I was on the button, and he was immediately to my right. Given who was in the blind, when he opened to 1600 from late position, my first thought, before I even looked at my cards, was that this would be a good spot to reraise him on a bluff. The only problem was that he would probably realize that as well and thus give my raise little credit.

This didn’t deter me immediately, though. Instead, I considered what exactly his options were if he didn’t believe me. He could either make a pot-committing reraise, make a smaller four-bet that left him room to fold to a shove, or call with a wide range of hands.

In our time playing together, I got the sense that shoving 35K over a 4K raise with a wide range wasn’t his style. He was, wisely, trying to make moves without putting too much of his stack at risk. Thus, he would either four-bet small or call if he didn’t believe me.

Finally I looked at my hand: A-4 offsuit. That sealed it. I raised to 4K, intending to move all-in over a small four-bet. That might sound crazy, but remember my read: I expected my opponent to suspect a bluff and to respond with a combination of light re-bluffs and light calls. Although he would surely four-bet good hands as well, those would probably be limited to A-K and big pairs, meaning this his four-betting range would consist mostly of bluffs that would fold to a shove. Moreover, the ace in my hand provided some equity in the event that I was called by a hand like K-K or Q-Q.

If my opponent chose to respond by calling light, that would be fine too. It wouldn’t be ideal, but most of his calling range would actually consist of hands weaker than mine, perhaps stuff like K-J offsuit and 9-8 suited. I wasn’t way ahead of those hands by any means, but I also had the benefit of position, so I didn’t expect to lose money to those calls.

As it happened, he folded, which was of course welcome. Importantly, this doesn’t necessarily invalidate my suspicion that he would re-bluff often. Remember that I expected his initial raise to be quite wide, perhaps even any two cards. Even if plays back at me with 40 percent of hands, which would be quite a lot, he’ll still fold more often than not. That’s what makes this such a good spot: if I’m right, then my opponent’s range is really, really wide and thus really, really weak.

A Light Four-Bet

This hand was played against the same opponent, and actually before the one above. He began the hand with 25K, I with 30K, and the player to his right with 15K.

Blinds were 300-600 (75 ante). The player with 15K opened to 1200 from two off the button. Although this isn’t as obvious a steal position as the next two seats, it was clear to me – and, I believed, to the player on my right as well – that this player would steal aggressively given the opportunity. His stack was getting low, but not so low that a raise would pot commit him. With a soft-looking target in the big blind, it seemed likely that he would try to take advantage of a low-risk opportunity to increase his stack by nearly 10 percent.

The player to my right reraised to 2575. From what I’d seen, he was good at picking up on steal and re-steal opportunities, and nothing had gotten past him yet. Every time I thought to myself, “this would be a good time to raise,” he was already in there raising. In fact, I was planning a light three-bet myself, if this guy hadn’t beat me to it.

Perhaps a bit resentful that the play had been taken away from me, I made it 5500. I held Q-3 suited, though that had nothing to do with my decision.

It’s important to note that this raise commits me to call a shove from the original raiser, though not from the reraiser. Though not thrilled by the prospect, I felt that both players would fold more than enough to make up for my equity disadvantage if I ended up racing against the first raiser. Not only would they both fold a lot of air, but I expected my cold four-bet to look strong enough that they might even fold a few hands, like 8-8, that the would have been willing to get all-in against each other.

Both of them folded quickly, and I increased my stack by twenty percent without a showdown (or a hand, for that matter).

A Light Five-Bet

The player on my left was an aggressive Frenchman who’d been playing well. In particular, he’d three-bet quite a bit, both in and out of position, against late position raisers. He was table chipleader with 130K.

The player two seats to my right was a young northern European who’d recently replaced the original raiser from the hand above. He seemed confident and had been playing well. His stack was at about 55K.

Blinds are 300-600 (75 ante). The northern European opened to 1400, which had become the standard at our table, from the two off the button. I called with K-T suited on the button.

The Frenchman in the small blind made it 4200. I think he recognized the whole ideal steal dynamic, and besides, he just generally liked to three-bet a lot against late position raises.. So far, I wasn’t giving anyone much credit.

The blinds folded, and then the northern European made it 7125. Stacks were such that I didn’t think he could do this for real thin value against the Frenchman, because I doubt he wanted to get nearly 100 blinds all-in preflop with A-Q or T-T. So I expected him to flat some relatively strong hands. Certainly he would four-bet Q-Q plus and A-K for value, but I also assumed that he’d be capable of four-betting light, and this sure looked like a spot to do it.

Now at this point there was about 15K in the pot, and I had 36K behind. It can be tough to represent a big hand after just calling the initial raise, but in this case it would be reasonable for me to have flatted a big one. The short-stacked big blind would probably shove any hand he wanted to play, and we all knew that the small blind was squeeze-happy.

In addition to picking up the dead money from all their light three and four-bets, I may get one or both of them to fold a few hands they were three-betting for value. The small blind especially had hands like T-T and A-Q in his range that he wouldn’t want to call off, especially with a four-better still to act behind him.

It’s important to note here that my image was not as crazy as this article may lead you to believe. I’d had no good hands in the past few hours, so the reraises I described here were the only ones I’d made. Granted I’d won a few pots preflop without showdown, but my opponents never saw the Q-3 or the A-4, and nothing about my frequency indicated that I was reraising so light.

Unfortunately the small blind woke up with A-K and busted me, so I never got the opportunity to make a light six-bet! Hopefully, despite my eventual loss, these hands help you better understand that thought process behind the preflop aggression that, though relentless, is rarely as random as it may seem. ♠

Andrew Brokos is a professional poker player, writer and coach. He’s a member of Poker Stars Team Online and blogs about poker strategy on ThinkingPoker.net. Andrew is also interested in education reform and founded an after-school debate program for urban youth.