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Explain Poker Like I'm Five: Gap Concept

by Card Player News Team |  Published: Apr 29, 2015

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When you’ve played poker for years, it’s easy to forget that technical poker speak may as well be a different language. Many players just picked up a deck of cards for the first time and are wondering what the hell a reverse implied range merge against a large stack to pot ratio is.

Maybe you are new to poker as well and want to start analyzing the game at a deeper level, but the lingo and foreign concepts get in the way. To help, _Card Player_ brings you this brand new series, Explain Poker Like I’m Five.

Every issue, we’ll take on a new term or idea, perhaps one you might come across elsewhere in this very magazine, and we’ll break it down to its simplest components.

The Concept: The Gap Concept

What Is It?

There is a sizable gap between the strength of a hand that can be opened as an initial raiser and a hand that can call that raise. A raiser can win a pot two ways- with a showdown or by making everyone else fold, but someone who just calls throughout a hand can only win with a showdown. Therefore, the caller should have a stronger hand than he would initially raise with in order to continue.

Okay, Now Explain It Like I’m Five

It takes a better hand to call a raise with than it takes to make the first raise.

Give Me An Example

Let’s say you are dealt KDiamond Suit 9Diamond Suit in middle position. Depending on the table dynamics, this may be a perfectly fine hand to raise with. However, if a player in early position has already opened with a raise, then your KDiamond Suit 9Diamond Suit now usually gets thrown into the muck. The reason for this is because of the gap concept, which requires you to have a stronger hand to call with than open raise with.

Calling is passive and doesn’t allow you to take the lead in a hand. You also cannot make your opponent fold if you just call. If you do just call preflop, unless you take an aggressive action on a later street, you can’t win win the pot without winning a showdown. So, in order to combat this, you should usually only call with hands that are stronger or play aggressively on later streets.

Following the gap concept can especially help you avoid situations where you are dominated. You may have no problem raising from the cutoff with ASpade Suit JDiamond Suit, but if you are facing a raise from early position, you may be up against a dominating hand like AHeart Suit QHeart Suit or AClub Suit KDiamond Suit, which would be a recipe for disaster should the flop come with an ace.

Of course, the gap can also fluctuate depending on specific situations and opponents. Against particularly tight players, the gap may be very wide. Should the tight player raise, you might not want to defend unless you have pocket jacks or better. But if you are up against a loose player, you can possibly defend with hands as weak as K-Q suited, knowing your hand does well against your opponent’s range.

Position is also important to consider, because a raise from early position is made with the knowledge that there are many players left to act behind. Likewise, a raise from late position is made knowing there are only a couple of players to get past, meaning the hand can be considerably weaker. For example, if you are deal ASpade Suit 10Spade Suit, you might call a raise from late position, but fold to a raise from early position.

Many modern poker players feel that the gap concept doesn’t allow for much creativity, but in order to completely ignore it, a player has to be exceptionally good at reading hand strengths depending on flop texture. You can call a raise from any spot at the table with AClub Suit 3Club Suit, for example, but only if you know how to get away from a flop of ADiamond Suit QDiamond Suit 9Spade Suit should your opponent continue to bet. ♠