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Poker News: September 2, 2006

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Copyright © 2006

HEADLINE: In Hold'em, don't be predictable with pre-flop raises

Author: Daniel Negreanu

Pomroy believes that, in poker, always doing anything the same is generally a bad idea. He argues that by making the standard raise of three times the blind in all situations, you simply become too predictable.

Though I agree with that assertion, I do have a problem with Pomroy's reasons for raising different amounts before the flop.

Specifically, Pomroy suggests that you should make a larger raise from early position with hands like 8-8 in order to knock out the rest of the field. He also advocates larger raises from the dealer button since position is paramount in No Limit Hold'em.

With trash hands, he theorizes that you should make smaller raises, thus risking less when your bluff attempts fail.

Flawed strategy

My problem with this strategy is that any observant poker player will decipher a predictable pattern in play based on the amounts raised. Pomroy's approach gives away too much information about his hand based on his bet size.

After all, he's already shared his preference to make larger raises from early position with middle pairs. Well, when he makes that play, you'll have a solid read on his hand. You'll also know that his smaller raises are more likely to signal a bluff attempt.

Unless Pomroy mixes up his play and veers from that poker strategy, he will, in fact, become more predictable; precisely the style of play he is trying to avoid.

As I said, I agree that adhering to a pre-flop strategy of raising three times the blind in all situations isn't the best approach. However, my reasons for changing the bet size depend on a completely different set of factors that have nothing to do with the strength of my hand and everything to do with my opponent's tendencies.

For example, let's say I'm on the button and the players in the blinds are extremely conservative. If everyone folds to me and I'm looking to steal the blinds, I can take advantage of my opponents' tendencies to fold too many marginal hands for a very small raise. With the blinds at 100-200, there's a good chance that I could steal a tight player's blind for the bare minimum, risking only 400 to win 300.

On the other hand, if I were attempting a bluff raise against very loose players who would defend their blinds vigorously, a raise of three times the blind may not be sufficient. In this situation, I may have to raise as much as five times the blind to force my opponent to fold.

Keep skill in mind
Another consideration is your opponent's skill level after the flop.

If the player in the big blind is known to play poorly after the flop, you can tempt him to defend his blind so that you can exploit his weakness after the flop. Against a terrible player, a smaller raise, say, 2.5 times the big blind, makes the most sense.

Now, when you're up against a very tough player, one who makes excellent decisions after the flop, you want to discourage his tendency to call with a wide variety of hands. In this situation, try to define his hand with a much larger raise. That should narrow down his possible holdings and help you avoid a disastrous confrontation.

Mix up your pre-flop play with larger raises against tough and loose players, and smaller raises against weak and tight players. You may give away information regarding your perception of your opponents, but you won't reveal the strength of your own hand.

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