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August 12th, 2009
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Poker Lesson: Varying Your Pre-Flop Raise Amounts
Author: Paul Wasicka
A lot of outstanding poker players will tell you the cornerstone of pre-flop play is consistency. That approach works for many top players, but I don’t necessarily subscribe to that theory.
Particularly in short-handed play, I believe in mixing up my raise amounts. When playing at a 6-max table, sometimes I’ll min-raise, sometimes I’ll make it four times the big blind and sometimes I’ll limp. It all depends on who’s behind me and who’s already in the pot.
Here are a few examples from a recent $10/$20 No-Limit Hold ’em 6-max ring game that will illustrate what I’m talking about:
Hand 1: I was sitting in the cutoff with about $2,000 in chips and holding A-J. The under-the-gun player had only $539 in front of him and limped in for $20. I’d normally raise the size of the pot there, but the thing about short-stackers is that they don’t usually put money in with the intention of folding. I didn’t want to raise to $90 and have him go all-in. So this was a situation that called for a limp. I limped in, the small blind folded and the big blind checked. The flop came Q-10-2, giving me a gut-shot straight draw and an over-card. The big blind checked, while the short-stack weakly bet $25 into a $67 pot. I raised to $75, and both the big blind and short-stacker folded.
Hand 2: I had A-10 off-suit in the small blind. The same short-stacker, now down to $464, raised to $70 on the button. He could easily have been making a button steal, so I figured I was likely ahead of his hand range. I decided to re-raise him and go with the hand. The big blind had about $1,600 in front of him, and that was a crucial factor in my raise amount. After the short-stacker made it $70, I raised to $230, and both the big blind and the short-stacker folded, giving me the pot.
I see a lot of people making huge raises in that situation, making it $400 or so to isolate against the short-stacker. There’s really no reason to do that – if the big blind wakes up with a premium hand and re-raises me, I don’t want to play that A-10 for $1,600. I’m fine betting half the size of the short-stacker’s stack, which mathematically commits me against him, but still gives me the leeway to fold if the big blind puts in another raise. You don’t really need to throw in $400 in that spot, because betting $230 accomplishes the same thing and can save you $170.
Hand 3: There was a new player at the table two seats to my left who was somewhat reckless and unpredictable. He’d already doubled up once and built his stack to more than $4,000. I had pocket eights on the button, but with this potentially frisky player in the big blind I had to be careful. I made my open-raise smaller than usual, only $50, for a very specific reason: if the big blind re-raised me, he would only make it $175 or so instead of $240. This $65 savings definitely adds up over time. As it turned out, both blinds called, a King and a Queen hit on the flop, and I didn’t win the pot. And that’s okay. Even though my reduced pre-flop open may have invited the blinds to call, had I hit my set I could have potentially won a large pot off of the big blind.
Hand 4: Again, I was on the button against the same reckless player in the big blind, and it folded around to me with A-5 off-suit. I chose to min-raise to $40 because I didn’t feel like an extra $10 or $20 was going to change the big blind’s mind about whether to play the hand or not. Also, making this smaller open allows me to 4 bet without pot committing myself. The small blind called for $30 more, and then the big blind raised to $160. I wasn’t convinced he was raising with a big hand, but I decided to give him that one. The player in the small blind called, allowing me to watch the hand play out.
The flop came 2-5-6 rainbow, the small blind checked, and the big blind moved all-in. The small blind called and tabled 9-9, while the big blind showed 6-3 suited, good for top pair and a gut-shot. As it turned out, the big blind hit another six on the river and won the hand.
Depending on your opponents’ styles of play and the stack sizes at the table, there are times to raise big, there are times to raise small, and there are times to limp. Next time you’re at the table, consider mixing up your raises. Consistency has its place, but sometimes, consistency can cost you money
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