Copyright 2005 Full
August 1, 2005
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Poker Lesson: Sizing
Up Your Opening Bet
Author: Chris Ferguson
I never get tired of saying it: If you're the first
to enter the pot in a No-Limit
Hold 'em game, never call. If you aren't prepared to raise,
throw your hand away.
Why, you ask? Simple. By raising, you put pressure
on the blinds and the other players at the table, making them
consider just how strong their hands really are. Chances are that
by raising, you'll force marginal hands to fold before you even
see the flop, limiting the number of players you have to beat
through the rest of the hand.
OK, with that out of the way, the next obvious question
becomes: How much should I raise?
To that, I say; it depends. First off, you shouldn't
allow the strength of your to hand affect the size of your raise.
A tough poker game is like real estate. The three most important
factors in deciding how much to raise are: Location, location,
You always want to make your opponents' decisions
as difficult as possible. In choosing the size of your raise,
you want to give the big blind a tough decision between calling
or folding if the rest of the table folds around to him.
Raising from early position is to advertise a very
strong hand - one that can beat the seven or more other players
who still have to act. Since you are representing such strength,
it doesn't take much of a raise to convince the big blind to fold.
Also, since your hand is so strong, you actually don't mind a
call from the big blind anyway. The real reason for a small raise
is that you have so many players acting after you, any of whom
might wake up with a monster and re-raise you.
When you raise in late position, you're representing
a hand that can beat the two or three remaining hands. This gives
you a lot more freedom to raise with marginal hands, but your
raise must be bigger or the big blind can call too easily. Another
reason to raise more from late position is that you're trying
to put pressure on the big blind to fold, not call and, more importantly,
you don't have as many remaining opponents who can re-raise you.
One of the most common mistakes in No-Limit
Hold 'em is coming in for a raise that's too big. In early
position, you want to keep your raises at about two times the
big blind. With four to six players to act behind you when you're
in middle position, raise to about two and a half big blinds,
and raise to about three times the big blind from late position.
If you're representing a big hand by raising from
early position, it stands to reason that you'll only get played
with by huge hands. Why risk four, five or more bets to win only
one and a half bets in the blinds when you're often going to be
running into monsters along the way? If you're holding A-Q rather
than A-A and a player comes over the top, you can lay it down
without having risked much.
Some beginners raise more with their strongest hands
to build a bigger pot or raise less with these monsters to get
more action. Instead, I recommend that you play your starting
hands the same way no matter what you have. With A-A or A-J, raise
the same amount so you're not telegraphing the strength of your
hand to watchful opponents. An exception would be if you know
your opponents aren't paying attention and you feel sure that
you can manipulate them.
These numbers need to be modified if there are antes.
You should generally add about half the total antes to any raise.
Your early position raise should be two big blinds plus half the
total antes, and three big blinds plus half the antes for your
There are many loose live games these days. If you
find yourself in one of these games and you can't steal the blinds
with a normal raise, tighten up your starting requirements slightly
and make larger raises. If this raise still can't take the blinds,
don't tighten up anymore, but choose to raise an amount that you
expect to get called once or twice behind you. Since your opponents
are playing too loose, take advantage of it by building bigger
pots when you think you're getting the best of it.
The last exception is when you're short-stacked.
If making your typical raise means putting over a quarter of your
stack in the pot, just go ahead and move all in instead. Betting
a quarter of your stack before the flop commits you to calling
just about any re-raise or, at the very least, it gives you a
very tough decision. Moving all in here instead of raising less
forces the tough decision on your opponents and eliminates one
of your tough calling decisions. All of which brings us back to
my first principle: Avoid being the one to just call.
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