The following lecture was the 12th Tuesday Session, held December 15, 1998, and later appeared in Card Player magazine.
Classroom Lectures: Stop Making Bad Raises
There are two equally valid approaches to raising. You can meet every single opportunity with an attitude that silently asks, "Why should I raise?" You then try to see if there are any reasons why a raise – rather than a call or a fold – would be appropriate. Or you can ask, "Why shouldn’t I raise?" You then try to see if there are any reasons why a call or a fold -rather than a raise – would be appropriate right now.
One way, you’re assuming that you won’t raise and try to argue yourself into it. The other way, you’re assuming you will raise, and you try to argue yourself out of it. Conceptually, either of these approaches should lead to the same conclusion, provided all factors are weighed correctly. No matter how you choose to make decisions, raising at the wrong times can be very costly. We’re about to talk about that.
Today’s column is based on Tuesday Session #12 which took place December 15, 1998. The topic was…
"When Not to Raise"
Always ask yourself the reason before you take any assertive action in poker.
If you’re betting, make sure you know why. Just a vague notion is not good enough. Justify your choices. Once you get in this habit, you’re apt to discover that you have been taking actions for the wrong reasons – or for no reasons at all.
You should do the same exercise before you call and – especially – before you raise. There are more experienced players than you might expect who are raising for faulty reasons or who are without a clue regarding any reason at all. From today on, unless you have a reason to raise, don’t. That means never. Quite simply, I’m asking you to adopt the approach to raising where you first assume that you won’t raise and then argue yourself into a raise if you can.
Two reasons to raise.
Excluding the psychological aspect of poker, there are really only two basic reasons to raise. (1) To build a bigger pot, and (2) to increase your chance of winning.
Sometimes you need to evaluate both these factors to decide on a tactic. Building a bigger pot means more money if you win, and is often the best choice for a strong hand, but it sometimes actually decreases your chances of winning that pot. This can happen, for instance, if you build a bigger pot by not raising with an exceptionally strong hand, inviting many players in. You are then more likely to lose, because there are more opponents remaining who might get lucky and beat you. But you’re hoping that the increased risk will be overwhelmed by increased profit from a bigger pot if you do win. Conversely, if you raise from an early position, you may be making the pot smaller by chasing opponents out, but you will tend to win more often.
In addition to these two key strategic reasons to raise, you might sometimes raise to enhance your image – and profit later. When you make an image raise, you are working toward being the one force at your table to be reckoned with. It is not necessary that the raise will add an expectation of extra profit on that pot itself. The extra profit can come from subsequent pots, because your raise has helped to build a commanding image that lets you manipulate your opponents. So, when you begin with the premise that you will not raise, image can sometimes be a factor in changing your mind. But be careful. Don’t let yourself be argued into a raise frivolously. If you don’t really need to enhance your image right now, or if the raise would be too costly for the benefits, just call or even fold.
Whatever you do, never raise simply because it will increase your chances of winning the pot. Winning pots isn’t your goal. Your goal is to make the most profitable decisions, even if that means losing less money by calling or folding. Anytime you raise, you’re probably making it more likely that you’ll win the pot. So what? That doesn’t mean every raise has profitable long-range expectation. Repeating: Never raise solely because it will increase your chances of winning a pot.
Be careful whom you drive out.
You should usually not raise if you expect to drive out the weak hands and remain against the strong ones. This, unfortunately, is a common result of "thin the field" strategy. Often you would prefer to play against fewer opponents. Some hands simply make more profit that way. But what if your raise will thin the field in the wrong way? What if the most likely callers are those you least want to play against and the most likely folders are those you most want to play against. In that case, a raise can be wrong, even though you did want to thin the field and play against fewer opponents. That’s because you didn’t want to thin the field if it meant playing against only opponents with the stronger hands. And that’s often the case. This is why – in general – I’m not an advocate of thin-the-field raising for many common situations for which it is often advised.
If strong opponents are already in the pot and weak ones remain to act, you should often just call unless you have an overwhelming advantage. Raising tends to leave you competing against just strong opponents.
Hold ’em raising pre-flop.
Before the flop in hold ’em most players raise too often. This is not just guesswork, but a viewpoint I’ve formed after studying hold ’em opponents for many years and comparing what they do to the ideal strategies I’ve devised through computer research and other analysis.
I believe that you should often just call and see what develops. Since most of a hold ’em hand blossoms on the flop, you really aren’t usually raising with the advantage you assume. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be very aggressive in short-handed games and when attacking the blinds from late positions when no one else has entered the pot. But it does mean in full and nearly full games, there are many times when you should opt to just call before the flop, rather than raise.
Also, for a different reason, in seven-card stud it’s better to just call with self-disguising small "rolled up" trips. If I start with 5-5-5 with a king and a queen waiting to act behind me, I’ll usually just call. Raising looks suspicious and makes players think that I might have greater than a pair of fives. If I just call, I’m likely to be called or even raised by weak hands that might otherwise have folded. With rolled-up three-of-a-kind, do what would look most natural to your opponents who are only seeing your upcard. If that upcard is high relative to other exposed cards, your raise will look natural and opponents will not even think that you necessarily have a pair. In that case, you should usually raise. But, with a small three-of-a-kind to start, you should seldom raise.
When opponents are deceptive.
One of the biggest mistakes in poker is routinely raising with marginal hands against deceptive foes. Since a raise with a marginal hand is a borderline decision that won’t earn much extra profit – on average – even in ideal situations, it will often lose money against deceptive opponents. How come? It’s because those opponents won’t behave. You can’t count on them to just call with stronger-than-average hands. Instead, they are likely to get full value by raising with their marginally strong hands, and they may occasionally even be bluffing. These possibilities can often remove all the value and more out of that "value raise."
Also, don’t raise in middle position on the last round with anything except a super strong hand or a bluff. You’ll make more by just calling and giving the next player a chance to overcall. This advice isn’t obvious, but it’s the answer. Research proves that middle-position raises in most common situations on the final betting round should be avoided with hands of secondary strength. Not always, but often. Save these raises for super powerful hands or for occasional bluffs.
When to steal blinds.
If the "blind" players are aggressive and unpredictable, abandon most blind stealing. The best types of opponents to steal against are tight and timid. Always remind yourself of that before you barge into the pot with your precious chips.
Handling a bluffer.
Don’t raise with strong hands on an early betting round against a frequent bluffer. Let him continue to bluff. This strategy can sometimes work against you, but overall you’ll make more money if you allow your opponent to exercise his most glaring weakness – in this case, bluffing too much.
Wrong people to raise.
Don’t chase away your profit by making daring raises against solid players when weak players remain to act after you. When you do this, you are just chasing out the wrong people. One concept of poker that is seldom talked about is that you should be much more willing to raise when a loose player has bet and tight players remain to act behind you than when a tight player has bet and loose players remain to act behind you. The reason is that often you’d like to be able to chase others out and face only the loose bettor. But you seldom want to chase the loose players out and face only the tight player.
What if you’re losing?
One of the most important lessons is to stop "value raising" when you’re losing. These daring bets for extra profit only work when your opponents are intimidated. When opponents see that you’re losing, they’re inspired and they become more daring and deceptive. And as we discussed in point #5, you definitely do not want to be making marginal raises against deceptive foes.
There is a lot more to the science of raising. But you’ll be on the path to mastering it if you always make sure you have a reason before you raise. – MC