Brunson: Why raise if you don’t want a call?

Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published in the London Telegraph in 2005.

Doyle Brunson index.

Historical note: The following explanatory note didn’t appear in the series, but was sent with each column as submitted.

Doyle “Texas Dolly” Brunson stands unchallenged as the most celebrated poker player who ever lived. In 2005, at age 72, he won an unprecedented 10th championship gold bracelet at the World Series of Poker. He is among the few living members of the Poker Hall of Fame, and his books  are the bibles for poker professionals.. Through and, Brunson has teamed with Mike Caro, today’s premiere poker educator, to offer a free learning experience to players worldwide. This column is founded on  those collaborative teachings.

Doyle Brunson

People need to understand why they do things. At poker, it simply isn’t good enough to instinctively throw a hand away or fling chips into the pot. You need to ask yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing. And the more correct and confident you are about your answer, the more money you’re likely to earn playing poker.

It’s just that simple.

I was playing at the Bellagio in Las Vegas three years ago. The biggest game there is never purely no-limit, the kind of poker I prefer. It’s fixed limit, meaning a man can’t just suddenly wager all the chips he has on the table.

At the moment, we were playing hold ’em, my favorite, at a $3,000/$6,000 limit.  In most public casinos there are two “limits” for each game. They’re called limits, but that’s the wrong word for it. In the case of the game at hand, you had to bet and raise exactly $3,000 on the first two betting rounds – before the flop (the first three community cards turned face up all at once) and then when you saw that flop – and exactly $6,0000 thereafter – after the turn (the fourth community card) and after the river (the fifth and final community card).

A question posed

That will seem like a huge game to most casual poker players, since it’s possible to win or lose half a million dollars in a sitting and sometimes much more. But the limits I’ve played at that same table have stretched all the way to $50,000/$100,000 mandatory wagers – sums I couldn’t even imagine when I was traveling through Texas in the 1960s, hunting up games where I was sometimes happy to earn $1,000 for the night and where a loss of several thousand could put a measurable dent in my bankroll.

A young player had dropped into a nearby table and was single-handedly chattering like a field of crickets on a dry and dusty Texas night. While our table is supposed to be off-limits to uninvited kibitzers, he strolled our way while sitting out of a pot and watched a man, who wasn’t one of our regular players, raise me the mandated $6,000.

The pot was medium-size at the time – about $25,000. I was holding Qd Jc with a board of Ks Jd 10h Kh. I had made a dangerous bet to begin with, trying to nail down this pot if the man only had vague hopes of hitting something on the river and, less likely, getting a call from an inferior hand like a pair of tens, a smaller pocket pair, or even a jack with a worse kicker than my queen. Mostly, though, I was hoping he’d throw the hand away and I could snatch that pot right then.

You’ve got to understand that in limit poker, you usually want to take the pot right then when you bet. Certainly, there are times when you bet and are hoping to be called, but more often the pot is just too juicy a reward to want to take further risks. If you’re called, that’s okay. But, it’s even better to win all that money now, even if you do have an advantage over your opponent.

That’s a tough concept to master, but make it part of your game from now on. In limit poker games, you usually want to take whatever’s in the pot right now, rather than risk losing it in pursuit of a little extra profit.

So, I folded quickly, routinely. My opponent showed the superior Jh Ac as a courtesy and said, “I was hoping you wouldn’t call.”

But the young man who had invaded our space and was hovering uninvited over our table had a question – a sarcastic one: “Why would you raise if you didn’t want a call?”

The answer to a rude question

Nobody provided an answer for him and he seemed to realize he was intruding and sauntered back to his own table, never to return. But, his question is worth answering. Remember what I already said: Most of the time you bet in limit games, the pot is so large that the reward of winning what’s out there right now is greater than the advantage you have over an opponent who calls. So you want the pot more than you want the call.

The same is true with raises. Most of the time, you raise because you have an advantage, but you’d rather take the pot immediately than be called. You’ve probably heard it said that, “If you don’t want a call, you must be bluffing.” That’s just not logical. Usually, you want the pot.

And once you realize that, you’ve got your poker priorities straight, and you’re on the path toward profit. — DB

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