Risky, but profitable, raises

Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was originally published (2008) in Casino Player.

One of the inevitable truths about poker is that you’re going to spend a lot of time deciding whether to call or fold. But sometimes when you’re in doubt about calling, and when folding is arguably more sensible, neither choice is really the best.

We’re about to enter the twilight world of power raising with vulnerable hands. For timid, amateur players, most raises are made with verifiable strength. These players tend to be the easiest to beat. That’s because they play too many hands and call too many bets, while — at the same time — are unaggressive when they hold advantages, unless the advantage is overwhelming.

These typical opponents — the ones who supply the greatest share of your profit — lose money by calling too often and lose money by not taking maximum advantage when they have you beat. Their raises tend to indicate either great strength or occasional bluffs.

Contrast this to the way world-class players raise. Obviously, they sometimes raise with very strong hands, but such hands are rare. Most of their raises are tactical, made with vulnerable hands in their quest to dominate. Here are three times that you should raise without holding a commanding hand…

Late position

Suppose you’re on the button in a limit hold ’em game, holding K♥ Q♣.

Everyone folds up to the player three seats to your right. That player raises, the next player folds, and the player next to you calls. Based on your evaluation of those opponents, you’re facing a borderline decision. Calling seems about break-even, but so does folding. But wait! Often in this situation, neither folding nor calling is the best choice. Why not raise?

If you have already established a commanding image, that might be a profitable play, whereas the other two choices are just break-even. You should especially raise if the players in the blinds are unthreatening and likely to fold more than is typical.


In that case, your raise is apt to add the blind money to the pot for you and your two other opponents to fight over. And by raising, you’ll have established psychological dominance in the hand and ensured that you’re going to be acting last, assuming the blinds fold, on all subsequent rounds of betting.

Often, this means your opponents will check to you on the flop. Then, if you help your hand, you can continue betting as if it’s the most natural thing in the world. And if you don’t help, you can check and get a free card, hoping to improve on the turn.

Put it all together, and raising here is often a better money-making choice than folding or calling.

Garbage vs. garbage

Suppose your opponent bets on the final round. He’s a frequent bluffer, but — unfortunately — you hold a weak hand. You can’t quite decide whether to call, hoping to catch a bluff, or fold. Well, again, what about raising? If you call, you might still lose to a weak hand on the showdown.

Your own weak hand may not be strong enough to beat what your opponent was bluffing with. If you call and your opponent is bluffing, you might only win some of the time in the showdown. But if you raise and your opponent is bluffing, you’ll probably win with absolute certainty.

No, you shouldn’t always raise in this situation, but you should always consider raising.

In the middle

When there are three players competing on the last betting round, consider raising if you think the opening bettor might be bluffing and your hand is medium strong. What you don’t want is an overcall from behind, because that usually spells a hand that has you beat. By raising you chase out all but the strongest hands that the third player holds, and if the first player is bluffing, you win.

Again, none of these are raises you should employ routinely. But they are weapons in your arsenal, and you should be prepared to use them when the time is right. — MC

Published by

Mike Caro

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Known as the “Mad Genius of Poker,” Mike Caro is generally regarded as today's foremost authority on poker strategy, psychology, and statistics. He is the founder of Mike Caro University of Poker, Gaming, and Life Strategy (MCU). See full bio → HERE.


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