Tuesday Sessions 19: Raising for the right reasons

Index to Tuesday Sessions

The following lecture was the 19th Tuesday Session, held February 9, 1999, and later appeared in Card Player magazine

Raising By Whim Can Be Costly – You Need a Reason to Raise.

I can tell you in one word the main motive for most raises. Whim. That’s right, most of the raises you’re ever going to encounter in your poker lifetime are made at whim. They’re not carefully analyzed raises. They’re not goal-oriented raises. They’re just made at whim.

Of course, there are some hands so powerful that players raise on that basis alone – often correctly. But most raise decisions aren’t obvious. These borderline choices should be decided rationally. But they aren’t. Repeating, they are decided by whim, and that’s a very expensive method.

You can add significantly to your profit if you consider key factors when deciding whether or not to raise. Today we’ll look at some of them from a lecture delivered at Mike Caro University of Poker, Gaming, and Life Strategy in February. It was the 19th in the series. I have taken the one-page handout that accompanied the lecture and expanded the concepts exclusively for Card Player. The title of that Tuesday Session lecture was…

Raising for the Right Reasons

  • Don’t raise to "get even" with an opponent.
    In poker, it doesn’t matter whom you get even with, just so you get ahead. Taking bad beats personally is a common mental mistake. If Jerry beats you out of $100 and you beat Norman out of $500 ($400 total profit), that’s better than if you beat Jerry out of $150 and Norman out of $150 ($300 total profit). It’s the overall profit that you’re after. So, there’s no reason to get even with Jerry.

    One of the instinctive ways people try to get even with opponents is to raise more liberally than usual as an act of retaliation. You should never do this. I don’t mean that you should never raise them. I mean that you should never raise them for that reason.

    It’s OK to raise to send a message by raising, but you should do so against someone who will be influenced by the message and might back down on future warfare, thus leaving you in control. Many opponents won’t react that way. Players who have been beating you are motivated. They are not timid or predictable. But it is precisely against timid and predictable players that borderline raises work best. If – instead – you choose borderline raises against deceptive and aggressive foes, you will simply lose money in the long run. This is not just theory. I have simulated these situations by computer. It turns out that borderline raises against volatile opponents simply don’t work. You need to win control over these opponents, and you can’t do it by overbetting vulnerable hands.

  • Tend not to raise from early positions.
    Poker is largely a struggle for position, and when you don’t have it, you’re often wise to just call (or fold). In general, you will lose money trying to assert dominance from an early position. Save these early raises for your very best hands, and even then, you can often make more money just calling. When you raise from an early seat, you are apt to chase away opponents you would profit from most if they stayed. You also might find yourself stranded against less profitable hands. That’s why "thinning the field" from an early position is almost always a bad motive to raise. It thins the wrong people.

  • Tend to raise from late positions.
    Hands that would lose moderately from early positions win moderately or heavily from late positions. This means you can easily establish psychological dominance by raising when you act after your opponents. Most serious players know this, but they fail to realize the extent to which this concept can be profitably applied.

    When it comes to raising, position shouldn’t just be a concept that you intellectually acknowledge. It should be a primary factor in deciding whether or not to raise. Think about your strategy. If you can’t honestly tell me that position is a main consideration every time you think about raising, then I’m betting that you’re making much less money at poker than you should.

  • You should often raise when you will chase away players who would otherwise act after you on future betting rounds.
    This primal struggle for position can be the main factor in deciding whether to raise. It’s often worth taking slightly the worst of it by raising with a borderline hand now to gain position on later betting rounds.

  • You should raise less liberally when you’re on the button (i.e., in the dealer position).
    You don’t need to gamble to get position, because you already have position. However, you should mix up your strategy and sometimes raise hoping to chase the blinds out and isolate (with better position) on the original bettor or raiser. AND…You should tend not to re-raise as the big blind against a late-position raiser, because it’s unlikely that you can ever get position. (Very rarely you might be able to isolate against the small blind, immediately or on future betting rounds, by choosing to reraise and act last throughout the hand, but this isn’t usually worth the risk of a reraise.)

    Of course, if your big blind hand is exceptionally strong and there are lots of players already committed to the pot, you can raise to extend your profit. But with anything less than superior strength, I seldom raise in the big-blind position other than against the small blind alone. I will often make an exception to this rule, though, if I can reraise and force players who have so far only called a single bet out of the pot. This is where it’s important to know which opponents will usually fold if faced with a double raise. When I’m in doubt – usually because I haven’t watched opponents play long enough to form an opinion – I seldom reraise as the big blind. That’s because the assumption that typical opponents will call a double raise is usually right. And if they do, I’ll have invested risky extra money in a situation where I will have a positional disadvantage throughout the hand. So, I don’t do it.

  • The governing rule of borderline raising decisions…
    Tend to make borderline raises only against timid opponents. AND… Tend to raise deceptive opponents only when you have – or can get – position. These close hands only show profit by raising with a positional advantage or against timid foes. – MC

  • Next Tuesday Session

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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.


    7 thoughts on “Tuesday Sessions 19: Raising for the right reasons”

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      1. Hi, Debra — The “Tuesday Sessions” series of lectures was delivered in 1998 and 1999. Few no-limit games existed, with the norm being fixed limits where all raises were by increments of big-blind size.

        In that context, “double raise” simply means a reraise. As an example, if the big blind were $50, then the first raise would make it $100 and the reraise or double raise would make it $150.

        The concept holds true for no-limit, too.

        Straight Flushes,
        Mike Caro

    1. Wouldn’t it be a good idea to raise on the button since having position is an advantage and I’d want to play bigger pots when I have an advantage?

    2. Is it even worth purposefully isolating a loose opponent with a less than stellar holding? Something like Jack 10 suited?

      1. Hi, Cherry —

        You usually prefer to isolate with powerful hands. Still, it’s always better to be against weak opponents than against strong ones. You’re right, though: Often, it might not be worth the effort.

        You cited J-10 suited, in your example. Interestingly, many decades ago, some expert players thought this was the best starting hand in hold ’em! They reasoned that it had the best chance of making a straight or a flush (or even a straight flush), while still consisting of somewhat high ranks.

        In reality, it isn’t nearly as good as they thought. It’s listed in 28th place on my charts.

        Thanks for leaving your first comment and joining our Poker1 family.

        Straight Flushes,
        Mike Caro

        1. Thanks!
          The website and your work is very cool :)

          Emphasizing the importance of isolating a loose player, I realized that it’s hard to know what I’m trying to do next with hands like that. I shouldn’t try to bluff and if I make a big hand, I’d like to have more people in.

          The tradeoff is that I’ll sometimes be able to make some money when I flop a pair but is that worth it?

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