McHaffie: MCU lesson 061 / To raise or not

Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published in Poker Player newspaper in 2005.

This is part of a series by Diane McHaffie. She wasn’t a poker player when she began writing this series. These entries chronicle the lessons given to her personally by Mike Caro. Included in her remarkable  poker-learning odyssey are additional comments, tips, and observations from Mike Caro.

Diane McHaffie index.

Diane McHaffie is Director of Operations at Mike Caro University of Poker, Gaming, and Life Strategy. She has traveled the world coordinating events and seminars in the interest of honest poker. You can write her online at

Diane McHaffie

Lessons from MCU

— With bonus content by Mike Caro (pending) —

Lesson 61: To raise or not to raise

Today’s lesson is taken from one of Mike’s previous lectures, dealing with “When not to raise.” You need to rationally justify your decision when you’re preparing to raise. It is necessary to know why you’re taking this action. You should also make sure your reasons are valid when you’re about to call, but it’s especially important if you’re raising. If you don’t have a good reason for raising, don’t take the risk.

Two reasons

Mike says that there are two main reasons for raising: (1) To build a bigger pot; and (2) to increase your chance of winning. There will be many times that both of these play a deciding factor in your choice.

If you don’t raise with a big hand, then you’re welcoming more players to participate. This may or may not lead to a bigger pot – but you’re hoping it does. If you raise with that same big hand, you’re either hoping to limit the number of opponents, giving yourself a better chance of winning or you’re hoping to get several opponents to pay more, making a bigger pot.

If there are several opponents waiting to play and you don’t raise, one of them is more likely to enter the pot and, unfortunately, beat you. But that’s a risk you might be willing to take in order to win a larger pot. Mike says to keep in mind that if you raise from an early position you could be reducing the size of the pot by chasing opponents out, but you’ll be apt to win more often.

Weaker hands

Mike warns against driving out the weaker hands needlessly, because that often leaves you playing against only the stronger ones. This is frequently the outcome of “thinning the field.” Therefore you might want to reconsider raising and just call, instead, because you don’t want to lose the weaker hands, as they will bring more profit your way.

Some players have a tendency to raise too often before the flop, when they should usually just call and see the flop. Mike advises calling, as many times the quality of a hold ’em cannot be determined until the flop. However, if no one else has entered the pot and you’re attacking the blinds from a late position, it’s permissible and often advisable to be aggressive.

If you’re playing against a deceptive opponent, you don’t want to raise with mediocre hands. They’ll take advantage when they have a strong hand, more than a timid opponent would; and when they’re bluffing, your raise won’t accomplish anything that a call wouldn’t accomplish as well or better. Therefore, Mike explains, it’s unwise to raise against them as liberally as you would meeker players who you can intimidate.

He contends that research has proven, in most common situations on final betting rounds,  raises from middle-position should seldom be attempted with hands of medium strength. It’s more profitable to just call and allow your opponent the opportunity to overcall. Let the power hands be the ones that you raise with.

The best time to steal the blinds is from opponents who are tight and fearful. When in doubt, you want to avoid the ones that are forceful and erratic. Before you risk your valuable chips, remind yourself of that tip.

When playing against a frequent bluffer, allow him the opportunity to continue bluffing. This usually means you shouldn’t reais with a strong hand on a early betting round against someone you see bluffing a lot. Although Mike says that advice can sometimes work against you, usually you’ll make more money by allowing an aggressive opponent, particularly a frequent bluffer, to take the initiative.

Loose or tight?

A good tip remember, Mike says, is that when a loose player has already bet, and there are tight players waiting to act, you should consider raising more often. You would rather be playing against the loose players than the tight ones, so if you can chase away the tight ones with a raise, then here’s your opportunity.

So, to reiterate, you always want to know why you’re raising. There must be a reason. If there isn’t a reason, then don’t try it. — DM

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