This is where knowing your opponents, both overall and individually, really comes in handy. First of all, there's a certain raising culture that manifests itself at certain sites and certain levels. While it's something we need to be aware of, it's fairly easy to determine.
The style we're looking for, which would fit our plans perfectly, is opponents raising every time they have better than a pair, and not raising unless they do. This is going to make our job the easiest, getting out of hands with our pairs when we're beat, and not being run out when we're not.
So the most important thing in dealing with post flop raising is game selection. We want a game which most closely resembles this ideal as we can get at our level. What we don't want is unpredictability, and although there are things we can do to deal with it, the more certain of players actions we are in general, the better.
Even better is games where players tip their strength of their hands consistently, but don't pay attention to us when we do. Then we can pretty much have our way with them, bailing when they have us beat, and getting them to stay in when we have them beat. There isn't anything more important than finding the right game, and this is one of the areas which really hammers it home.
We still need to pay close attention to the table overall and the individual tendencies of the players of course. Of all the factors that matter, predictability is the most important by far. Whatever the person's raise rate, we want him to apply it consistently. If they raise on every hand, fine. If they never raise, fine. We want to have a good idea about the strength of their hand when they do though - in other words, what does this raise mean? So that's what we're going to seek to determine.
Pay attention to how often players raise in general post-flop, and what they have to inspire it. This is important both generally and individually, and you can use the general stuff unless a particular player stands out apart from the normal tendencies. And you'll find, in the games we are seeking out, that generally they will behave similarly.
Pay attention as well to the particular street that the person is raising at. As a rule, raises on the flop aren't based on as much strength as raises on the more expensive streets. We're talking limit here of course, and we'll get into the differences with no-limit in later lessons.
Often, among our better opponents, their will be a tendency to delay their aggression to later streets, where the bets are bigger, and people are more pot committed. When we have strong hands, we will often do this as well, but it's important to consider that this very often represents a stronger hand than, say, a raise on the flop. So we need to proceed more cautiously with those of course.
Position is also a factor. Generally, the earlier the position, the stronger the hand. This will be more true of stronger games, where the opponents are more aware of position, but it still plays a role in the softer games, although much less of one. It still pays to pay attention not only to the raise frequency of opponents, but the position they do it in, so that if patterns emerge we can take them into account.
Aside from seeing the raiser's cards at the end, knowing raise frequency is the most important thing here. From that alone, we can determine with reasonable accuracy what sort of strength they likely hold in these situations. The rule here is - the more frequently a player raises, the less strong the hand needed, and vice versa.
Players tend to fret too much about particular hands, and in particular, not wanting to lay down a winner. This is part of poker though, and if you find yourself feeling the same way, you're going to pay a big price by staying in too many hands too long. As is the case with other facets of the game, we need to look at the overall picture here - which moves make the most money over time, and not worry about the outcome of a particular hand.
So, based upon all the information we have, we can decide whether to fold, call, or re-raise. In order to do that though, we have to figure out where we're probably at. And remember, just because we're behind in a hand, doesn't mean we need to fold, as we may have drawing advantages that would make it profitable to stay in the hand regardless. We always have to try as best we can to put our opponents on a hand though, and their raising is going to give us more information.
Another thing to keep in mind is to try to figure out why a person is putting in a particular raise. Generally, it is because they feel they have a strong enough advantage to do so, but there may be other reasons, such as trying to steal the pot. Typically though, this will be reflected in their raise rate in that particular situation, so we can discount it accordingly and don't have to worry too much about motives, although this is good to have in the back of our mind.
So let's get more into the practical side of this. Here's some rules of thumb for playing most soft limit games, and keep in mind they're just generally true, and you still have to assess things to look for exceptions.
If you have top pair, and someone raises on the flop, as long as your kicker is very good it's fine to continue. Otherwise, fold it unless there's a good reason not to. With a re-raise on the flop, you have to play it a lot more carefully. This is going to depend on how wild the table is. If this tends to happen quite a bit, then it doesn't' mean anywhere near as much as if it's fairly rare. The same thing applies to the individual player doing the re-raising as well.
On the turn, we're going to have to be much more careful. In most games, our top pair is no good at this point and unless we have a good draw to go with it, most of the time we need to let it go. The mistake our opponents will be making is calling our raises here, making easy contributions to our stack when they are beaten, and we don't want to be doing the same for them. Throw it away, and tell yourself thank God for raises.
If you have a better hand than top pair, you're going to have to look at the board closely and try to figure out what they may have. This is something you need to do even though you may have a very strong hand. Never just play your own cards without regard to your opponents unless you have the nuts.
Now, by comparing our hand to what they may have, based on their usual style, their raising frequency, and the board, we can decide whether to play on or not. A good rule of thumb is that if you figure you've got a good chance, 50% or more, say, it's worth playing on. If you figure you have them beat, then you can lay it on them by playing back of course.
To sum up, we need to do everything we can to read our opponents, and this is going to be even more important when they're raising, since there is going to be more money on the line. Take what you have, take what you feel they may have, and proceed accordingly.