Whenever we get dealt a playable starting hand, we're going to have to decide whether to just call, or to put in a raise. In today's lesson, we'll look at considerations to take into account in order to determine which move will be best in given situations.
At the outset, we know that if we likely have the best hand, it may indeed be worthwhile raising with it pre-flop. This is just one factor to consider though. We're trying to get the most money out of the hand of course, so we're only going to raise if by doing so it serves this purpose. So other than the strength of hand, we'll have to take into account things like: What position am I in? How many people are in the pot already? How many are likely to call my raise? What effect is the raise going to have on pot size?
First off, let's look at hands worth considering raising with. On this basis, we're going to need a hand that more likely than not is going to be the best hand among those dealt. So, for instance, if our hand is within the top 10% of all possible hands, and there's 10 people at the table, we're going to know this is the case. Which is pretty much all the hands recommended in lesson 7. So that makes it pretty easy. Does this mean we want to put in a raise every time we play a hand though? We'll have to see, because there's more to consider.
Position is of course going to be a major factor here. The later I am to act, the more information I am going to have in terms of what others have done. Therefore, the later my position, the more disposed I will be to raise. This doesn't mean, as some think, that I can abuse this notion and raise with all sorts of trash in late position, hands I probably shouldn't be playing anyway. I'm still going to need a good hand, it's just that, for the same reasons I'll play more hands late than early, I'll raise more as well.
There are times in early position where even with a very strong hand, it is best to just call in early position. If the table is tight enough, I may run everyone out of the pot and just make the blinds. Remember, opponents are much more likely to call a raise when they already have money in the pot than not. Or, if the table is aggressive, and there's a raise on most hands, it may be best to call and look for someone else to raise, where we can re-raise. This will tend to put quite a bit more money in the pot than if we just raised initially.
Position is also an element in deciding whether to raise or not depending on how many people are in the pot. If we're in late position, and there's quite a few limpers, raising will pay off because our raise will cause most, if not all, to put an extra bet in, which is what we want here since our hand is raisable and theirs is not. Or, if no one else is in the pot yet, we will want to raise against the random hands of the blinds. So again, the later our position, the more beneficial our raises can be.
What about early and mid positions though? For starters, we need a little stronger hand earlier on, since we don't know if someone downstream has an even better hand than ours, and may even re-raise us. Aside from that, since our goal with raising is to get more money in the pot, we have to consider the overall style of the table. If our opponents pretty much fold to cold calling raises, we're going to be a little more reluctant to raise from earlier positions, since it's likely to end up with less money in the pot than just a call from us.
A big advantage with pre-flop raising is that it tends to eliminate the blind money. While we want more people in the pot generally, the reason is because we want people to throw more money in the pot. In calling, the big blind doesn't contribute anything, and the small blind only contributes half a bet. It's better to force these players to pay to see the flop when we have the hand to do it with.
Generally speaking though, pre-flop raising will increase the size of the pot in the loose games which we are seeking to play in. In cases where we have a hand which will on balance be the likely best hand at the table, it's going to be generally in our interest to raise with it, although we always need to take positional considerations and table style into account.
So let's look at the hands we should seek to raise with according to this advice. Let's go back and get the starting hand recommendations, and assess them in terms of raising pre-flop:
Early Position: We want to be more careful here, so we need to go with top hands only that will stand up to a re-raise. And, depending on the makeup of the table, we may want to consider calling, or calling and looking to re-raise, in the situations discussed above.
AA KK QQ JJ
Middle Position: A few people have acted now, and we have more information to deal with:
Add: AK AQ
Late Position: Here most of the people have acted already, so we can go with more hands:
AJ KQ KJ
And, if there are very few opponents, we can add hands we'll raise with, especially on the button and with just the blinds to act.
In terms of pairs - TT and lower, unless there's few opponents, we should prefer to see the flop cheaply, since we're probably going to need to hit a set to win the hand. And, if there's a huge amount of people in the pot and we're in late position, we can pretty much raise with anything we would normally play, since we're going to be getting the odds for things like medium pairs and hands like QJs, QTs, JTs, and T9s.
Keep in mind that this is just a general guide, but it's a good starting point. Don't be afraid to adjust a little should the table circumstances dictate. If a hand is worth calling with pre-flop, you can't go too far wrong putting in a raise with it.