Alright loyal readers, it is time for my second article on Texas Hold-Em. I am sure that many of you have patiently waited for more poker advice and analysis from your fellow poker amateur, and so I will deliver that commentary to you now. The topic of discussion… the raise.
First of all, I need to clarify what I am talking about when I say raise for the purposes of this article. I am not referring to the initial raise of the blinds in the first round of betting. While this is a raise, it is a special instance that works more like a bet than a raise. Which brings me to my next point. I am not talking about bets in this article either. A bet is when a player is the first person to increase the pot size (with, well, a bet) within a round of betting. While this is a raising of the pot, it is not a raise that I wish to discuss.
So what’s left? The raises that I am talking about are the ones that occur after someone makes a bet. In the first round of betting, this includes someone who raises after someone has already raised the big blind. (Note that in the first round of betting this is technically a reraise). These are the raises that occur after a bet or raise is made that make you look at the player and think, “What could you possibly have? You are either a good player or a noob, and I’m betting noob!” Either way, these raises need to be respected, regardless of the player.
Why? Well, let’s take a look at the meaning behind a raise. When a poker player raises a bet they are doing so because they are either bluffing, semi-bluffing, or they believe they have the best hand at the moment. (As a side note, keep in mind that a bad player who is raising with cards they have no business raising with is simply bluffing or semi-bluffing without realizing they are doing so. You will find that most bad players will simply call everything with their sub par cards, rather than raising.) This analysis needs to be futher broken down in order to understand what is going on with a hand though.
So, let’s start with the bluff. When a player raises with a bluff they are trying to buy the pot with the understanding that they are very unlikely to win the hand otherwise. Obviously there are three responses to a bluff. Fold, call, or raise. First of all, if your hand is not an obvious strong hand after a flop (top pair showing or better) then there is no shame in folding to any bet – bluff or not. Sometimes it is even wise to fold the top pair showing if you think it is a weak hand. Regardless of your hand, the point I am trying to make is that if your hand is marginal and you are bluffed out of a pot even though you had the best hand, that is okay. In fact, if you are not ever getting bluffed out of hands that probably means you are calling too often. Here’s why. Bluffing is rare. It happens, but most of the time (unless you are playing with a noob) a player will not be bluffing. A good player knows that eventually he is going to come up against a hand that is actually good and his bluff will be unmasked. For this reason, a good poker player will only occasionally take a stab at a pot – even the most aggressive of poker players. In fact, a good poker player will try to set the illusion of constant bluffing so that he can convince you that he never has a hand. Do not fall into this trap. If you do not have a hand, regardless of whether or not you believe your opponent to be bluffing, just fold. If you are not folding, you are either calling or raising. You should only be calling a bluff raise in two situations. One, you are slow playing a hand that you think will keep paying off. Two, you have a good hand but are not sure if you are beat or not. As far as slow playing goes, I am a fan so I say slow play away if you are certain you will win. As for the second situation, I say that you should not be making those kinds of calls. If you know your opponent is bluffing this is a silly move since you are giving them a chance to see the next card and perhaps “suck out.” If you do not know or think it is a bluff then you probably suspect that your opponent has a strong hand. If they have a strong hand you should either fold (when you are beat) or raise (when you know they are beat). Which actually brings me to raising. If you raise someone who has bluffed they will lay down their hand probably upwards of nine times in ten. There is no reason for them to pay you more money just to lose a hand on a bluff. If you suspect someone at your game is bluffing at you a lot, try a re-raise here and there to see how they react. If they are bluffing more than they should be you will notice them folding after your strong bets. If they call or go over the top again, you can almost be sure they have a good hand. Either that, or major cojones. Either way, you should have a better read on your opponent. Plus, your re-raising shows that you are a strong player to the whole table.
As far as an opponent who is semi-bluffing, the same rules apply as with an opponent who is bluffing. However, if you think they are raising you on a draw, you want to re-raise and amount you really would not expect them to call. You have to protect your hands from those who would semi-bluff a straight draw or flush draw. With these types of semi-bluffs it is usually true that your opponent will have a better drawing hand than you. Make it expensive for them to see the cards they want to see. Do not give them 2:1 or 3:1 pot odds to hit their draw. There is a good chance they will take the odds, and, truth be told, you really do not want them to. If they are willing to pay more for it then fine, over time you will take their money, since you are getting better odds on those hands every time they occur. Particularly, if they are down to one card. Do not give them close to odds for a draw right before the river. If they are still raising you at that point, and you are certain they are just on a draw, then there is no reason to give them better than 10:1 if you have that many chips left. Do not make it worth it for them to see the card. The raises that come from semi-bluffers are to either just make their opponent fold or else just call so they will not be able to affect the pot odds. Do not fall into that trap. If you think you have the best hand, then you need to be the one dictating pot odds.
This brings us to the last and most common instance of the raise. Your opponent will raise you if she thinks she has the best hand. It is for this reason, and because upwards of 90% of the raises you see will be this type of raise, that you have to respect the power it demands. Let’s look at a couple of examples. Your are holding Jack of hearts (Jh) and a ten of hearts (10h). The flop comes, As, Jc, 10d. You decide to place a bet 50% the size of the pot. Your opponent follows that with a call. First, evaluate the call. They could be slow playing you, but that would mean they only had AA, JJ, 1010, AJ, or A10 which is unlikely, especially given your hand. Second, they are on a draw, which is very possible. Third, they have an ace, and one other card not on the board. This is the most likely scenario. However, the next card is a 7h. You again place a bet, this time the size of the pot. Your opponent raises you three times your bet. Woah! What just happened here? Could that 7h actually helped them? Is it likely that they called your initial bet with just 77? Well, that’s not likely, but not impossible. What is more likely is that they have an A7 or a suited 89 and just hit a straight. Either way, you are beat unless you get lucky on the river. Calling the raise would just be paying your opponent off at this point. It is very unlikely that your opponent is bluffing in this scenario since they know you could easily have an A or even an AJ or A10. Your betting pattern would suggest you have a hand of at least that calibor. Your opponents raise here tells you that you have been beat and you should most definitely fold your cards that looked oh so good just a minute ago.
Let’s look at another example too. You are dealt QhQd and the flops comes down as Qs 8s 4s. You place a bet and your opponent immediately goes all-in. Your opponent has one of the following hands as hold cards: A flush (using his hold cards), 88, 44, Q8, Q4, or a flush draw with the As or maybe Ks. Most likely they either have a made flush or are on a flush draw. They know you think your hand is good since you placed a bet, and this is a good place for your opponent to move in on you since the pressure switches back to you. Before making any decisions here I suggest talking it out to see if you can get a definable read on your opponent. If you can, and he does not have the flush, you make the call. But, if you are not sure what your opponent has, you need to fold this hand. I know that it is an impossible lay down, but you will assuredly not lose many chips from this so that you can win chips the next time you hit a set (assuming there is no ridiculous flush then either). The re-raise from your opponent tells you that they probably have a hand that either has you beat or will have you beat 35% of the time. Since you can not be certain if they are only on the draw, you should fold.
Let’s look at one final hand. You are dealt Kh Qd. The flop reveals Ac Qh Jd. You place a bet and your opponent raises. The raise means that they are representing the ace or the straight. While you have a decent drawing hand at this point, there is a good chance your opponents hand is just better. If your opponent only had a draw or a Q or a J then she would have simply called your bet. In this instance, an opponent with only an A may likely just call you as well, being unsure of your hand as a possible straight or two pair. Your opponents raise though indicates that she will not be giving up on the hand and you are not going to be able to bet her off her ace as you might be able to do if she simply calls. Once again, you should fold.
All of the examples I have given show why folding to a raise is often the way to go. However, if you flop something that is clearly the best hand, like the nut flush, a full house, a straight, or the top set without the possibility of a flush, then you should probably be calling or even raising your opponents raises. Just keep in mind that your opponent almost always thinks she has you beat when she goes in for a raise. Make sure you calculated the hand correctly and know you have the best hand before raising or calling a raise.. I’ll repeat that. Know you have the best hand before raising or calling a raise. If you don’t know it, don’t call it. If you do call the raise then you should be winning most of those hands. Sure, you will get sucked out on a few times, but as long as you had the best hand when you made the decision, you can say you played it right.
The bottom line is this: raises demand respect. Respect them. Evaluate your hand and if you can not say your hand is the best at the time with certainty, just fold and live to play an easier to figure out hand. To a certain degree, this requires the ability to read people, but you can just play your cards and have success with knowing when to fold as well. You will be bluffed out of more pots than you should be this way, but you won’t be losing money by making bad calls either.