Pre-Flop Play, Part 4: Reacting to a Raise

February 20, 2012 Change100 Poker strategy

Opening for a raise is almost always the ideal way to enter a pot when the action has been folded around to you. By raising, you project strength, take control of the hand, and stay on the offensive — forcing opponents to react to you instead of the other way around. But what if someone has already come in for a raise and you look down at a playable hand? In this installment of our Pre-Flop Play series, we’ll help you explore your options by running through a few common situations.

Facing an early position raise with a marginal hand

Call, fold, or raise. Your options are still the same, even when a player has already come in to the pot. The information out there, however, has changed. When someone opens for a raise, ask yourself these three questions.

— What position is my opponent opening from?

— How active has this player been at the table?

— How strong a hand would he need to make this raise?

Let’s look at an example. In a nine-handed game, a tight player opens for 3.5 times the big blind from UTG+1. The action folds to you in the cutoff and you look down at [Ks][Ts]. What’s your move — call, raise or fold?

First, let’s look at your opponent’s position. He’s second to act and feels good enough about his hand to put in a substantial raise with seven people still to act behind him. What range of hands would inspire such confidence? High and medium pairs for sure, as well as big suited cards like A-K, A-Q and A-J. Would he raise from early position with K-Q? He’s a tight player, so in this situation that hand might sit at the very bottom of his range.

Now, let’s look at how your [Ks][Ts] fares against the range of hands your opponent is likely to hold if he’s open-raising from early position:

vs. A-A or K-K more than a 4 to 1 underdog

vs. Q-Q, J-J, or T-T 2 to 1 underdog

vs. A-K or K-Q 7 to 3 underdog

vs. A-Q or A-J 3 to 2 underdog

vs. 9-9, 8-8, or 7-7 nearly even money (or, a “coinflip”)

The [Ks][Ts] isn’t favored to win against any part of this opponent’s early position range. Although you would have the advantage of position after the flop, against a tight player, this is a pretty easy fold.

Facing a late position raise with a marginal hand

What if this same player made the same raise, but the action had been folded around to him in the cutoff and you’re on the button with [Ks][Ts]? Now, a fold isn’t so clear-cut. Even though we’re talking about an opponent who doesn’t play too many hands, his opening raise came from late position. With only three players to get through instead of seven, his range is a lot wider. Even tight players would open hands like pocket threes, J-T, Q-J or smaller suited connectors like [7h][8h]. Up against those hands, [Ks][Ts] is a favorite.

vs. 3-3 51% favorite

vs. J-T suited 7 to 3 favorite

vs. Q-J 3 to 2 favorite

vs. 7-8 suited 3 to 2 favorite

Against a late position raise from a tight player, calling on the button with [Ks][Ts] is an appropriate play. You’ll have position and may be able to take down the pot with a bet if your opponent misses the flop and checks to you. For more advanced players, a case could be made for a re-raise that could potentially take down the pot right there. However, when facing the more recreational opponents in Pokerist games, the best move here is to call and see a flop rather than further inflate the pot while holding a medium-strength hand at best.

The Gap Concept

In several of his books, poker author David Sklansky talks about the gap concept. This refers to the “gap” between a player’s pre-flop opening range and calling range. Simply put, you need a stronger hand to call a raise than to open for a raise yourself. Although today’s no-limit hold’em player has evolved into a more aggressive breed than those playing in Sklansky’s era, it’s an excellent mantra to have when you are starting out and can help you avoid some costly mistakes.

The example laid out above is a good one when it comes to the gap concept. From the cutoff, [Ks][Ts] is a no-brainer to open if the action has been folded around to you. However, with a tight early position raiser already involved, [Ks][Ts] doesn’t hold a lot of value. In order to call from the cutoff against an early position raiser, you’d need a much stronger hand.

Facing a raise with a premium hand

Of course, there will be those times when you’re facing a raise and look down at a monster hand. Do your happy dance quietly and internally, then ask yourself those same three questions:

— What position is my opponent opening from?

— How active has this player been at the table?

— How strong a hand would he need to make this raise?

In this example, let’s say an early-position player raises and you look down at [Qh][Qc] in middle position. What’s your play?

Well, you’re certainly not folding pocket queens, so the dilemma here is whether to call or reraise. With the opening raise is coming from early position, it’s safe to assume your opponent has a pretty decent hand. Certainly A-K through A-T, any pair, and suited high cards like K-Q are possible. Let’s also think about your position. From middle position, five or even six players are still left to act. If you simply call the raise with your queens, it could invite more opponents in from late position or the blinds.

In this situation, the smart move is to go for a reraise. If the opening raise was three times the big blind, make it anywhere from 8 to 10 times the big blind. Re-raising is the right play for several reasons. It is likely to get you heads-up in position against the original raiser, who probably has a hand strong enough to call a reraise. It will also protect your hand against calls from late position and the blinds, which would dilute your substantial pre-flop equity. A pre-flop reraise with a premium holding like Q-Q gets more money in the pot with what is probably the best hand.

To summarize:

— When reacting to a raise, think about what position it is coming from, how tight or loose your opponent has been playing, and what range of hands he’s likely to hold from that position.

— Remember the gap concept. You need a stronger hand to call a raise than to make a raise yourself.

— When facing a raise while holding a premium hand, lean toward re-raising rather than playing it cool and crafty. Get the most money you can in the pot while you have the best hand.

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