Pre-Flop Play, Part 5: The Squeeze Play

March 12, 2012 Change100 Poker psychology

While thus far in our pre-flop series we have concentrated on laying a solid foundation for your game, everyone needs a few tricks up their sleeve, especially against tougher opponents. The “squeeze play” is one of them. A more advanced bluffing technique best used in tournaments or sit-n-goes, the squeeze play allows you to take down a substantial pot without seeing a flop or showing down your hand.

What is a squeeze play?

A squeeze play (or squeeze raise) is a substantial pre-flop reraise made after a player opens for a raise and gets one or more callers. This large three-bet is intended to “squeeze” both the initial raiser and the caller out of the pot. However, this isn’t a move that can be made every time action plays out in that sequence. In order for the squeeze play to be effective, conditions need to be right.

In an ideal situation, the initial raiser is a loose-aggressive player—he or she opens a lot of pots and doesn’t need a premium hand to do so. The caller’s image is less important. By merely calling instead of reraising, this player is already letting us know he doesn’t have a premium hand. It might look pretty enough to play, but isn’t big enough to warrant committing any more chips to the pot. Coming in with a reraise or moving all-in in this spot earns a fold a good percentage of the time since neither player is likely to have a hand strong enough to call.

When is the right time to squeeze?

In order for the squeeze play to be effective and profitable, your opponents must be willing to fold. If both the raise and the caller are impossible to move off a hand, even a weak one, a squeeze play is not going to work on them. Your own table image is also important. If you have been playing a solid game, have shown down a few good hands and have not been caught bluffing lately, this move is far more likely to work than if you have been throwing around chips like a maniac.

Stack sizes are another factor to consider, especially in tournaments and sit-n-goes. An ideal stack size to make a squeeze play with is between 12 and 20 big blinds. It is just enough to make an all-in raise meaningful, especially against opponents who have an average-sized stack (usually about 25-40 big blinds in a multi-table tournament). Moving all-in puts both the initial raiser and the caller in a bind—while their starting hands might be strong enough to warrant seeing a flop, they are too weak to risk calling off such a large portion of their stack.

The blinds should also be high enough that the pot is worth winning. If it is the early stages of a tournament and everyone at your table has more than 3,000 chips with the blinds at 25-50, the pot isn’t going to be big enough relative to your stack size to warrant the risk. However, if those blinds are up to 200-400 with a 50 ante and you are sitting on 6,500 in chips, a successful squeeze play could increase your stack by 50% or more.

Let us use those numbers in an example. At a nine-handed tournament table, the blinds are 200-400 with a 50 ante and you are in the big blind with 6,500 chips. A loose player with 9,200 behind opens for a raise to 1,100. The player on the button, holding 11,500 in chips, flat-calls and the small blind folds. With 1,050 already in the pot from the blinds and antes and another 2,200 from the raise and the call, there are 3,250 chips in the middle. That is half your stack! If you move all-in from the big blind, it will cost your opponent an additional 5,400 to call. That’s half their stack. If you have paid attention and have targeted the right type of opponent for this move, he or she will not want to call off that much of their stack with the vast majority of hands they had open-raise with.

What kind of hand do I need to make a squeeze play?

You’ve probably noticed by now that we haven’t talked at all about the sort of hand you should be holding yourself when making this play. That’s because under the proper conditions, you can squeeze with any two cards. The strength of your hand does not matter nearly as much in this situation as the strength of your opponents’ hands. If they have a hand that cannot call this raise, it does not matter what you made the raise with.

That said, you are bound to make an occasional squeeze raise that gets called. Getting caught with your hand in the cookie jar is part of poker, and as the old saying goes, if you are not caught bluffing once in a while, you are not doing if often enough. Always let table conditions guide you toward making this play, but while learning and experimenting with it, try and confine your squeeze raises to hands that have at least some post-flop value. Medium suited connectors (7-8, 9-T, J-T) can not only flop big, but have good equity against high unpaired cards and small pairs.

Going back to the example above, let us say you are holding [9d][Td] and shove for 6,500 from the big blind. The initial raiser folds, but the button decides to call with [Ah][Jc], bringing the pot up to 15,150. Although you are a 3-2 underdog to win, you are getting better than 2-1 on your money (400 big blind+ 6,500 raise= 6,900; 15,150/6,900=2.2)

What if you made the same move, but with a junk hand like [2c][6s]? You are still getting the right price against [Ah][Jc]. The deuce-six has a 2-1 shot at beating the ace-jack and you are still getting 2.2 to 1 odds if your opponent calls.

Hopefully now you understand why the squeeze play is such a powerful tool to have in your arsenal. Fire up a few games on Pokerist and start experimenting. Once you get a feel for the right conditions to squeeze, you’ll be raking in chips in no time.


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