Let’s combine the previous two chapters to start a discussion of what our preflop raises should look like. Many players don’t even think about their preflop raise sizes. It’s a robotic, automatic action—we hit the pot button and raise. It doesn’t matter who’s limping on our right or who’s in the blinds on our left. We just mash pot and play from there.* Well, this isn’t going to cut it anymore. If we’re going to perfect our game, we need to think about every decision, even the small ones. It’s more important than you think.
We can raise to one of three sizes:
- 1) Pot. A Pot-Sized Raise is a pretty good default to have in general. It’s large enough that it gets money in the pot, creating dead money for profitable c-bets and putting stacks in play more easily. However, a PSR can sometimes be too large of a bet. If our opponents are 3-betting us a lot, their strategy will be more successful if we are giving up too much dead money. So, by reducing our preflop raise size we effectively hamper a light 3-bettor’s strategy. For this reason, many players reduce their raise sizes with a professional shortstack in the blinds. However, most players don’t reduce their raise size if a loose, aggressive, 3-betting regular is in the blinds. It’s the same principle—we should reduce our raise size if there are good players playing back at us.
- 2) Less than pot. As I mentioned above, shortstacks and good players are two good reasons to reduce your raise size. So, if I have two professional shortstacks in the blinds, I’ll minraise the button. If I have one pro shortstack and one good regular in the blinds, I might raise to either 2x or 2.5x. If there was a pro shortstacker and a bad player, I’d probably raise to 3x.
- 3) More than pot. Sometimes, a player will be so egregiously bad that we can punish their preflop mistakes by raising to a large size. Against some of these opponents, I’ve made my standard open-raise as large as 8x. The idea is that, if somebody will call 8x preflop and play fit-or-fold postflop, they’re giving up a ton of money. The other half of the idea is that, if we have a good hand, we can get value more quickly—always a good thing. As you can see, our preflop raise size doesn’t need to be static. A lot of my students worry about
whether or not their changing raise size will give away information about their hand. It won’t, because you’re not making your decision based on hidden information (i.e. your cards). Instead, the decision is made based on information available to the table—which types of players are sitting in which seats with what stack sizes. That information is public. I might minraise the button with two regs in the blinds, raise to 2.5x on the CO with one reg and a shortstacker in the blinds, then raise to 5x as soon as a fish hits the blinds.
So, we can see that two of the three advantages of isolation theory are coming back:
- 1) Skill advantage. We raise larger when we’re better than our opponents, simply because they’ll be creating more dead money by playing against us and making more mistakes.**
- 2) Positional advantage. We generally prefer to raise smaller when we’re in position because having more money behind magnifies the effect of acting last. For example, if we have only 5bb left in a 10bb pot, it doesn’t really matter whether we act first or last, as our only available plays are to shove or fold. However, if we have 200bb left in a 10bb pot, acting last allows us to raise, float, and make it incredibly difficult for our opponents to play correctly against us.
However, we can’t use card advantage as a reason to change our raise sizes preflop, because that would give away information about our hand somewhat obviously. Instead, we’ll substitute stack size in place of card advantage:
3) Stack Size. The shorter the stack size, the smaller we want to raise. The larger the stack, the larger we want to raise. Easy game.
*Now, a lot of players just follow strict rules that they see in instructional videos—something like minraise every button, 2.5x in the CO, 3x from early position. We should be more flexible than that. **This is actually counter-intuitive and wrong. Like our positional advantage, our skill advantage also increases with depth. So, the better we are, the smaller we want to make it to maximize the advantage.
However, many weak players will call a large preflop and check-fold every flop that they miss. In this case, the extra money we win from a large raise preflop is worth more than the advantage of having deeper stacks. When I’m playing against regulars, though, I almost always try to make it as small as possible preflop. Not only does this maximize my skill advantage but it gives me a cheap price on my preflop blind-stealing bluff.