If You Have The Best Hand, Raise!

It’s always tempting to raise when you think you have the best hand. But it’s not always the best play. This is a mistake that even some high profile players make. Take this example from High Stakes Poker:

Playing eight-handed with blinds of $500/$1000 and

antes of $300, Daniel Negraneau posts a straddle of $2000. Eli Elezra picks up two black queens under the gun and raises to $7200. Four players call behind him, including Tom “Durrr” Dwan.

The flop comes out 379♣ . Elezra bets $23,300 into a $38,900 pot. Next to act, Dwan raises to $71,000. Everyone folds back around to Eli, including Phil Galfond who flopped top pair. Elezra is in one of the least comfortable spots in No Limit Holdem. He holds an overpair, which was strong enough to lead into a field of five. But now he’s facing a raise from a very strong player who has position on him.

If there were no more betting to be done, this would be an easy call. Pocket queens figure to be good often enough to justify calling down for another $47,700. The trouble is that there is another round of betting and over $350,000 left behind.

Dwan’s range is probably something like top two pair, a set, and straight draws. Elezra will have the best hand against that range about 60% of the time, but he’ll only have 40% equity since Dwan’s draws all have 8 outs. Furthermore, those straight draws should probably be discounted since Dwan may choose to just call with them, knowing that Eli is stubborn and may be unlikely to fold a hand like an overpair, knowing that the flop raiser, Durrr, is one of the biggest action players in poker.

Considering his reverse implied odds – it will cost a third of a million dollars to call down – Elezra could just fold right away. Some players will tell you that this is too weak and lets your opponents run you over. The truth is that in a five-way pot against the range in question, it’s the best option.

The only other reasonable option would be to call the flop raise, and let Dwan continue to bluff when he holds a draw. If the draws come in, Elezra can fold. He may have a hard time knowing what to do when an ace or a king comes off. These should be bricks, but only a strong hand reader will recognize this. Taking this line would only be correct if bluffs and draws were a large part of Durrr’s range. Given that Eli is out of position against a world class player, folding is still the better option.

Instead of calling or folding, Eli raises to $173,300! The only rational reason to do this would be to get all in against a weaker range. But not only is Elezra behind Dwan’s range, he proceeds to fold after Durrr shoves all in.

Presumably he’s re-raising in an attempt to “define the hand” or something. What he’s really doing is turning his pocket queens into a total bluff. His cards have become totally irrelevant. If his plan is to raise and fold to a shove, then he will never see the turn. (Durrr will never call the flop re-raise – he’s either folding or shoving.) If Elezra never sees the turn, then his hand has no value and is a complete bluff.

You should usually only raise the flop against a good player when you’re either bluffing or willing to get all of your chips in. If you’re thinking of raising for information, you have to consider the value of that information (i.e. how actionable and reliable is the intelligence?) and how much it will cost to obtain it. When you crunch the numbers, you’ll find that it’s rarely worth the price.

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