Make All Your Preflop Raises The Same Size

A common piece of advice is to make all of your preflop raises the same size. The theory is that, by always raising the same amount, you guard against leaking information about the quality of your hand. This is a simple and safe solution to raise sizing. It has an attractive logic, and we’ve all played around with it. It’s also really easy to do.

There are players who raise to 3 blinds with most of their hands, but 4 or 5 blinds with only their strongest hands. This is an awful strategy and you should not seek to emulate it. These guys would do well to always raise the same amount, since their current strategy telegraphs their hand strength. But we can do better.

Many factors come into play when deciding how to size your raise.

Are there short stacks behind you? Some players like to simplify the game by playing with the minimum buy in, which is as small as 20 blinds in many online games. They leverage the fact that they can shove all of their chips in against a raise and avoid playing postflop poker. If one of these players is left to act behind you, open raising to 3 or more blinds is usually a mistake. A normal to large sized raise gives them good odds

to shove over your open. Instead, make your raises smaller, effectively making their stack play deeper against you. This makes their short-stacking strategy less profitable. It also costs less when you open and then fold to their re-raise.

Are there big calling stations in the blinds? If so, you should make your open raises a bit larger. They will be calling with a weaker range both before and after the flop. By raising more, you bloat the pot and allow yourself to get more value on every street. They’ll miss a lot of flops – everyone does – so you’ll take down larger pots with your continuation bets. They’ll also call too often on the turn and river those times they do flop something decent. The larger preflop pot will allow you to get more chips in with your strong hands on the turn and river. You’ll have a good chance to take his stack.

Are there very aggressive players in the blinds? When the blinds like to re-raise a ton, min-raising can be a good option. Your opponents may call more often, but that’s okay since you’re getting a better price on your steal (4-to-3 instead of the usual 2-to-1). They may also re-raise a bit less frequently, since they’re getting a worse price on a re-steal with less money in the pot. Experience shows that many aggressive opponents will still make their “standard” sized re-raise to 10 or 11 blinds. Your smaller raise size means you lose less when you fold to these raises. You also get a great price on a small 4-bet bluff when they do have a wide range. There’s no need to make a large 4-bet, since they’ll almost always shove or fold.

Do you have an edge on the blinds? When you’re on the button and the blinds play at least as well as you do, this is another good spot to min-raise. You’re effectively cutting the stakes against the good players. (An ancillary benefit at small to medium stakes is paying less rake the times the blinds call and you take a flop.) With bad players in the blinds, you’ll be making larger raises and playing larger pots. Just like you’d prefer to play big pots with big hands, you’d also prefer to play big pots against bad players.

Do the blinds call a lot preflop and fold a lot postflop? This is a specific manner of playing poorly, and it gives you a huge incentive to make some slightly larger raises. Don’t make your raises so big that the blinds start folding a bunch. You want them to call so you can pick up a more profitable spot after the flop.

Are there limpers ahead of you? A common practice is to add one blind to your raise size for every limper. This is a good default, but when the limper is a big calling station, you can often extract more value after the flop by raising a bit more before the flop. Calling an extra 7 blinds may not seem much different to them than calling an extra 5 blinds, but it has a snowballing effect. Your postflop bets can be progressively larger on each street with the larger preflop raise. An extra 2 blinds now could mean an extra 4 blinds on the flop, another 8 on the turn, and a bonus of 16 blinds on the river. Those 2 blinds quickly compounded to 30 blinds. With something like a big pair or suited big cards, you should go for the bigger raise if you think the limper will call it. Let’s look at two ways the same hand can play out:

Would you rather win a $1,415 pot or a $2,015 one?

Can you safely juice the pot? When you have a small pocket pair or suited connector, it can be tempting to make a small raise after a few players limp in. This is a horrible idea in tough games, since the blinds are so likely to squeeze you out of the pot. By raising, you also reopen the action to the limpers, who can now re-raise themselves. The only time you should consider using this play is when the blinds are extremely passive and you’re almost certain the limpers will not re-raise. These conditions usually appear only in small-stakes live games. Under these ideal circumstances it may be worth making a small raise, trying to build a big pot before the flop. This will allow you to get more chips in after the flop those times you make a monster. Be extremely careful with this play! When in doubt, either limp along or make a normal sized raise.

These are a few of the situations where you should think about varying your raise sizes. Sometimes you will have conflicting considerations, in which case you have to weigh which factor is more important. Take the following example:

By raising to $40, you lose more when the short-stacked small blind shoves over your open. With a reasonably skilled big blind, you’d be better off raising to just $20. But the value of playing a bigger pot with the terrible player outweighs the risk of losing an extra $20 against the short stack. The slightly deeper stack of the bad player (132 blinds and you cover) makes the larger raise size the right play.

You will find plenty of other opportunities to vary your raise size if you look for them. It’s fine to have a default open-raise size (3 blinds is good for most games). But don’t get hemmed in and always raise the same amount. Overly static preflop play can lead to overly static postflop play. Before you know it, you can be auto-piloting ABC poker on all four streets. Starting your imagination and paying attention preflop is like eating a good breakfast. It gets your hand started on the right track.

Don’t waste chips by raising more than necessary, and don’t fail to take as much off the weaker players as you can.

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