Open Sizing and History
When we’re not moving all-in we have to enter the pot in another fashion. While some people like to limp into pots it is generally considered a weak play because if you come into the pot raising you are afforded new ways to win the pot. You could have the best hand, and make more money from it. You could have a worse hand, but force a slightly better hand to fold. If you just limp in the only way for you to win is through having the best hand. Worse, if someone raises you then they have the betting lead, and the possibility of bluffing you away from a superior hand.
For these reasons most professionals prefer to raise when they come into the pot. How much should someone raise when they enter? Believe it or not this question has been hotly debated for decades in the poker sphere, and the discussion shows no signs of slowing down. Much like a pitcher’s stance the open size decides everything that is going to come afterwards. If it’s slightly off the whole approach to the hand can falter through every street.
In the 1990s the traditional preflop raise was to the size of the pot, which was often around 3.5x. In tournaments people scaled it down to 3x. Occasionally, you’d find a real daredevil who made it 2.75x in a tournament. This was considered almost belligerent. How could he be so arrogant, to think that such a small raise would get people to fold? When cash games online began reaping extraordinary profits for young men, many of the formally live grinders migrated to their computers. They brought with them the 3.5x and 3x guidelines, and it stayed that way through 2006 and 2007.
If you watch tournament videos from this era, the re-raise all-in was the perennial play. It was hard to beat if someone had studied their ranges. It was more difficult to develop a solid mathematical game because of the lack of poker software, but soon tools were introduced such as SNG Wizard. Bill Chen released a groundbreaking book about the mathematics of poker, explaining unexploitable jams and re-jams.
The play was massively profitable because of the size of the raises. If someone raised 3BB and then folded with any regularity you were reaping huge profits. Consequently, flatting raises out of the blinds was seen as death because calling 3BB and then folding much of the time on the flop pretty much insured a net loss. This gave rise to what my friend Apestyles refers to as “position Nazis.” You were supposed to go to poker hell if you called from the big blind.
At a certain time young online players such as DJK123, WatchTheSea, and DevinR12 began minraising when they came into a pot. They never explained their methodology, so it was summarily rejected and mocked. People would fold to them decrying what a stupid raise it was. They would frequently flat and get outplayed out of position, because they had little experience in the topic. What these young men knew that others didn’t was that small raises seldom needed to work. With blinds and antes the play wouldn’t need to work more than 45% of the time. Therefore they could have their opponent move all-in on them 54% of the time – a majority of the time – and their play would still work with Snickers wrappers in place of playing cards.
Around 2009 people began gravitating to minraising, as they saw its effectiveness. In 2010 and 2011 a number of players and I, perhaps influenced by Gus Hansen’s work in Every Hand Revealed, learned that when someone was giving you tremendous odds you were supposed to call, even out of position. If you could identify a postflop flaw in them the better it got, because perhaps you could work a donk bet or check-raise bluff into your play.
Around 2012–2013 I started doing a great deal of work on figuring out why the minraise was so effective. I was curious why my graph looked like a bad skate park ramp while Pessagno, a Brazilian reg who didn’t care for any of the traditional rules, had consistent earnings year in and year out. When I told people I was studying Pessagno I was greeted with remarks such as, “That clown?! You’re a way better player than him. What he does is horrible! What could you possibly learn from him?”
I knew these players were jealous, as I was. If we admitted he was a better player that meant we had been doing it wrong. It’s hard to admit that for years you’ve had the wrong strategy, and you deserved all your losses. However, I decided it hurt more to keep making mistakes. I had figured out you could call minraises, but I still believed you could not raise/fold from stacks below 20BB. Practically every poker video ever made said this was a horrible play, and too damaging to your stack to be profitable.
In my efforts to find the math to back this up though I discovered something strange: there was none. Not one of the landmark videos people referenced had a single calculation. It was quoted as fact, when really it was a successful player discussing their strategy. Noticing some of these players weren’t even successful anymore I decided to ask some mathematicians and poker experts to help me with EV calculations. To my astonishment I found that what Pessagno was doing was not only correct, but it also showed excellent judgment.
The minraise play needed to work 45% of the time, regardless of what your stack was. It occurred to me then, was it really that damaging to go from a 20x stack to an 18x one? Surely, it hurt more to go from a 12x stack to a 10x stack, but was it so damaging that the play was undoable? The math said no. The chips you were risking were valuable as you had so few, but it didn’t offset the potential gains. Especially in 2012 it did not. If you raised back then from a stack less than 20BB it was assumed you were calling an all-in. What other play in poker could you risk 2x to have people think you were truly wielding 20x?
I dug further, refined my method, and eventually started applying it. My first two Sundays featured back-to-back major final tables. I cut through fields of thousands with only 15BB. Every time I raised people just folded. My students began asking me why I was making such obviously horrible plays, presenting me with a moral dilemma. I could hide why I made the play and keep the benefits to myself, but that would have been dishonest to the players who had supported me financially when my career had bottomed. Furthermore, I assumed I wasn’t the only player who had stumbled on this discovery. The math was too remedial and attainable to be beyond the grasp of the hundreds of talented multi- table tournament (MTT) regs above me in the rankings. In fact, the
mathematicians laughed at me when I paid for such a basic question to be asked. I knew if I wrote down what I’d found on paper I’d give away some other regulars secrets, and decided that my loyalty to my students exceeded my allegiance to people I had never met. I taught them what I knew and didn’t worry about the concept gaining real traction. Everyone knew I’d gone broke. They’d just excuse my strategy as the rantings of a has-been poker pro. Eventually, my students told all their friends about it, who in turn hired me for lessons and asked for an explanation. Finally, exhausted from explaining the exact same thing 10– 20 hours a week, I committed the concepts to a PowerPoint video presentation. A year later, when seemingly everyone had pirated it anyway, I sold the video
publicly. There was no keeping the cat in the bag anymore.
Sure enough, I did receive death threats from name regulars, and they even
specified the live tournament at which they’d defile me. Since most of these kids were 5’6” and probably couldn’t punch through a paper bag I told them “good luck.” I’ve never had anyone confront me in person. The play was too basic to remain a secret for very long. I knew someone would break it at some time. For all I know 30 of us did in different languages. I’m sure if you scour the English language training sites there are several references of the play before my videos came out. Shaun Deeb had publicly stated that the 20BB rule was dated, and he didn’t adhere to it. If that wasn’t a siren telling you to get a move on to the next play, I don’t know what it is.
In 2013 everyone online realized they could minraise from short stacks. It worked wildly well for a time, until everyone caught on. Around this time ZeeJustin did some interviews and released some great work about how you could call from the big blind with practically anything versus a 2x raise. Apestyles later perfected the method.
I’d been calling out of position for a long time, but without much finesse. These gentlemen broke it down to a science. Apestyles, the greatest online tournament player to ever live, crunched the play mercilessly with CardRunners EV and other programs. The regulars saw them flatting minraises from eight big blind stacks, and started wondering why they were doing it. Eventually, the math would get out there, and people understood what the regulars were doing. They began flatting from the big blind more often, although without much of an idea of what they were doing. This didn’t deter the effectiveness of the minraise, as many players folded if they missed, or misplayed out of position horribly if they hit an inferior hand. They didn’t possess the poker IQ of an Apestyles or ZeeJustin.
We are at this crossroads today. People raise 2x more than ever before, and everyone is flatting them from the big blind. How do we take advantage of this? I believe I have the next solution.