“You’ve got to raise to find out where you stand,”– Phil Hellmuth
One of the most common phrases you’ll hear in a poker room is, “Don’t let them draw out on you. You’ve gotta raise to protect your hand.” This notion of protecting your hand came primarily from limit poker, where the price of a bet is small compared to the cost of losing a pot. “Protecting your hand” has become passé in Limit Holdem. In No Limit Holdem, it’s downright silly.
Here’s an example taken from a $.50/$1 table. Everyone folds to the small blind who open raises to $3, and the big blind re-raises to $10. The small blind calls with his pocket fours, and the flop comes out 8♠ 5♥ 2♥. The small blind checks, the big blind bets $13, and the small blind raises to $37.
When asked why he raised, the small blind replied, “I want to protect my hand and find out where I’m at.” We’ll leave the grammar alone, as this is a perfectly legitimate construction in Standard Poker English, just like “Two Pair.” The trouble is that it’s an awful play.
Before tossing a third of your stack into the middle, take a moment to consider the value of the information you’re obtaining here. When your opponent folds, you find out that you had the best hand. Was it worth it? When your opponent re-raises, you find out that you didn’t have the best hand. Unless you did.
Just because your opponent re-raises the flop, that doesn’t always mean he has you beat. Many opponents can shove over your raise with semi-bluffs like six-seven and heart draws, or even just two overcards like ace-king. Check/ raising the flop and getting re-raised doesn’t tell you “where you’re at.” You’re asking a question with your raise, but don’t expect an honest answer. This is poker, not go fish.
Calling a shove here would be as bad as the check/raise, but it would at least make that first play make sense. The only legitimate reason to check/raise here would be if your opponent is so aggressive that you can actually put all of your money in on the flop and still be ahead of your opponent’s range. Just like in the previous chapter, being ahead of your opponent’s betting range is not the same as being ahead of his shoving range.
So what’s the correct play on this flop? Well, calling is okay if you know one of the following:
• Your opponent is extremely passive and straight- forward and will never bet the turn unless you’re drawing almost dead. In this case, you could call the flop bet and get to the showdown for no additional charge when you hold the best hand. When he bets the turn, you can fold with a clear conscience. While your opponent will still draw out on you about a quarter of the time, you’ll never end up folding the best hand against this passive player.
• Your opponent is insanely aggressive and will barrel all three streets blindly. Against a player with a huge number of bluffs in his range, you can call down the whole way, allowing him to bluff off his stack.
Unfortunately, most opponents fall somewhere in the middle. You’ll wind up folding too much equity or paying too much to get to showdown. It’s not that the cost is too high in absolute dollars. The problem is that you won’t be getting the right price. If there is $20 in the middle before the flop with $90 left to bet after the flop, you’ll have to win 45% of showdowns to justify calling all the way down.6 If your opponent bluffs and barrels with discretion, that’s not going to happen. Your other alternative is to call the flop and fold the turn or river. But the showdown value of your hand isn’t worth anything if you don’t get to showdown. You’ve got a rock/hard place situation on your hands. So what’s the answer?
90 / (20 + 90 + 90) = .45, or 45%
In fact, you should fold to the preflop re-raise against most opponents. You’ll miss the flop 7.5 times out of 8.5 and usually just check/fold. You’re just not getting the right odds to play this hand out of position against most players.
Against a very strong range you can call the 3-bet, hoping to spike a set. Against a player who will fold a huge portion of his range to a 4-bet, you can consider playing back. But against most players, just avoid the situation entirely. As we saw in the previous chapter, good players often fold the best hand. It costs less than trying to “find out where you’re at.”