Along with “check,” “bet,” and “call,” one of the first, most basic terms a poker player learns is “raise.” It’s meaning is quite simple as is the rule regarding the minimum amount one can raise. When to raise, however, is an entirely different matter altogether. In televised poker broadcasts, we often see Scandinavian players appearing aggressive, putting in raises seemingly all the time. This isn’t a tactic they picked up while playing at Norway’s most popular casino. Rather, there’s usually a logic to their incessant raising. Raising gets your blood pumping. If you’ve got the nuts and an opponent is betting into you, you’ll raise with confidence. If you’re looking to pull off a bluff, you might want to try a raise… and often your heart rate will increase in tandem. What’s important is to have a rationale for raising, and not just be throwing in extra chips just because “it feels right.”
A player bets. You raise. Your opponents wonder: “Why is he raising the pot?” There may be several good reasons. I’ll list four of them below.
1) Raising to “Thin the Field”
Pre-flop you have been dealt a made hand – pocket Aces, Kings, or Queens. You are aware of the probability law: If four or more opponents stay to see the flop, your A-A becomes an underdog – likely to lose. So, you raise to force out some of your opponents to avoid becoming an underdog. (Underdogs are losers!)
Caution: You would be so unhappy if all your opponents folded to your raise. What a waste!
Solution: Best to make your raise after one or two opponents have already called to see the flop. It’s probably also OK if it’s a loose game.
2) Check-Raising – A Form of Deception
You hold a powerful hand, likely to win. Your goal is to build a big pot. From an early position, you check your hand; an opponent opens the betting and is called by several others. Now, you raise, completing a check-raise. Those who had already “invested” with a single bet, will call your raise. The pot grows.
Concern: If all your opponents check along with you, and no one bets out, you will have lost the opportunity to build “your pot.” That often happens at a tight table.
Best solution: Don’t play at tight tables.
“Hold’em is a game of calculated aggression: If your cards are good enough for you to call a bet, they are good enough to raise with.” #pokerquotes
— TopPokerValue.com (@TopPokerValue) December 8, 2017
3) Raising for Value
You have a very powerful hand, almost certain to win the pot. So, you “raise for value” – to build the pot. But be sure that your raise will be called, otherwise you might force out so many opponents that the pot is small. Ideally, raise for value when you are in a middle/late position after several opponents have called an early-position bet. They are prone to call your raise.
Precaution: Hesitate to raise for value from an early position; more opponents are likely to fold, leaving you with just a small pot. Instead, consider slow-playing or check-raising.
4) Raising for Information
There may be occasions when you raise for information. Poker is a game of partial information. You can never have all the information you would like.
Example: You’re dealt pocket Queens – a made hand pre-flop, but vulnerable against an Ace or King on the board. So, you raise pre-flop to thin the field and protect your vulnerable Q-Q. Nevertheless, an opponent holding a King may have stayed to see the flop. Lo and behold, a King falls on the flop.
Should he, in fact, have a King in the hole, his pair of Kings makes your Queens a huge longshot with only two outs to catch a set. If you just call all the way to the river, it’s bound to cost you a stack of chips. Does he have it?
First consider the type of player they are:
- If a tight player comes out betting, you ought to believe that most likely they have paired their Kings. Fold your hand.
- If an aggressive-deceptive player opens the betting, they may be bluffing – representing a pair of Kings. Look for bluffing tells. Did they suddenly sit straight up in their chair? Did they cover their mouth, rub their neck? It might be wise to call the bet.
- To go back to our “Scandinavian” example from the beginning, the player you’re facing might be as “random” as some jackpot winner from the Swedish casino Svedala Casino who happens to be on a trip to Vegas. He sees the poker room and wants to give the game a try to see how Hold’em differs from video poker. Does he appear to be the wild type to play and raise any hand that might have a King in it?
Alternative: Consider raising for information. How will they react to your raise? They might fold; but, if they re-raise, pause to think: An aggressive-deceptive player often bluffs. If the pot is big, call the re-raise; then play cautiously thereafter.