In poker, a raise can serve a multitude of purposes. By far the two most common motives for raising are to get more money in, and to drive opponents out. The first is a pretty straightforward proposition. Any time you believe that you have the best of it, whether in the form of the strongest hand or the most promising draw, you want to build up a nice juicy pot. You are raising for value.
The number two incentive for raising is to eliminate opponents. If you’re holding a good-but-not-great hand such as top pair, your odds of victory are still looking iffy, but they increase as your number of opponents decreases. So you’d prefer to push opponents out of the hand sooner rather than later, before they have the chance to make a better hand.
Whether or not you’ll succeed in driving out opponents with your raise depends on a number of factors, beginning with position. All things being equal, putting in a raise when you’re under the gun is going to drop a lot more opponents than a raise from late position. Your table image also has a lot to do with it; raises from nits tend to be taken very seriously, while raises from habitual maniacs, not so much. There’s also the size of the pot, and of course in no-limit and pot-limit, the size of the raise itself.
In the same general category is raising to give your opponents the wrong odds to draw. If you flop top pair but there’s an obvious flush draw on the board, you’d prefer to get rid of anybody with aspirations of chasing a flush. But if you can’t make them go away, you can at least charge a fee for the chance to suck out. Make them pay too much, so that mathematically they’ll be making a mistake by calling. This is especially important in no-limit and pot-limit, where you can specifically design your raise to be the exact amount that would make it incorrect for opponents to draw.
Raising can also be done as a bluff or semi-bluff. Done as a pure bluff, raising can be a dicey proposition. If it doesn’t work the cost can be crippling. Raising on a semi-bluff offers a little more protection. For example, if you’ve got a hand like second pair with an overcard kicker, or a straight draw with only one card to come, you’d like your opponent(s) to fold post haste. But even if you get called, you can still catch one of your outs to win.
We can also raise to get a free card. Generally this works best from late position, and it should be done on an early, cheap round of betting—with the aim to buy a free card on a more expensive round. A classic example is raising from last position with a drawing hand on the flop. Because so many poker players are apt to “check to the raiser,” the action will likely be checked over to you on the turn. If the turn card didn’t help your hand, you can then just check along and get a free look at the river.
Finally, raising can also be done as a means to gain information, based on your opponent’s response. With your raise, you are sending the other players a message: My hand is strong. If your opponent re-pops it, he is telling you that he’s not impressed by your show of strength. This is valuable information, but most of the time it’s not, in and of itself, a good enough reason to raise because it’s too expensive. However, if you’re considering a raise for other reasons and you have a borderline decision, knowing that a raise will help you gain information about the strength of your opponent’s hand may be enough to tip the scales in favor of pushing out that raise.
Barbara Connors is a sucker for classic old movies, science fiction, and the St. Louis Cardinals. Her life’s ambition is to figure out the unusual behavior patterns of that unique breed of humans who call themselves poker players. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.