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Reasons (Not) to Raise

by Barbara Connors

In a game where aggression reigns supreme, raising with a good hand (or even a not-so-good hand) has become almost automatic for some poker players. Whether your hand is good, bad, or indifferent, it’s always easy to think of reasons to raise: to thin the field, induce a better hand to fold, charge opponents a high price to see the next card, gain information, enhance table image, and of course, the daddy of all reasons, to get more money in the pot when you believe you are favored to win.

 But with so much focus on the importance of aggression, how often do we stop to consider the reasons not to raise before we push out those extra chips? Clearly there are times when discretion is the better part of poker valor, when your long-term profitability is actually better-served with a quiet flat-call. The most obvious reason is to trap, since a mere call disguises the true strength of your hand. But more than that — if you are convinced your opponent’s hand is so inferior that he is making a mistake to call, you should want him to stick around and make that error, as opposed to making the correct play of folding to your raise.

 As a general rule, the conditions in favor of not raising fall into one of two categories:

 When it won’t come back to haunt you later. Since a flatcall has zero fold equity, you need to have the kind of hand that doesn’t mind another passenger — or two or three — coming along for the ride. This means either a drawing hand that likes to be up against multiple opponents, or else a hand so strong that you’re not worried about other players sucking out on you. Which brings us to the next great hazard of not raising — giving your opponent(s) a cheap look at the next card. If you’re going to give your enemy a cheap shot at improving his hand, you’d better be reasonably certain he can’t improve enough to beat you. It’s one of the oldest sob stories in poker — the would-be trapper who ended up trapping himself — so if you don’t wish to end up as another casualty, be sure your hand is strong enough to withstand the extra competition.

 Danger, Will Robinson! At the other end of the reasonsnot- to-raise spectrum is the precariousness of putting more money at risk when your hand is good, but not that good. If you’re not quite sure your hand is in the lead, any raise that’s large enough to get you pot-committed also has the potential to get you into deep trouble. By not raising and keeping the pot size more modest, you give yourself the option to get away from the hand later.

 A similar logic applies when your opponent can put a substantial hurt on you, usually because both of you are sitting behind deep stacks. As the stakes get higher, both literally and figuratively, you must have real confidence in the strength of your hand —or in your ability to make this particular opponent fold — before you risk getting your entire stack nuked. This is especially true when you’re in a tournament situation, particularly near the bubble or finaltable bubble. The more you have to lose, the less inclined you should be to rush into battle.

 Another kind of danger, though much more subtle, is the possibility of getting reraised out of the pot when you’re holding a good draw. You could have a pure drawing hand, or a made hand with a redraw to something better — but either way, you want to get a look at that next card. By raising, you expose yourself to the possibility of a giant reraise that you won’t be able to call, or at the very least, where you would be making a mistake by calling.

 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

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