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When Your Opponent Raises...

by George “The Engineer” Epstein

Questions cross your mind when an opponent raises. If you knew why he raised, your next decision would be much easier, and more likely in your best interest. Let’s explore some of these reasons. . . and clues that might shed light on these.

 Why did he raise rather than just call on that betting round? Why Did He Raise? To answer our question, consider the 13 Reasons for Raising as described in my column in the August 13 issue of PPN. The average player probably is not sufficiently astute to go beyond the four top reasons: (1) Build the pot (Raise for value); (2) Force out some opponents (so his made hand has a better chance of holding up to the river); (3) Steal the blinds; (4) Semi-bluff and/or bluff.

 Most often, a raise preflop or on the flop, signifies a strong hand. If it’s preflop, he might have a big pair or a premium drawing hand in the hole. That’s more likely to be the case if he is a tight player. On the opposite extreme, a very loose player, especially a “maniac,” could raise with almost anything in the hole. Some just like to see big pots.

 If there are many tight players at the table, that raise may be enough to take the pot when his opponents all fold: Stealing the pot. Even if one or two players call his raise, they will be cautious from here on. If they do not connect on the flop, the raiser’s aggressive bet at that point (following the preflop raise) could be enough to win the pot by default. (I once saw a “maniac” raise without looking at his holecards! And it worked for him when he “stole” the pot on the flop.) In a high-limit game, compared to low-limit, the preflop raiser is more likely to use Reason No. 2 above: Force out some opponents so his made hand can better hold up to the river. Being less skilled in using poker odds, low-limit players are less likely to use that strategy.

 Clues. Just as a detective seeks clues to help solve the murder mystery, there are bits of information you might look for at the poker table. As indicated above, your opponent’s playing style is a great clue. Many players are so absorbed with their own hands, they make little effort to seek this and other clues. But you can. . .

 One clue I particularly like is to look at the raiser’s chip stacks. How many chips does he have? Of course, that’s a key issue in no-limit games where all of your chips could be at risk if your opponent has a bigger stack than you. But it’s also very important in limit games, even low-limit. . . Oh, oh. The raiser is almost out of chips. Well, if he is a loose player, he is raising in desperation; he has decided to “gamble” and hope he gets lucky. In that case, even with a marginal drawing hand, you might very well decide to call his raise. In a middle/late position, you might even reraise to force out opponents behind you and perhaps gain the virtual Button position. If everyone else folds, then you have isolated the desperate raiser and have a good chance to relieve him of his remaining chips.

 On the other hand, if the raiser is a tight player, be cautious; even more so if he has lots of chips in front of him. Preflop, muck your hand unless it is a premium drawing hand or better. The potential reward just isn’t worth the risk. . .

 Message: Don’t just look at the table to see how much money (chips) is in the pot and reexamine the cards on the board, look at the raiser. Look for tells; and especially examine his chip stacks. Consider the type of player he is. Are there other clues? Then make your move. . . Can you suggest other clues? A signed copy of the new 3rd edition of Hold’em or Fold’em? will be the prize for the best response. Email to

 Recently elected to the Seniors’ Poker Hall of Fame, George “The Engineer” Epstein is the author of The Greatest Book of Poker for Winners! and Hold’em or Fold’em?—An Algorithm for Making the Key Decision and teaches poker at the Claude Pepper Sr. Citizen Center in Los Angeles. Recently, he started teaching poker to aged war veterans with special healthcare needs at a new CalVet facility at the VA in West L.A. Contact George at

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