Quite a few years ago, I read a pretty controversial column in one of the major poker magazines at that time. The column related to holding a strong hand preflop and raising after the flop to trim down the number of opponents staying in the hand. The goal was to Reduce the Size of the Playing Field” (“RSPF”) in order to increase the probability of winning.
The author as a “poker guru,” provided several mathematical examples to prove that you will make more $$$ in the long term if you raise to force out opponents who, otherwise, might draw a better hand. We agree thus far…
The Guru’s Concept
Having been dealt a strong hand, he advocated:
“By keeping the pot smaller and disguising your hand, you’ll get someone to bet into you the next round, allowing you to raise others out.”
In other words, he suggested that, with a strong hand, do not raise preflop; wait until after the flop.
This strategy deserves careful scrutiny. Let’s focus on pocket Queens, a made hand preflop. It is best to play this hand against one or two, at most three opponents, but never four or more. (In a no-limit game, one opponent is OK if he has plenty of chips and is a loose player.)
However, by waiting until after the flop to make your RSPF raise, as the guru suggests, you take a big risk. An opponent, who would have folded to a raise preflop, gets to see the flop on the cheap. With three cards to be flopped, each opponent has a chance to improve his hand. At that point, he sees over 70% of his final hand. The more opponents seeing the flop, the more likely one will catch a better hand than yours. Second-best is expensive.
With Q-Q in the hole, normally you would raise preflop to RSPF. Instead, following the guru’s suggestion, you just call to see the flop. Instead of fewer than four opponents, six stay to see the flop. That’s a big difference. This includes opponents holding an Ace or a King in the hole. Poker players love to play big honor cards, especially Aces and Kings. Let’s assume one opponent sees the flop with A-rag and another has K-rag. Two others hold small pairs. All four might have folded had you raised preflop –
The odds are 2-to-1 against either the Ace or King pairing up on the flop. For the two opponents holding small pocket pairs, the odds are about 4-to-1 against one of them flopping a set. Combined, these odds strongly favor one or more of your opponents connecting on the flop. Contrast these odds with those against you for flopping a set of Queens, which are about 8-to-1. There is a very good chance that your pocket Queens will become an underdog. The more opponents staying to see the flop, the more likely one will catch his card, leaving you an underdog – with only two outs for the rest of the hand. And, you may not even suspect it. On the other hand, had you raised preflop, your Q-Q likely would have still been in the lead.
The poker guru’s basic premise to RSPF with a made hand is right on. Just do it before, not after, the flop. Preflop, your high pair has the lead; you want to keep it there. And, using the Esther Bluff tactic will make your RSPF raise much more effective. (Of course, there are always exceptions to any rule.)
Position makes a difference
In this column, I have debated against the wisdom of not raising before the flop with a strong hand such as pocket Queens, and waiting until the next round to raise to RSPF. Position is especially important when using the RSPF strategy.