Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Analyzing NLHE:TAP Concepts 8-9

Discussing the concepts at the end of Sklansky and Miller's No Limit Hold 'em: Theory and Practice.

Concept No. 8: Other things being equal, when you're in one of the blinds your preflop raises should generally be a little larger than normal.

I often follow this advice in my own play, but I'm not convinced that it is generally correct. Maybe it is, but I'm not sure. This is rather difficult to analyze objectively, and I think it will be a subject of discussion among poker theorists and enthusiasts for a long time. Anyway, Sklansky and Malmuth list three reasons why they think this advice is correct. Let's look briefly at each.

1. S+M say:
You'll be out of position, and raising bigger increases the chances you'll win right away.
Me: Yes, but you could also argue that you'd rather play a small pot if you're out of position, and so you should either raise smaller or only with very strong hands like JJ+.

2. S+M say: Cuts down your opponents' implied odds.
Me: Well, yes, but it also costs you more. Is it worth it?

3. S+M say: In early position, it's more important that you narrow down your opponents' possible hands, which you can do by raising more.
Me: Good point. Again, I wonder: is it worth the extra investment?

Finding the right strategy for raising in the blinds is something I'm still working on. It probably deserves a lot more consideration than I'm giving it in this post, but I don't feel that I have anything insightful to say about it beyond what I'm writing here. My current strategy is this: In the blinds, I like to raise only with a small number of strong hands. The actual range will depend on who has limped into the pot so far, but sometimes I will check with a hand as strong as pocket tens (although I will usually raise this hand). Occasionally, I will bluff with weaker hands (sometimes even extremely weak hands such as 72o if I think my image is very tight and I will likely make everyone fold). Since I seldom bluff from the blinds, I don't usually feel the need to make my raises particularly large. If my opponents know me well, they should fold to a normal-sized raise of about 2 BB larger than the current pot size, which is about what I consider normal-sized from other positions, as well. However, I will often raise larger than this if my opponents don't know me or if they seem to play too loosely. Since this is often the case, I actually do raise larger than normal from the blinds pretty often.

A related question is how much to raise in early position versus late position. I've seen all three alternatives argued: larger raises in early position; larger raises in late position; keep raises about the same size. The argument that you should raise bigger from early position is the most popular: you don't want to get called and then have to play the pot out of position, which is the same as S+M's 1st point above. I've also seen it argued that you should raise the same amount from each position. One argument for this is that it will always give the blinds the same pot odds if nobody else joins the pot. I've rarely seen it argued that you should raise bigger from late position than from early position, but this is what Chen and Ankenman argue in The Mathematics of Poker. They say that since your raising range is much smaller from early position, it's not necessary to raise as much. Also, by raising small, you save money if one of your opponents reraises, which is much more likely if you are raising from early position with 7-9 players yet to act than if you raise from the button with just 2 players left after you. Personally, I've decided to take the middle road and raise about the same regardless of my position. For me, this philosophy extends to how I play from the blinds, where I raise about the same as from anywhere else.

I think this topic deserves a much more objective, EV-based analysis, but this seems like a big project. I'm not up to the challenge just yet. I hope to return to this question at some point after I'm done going through the rest of these concepts, but that will not be for quite a while.

Concept No. 9: Bets are usually more important than pots.

I'm tacking this one on the end here because I don't have much to say about it. The concept's claim is not literally true because even in no-limit holdem, bets are usually smaller than the pot, but S+M's point is well-taken: in contrast to limit poker, winning or saving extra bets is extremely important in no-limit poker.

No-limit players should be much more willing to give up a pot in order to save a bet. In limit poker, on the other hand, the pots tend to be big compared to the bets, and so calling is much more commonly the right decision.

For limit players, it can be difficult to adjust to this difference. I had the opposite problem when I started playing more limit holdem last year: I was folding way too often for a limit game. My experience with no-limit poker had gotten me used to the idea that saving bets was important, and giving up pots was okay. In limit, the exact opposite is true!


Craig Berger said...

I think the key element of concept 8 is "other things being equal." Other things are never equal. If you are facing opponents who frequently limp with mediocre hands, you might want to raise larger from the big blind in order to avoid facing a bunch of random hands, unless they are calling stations in which case you may want to raise smaller to get them to come along all the way when they are dominated, etc. The point is I don't see how you can argue raise sizes from any position in a vacuum. If your opponents fold to big late position raises but call small ones, you'll raise big when you want them to fold and small when you want to play a pot, and so on ad infinitum. Don't think there can be a hard and fast rule here. Clearly you want to be playing more and bigger pots in position than out of position, but how to achieve that will vary from table to table.

Anonymous said...

What's the tally - how are Sklansky and Miller doing so far?

Keith said...

After a 1 for 4 start, they're 4 for their last 5 (giving them the benefit of the doubt). So now it's at 5 for 9 total.