There’s a preflop poker strategy that I’ve been seeing again and again this summer during the World Series, and I’m surprised to see it: Preflop raises that amount to five, six, or even eight times the big blind. Sometimes higher. It’s a terrible strategy overall, and I’ll give you a few examples to show why.
During a bracelet event I was playing, blinds were 150/300 with a 25 ante. The player under the gun brought it in for a 2000 raise – a whopping 6.5x big blind raise. After each player unsurprisingly folded (including me), the player triumphantly flipped over pocket Kings, and raked in the smallest amount of chips humanly possible with poker’s second-best starting hand.
This strategy was popular back in the 1980’s and 90’s, and most of the folks using it today are the same ones who used it then – or learned from those who did. (James Woods, for example, plays this way.) In today’s game, such a raise can be intimidating to players who don’t know how to adjust to it. Jeffrey Shulman, coached by Phil Hellmuth, famously used a version of this strategy at the Final Table to finish fifth in the 2009 World Series Main Event. So in the right hands, it can still be effective. But to those of us who know how to counter this style, it’s suicidal. I knocked James Woods out of a Foxwoods tournament a few years ago because I was able to figure out how to play against this strategy. I even blogged about it, if you want to read about it: http://stevessecondpokerblog.blogspot.com/2014/02/playing-poker-with-james-woods.html
Huge preflop raises unnecessarily bloat the pot, committing far more of your stack to the hand than what’s needed, and making it hard to get away when you’re beat. It ensures that you won’t get called except by those hands likely to have you at a serious disadvantage. It rewards you with miniscule pots with hands you’d rather get action with, such as with the pocket Kings example above.
I’ll share another example with you to give you an idea how I play against these opponents, and why this strategy is so disastrous.
In another bracelet tournament, with blinds at 400/800-100 ante, a player in middle position raised to 4400, a massive 5.5x preflop raise that left maybe only 18k behind. Since I’d been playing against this opponent for awhile now, I knew what kind of range he had with this bet: most pairs, any two face cards, and a lot of suited connectors. After the action folded to me on the button, I looked down and saw pocket Jacks.
This hand is going to play quite well against my opponent’s range, but it won’t play well against multiple opponents. I wanted to make sure I was heads-up against this guy; I didn’t want somebody to sneak in holding, say, Ace/Ten and flop perfect. I re-raised to 20k; a sizeable raise, big enough to scare away my remaining opponents while putting the initial raiser all-in if he called.
Mission accomplished. the rest of the field folded; my opponent called off with Ace/King; my hand held; and we had a seat open at our table.
Consider another way to play this hand: Say my opponent opens to 1800, a more reasonable raise that is only small fraction of his overall stack. With my jacks, I’m still going to raise here; probably to something like 4000. When action returns to him, he could either re-raise/shove (and likely win it right there, since I can’t call a four-bet shove with Jacks), or just call behind. Because the money was not that far away at this point, a call might be a better option due to ICM considerations. Since the flop missed my opponent entirely (it was seven-high), he can easily fold to my continuation bet and still have over twenty big blinds remaining. Twenty is better than zero.
I don’t mind it a bit when my opponents overbet preflop. It doesn’t bother me that they can intimidate the other players and build big stacks in the short term. I know how to counter their play, and sooner or later all those chips are going to end up in my stack.
I like big bets and I can not lie.