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Making money in the middle

Don’t feel you always have to raise when holding a good hand


Let’s examine a hand I played last year. Oddly, it’s not a hand I played amazingly well or even one where today’s concept made extra money. But I played it with my best long-term profit in mind. It was in a $200/$400 limit Hold ’em game, but the concept applies to no-limit games as well. The action went like this…

I held 8clubs 7clubs in the big blind. Everyone folded except John, an aggressive player, who was in the dealer position (button). John raised to $800. This was an almost expected raise, since he almost always attacked the blinds when given the opportunity.

Carl, in the small blind, called. Carl was also a very liberal player. I called, which is usually the correct move, considering the big blind’s half price, against these types of opponents. The pot was now $2,400.

The flop came Kclubs Qclubs 2diamonds. Carl checked. I checked, although an occasional bet could have been justified by my four clubs. Since I was in the middle of two aggressive players, though, I decided not to tempt fate. John bet $400 and Carl and I both called.

The turn card was 2hearts. Check, check, check.

The final (river) card was 10clubs, giving me my flush. Carl bet $800. I called. Notice that I didn’t raise. But John did raise. Carl folded, and was probably bluffing. John raised and I decided to just call. He showed down Qspades 10spades—two pair. Yes, I might have raised once more, but I thought there was too significant a chance that John had made a bigger flush—or, much less likely, even a full house. I figured that, assuming John wasn’t bluffing, which would render my raise meaningless, I was only slightly more likely to have the better hand, which isn’t enough of a motive to raise. (When you make an extra raise on the last round with only a small edge, you risk having to pay off a reraise.) Despite that, I often would reraise in that situation, but this time I didn’t. Whether that was the best choice is worthy of analysis, but it isn’t what we’re discussing. It’s my decision to just call Carl’s original bet that we’re examining.

Every poker session
On the final betting round, you’ll often end between the bettor and other opponents waiting to act. Let’s say you’ve made a very strong hand, but not an unbeatable one. That happens at least once—and sometimes several times—during almost every poker session you’ll ever play.

Making the wrong choice can be costly. Most players, even experienced ones, make their decisions by whim when placed in this uncomfortable position. But there’s actually very powerful advice that can keep you from making mistakes.

The advice is to usually just call. In fact, if you decide that you will almost always just call with quality hands, and almost never raise, you’re hardly ever going to make a serious blunder. On the other hand, if you raise, you’ll sometimes cost yourself money needlessly.

Let’s say the bettor is bluffing, as Carl was. If that’s the case, your raise is likely to extinguish any chance you have of getting overcalled with a weaker hand by players waiting to act. At the same time, you won’t get any more money from the bluffer than you would have by merely calling.

Or what if the bettor has a truly powerful hand, one that can beat you? Then you certainly don’t want to raise. Not only will that raise itself cost you more money, but you’ll likely end up calling another bet in addition.

Extra profit
And sometimes, as was the case here, your call can make the player waiting to act too confident about his strength and that can bring you extra profit. In this case, I probably would have made the same amount of money by raising as by calling. But that isn’t the point.

The point is, I probably didn’t cost myself any extra profit by just calling and I might have cost myself extra profit by raising. Sure, there are cases where a call works against you—times when raising might have earned more. But when you analyze the most likely scenarios and simulate millions of hands by computer, it’s clear that you need an almost certain winner to justify a raise from the middle position on the last betting round.

The main exception is when your hand is fairly weak and you think the bettor is bluffing. Then you can raise hoping to scare away players waiting to act. If you just call, you’re inviting an overcall that beats you. But overall, when you have a reasonably strong hand, but not a certain winner, your best profit comes from just calling.

Hot tip from the Mad Genius of Poker
Often you don’t need to scrutinize opponents sitting next to you to know when they’re likely to be bluffing. Just turn away and listen. Do you hear them breathing? Harsh or irregular breathing is a sign that an opponent holds a large hand. If you hear nothing, there’s a good chance the opponent is bluffing. Bluffers try to hide in the shadows for fear of making you suspicious enough to call. One way they do that is to barely breathe—or to not breathe at all!—MC

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