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There are many reasons to bet or raise in poker, but the most common involve trying to increase your immediate equity in the pot. When you believe your hand is best, you want inferior hands either to call, building a bigger pot when you have an equity edge, or fold, increasing your equity to 100%. When you believe you hold the inferior hand, your bet or raise is a bluff designed to increase your equity by folding out better hands.
What about when you don’t know where you stand? Players sometimes bet or raise to define their hands, hoping to learn whether or not their moderately strong holding is best.
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Raising For Information
You are playing in a no-limit hold ‘em game with $1/$2 blinds. A player in middle position opens the pot for $10, you call on the button with A [spade] J [club], and everyone else folds. You have $200, and your opponents covers.
The flop comes J [club] T [heart] [9 heart], giving you top pair top kicker on a pretty scary board. The pre-flop raiser bets $18 into a $23 pot.
This is a spot where a raise for information may seem tempting. There are quite a few strong hands that your opponents could have, including two pairs, sets, and straights, but also quite a few pairs or draws that your AJ beats. Rather than face the prospect of further bets from an unknown threat, some players prefer to raise here to “see where they stand.”
There are a few problems with this course of action:
This information is expensive. If a raise to $60 doesn’t make your opponent go away, you may be able to conclude that your AJ is in trouble, but now you’ve put in another $42 against a hand that probably has you beat.
This information may not be accurate. Does a call really mean you are beat? What about a re-raise? Many players will move all in over a raise with a hand like A [heart] K [heart] or AQ as a semi-bluff.
You may lose the battle of mistakes. It’s often said that poker is a battle for information, but more fundamentally it is a battle for mistakes. You use information to avoid making mistakes and to induce mistakes from your opponent. In this case, a raise will probably not cause your opponent to make a mistake. He will fold the hands you are crushing and continue with better hands or draws that are getting the correct price. Meanwhile, you may well have made a mistake yourself by raising into a better hand or setting yourself up to get semi-bluffed off of the best.
This information is not important. You can make good decisions without knowing whether you are beat. I’ll explain this further in the next section.
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Calling For Information
It’s important to understand the above concept that obtaining more information about your opponent’s range is not essential to good decision-making. With that said, however, it is also the case that you can often get most of the information that a raise would give you far more cheaply by calling.
Generally speaking, the more money your opponent puts into the pot, the stronger his hand is likely to be. This is why raising gives you information: it puts your opponent to the test, and if he continues with his hand, you conclude that he probably has something good. The problem is that you have now put a lot of money into the pot as well and revealed the same information about your own hand.
If you just call the bet on the flop, you will still get to see whether your opponent wants to put more money into the pot on the turn. You will also get to see what the turn card is, all for much less than the price of a raise! If the turn is the 8 [heart] and your opponent bets again, you can surely fold. It is still possible that he is bluffing, but by this point the board connects so well with your opponent’s range that you are now beating only the most aggressive of opponents.
If the turn is the 2 [diamond], you will have a decision to make, but it is a good opportunity. You still have the information that your opponent wants to keep betting, which tells you something. You also know that if he had a draw on the flop, he didn’t get there, and now your equity is much improved with only one card to come.
Proponents of the information raise may contend that since you have not shown great strength, your opponent could still be bluffing or mistakenly betting for value with worse hands. In other words, your play has induced a mistake from your opponent- that’s a good thing!
One of two things must be true when your opponent bets again on the turn: either you now feel that he has shown enough strength that you can comfortably fold AJ, or you believe he will be betting with worse often enough to warrant a call or raise. In the first case, you have the information you need to fold for less than a third of what a flop raise would have cost you. In the second case, your call has created a profitable opportunity for you on the turn. Even though you will lose a large pot somewhat frequently, you will show a profit in the long run.
Though it is harder, you can make the same principle work from out of position by checking to your opponent. They key is that you are forcing your opponent to tell you whether or not he wants more money to go into the pot before you put any in yourself.
The key here is that your call must not give away too much information. Your opponent may be able to conclude that you have something, but he shouldn’t be able to say with certainty whether you are drawing, slowplaying, or playing pot control with a medium-strength hand. Thus, he won’t be able to bluff with abandon when a scare card such as the 8 [heart] falls on the turn, because for all he knows you were on the draw and just turned a straight or flush. Nor can he bluff confidently at blank cards like a 2 [diamond], since you will sometimes have a slowplayed straight or set.
If you never slowplay on a coordinated flop like the one in the example, then you risk giving away information that could be dangerous to you. On the 2 [diamond] turn, your opponent, knowing that you will never have a strong hand, can keep bluffing and put tremendous pressure on your marginal holding. But if your play is not so easy to read, then you can gain the upper hand by forcing him to bet first and thereby reveal more about his hand than you have about yours. For further discussion of how balancing your hand ranges can protect you in tricky situations, see my article “Tough Decisions” published last month in 2+2 Magazine.
As long as you keep your own hand range wide and diverse, you will win the battle for information by observing your opponent’s tendencies. More importantly, you will win it far more cheaply and reliably than by raising for information.
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Poker strategy Calling for Information
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