Knowing 'why', by Steve Paul-Ambrose
by Steve Paul-Ambrose
Often when playing poker you'll instinctively know that a given raise, call or fold is right and make it. That's an important skill, but often not knowing why can get you in trouble. A good example of this: in the ante stage of a tournament, it folds to you on the button. You look down at 72o and you make a raise. Now your reasoning for this raise is likely "the blinds are tight, I can win the blinds and antes most of the time" and you'd often be right to an extent. But it's still instructive to look at why you can raise any two cards, and particularly how that impacts your decisions when your raise doesn't win the blinds.
Generally in this spot between the antes and the blinds the pot will be 2.5x the big blind, and your raise size will be about the same. So for a raise to show an immediate profit, it has to work 50% of the time. Looking at it individually, if your opponents each play 30% of their hands, your raise will work .7*.7=49% of the time. So if you think they're looser than that, your raise is likely not best. So now your reasoning for the raise might look more like: "I think the blinds are tight and will each only play 20% of their hands. My raise will work more than 50% of the time, so I will raise." Great. The problem for most people comes when their opponents call (we'll ignore when they reraise because I think we can all agree that you should just fold your 72o when that happens).
For most people when their raise gets called and their opponent checks, they put out a continuation bet. They showed strength preflop and the only way to win is to bet right? I'd say that's wrong for two reasons. First, your opponent, not you, is the one who showed real strength preflop, by calling he's narrowed his range from a random hand to a hand in the top 20%. You on the other hand raised with 72o so raising isn't exactly showing that you have a stronger than random hand. Secondly, we've determined that the preflop raise shows a profit. It's a lot harder to demonstrate that a continuation bet will, particularly when we know that our opponent has a stronger than normal hand. So in other words, betting is the only way we can lose by turning our profitable preflop raise into a potentially unprofitable situation by continuing to try to win the pot when our opponent has shown strength.
Now that's not to say you should never continuation bet after raising 72o there. Just before you do, you should understand why, and why you raised preflop in the first place.