Why min raises are -EV… or “Ode to Judith”…

Judith, this one’s for you while you are recovering from your eye surgery. May the first page you read when you are “back” be this article.

I am not very sure why anyone (Judith) would make a “min-raise” when playing Hold’em in a tournament or a ring game. We raise pre-flop for the following primary reasons:

1. For value - We are confident we have the best hand and wish to charge our opponents for the right to draw on us.

2. For isolation - Our hands stand up best against few opponents, we want to narrow the field down to 1-2 players.

3. To steal the blinds - We wish to take the pot uncontested without seeing a flop.

4. As a semi-bluff - We are not sure we have the best hand, but we have a decent hand, so let’s raise and see if we can knock players who have already entered out (in addition to the blinds).

5. As a total bluff and/or to deceive - Usually later position, with suited connectors or “the hammer”

6. To manipulate pot size - To try to build a bigger pot that will psychologically commit players to the pot upon the flop.

I propose that a standard raise of between 3-5 times the blinds can “usually” accomplish raising for value, isolation, stealing, bluffing or semi-bluffing, and pot building. Specifically, a “standard raise” usually charges players “too much” for the right to draw, as they are not getting the proper pot odds to “play garbage.” At the same time, it is also typically allowing for only those hands who will make suitable “second best” hands will be playing (Axs, pocket pairs, etc). For this reason, you get a read on the probable hand range you are up against.

As a hypothetical, you are under the gun and are holding AK suited. Making it simple, blinds are 10-20, everyone has a stack of 1000. You put in a raise of 80 (or 4 times the big blinds). You are raising because you feel you have the best hand pre-flop and wish to charge others for the right to draw on you. Now the pot is 110, it is costing 80 for anyone to play (70 for the small blind, and 60 for the big blind) - assuming there’s not a re-raise. What hands can “correctly” call with those pot odds? Can the guy on the button with king-three suited who would “really love to see a flop with this” call you correctly? How about the small blind with Queen Jack “not suited?” Are they making a mistake by calling with those hands? Do we want to force our opposition to make mistakes, even if they are unaware of the fact that they are making said mistake?

Now, let us replay this scenario, and we will just put in the min raise. Blinds 10-20, everyone stacking 1000. UTG, you are dealt AK suited. You place the minimum raise out there of 40. Now the pot contains 70, it costs 40 to stay, which is close to 2:1. Suddenly, QJ “not suited” from the small blind is playable for 30 (even though the field is getting 2:1, keep in mind, the blinds get in cheaper because they’re already partially involved), and the big blind is now justified in calling with his pocket twos, as he’s getting nearly 3:1. In fact, if he had the hammer, and the small blind called, he would be correct in calling. Furthermore, you have not made the blinds define their hands. They could be playing with any two cards. Later positions and button “could” be as well.

This means that on the flop, we are going to have to bet out to figure out what we should have began to determine pre-flop. The min-raise neither defines our hand, nor helps us to determine a hand range our opposition is playing. This of course, means that we have no idea where we are at in the hand. Supposing we have four to five callers in the min raise scenario, and a pot of 200, how much do you think it will cost us to find out where we are at under the gun? It might be relatively simple if the flop comes AK2 to know where we are at, but what about a color coordinated flop away from us, where we have top pair (A-J-10 all of clubs).

If we bet ½ the pot, we are risking an additional 100 chips MINIMUM (a bit more than 10% of our stack) to find out if we have the best hand. With four players, we can pretty much count on anyone who has the K or Q of clubs to stay. We can count on any Kings or queens to most likely stay, especially if there are already players calling your ½ pot bet. Furthermore, how about any ace now, specifically AJ or A10? My guess is that for ½ the pot, even the big blind with pocket twos also stays, especially if he has a club. We are no longer truly ahead on this board, and we did not charge proper odds for anyone to have the right to catch up to us. Additionally, we have no “cheap” way of determining whether we are truly ahead in the hand. A pot size bet or an over bet would tell us, but then the problem becomes that five handed, we are most likely beat, so there is really little to nothing that is +EV for us to do. Check is -EV and tells us nothing, any size bet tells us nothing, an over bet is called only when we are beat. See the dilemma here?

If we throw out a standard raise, we get one or two opponents. We have a pot size of roughly 200. Same flop comes A-J-10 all of clubs). This time, we have 1-2 players to bet into instead of four or five. We throw out a continuation bet of half the pot. We remain confident that this flop is scary to the one or two opposing players and we will only be called by hands that contain the king of clubs, the queen of clubs. Odds are Ax will fold, unless x is clubbed, at which time, they will call. A set will likely re-raise here, fearing the fourth club. With this continuation bet, we know better where we stand and stand a better chance (due to bigger raise, fewer opponents, and same pot size).

More on this in the next few days. I am confident that I didn’t go through everything as thoroughly as I would have liked. I am of course blaming this on the quitting smoking gig, which is making me more scatter brained than normal. My point though, Judith, min raise is not good. Hope you do well with your surgery today.