Raising in No-Limit Poker

Raising is much different in no-limit hold’em than it is in a fixed-limit game.  It even begins before the flop.  In fixed-limit games it pays to try to capture the blinds whenever you think you can, simply because they represent a larger percentage of your wager.

With $5-$10 blinds in a $10-$20 fixed-limit hold’em game, a raise to $20 before the flop wins $15 if all your opponents fold. That’s three-quarters of the blinds.  Not only that, raising can also limit the number of opponents you’ll have to play against and get more money into a pot you figure to win if you are raising with a big pocket pair like kings or aces.

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But a raise before the flop in no-limit hold’em is a very different stroke. Most no-limit raises are more than the minimum.  Rather than simply raising twice the bet as is the case in a fixed-limit game, the initial no-limit hold’em raise tends to be between three and five times the size of the big blind, although it might be any amount.  Small raises in no-limit games are problematical because they offer opponents an inexpensive chance to get lucky and beat you.  In fact, the more money you and your opponents have in play, the more justified someone is to call a smallish raise and take a flyer because the implied odds are so good.

In a no-limit game with $2-$4 blinds, a typical raise might be $12 or $16 before the flop.  It could be more, too, depending on your opponents’ playing styles.  If you raise to $16, an opponent choosing to reraise might make it $40 or $50 to go—or more.  Now you have an opportunity to act, and are eligible to fold, call, or raise again.  If you do reraise, you’ll probably make it in excess of $100 to play, and if you’re close to stacking off, you might decide to go all-in.

But even if you are a player with a high level of risk tolerance, you shouldn’t call a sizeable wager on one betting round unless you are prepared to call an even larger bet after the next card has been dealt.

This is very different than fixed-limit hold’em, in which the betting on one round is almost unrelated to the next round’s wagering. But in no-limit hold’em, if you call an opponent’s raise on one betting round, you can anticipate that the aggressor will wager even more—thus forcing you to go all-in, or close to it—on the next round.

If you plan to call a raise in no-limit, you should usually do so only if you intend to call a raise on the next betting round too.

This leads to more calls and fewer reraises.   After all, anytime you raise, you open up betting opportunities for every other active player.  If you’re last to act and call, your action closes the wagering on that round, and closing the betting usually has a much greater impact in no-limit hold’em than it does in fixed-limit games.  The threat of an opponent’s reraise hangs over player’s heads like the sword of Damocles—especially when it represents an amount that you’re unwilling to call—and that swords presence tends to keep reraising down.

The ability to size a bet or a raise in no-limit means that you have the opportunity to determine the nature of the odds you will offer an opponent who appears to be drawing to a straight or a flush.  In fixed limit hold’em, the pot, including implied odds, almost always exceeds the odds against a player completing his drawing hand, which makes drawing the right play in the long run. When that’s the case, the player with the drawing hand is going to keep on drawing in hopes of making his hand.

Because your bets and raises can price an opponent out of a draw in no-limit hold’em, the size of your weaponry and your willingness to deploy affords you more control over an opponent’s actions.

If all of this sounds surprisingly like the theory of mutually assured destruction that the US and Soviet Union used to keep each other at bay during the Cold War, you’re right on point.   Poker is played in real life too, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be played with cards.

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