Cardsharp Mailbag: To Raise Or Not To Raise In Early Position

No Limit Texas Holdem, Reader Questions

January 11, 2009

I just received the following question and it’s an excellent follow-on to the last preflop article:

Hi  Wayne,

I read the following comment in an old post of yours that discussed starting hands:

When intentionally entering the pot out of position, it’s often best not to raise at all under any circumstances, even if you have a premium hand.  If someone raises behind you, you can ditch the non-premium hands if you relative position is bad and re-raise the big pairs (and possibly AK). Often this re-raise will be all-in. (the post)

My question is, at what point should one start to raise from EP preflop with our opening range of hands,  and how much should that raise be?

Clearly in many cash games or tournaments, people have stacks well under 100BB.  And I did read in another article about your scenario of raising with a big pair vs someone else’s SET. There you talked about the importance of raising PF, and also CB.  So at some point, a player needs to stop limping PF and start raising. But what is the factor that decides that point? Do we go by the 5/10 rule and look at effective stack sizes?



Ok, I can see I created some confusion here, and re-reading the older article I think I see why: I did something that really annoys me when other authors do it.  I made a bold statement, and then didn’t explain myself.  The explanation is actually in the “preflop part two” article:

Intentionally Playing Out Of Position

While the general principle in NL holdem is to play in position as much as possible, sometimes you get a hand so strong that you have to play it even out of position. Usually this will be AA, KK, AK, or sometimes QQ. In these situations, you want to get as much of the stacks in preflop as possible so that position and implied odds don’t hurt you later in the hand. The best way to accomplish this depends on your opponents, but usually it involves either limiping with the intention of re-raising (often times all-in) or making an oversized bet preflop. You should prefer the limp-re-raise against tight and aggressive opponents, and the big bet against loose or passive opponents who will likely call it.

In order to disguise your limp-re-raises, you need to play some speculative hands out of position too. Generally speaking the best choices are pairs since they either hit or miss the flop entirely, and being out of position on a draw on later streets is a bad idea which rules out the suited aces and connectors. In fact, because they play well out of position (at least as far as speculative hands go) you can play most pairs for a limp in early position as long as the table isn’t too likely to stack up big raises behind you and force you to fold.

So hopefully that helps clear up some of the the confusion.

The motivating situation, for the purposes of the rest of the post, is as follows: you hold a big hand preflop (say, aces, kings, or AK), and you’re trying to figure out whether to limp intending to re-raise, or simply raise yourself.

Position And The Limp-Reraise

Your first question was what positions to do the limp-reraise from.  The answer is that it’s not so much a matter of position as it is a matter of opponents.  Many games have one or more players that are very agressive – they will almost always raise the pot if it is limped to them.  In that case, as long as that guy has yet to act, you should be limp-reraising. You could be in the cutoff, and as long as “that guy” is on the button, you would still limp.  So it’s not so much a matter of your position as it is the position of a key opponent.

There are other games where if you limp, you can be 95% certain no one else will raise. These passive games usually occur at the low limits in casino or home game settings.  If that is the case, you will always raise you big hands, even if you are under the gun.  The goal, as always with a big hand, is to get money in.  If they won’t help you, you’ll have to do it yourself.

Hopefully it makes sense that it’s not so much a matter of position as a matter of the temperament of the players yet to act.

Raise Sizing In EP

The next part of your question involved raise sizing in early position.  If you do choose to raise yourself when holding a monster in EP, because your opponents are passive and won’t raise if you limp, an oversized raise can work well.  The reason is that passive opponents are usually bad opponents, so they’ll call oversized raises without realizing you’ve narrowed the implied odds and likely have a monster hand.  Against tougher opponents, you’ll probably be doing more EP limping, but if you do raise I’d make it more standard – 3 or 4 big blinds total.

What About Short Stacks?

The next part of your question deals with short stacks and the specter of your opponents set farming against you.  The reason you want to get a lot of money in preflop with premium hands is in essence to prevent people from set farming against you.  If you can get about 1/10th of the stacks in preflop, your opponent can’t profit by set farming even if you always pay off.  This makes postflop play with a big pocket pair or top pair, top kicker much easier.

The reason the limp-re-raise comes into play is that 10% of the stack is usually too much to use as a preflop raise with typical stacks.  It will drive off all your action.  So instead you limp-reraise, still get the 10% in, AND trap another player in the pot.  Much better.

But if the stacks are sufficiently short that a 10%-of-stacks preflop raise would not appear out of whack (say, stacks are 50BB or less) then you can just remove the limp-reraise from your arsenal and instead raise normally from EP with premium hands.  I should mention, since you brought it up, that this 10% number isn’t really related to the 5-10 rule.  The both just happen to use the number 10%.

Hopefully that answers your question.  If not, let me know.

This article is part of Project Cash Game No Limit Holdem - You can find more great strategy articles there.
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2 Responses to “Cardsharp Mailbag: To Raise Or Not To Raise In Early Position”

  1. Bill Reich Says:

    The one area that still needs addressing on the subject of premium hands in early position is what to do when the blinds are very deep. If a limp, a normal raise and a normal re-raise won’t get ten percent of the effective stacks in, what do you do? Do you make an oversize re-raise? That would seem logical but it is going to lose you some action.

    Will in New Haven

  2. Wayne Vinson Says:

    Good question. I’ll make it tonight’s article.

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