The Transparency of the Minimum Raise…
No Limit Hold’em is so-called for a reason – unlike Limit poker, where our betting choices are defined by the limit put on how much we can add to the pot at each betting juncture, NL affords us literally unlimited flexibility.
However, when presented with such an abundance of choice we are also given the opportunity to make mistakes, and the minimum raise is one such fundamental part of the NL game that in some respects – for the vast majority of players – is best avoided altogether.
Let’s see why…
The min-raise in NL cash games often comes in the form of a pre-flop re-raise from, for example, an early position limper after a decent-sized raise and wholesale folds. Lots of players don’t put enough thought into their opponents’ actions but here we have a perfect example of why we should not only get used to putting ourselves in someone’s shoes but, importantly, we should find time away from the tables to acquaint ourselves with the most common scenarios, what they might signify, and how we can use this knowledge to exploit others’ mistakes.
Back to our min-raise scenario, the first question the opponent should ask is what kind of hand would justify such a play, as well as what holding wouldn’t. An obvious point is that, as far as the move being a bluff is concerned (with no hand at all), then this is very unlikely indeed given that bluffs tend not to work with a min-raise.
Nor does it have the appearance of a steal attempt which, practically by definition, rules out 10 10 or A J and a host of hands with which we’d prefer to either call or to take what we can without coming to blows post-flop.
Meanwhile, a min-raise makes little sense with a small pair as these are best played as cheaply as possible rather than volunteering an unnecessary raise.
Therefore, from a quite matter-of-fact process of elimination, this reasoning effectively rules out a very big chunk of possible holdings and leaves the usual suspects in the shape of aces, kings and, possibly – but less likely – queens (two preferable approaches with queens would be to call and see if the flop brings over-cards, or simply stick in a ‘proper’ raise).
Ironically, then, a min-raise at the more popular, lower level cash games often indicates a would-be disguised play involving aces or kings. Not surprisingly, there’s nothing wrong whatsoever in stepping up a few gears with a big pair (putting the initial raiser under pressure and, significantly, juicing up the pot to maximise the potential of our strong hands) – sometimes, as in life, obvious is best. However, over-analysing a situation and trying to be tricky can backfire, and there’s anyway little point in players attempting to pull the wool over their opponent’s eyes if the min-raise essentially telegraphs a very big hand.
Another key downside to the min-raise with a max hand is that it presents the opposition with great pot odds, practically inviting them to go along for the ride when a correctly sized bet would have forced them to pay through the nose for the luxury of seeing the flop as the underdog. Add more players to the mix and this problem is compounded as everyone and his dog might as well call considering the fantastic value they’re getting. Moreover, by going to the trouble of putting in a min-raise we don’t even ask the the opponent any questions about their holding.
You’ve been warned…
Good luck at the tables!
Angus Dunnington (AngusD at the tables)
32Red Poker Ambassador