Mailbag: Pre-Flop Raise Sizing

Thinking Poker Mailbag

This question actually comes from the Tournament Poker Edge forums, but I decided to answer it here as it references the Thinking Poker Premium Podcasts.

Q: In episode three, at around the 10 minute mark, you describe how open raise sizes should be a function of the pot size, which in turn means a function of the ante and blind sizes. Then you offer an answer to the question “why do we therefore tend to sometimes 2.5-3x in the very early stages and tend towards minraise at the later stages?” and the answer is that stack sizes come into play, meaning that at the later stages, even though the pot is nice and huge, everyone tends to have significantly less BB in their stack to work with/everyone must protect their stacks more. This makes sense, and you do continue to say that if stack sizes were not hugely different once antes are introduced, you would still open raise with sizing as a function of pot and ante sizes. Do I have this all correct?

If so, my question is – is this a good example of what you describe:

Merge has a structure of “deepstack” turbos where you start at 15/30 and stacks of 5000. By the time you hit 50/100 blinds there is a 10 chip ante and that’s like 20-25 minutes into the game, so lots of players have 50BB stacks. At this stage, would you opt not to open raise to 200-220 and rather go for something like 250 or even 300 in certain positions?

A. Good question. My own thoughts and strategy here are still in flux, and in fact have changed somewhat since recording this series. I don’t think that anything we say in those podcasts is wrong, but there’s a factor we didn’t explicitly consider which is that smaller raises enable you to raise more hands profitably. Especially at a table where I expect a significant post-flop edge, I prefer being able to VPIP more hands, even if means that my opponents can do the same because my raise offers them better odds. So of late I’ve been minraising even with deep stacks.

Ultimately, though, I don’t think it matters that much when stacks are deep. The difference between putting 2 vs 3 BBs in the pot out of a 150BB stack just isn’t that significant, especially if you adjust your ranges accordingly. In other words, your range for 2xing should be wider than your range for 2.5xing which should be wider than your range for 3xing. My assumption/belief/premise is that with smaller raises your EV is lower with your strongest hands, but this can be more than compensated through the EV gained by turning hands that would have to be folded if you used a larger raise size into a +EV opens.

When stacks are shallow, the pre-flop action matters a lot more, and probably you are making a mistake if you aren’t making small raises, especially in situations where people will often shove over your raises. Even there, though, it’s probably still not as big of a deal as people think.

Min-raises ought to be called and 3-bet more often than larger raises. If your opponents don’t respond in this way (and many don’t IMO, especially from the BB), that is all the more reason to use small raises. But if you are continuing to play a very TAG pre-flop strategy, then yes with antes and stacks deep enough that most pots don’t end with someone all in pre-flop you probably want to use a larger raise size than you would with antes and a 25BB average stack size.

If you’d like to hear a better player than I weigh in on this topic, it’s something we discussed with Mike McDonald when he was on the podcast.

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