Understanding the Gap Concept

David Sklansky
Sklansky: Knows his gaps.

The term "gap concept," first introduced by renowned poker author David Sklansky, refers to the idea that a player needs a better hand to call a raise than to open the pot themselves.

For example: if it is folded to you in middle position it may be correct to open-raise A J; however, if you're facing a raise from a tight player under the gun, A J's value shrinks dramatically.

This is clearly because an early-position player, when he raises, feels that his hand is already better than the rest of the table. After all, his raise has to make it through the entire table, and each player left to act could potentially hold a better hand.

If, however, he raises from late position, he is really only saying "my hand figures to be best against everybody else." Thus an early-position raise holds a lot more weight than a late-position raise because it needs to beat more players.

Which is why when you are facing a raise, you should tighten up substantially. You must have a hand that is stronger than what you would have required to open the pot for a raise yourself.

This is to make up for two things: the lack of initiative you have from calling, and the fact that your opponent is telling you that he thinks his hand is strong enough to beat the field.

If your hand isn't stronger than your normal raising range from that position, you risk "being dominated."

Being dominated means you and your opponent share your biggest card but he has your kicker beaten. For example your opponent has A K and you have A Q - a recipe for disaster.

Playing a dominated hand can be extremely problematic, and this is why the "gap concept" was born. Those times that you do hit your ace you are going to end up spending a lot of money to find out you are second-best at showdown. The gap concept can help save you from many of those.

Chad Batista
Plenty of young guns think the gap concept is antiquated, but the logic remains the same.

What the actual gap is is by no means set in stone. Ultimately, the gap can shrink or grow depending on the player opening the pot and the situation.

If your opponent plays very nitty, then the gap may be very wide. If, however, your opponent is a loose-aggressive player, your gap might be very small or even nonexistent.

Many players feel that "the gap concept" is an antiquated piece of poker strategy, with no real place in today's aggressive games. This is not true.

Although the rule itself has become a bit dated, the logic behind it remains the same. When you call, you want to have a hand that figures to be best now - or has good equity against your opponent's hand.

More beginner strategy articles from Dan Skolovy:

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Panda 2012-03-17 20:06:55

The Gap concept applies alot more to tournaments than cash games.

This is because fold equity is a huge factor in later stages of a tournment..

"What a about if the player under the gun bluffing? If he feels you are aware of Gap Concept; he may raise as little as 33 or A4s."

He would need to feel that the most of the table is aware of the Gap concept.

If he is UTG with 9 players to act -- even if say 2 or 3 people arent aware of the Gap concept it would make that kind of bluff unlikely to work

Brandon 2010-07-05 18:53:03

Steve- That's a very good way of stating it.

Kockaya 2010-05-06 21:43:42

What a about if the player under the gun bluffing? If he feels you are aware of Gap Concept; he may raise as little as 33 or A4s.
Then you all fold happily AJ,A10, A9, A8, 10-10, 99, 88,77

bennie99 2009-10-09 08:38:00

Well I'm not a mathamatical, so I don't really care about that side of the gap concept. It's pretty easy to follow really, although obviosuly it depends on the sitution and player. It's easy to see why A J and A Q are so overrated when you look at the gap concept

Stanley Bricku 2009-09-02 08:11:00

This article fundamentally and fatally flawed.

Not one mention is made of tournaments, and the differences between cEV and $EV (read, ICM) that motivate the entire principle.

This is the worst "explanation" of the gap concept that I have ever come across and demonstrates that the author has a near-nonexistent fundamental knowledge of the theory of poker.

("Domination is bad...." LOL...)

Steve M 2009-01-20 18:08:00

The Gap Concept can also be mathematically expressed in a strict sense. Consider the situation where you and I are playing heads up, with equal stacks and are playing “all-in-or-nothing” poker and the action is to me. Let’s further assume that are like a bot - someone about whom I know nothing. If the action is to me, my decision might be: any hand that beats a random hand and I shove. My chances of winning are equal to a) + b) --- a) the chance that you will fold + b) the chance that my hand will win on its own merit. Now the option comes to you. Can you make the same decision? No. Why not? Because you have no fold equity. I cannot fold as I am already all in. So, mathematically, your “a” is zero. If there is any chance that you will fold, then my “A” is greater than zero. So, my “a+b” is greater than your “a+b”. Therefore, you technically need a hand with a win chance greater than mine in order to make our formulas equal. How much greater? Well, actually, greater by just enough to compensate for your chances of folding, thereby bringing things back to where they were before the hand even started – which is that our expected values were exactly equal.

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