Mixed Games Strategy Tips #2
Raising With the Second-Best Hand in Fixed Limit Poker
This is the second in our series covering mixed games strategy tips. Like the first article, this one discusses a concept specific to fixed limit poker. That article covered a type of situation that is faced in later betting rounds during hand, while this one concentrates on early-hand decisions.
The General Concept
Here we will consider when to improve our equity in a hand by raising to force out players who may have worse hands than us right now, to get heads up against one player who we expect to be ahead of us. This seems counter-intuitive! We are looking to drive out the player or players we are currently beating so we can play against the one person who has us beaten! Bear with me, I will show that there is logic in this idea if the circumstances are right.
Why It Works for Limit Poker
Players who are more familiar with big-bet poker games often shy away from fixed limit because they think it is impossible to make people fold for a single bet. While there may be some truth in that, what we are talking about here is forcing people to call for a double bet. When a player is acting after a raise and a reraise, they must be mindful of the fact that there could be further action from the original raiser, and even a 4-bet. This often makes players release hands they would play for a single raise.
When you achieve folds like this, you improve your equity in the pot, and I will show some examples.
Position Is Crucial
To be able to make players face a double bet, the original opener must be on your immediate right. Thus, when you put in the second bet, players on your left who haven’t acted yet are now facing two bets, making it much more expensive to continue and providing much worse immediate pot odds as well as the possibility that the price can be higher before we see any more cards.
The same effect cannot be gained by re-raising a player seated to your immediate left. Any other player(s) who have already called the original raise will have made some commitment to the pot already and even if the original raiser makes a 3-bet, the psychological effect of the investment made with the first call reduces the deterrent to continuing.
Example 1: Razz
This example is from a hand of Razz. This is a lowball poker variant, a game we explain in detail in this article. For the purposes of this example, every player has posted an ante of $1.50. The bring-in (forced bet that the player with the highest open card showing) is $4 and the betting limits are $10/$20. This means that during the first two rounds of betting players can bet and raise in increments of $10, until the cap of $40 has been reached, and on the fifth, sixth and seventh rounds of betting, the bets and raises are in increments of $20 until the capped amount of $80 per betting round has been reached.
Here you can see that the player with a K has made the forced bring-in bet of $4. The next player, with a 4 open, has completed the bet – by which I mean she has raised the price to continue to $10. The options that player had were fold, call the $4, or raise to $10, and the fact that she has chosen to raise, and with some players holding low cards behind still to act, implies that she has a strong starting hand.
We are next to act and have a moderately strong hand, but probably behind the person who has completed the betting. There are two players behind us who might have stronger hands than us – with a 6 and a 7 showing – so we might not be in good shape if we call and see the hand go four handed, or even three handed. Let’s look at some possible equity considerations on this street (all equities in this article calculated using Pro Poker Tools Odds Oracle):
|Hand Range Example: We Are Third Best of 4||Equity (Dead Cards K, J, J, T)|
|Player C: 47\6||24.6|
|Player F: 38\7||17.2|
In this theoretical scenario, we have the correct raw equity to continue with a call – assuming both the other players call the $10 complete, we have put in just less than 25% of the money in the pot (including the antes from players who fold, and the bring-in) and have more than 27% equity in the pot. A long run win, assuming we never get outplayed by folding the best hand on later streets.
What expected value (EV) are we picking up by being one of four callers? We need to work out the size of the pot:
- 8 antes @ $1.50 plus bring-in $4 and 4x $10 small bets = $56.
- We have 23.1% equity = $12.94
- EV of calling $10 is $12.94 - $10 = +$2.94.
Let’s now look at another example where only one of the players behind might continue in the hand against a flat call:
|Hand Range Example: We Are Second Best of 3||Equity (Dead Cards K, J, J, T, 7)|
|Player C: 48\6||25.7|
- EV of calling (28.0% of $46 = $12.88 - $10 = +$2.88
But what if we get opponents out of the pot by reraising?
NOTE: we need to know our opponents can make disciplined folds. They should realise that both the opener and you are representing strong ranges and are likely to hold cards that they themselves are hoping to catch. But some players will only look at their own hands and decide if the cards “qualify,” then will continue regardless. It is not worth trying to knock this type of player off their hand and is better just to continue to play well down the streets. If you try this play against them, you cannot blame anyone but yourself when it doesn’t bring the desired result.
Let’s assume we are against players with a usable fold button! Now look at the scenario when we get heads up:
|Applies to Both Hand Examples||Equity (Dead Cards K, J, J, T, 7, 6)|
- Total pot is now $1.50 x8 plus $4 plus $20 x2 = $56
- Our equity in the pot is 42.4% of $56 = $23.74
- And our EV is $23.74- $20 = +$23.74
By driving these players out of the pot our EV in the hand has gone up by at least ($3.74 - $2.94) = 80c. A small difference it might seem, but edges are small in limit poker and cannot be given up if you wish to be a long-term winner.
An Added Benefit…
By getting the pot heads up having represented a strong range you now give yourself a chance to outplay your opponent on later streets when you develop a strong-looking board, and the opponent appears to be behind, but you have picked up pairs. Your opponent can also do this, so be wary of trying something too tricky against particularly good players!
One last point, we could actually hold the best hand already and in this situation raising to protect our equity is even more important.
Example 2: Limit Omaha Hilo 8-Or-Better
Limit Omaha Hilo, like Razz, mostly features in mixed games with a set rotation of games, in particular HORSE and 8-Game, plus other variations like the 9-Game mix used at the Poker Players Championship in the World Series of Poker. We have an in-depth article about how to play the game here.
In this example there are eight players dealt into the hand and the dealer button is on seat 8. Seat 1 has posted the small blind – in this example $5 – and Seat 2 the big blind of $10. Cards are pitched by the dealer to each player and in seat 8 you look down at a medium to strong hand – A♥J♥7♠3♠. The players in seats 3 through to 5 all fold, but seat 6 puts in a raise to make the price to continue $20. Seat 7 folds. Your options are fold, call or raise. Folding is tight when you have such a pretty hand… but should you call the $20, or raise to $30?
Your decision should be influenced by the players still to act. If some of the players behind you are going to be of the type that like to continue for any price with any hand they feel is a qualifier, for example any double suited hand, any two wheel cards (ace to five), and any hand containing a high pair, then you are unlikely to achieve getting the hand heads up if you reraise. Against these players you might be better calling to try to flop a strong hand and win a big pot. But again, assuming the players at the table have any kind of propensity to fold, let’s consider the possibility of raising. Let us look at some equities. What kind of hands are we up against?
Opener: this person is representing strength, but their range in the hijack seat can still be fairly wide. An example hand they might hold is A♦2♣4♦Q♥. Against this moderately strong hand, we have 45.5% equity.
The players left to act after us are the blinds: the small blind will already need a tight range to call, because they will have the worst position at the table throughout the hand and the pot odds they are getting are not too compelling. Let us say they will fold anyway for this example. But the big blind will be getting pot odds of (5+20+20+20): 10 = 6.5:1 to call if we just call the opener’s raise, whereas if we reraise their pot odds change to (5+30+30+30) / 20 or 4.5:1 if they want to continue. And they must consider the possibility of the original opener reraising. This might convince them to fold a marginal hand that would interfere badly with our equity, in particular one that contains higher spades. Let us give them the hand K♠7♣5♠3♦ – a hand with some high and low possibilities but not one that would like to continue under too much pressure.
Three handed the equities are:
|K♠7♣5♠3♦ (Big Blind)||25.6|
There is a very clear drop in our equity when we allow the hand to go 3 ways. Looking again at the EV of the two options:
Heads up we have 45.5% equity in a pot containing $5+$10+$30+$30 = $75, so our raw equity is $75 x 45.5% = $34.13, and the EV associated with raising is $34.13 - $30 = $4.13.
Three handed we have 28.5% equity in a pot containing $5+$20+$20+$20 = $65. Now we have $65 x 28.5% = $18.53 in equity, and in fact our EV is $18.53 - $20 = -$1.47. This is a very clear case where the equity of just calling and letting in the big blind player is a -EV move, whereas raising is +EV. Raising improves our equity over the long term by $5.60 per hand – more than a small blind – when compared with just calling!
Again, an added benefit of getting the pot heads up is that there will be situations that sometimes arise when you can outplay your opponent and win the pot despite having the worst hand. In this scenario you might do that when the board does not bring any possible low and your opponent shows no high strength, but you also missed everything for high. Being in position will help achieve some folds when the original raiser slows down on later streets, indicating weakness.
This move is one that needs to be made selectively. Over-using the play in the wrong situations will turn a winning play into a losing one. Factors that need to be considered are:
- Will the players behind you make the folds you need them to make?
- How likely is the original raiser to make a 4-bet?
- Are there any players at the table who are likely to put in a cold 4-bet just to represent extreme strength whether they have it or not?
- Can you make good folds on later streets if you make a hand, but your opponent has better?
Finally, there are some hand categories you can hold that would prefer more players in the pot to provide good implied odds for when you hit your very strong hand. An easy-to-understand example is when you hold a low pair in Fixed Limit Texas Hold Em: your best line when facing a raise from the player on your right with other people behind is probably to just call, inviting more players into the pot so you can set-mine. When you miss the flop, you can get away cheaply but when you hit you can try to get as many bets in as possible.
Fixed limit poker provides a different set of tests of skill when compared to big-bet poker games. You need to find the opportunities to reraise to protect your equity when they arise, and in this article, I have described one type of scenario that might not be so obvious and can even seem counter intuitive. Used wisely, moves like this will add to your long-term bottom line, making fixed limit poker more fun for you as well as adding to your profits!