Beware the Min Raise by Phil Gordon
Say you’re playing in a low-stakes ring game. The blinds are $.50 and $1, and it’s folded to you in middle position. You find a nice hand – pocket Tens – and bring it in for a standard raise of three times the big blind. It’s folded around to a player in late position, who re-raises the minimum amount, making it $5 to go.
I’ve seen this sort of play repeatedly in the past few months while researching my next No-Limit Hold ’em book by playing in low-stakes games. Every time I’ve been faced with a minimum re-raise, I’ve been up against a monster – pocket Kings or Aces.
A player who opts for the small raise may think he’s being crafty by getting me to put a little extra money in the pot while he holds a big hand. But this is not a profitable play. There are two major problems with the minimum raise.
I’ve already mentioned the first problem: My opponent has telegraphed his hand. And making good decisions is pretty easy when you know exactly what your opponent holds. The second problem is mathematical. My opponent is giving me 5 to 1 to call the additional raise. (In this example, my extra $2 will give me a chance win $10.) When I make the call, I know that I stand to win a very big pot. My implied odds – the money I stand to make if I hit my hand – more than justify the call. If my opponent started the hand with a $100 stack, I could get paid at a rate of 50 to 1.
So I call and see a flop. If there’s no Ten on the board, I’m done with the hand. And if there is a Ten, I’m going to wipe my opponent out. As I said, poker is a pretty easy when you know what your opponent holds.
What’s the proper play when you hold Aces and a player has raised in front of you? Find the "Bet Pot" button and click it. Put pressure on a player who you know is starting with a second-best hand. Who knows, if he’s got pocket Queens or A-K, he may be willing to put his entire stack in pre-flop. If he holds something like Jacks or Tens, your big raise will minimize your opponent’s implied odds.
You should be wary of minimum raises at other stages of a hand, as well. Say you raised pre-flop with A-K and one player called. You hit top pair top kicker on a K-8-4 board. You bet out the size of the pot and your opponent min-raises you. At this point, you need to be very concerned that your opponent has hit a set. You have to wonder why he’d be raising an amount that almost begs for your call.
My advice here is twofold: first is that you should all but eliminate the minimum raise from your game. In some rare circumstances when you hit a full house or quads, it might be appropriate, but that’s about it. Second is that alarm bells should go off whenever you see a min raise. Your opponent probably has a big hand and you need to proceed accordingly.