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Tips From the Full Tilt Pros

Pre-flop Raising Strategies by Phil Gordon

To limp or not to limp - that is the question. I'm not going to name any names here, but there are some big-time pros who will argue that it's OK to limp into a pot before the flop. They reason that the more flops they see, the more likely they are to hit something big. If not, well, then they're pros and they can outplay their opponents after the flop.

I tend to land on the other side of the fence in this debate. My pre-flop strategy is this - its raise or its fold, there's no in between. I'm not injured - I don't have a sprained ankle or a broken leg - so why would I limp? There's nothing wrong with seeing flops, but why let your opponents get in cheap with an inferior hand?

I like to size my pre-flop raises based on my position. A lot of inexperienced players raise based on the strength of their hands, but good players will pick up on this play before too long. If you always raise four times the big blind with pocket Aces, Kings, and Queens, but only three times with everything else, skilled opponents will notice these patterns and exploit them later on.

If, on the other hand, you always raise a predetermined amount based on your position, your holdings will be much better disguised. By adopting this strategy, it doesn't matter if you're holding pocket Aces or 7-8 off-suit (which is the kind of junk I highly recommend you don't play), your opponents will have a much harder time putting you on a hand after the flop. Cards aside, here's how I like to play before the flop:

  • From early position - including the blinds - raise two-and-a-half times the big blind. You are more susceptible to a re-raise from this position, so it's best not to risk too many chips. Still, this raise lets everyone know that you mean business.
  • From middle position, raise three times the big blind. Hopefully a couple of people will already have folded to you, so there's less chance of being re-raised. Hence, you can afford to make a stronger push and possibly steal the blinds.
  • From middle/late position, raise three-and-a-half times the big blind. You really want to encourage those last couple of players to fold so you can go heads up with the blinds or just steal them outright.
  • From the button, raise four times the big blind. You either want to steal the blinds or make it really expensive for them to re-raise you.

Now, obviously when you play this raise or fold style before the flop, you can't be afraid of action. A lot of players - especially when they raise with a hand that they'd rather not see called - get that internal dialogue going that says "Please fold, please fold, please fold." But here's the thing; you should want action and welcome a call.

The fact is your opponent is going to miss the flop such a high percentage of the time that it shouldn't matter whether you hit or not. You're the one who raised and you're the one in the driver's seat. Every chip that your opponent put into the pot before the flop is, in all likelihood, coming over to your chip stack. Even if your opponent does hit the flop, chances are they might not hit it very hard. If your opponent has A-8 and the flop comes K-8-4, the pot can still be yours. Steel those nerves and fire off a continuation bet - you're going to get them to lay down their hand a good amount of the time.

At the end of the day, it's all about how many chips are coming back to your stack. The more you put in pre-flop, the more you should get out of the pot when it's all said and done. Forget about limping, it's time to go full speed ahead.

Phil Gordon

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