The Power of Raising in Poker


If you’re a savvy player, you can accomplish many different objectives with a simple raise. You can bring more money into the pot, or steal a pot by forcing your opponents to fold if you don’t have a strong hand. Furthermore, it can help you define your hand and provide you with information about how your hand compares to the rest of the players. 


Let’s take an example to best illustrate this point.


Say your opponent bets and you call their bet. That way, you don’t find out much about their hand. You can only guess between two options – either they have a good hand that warrants a bet, or they’re bluffing and have a bad hand. Not much to go on, really.


But if you raise on their bet, you basically create a scenario where you can gather more information about their hand. If they call your raise, they likely have a good hand or at least want to build a big pot that they can win with their hand.


If they have a draw, he might be hoping to catch a card in the next round. But you can anticipate this by observing the texture of the community cards often. If the flop has three different suits, it’s pretty clear that no one has a flush draw. Similarly, if the gaps between the flop cards are large, it’s unlikely that someone has a straight draw.


When your opponent bets and then calls your raise, you can slightly narrow down the range of hands they might have by carefully looking at the community cards.


If you’re suspecting that your opponent might have a flush or a straight draw when playing no-limit or pot-limit poker, you can always make a bet that’s so big that they won’t have the correct odds to call. If they’re playing a logical game, they’ll fold whenever the price is bigger than the prize.


But when playing fixed-limit hold ’em poker, you can only bet the proscribed limit, and that’s usually not enough to force a fold with a straight or a flush draw. But just like in life, in poker you sometimes need to choose between the lesser of two evils. If you don’t bet, you give your opponent a free card, allowing them to improve their hand at no additional cost. 


Even if they don’t get their desired card, they’ve at least seen it at no cost. If they do get their card, however, they’ll be the ones charging you to proceed to the final round. If you raised, you at least made them pay to play, which is all you can do sometimes. 


There’s plenty of information you can use in a poker game. You can get some of it for free, but you’ll need to bet or raise for more information, and you can force your opponent to fold in the process. Even if they don’t fold, calling or raising should provide you with plenty of information about how your hand compares to theirs.


Another Reason to Raise


The reasons for raising we talked about so far all seem pretty obvious and transparent. But there’s a subtler and more clever reason to raise. It involves raising even when you know you have the worst hand and not because of bluffing. There are situations where you can benefit from putting more money into the pot, even if you don’t end up winning it.


This might seem counterintuitive, and that’s because it is. But poker wisdom often includes things that are not always conventional and intuitive.


Let’s take another example.


Say you call before the flop comes and find yourself in a raised pot with 5 opponents. You estimate a 20% chance of winning if all the opponents remain in the pot. Everyone checks, except the one player that raised before the flop, and they come out betting.


Regardless of what you have in your hand, you can call for the price of a bet. That way, if all 5 players remain active, there will be a total of 15 bets in the pot. Two bets per player before the flop, and one on the flop. 


With a 20% chance of winning, you basically have an equity of 3 bets (20% of 15 bets). 


But what would happen if you raised and forced everyone to fold, except the player who raised originally?


Your chances of winning increase to 40% because of the aggregated chances of winning of the players who folded because of your raise. The chances of winning also increase for the other player, theirs to 60%. 


The 10 bets before the flop now amount to 14 bets when you consider the two bets from your raise. 


You’re still the dark horse in this situation, but your equity has increased from 3 bets to 5.6 bets (40% of 14 bets).


Pretty interesting, right? You intentionally put more money into a pot you’re still unlikely to win, but your share of that pot has almost doubled along the way. Not as counterintuitive as it seemed at first. 


Your raise forced three other players to fold, reducing their chances of winning and distributing them to yourself and the other player. It doesn’t matter that you’re not the favourite to win. What matters is the fact that your raise improved your share from 3 bets to 5.6 bets.


But this won’t always turn out the same. The fact that you won’t know if someone will fold after your raise and thus increase your chance of winning, make this process just an educated guess.


Still, any player who folds will have their potential equity in the pot redistributed among the other players, including yourself.


Remember, poker is not always about having a winning hand. Sometimes, your actions should be based on losing less money than your opponents in the long run. And the best way to do that is by raising and stealing equity by forcing your opponent to fold.


Jack Diamond
Author: Jack Diamond