Raising vs. Calling in Holdem Poker
When playing poker we are constantly required to make decisions. Every time we must make a decision, we have a chance to make a mistake. Continuing, most of the money we win at the poker table is the result of our opponent's mistakes and our ability to take advantage of them. This is why it is important to understand in which situations it is best to raise as opposed to calling.
First, let's take a look at the positive things a raise can accomplish. Your opponents may fold, awarding you the pot immediately. If you have the best hand, any opponent who calls is making you profit. If you have an average hand and are re-raised, this is an indication that your hand might not be the best hand. This, of course, just gives you information, but poker is a game of information. Now let's look at each of these as opposed to calling. When you call, you have no chance of winning the pot uncontested, if you have the best hand you are not maximizing your profit, and if your hand is dominated by someone else you have no way of knowing. When you call and the pot is raised behind you, is this an indication of a dominant hand, a good hand or a bluff? If you raise and are re-raised, this is an obvious show of strength.
Here is an example of a situation where it is correct to raise. You are in middle position with Ac 6c and two other players, the big blind and the button, see a flop of Ah 8c 4c. The big blind bets into you. This is clearly a raise situation as you may have the best hand and have a good redraw to the best hand if you are behind. Many players will bet into the field from the blinds if they hit any part of the flop. In addition, your raise may make the pot odds incorrect for the button to remain in the hand if he/she has a draw, and if they fold you have position on the remaining player. If you are re-raised, you will be getting the correct pot odds to draw to your Ace high flush or two pair.
Of course there are also situations when the correct play is to call. For example, you are on the button with Jh Th and see a flop of Ah 9c 8d with four other players. The first person to act bets and two players call. In this situation, a raise will probably not knock anyone out of the pot unless the first player to act re-raises behind you. In addition, you are on a draw to a straight with a backdoor flush possible, which means that you do not have the best hand yet. Remember the three things that are positive that can happen with a raise? If no one is going to fold to your raise, and you don't have the best hand, you have eliminated two of the three positives. In this situation, there are no other players to act behind you so by just calling you are not only receiving the correct pot odds, you are putting the least amount of money in the pot while maintaining your chance to win.
Once you start to realize when it is advantageous to raise, and combine this aggressive play with tight, quality starting hand requirements, you are well on your way to becoming a consistent winning player.