The Gap Concept

The Gap Concept is simple. In general, it states that you need a better hand to call a raise with than you do to make a raise with.

Makes sense, right?

So, let’s say you have K6s and you are on the button. Before the action gets to you, you decide you’re going to raise this hand. It folds to you and you raise.

Good.

Now, let’s take the same hand in the same position but now you have a player to your right make a raise before action gets to you. What do you do?

You fold.

Everything in poker is situational. And while this concept may seem like a no-brainer, what’s important to take away is that you could get the exact same hand 10 times and never play it the same way twice because of circumstances around you (ie: your position, your chip stack, your opponent’s chip stack, etc).

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Tournaments vs. Cash Games

Sure, the game is the same. But, tournaments and cash games are two different monsters.

The first major difference is the value of the chips in front of you. In a cash game, the value of your chips are what they’re worth. In a tournament, they are not.

If you have $100 in chips in a cash game, then you have $100 in front of you. If you have 5000 in chips in a $100 buy-in tournament, you don’t have $5000 worth of chips in front of you.

In a tournament, the value of your chips slowly decrease over the life of the tournament because of the ever-rising blinds.

At the beginning of a tournament, let’s say the blinds are 25/50 and you have 5000 in front of you. That is 100 big blinds worth of play. Let’s say you still have 5000 chips and the blinds are now 100/200. You now only have 25 big blinds worth of play. The value of your chips have significantly decreased.

In a cash game, the blinds values stay the same. You can afford to sit and play optimal hand should you choose and only be in danger of losing the blinds. In a tournament, the longer you sit and wait for premium hands, the less value your chips have and you’ll bleed your chips to the point where all-in shoves are your only move. You must keep your chip stack healthy to survive a tournament.

Obviously, in a tournament, when you’re out of chips, you’re done. In a cash game, if you run out of chips, you can buy more.

This fact represents the biggest difference between tournaments and cash games. There are many plays I would make in a cash game that I might not necessarily make in a tournament and vice versa.

In a tournament, you play to survive. When people get low in chips, they tend to wait for strong hands to shove. You can get them to fold or steal their blinds with a wider range of cards and smaller raises. No reason to risk a 4x raise when a 2x or 2.5x raise will accomplish the same thing.

In tournaments, only a certain amount of people get paid. Your strategy in a tournament should change when it comes close to the money bubble. No one that close to the bubble wants to go out before the bubble bursts. If your have a healthy stack, try raising every hand until you get resistance. You’ll be surprised how often people will fold if they’re average/low in chips.

In a tournament, you cannot afford to be wrong as much as you can in a cash game.

Let’s say I have KQ and I’m in a pot with one other player. The flop is K7A and I bet into a raised pot. The villain shoves on me. If I call and lose, I’m out of the tournament. Unless I can read the soul of my opponent, I would be more likely to just let this hand go in a tournament than I would in a cash game.

These are some of the differences between tourneys and cash games. Strategies are different between the two and tournaments tend to be more dynamic and ever-changing. Be aware of the differences when you sit down at a table.

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Dont Raise Pre-Flop Based on Hand Strength

When you are first to voluntarily put money into the pot before the flop don’t make a raise based off of the strength of your hand. Good players will eventually pick up on this and your hands will become transparent.

Instead consider making your raises based off your position at the table. If you always raise 2.5x on the button regardless if you have AA or 72, others will never know what you’re holding.

A general rule of thumb I’ve picked up from online pros is the further away from the button you are, the larger your raises should be.

Why? A few reasons. But one reason is the further you are away from the button the more people are left to act behind you. One goal of raising is to get others to fold. If you make a small raise UTG, many players could call with their small pairs and suited connectors and, since you’ll be OOP, this will complicate things.

For me, if I want to raise from under the gun, my raises will always be 4x the big blind. My raises vary from 2.5x – 4x depending on my position. Find what works best for you.

Note that how I raise can change, especially in a tournament. I’ll start off with my standard raises, but may change depending on the stacks at the table, my stack, the type of players at the table, and how deep in the tournament we are. But I still never base my raise amount on hand strength.

For example, it’s close to the bubble in a tournament. 1/2 of the players at the table are short stacked. There’s typically no reason to raise 4x. 2x or 2.5x will get most people to fold because people don’t want to bust out of the tournament before the money. And you can typically get people to fold good hands when a bubble is looming.

Sometimes I’ll alter the amount of my raises in cash games if the price to play has been high. But, I still remain consistent; raising more the further away I am from the button.

Poker is an evolving game from hand to hand. You need to be able to adjust and you need to be sure you are not transparent to others at the table. Raising based on position instead of hand-strength will disguise your hands pre-flop.

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Beginners, Don’t Straddle in a Cash Game

What does it mean to straddle? Basically, it means that the person that is under the gun (the person to the left of the big blind) doubles the blind before the hand is dealt in a cash game*. So, if the blinds are $1/$2, the UTG player will put $4 into the pot before the hand is dealt. The results are that if anyone wants to play, they have to at least call $4 and the straddler is last to act pre-flop.

People do this to raise the stakes, create more action in a hand, and to establish an aggressive table image.

If you are a beginner, never straddle. Here’s why.

First of all, you have raised the pot before ever seeing your cards. Secondly, not only have you raised the pot before seeing your cards, you are out of position for the entire hand.

Why would you want to raise without seeing your cards AND be in a horrible position for the rest of the hand? If you’re a beginner, you don’t and you shouldn’t.

*note, straddling is not allowed in tournaments

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Tournament Hand Analysis & Discussion #1

This hand happened in a 6-max (only 6 players at a table) tournament I was playing, here’s a hand I thought I’d share. I’m on the button with AKo.

Three fold in front of me and I make my standard button raise to 2.5x the big blind. The blinds are $40/$80, so I make a raise to $200.

The small blind re-raises to $800 and the big blind folds. So, I’m faced with several options.

I could call, I could fold, I could 4-bet him. I haven’t played many hands at the table with this guy (about 12) but he seemed a pretty average player, so I decided to 4-bet him to see where I’m at. I re-raise his re-raise to $1950 and he just calls.

The call intrigues me. With him calling, he only has $1750 left. If he had AA, AK, KK, QQ, he more than likely would have shoved after my re-raise to $1950. So, I think I’m winning at this point. There’s a chance he has middle pair, like 77, 88, 99, TT. He could also have AQs, AJs, KQs. The call of my re-raise is very weak, so, again, I think I’m good here. If he does have a pair, then it’s pretty much a coin flip if all the money goes into the pot.

The flop comes 8s 2s 3h and he instantly goes all-in.

I’ll provide a little more insight into what I was thinking at the time. Sure, he could have 88, 22, or 33 in the hole. But I 4-bet him before the flop. Doesn’t he think I have a pair like QQ, KK or AA? If so, shouldn’t he check and let me bet my overpair on the flop so he can shove? His insta-shove is suspect to me. He could easily have AK like I do or AQs, though I have a feeling if he had AK or AQs before the flop, he would have just shoved pre-flop. His shove and his moves pre-flop don’t make sense to me. Also, a flop shove from a short stack in a tournament is standard.

Do I call or fold?

Poker Stars $8.00+$0.80 No Limit Hold’em Tournament – 40/80 Blinds – 6 players

SB: 3700 46.25 BBs

BB: 2995 37.44 BBs

UTG: 2280 28.50 BBs

MP: 6535 81.69 BBs

CO: 4880 61 BBs

Hero (BTN): 9685 121.06 BBs

Pre Flop: (120) Hero is BTN with A of hearts K of spades

3 folds, Hero raises to 200, SB raises to 800, 1 fold, Hero raises to 1950, SB calls 1150

Flop: (3980) 8 of spades 2 of spades 3 of hearts (2 players)

SB bets 1750 all in, Hero ???

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Posting Blinds in a Cash Game – Don’t Do It

I recently tweeted saying that if you sit down at a cash game, don’t post the blinds so you can start playing. Wait for the big blind to come around to you. Follower @roberthdz11 asked me why. A great question and I should have given a reason. Here’s the reason…

You are voluntarily limping into a pot before you ever see your cards.

The chances of you getting a great hand to play is small. If someone raises and you fold, you’ve essentially just donated money to the pot unnecessarily.

You may say, “well you put money into the pot before seeing your cards when you’re in a blind”. You’d be correct, but the big difference here is that being in a blind is not a voluntarily action. You are required to do so.

That is the primary reason. The secondary reason is you will inevitably be out of position when you post blinds.

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WSOP on ESPN – Great for Entertainment, Bad for Learning

Everyone has seen poker on ESPN…hell, it’s what started the whole poker crazy really. But, if you think you can learn how to properly play by just watching ESPN, you would be incorrect.

Why? Let’s explore.

The biggest reason ESPN is not a good source for learning the game is because they do not show you every hand. They just show the big hands, the big bluffs, the hands that make for good television.

This is bad for beginners because they see all these big bluffs and all these all-ins think that’s the way to do it. What they don’t understand is that the big bluff they saw could have been an accumulation of many, many hands prior between two players that set up this bluff.

Maybe he bluffer played in several hands with the other player and had a good read on him. We don’t know because ESPN doesn’t show this. So, it gives off to the beginner a false sense of how the game is played.

This is not a shot to ESPN. I thoroughly enjoy watching poker on ESPN and think they do a great job providing entertaining programming for their consumer.

However, if you want to learn tournament poker by watching it on TV, then I recommend you watch the World Poker Tour, not the WSOP on ESPN.

The WPT was designed to show every hand on TV. They’re able to do this, however, because they have faster blind levels and the blind values increase faster. Whereas the WSOP has slower blind levels, thus allowing players more time to play poker.

So, the WSOP on ESPN is great for entertainment purposes, but don’t makeĀ  the mistake of thinking the litany of bluffs and all-ins they show is a good way to learn the game.

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