Poker has a lot of different and varying ideas and concepts flying around and that can get very confusing for new players to the game.  Especially when ideas seem to conflict.  What can be unique about poker is the ability of seemingly conflicting ideas to form a sort of synergy that produces a result greater than the whole of each individually.  This is somewhat counterintuitive for newer players to the game.  One way to evaluate and get your head around some of these synergies is to evaluate the merits of each idea individually and see where they might have common ground to your goals in a particular situation.


I saw a great example of this recently on a poker forum that illustrates the idea nicely and is what prompted me to make this blog! 

In the hand posted, a player is dealt AA in early position in a tournament setting.  The stacks are still relatively deep (around 50 bb's effective, pre ante).  The hero opened for a min-raise, the big blind.  They got several callers and wound up losing the hand to a freak flopped 2 pair.  A couple of the replies to the post said the hero should raise more preflop to protect their hand, the min-raise is pricing everyone in to call and allows the eventual pot winner to flop their 2 freak pairs.  The hero countered with the argument that they min-raised because with aces they want action since they have the best hand now and they don’t mind everyone coming in.

So who is correct?  Do we want people out, or do we want more money in the pot?

The answer is actually, both!  These are both desirable things in our hero’s shoes, and although the ideas seem to conflict (getting people out and welcoming them staying in), in this case they can come together in a synergy to produce a potentially better outcome for us than either individually.  It’s something we can accomplish by raising more. 


My reply to this preflop spot read in kind:

“Personally I go around 2.5x on this depth of money (50bb).  If the action is loose then I like a bit more, 2.8x.  I'm usually not dropping down from that until under 40bb and not to min-raising until the stacks get below about 30-35bb's.

You're right we don't mind action when we have aces, but we do want that action to be a mistake by our opponents.   When our opponents have a good price to come after our stack they can do so correctly (or more correctly).  Implied odds = The amount they can potentially win / the cost of the call.  The better the implied odds they have, the more they should desire coming after us.  It's driven by both the depth of stacks and our bet size.

Are they making a mistake calling on 50bb's effective?  Probably.  Is it a huge mistake?  No, probably not.  It's certainly not as big a mistake as it would be if they called 2.5x or 3x.

And do we want everyone in?  Each player in decreases our chance to win the pot, but provides additional odds on our money as well, so it's not bad per say.  But perhaps we can do better.  If we get 4 callers for that's 8x in the pot.  If we knock one of them out by sizing our open 3x instead, we end up with 3 callers (a higher % chance we hold up) and 9x in the pot (a bigger preflop pot as well).  That sounds better.”


So by raising more, we can often further our desire in both goals, protecting our hand from draw outs by thinning the field and getting more money in the pot at the same time.   A synergy of ideas that enhances our long term profits.  

What about the cases where this doesn’t work out, will there be some?  Sure.  It’s not particularly bad though.  When everyone calls our larger sized raise, we have not furthered the notion of thinning the field but we have furthered even more the notion of growing the pot and have more opponents making larger preflop mistakes from which we benefit.   If they all fold to our raise, they probably didn’t have much to begin with (not likely to call even a min-raise) and anything that would have called the min raise is weak enough that it is more of a true flier at our stack, if it doesn’t hit well all we’d have gotten is those 2 big blinds pre at the cost of exposing our stack to great risk. 

So the moral of the story is, there are sometimes conflicting ideas in poker and if you find this aspect of studying the game confusing, that’s natural.  Try to think about which one applies to your particular situation at hand, and if they both seem like they might, then think about how you might use them in tandem to improve your long term results beyond the sum of it’s parts.