No single move puts more money into the pot (or furnace) than a raise. This is the biggest power play in online poker. Raise rules should be established, followed and respected accordingly if winning is your goal. According to Texas Hold’em guru Matthew Janda, there are only two reasons to raise in poker:

  1. To get your opponents to fold their equity.
  2. To make the pot bigger, in case you win.

This is a very smart way to think about poker in general, but we’re going to expand on this list and give you five good reasons why raising might be the right choice in any given hand. For the most part, they boil down to one of the two reasons listed above, but we’ll be dealing with more specific situations you might find yourself in at the tables when you’re playing real money poker at Ignition – whether it’s Hold’em, Omaha or Omaha Hi/Lo.

 

PLAY POKER NOW

 

1. To Get More Money in the Pot With a Premium Hand

Value betting is the foundation of any sound poker strategy, for beginners, intermediate and advanced players alike. Poker is a risk-reward game, and like any other investment situation, you want to risk the most money when you anticipate the largest expected return. Make this your mantra: Big hand, big pot. Small hand, small pot.

Let’s say you’re playing No-Limit Hold’em and you get dealt pocket Aces preflop – the most premium starting hand there is. Chances are you’re going to win this pot. How do you get your opponents to put their chips in the middle? By raising, and giving them the opportunity to either call or re-raise. If you’re first in the pot, that means open-raising rather than limping. If someone else opens first, that means raising rather than calling.

Naturally, there are exceptions to this rule. If you have pocket Aces pre-flop and your opponent 3-bets you from the blinds, you can play it tricky by calling. Chances are your unsuspecting victim will continuation bet on the flop, putting the chips in for you. If the flop is dry enough, maybe you’ll call again, expecting a double-barrel on the turn. Then you can raise all-in, or maybe call once more and hope they triple-barrel on the river. There’s no bible of “Poker All-In Rules” that says you shouldn’t slowplay your premium hands when the time is right.

This is still the exception, though. Most of the money you’ll make in poker will come when you have the nuts, you get the money in, and your opponent calls with the second nuts. It could be as simple as getting all-in preflop when you have pocket Aces and they have pocket Kings. You’re going to win that battle almost 82% of the time. Don’t squander these opportunities.

 

PLAY POKER NOW

 

2. To Bluff Your Opponent Into Folding

This refers specifically to cases where you have a really bad hand that doesn’t have any realistic hope of winning at showdown. If your opponent bets, and you think a raise will get them to fold often enough to make it worthwhile, then go ahead and pull the trigger.

There are times when a pure bluff (aka naked bluff) will be more reasonable than others. Those times will usually be when you have blockers in your hand. Let’s move to the Omaha tables; you’re in position on the river, the board is King-Jack-Eight-Seven-Five with no flush available, and you’ve got Ace-Queen-Six-Six in your hand. If your opponent bets and you raise, you have a decent chance of getting a fold here, since you have two of the Sixes that would complete a straight (either 98765, or 87654). If you have those cards, that means your opponent doesn’t.

Of course, there are still two more Sixes in the deck, so there will be times when your opponent will have that straight and make you feel silly. Or they might even bluff-catch with two pair or a set. The naked bluff is a risky move when you play poker for real money, but when it’s the reasonable play to make, find the fortitude to do it. As they say, if you don’t get caught bluffing every once in a while, you’re not bluffing enough.

 

3. To Semi-Bluff Your Opponent Into Folding

You have even more reason to bluff-raise when you’ve got some equity to back you up. The semi-bluff is when you don’t think you have the best hand right now, but you have a draw that could become the best hand by the river, like an open-ended straight draw or a flush draw. This play combines both the reasons Janda gives for putting money in the pot: You can get your opponent to fold, and if they don’t, you can still win a healthy pile of chips if your draw completes.

Having this Plan B in your back pocket is incredibly valuable. It’s also why we suggest that newer poker players avoid the pure bluffs in general – don’t leave home without protection. Finding the right spots to bluff in poker takes a little savvy; a situation that looks good on the surface might actually be fraught with danger, so if Plan A doesn’t work, it’s good to know that you have something like a 1-in-3 chance of winning the hand anyway with a straight or a flush draw.

Keep in mind that Plan A is still to get that fold. There will be times when you have a really strong combo draw that has 14 outs or more, like a straight flush draw, and you actually have more than 50% equity in the pot. You’d obviously prefer your opponent didn’t fold here. But if that’s the case, then you should be raising anyway, for Reason No. 1 on this list. That’s why the combo draw isn’t considered a proper semi-bluff in many circles.

 

PLAY POKER NOW

 

4. To Block Other Players from Entering the Pot

Up to this point, we’ve been dealing with players who have put money in the pot. But a healthy pre-flop raise can also benefit you by discouraging other players from getting involved. Let’s play some Hold’em again: You’re in the small blind with pocket Tens, the cut-off opens, and the button 3-bets. You could call here. You’d be putting yourself in a tough spot, though. Maybe the big blind also calls, which will make it more likely the cut-off calls, and now you’re in a large 4-way pot with not much stack depth to play with. Oh, and you have to act first.

Instead of putting yourself in that tight spot, you could unleash one of the most powerful plays in poker: the cold 4-bet. By raising instead of calling, you make it far less likely that the big blind will call. Getting that precious fold, plus the fact that you’re raising, will make it less likely the cut-off will call. Then it’s down to you and the button. There’s a good chance they’ll fold here, too. It’s still a risky play, but your chances of success are better than they would be if you had called instead of raising.

 

5. To Gain Information

This is the most controversial of all the five reasons we’ve listed for raising. It’s one of those “old-school” moves that doesn’t necessarily hold up to scrutiny these days. Here’s how the information raise works: You’re back at the Hold’em table, this time on the button with Queen-Jack suited. The hijack open-raises, the cut-off calls, and you call, too. Everyone else folds. The flop comes Queen-Seven-Four. The hijack bets, the cut-off calls… and you raise.

Why did you raise here? To see if either of your opponents had a strong hand or not. You’ve got top pair with a marginal kicker; you’re beat if either of your opponents has Ace-Queen or King-Queen, not to mention pocket Queens, Sevens or Fours, just to name a few. Your hand isn’t all that strong, you don’t want to commit to going for three streets of value, but it’s too good to fold – so you raise now, and give yourself the opportunity to fold if your opponents fight back with re-raises. In theory, this puts less of your money at risk than going for three streets, and you also deny your opponents the chance of out-drawing your hand if you happen to be on top right now.

Not too many experts would agree with that theory or your raise. We’d recommend a call here, too, but in general, it’s okay to have multiple reasons to raise. Think of Reason No. 5 as an added bonus – anytime you raise, your opponents are going to respond somehow, and whatever they do will help inform your next move. Information is power, so collect it where you can, and use it wisely. It’s the reasonable thing to do.

 

PLAY POKER NOW