Open raising is one of the most fundamental areas of the game where many players seem to struggle. Whether it means that a player can't determine what types of hands to open raise with, how much to raise, what to fold to, or anything else, it's definitely a major problem area. Since every game is so different, it becomes very impossible to define set ranges of hands to raise with and the proper correlated bet sizes. With that said, however, we hope that this article will serve as a useful guide towards understanding the basic concepts behind open raises.
In reality, open raising is an initial process of trial and error. Once you get past the stage of trial, you need to be able to critically analyze what does and doesn't work. Taking it one step further, you'll then be forced to determine why any play worked or didn't work. Poker is always about digging deeper until you find the absolute most simplistic reasoning behind why something will work. You should never open raise to open raise, and in understanding this much alone, you'll have already conquered half of the battle.
Short Handed vs. Full Ring Games and Online vs. Live Games
One of the primary disparities between open raise ranges and bet sizing is found in the format of the game that you are playing in. Where AT might be a fold in a full ring game, it's most often worthy of a raise in a short handed game. Being able to determine how ranges shift depending upon how many people are playing is one of the most important things that you can do. While it will ultimately only change a handful of borderline hands from folds to raises, these marginal differences can make all of the difference in the long run.
In live play, a general open range in short handed games is A9/AT+, any two face cards, and any pocket pair. Though this range is quite specific, you'll likely find that it's also quite useless, given that most live cash games don't play short handed, and when they do they are likely to break relatively quickly. Of course, knowing which types of hands should call for a raise is still going to be valuable, even if only on rare occasions.
Again in live play, standard full ring games will call for a bit different range of open raise worthy hands. QK is on the borderline of open raises, QJ is almost always out of the equation, and AT is very marginal. AJ+ is an open in most situations, and 88+ is usually worth opening with. The reasoning for only opening 88+ is the simple fact that smaller pocket pairs will find most all of their value in set mining. As a result, raising with 55, for example, is going to be difficult if you are faced with a re-raise.
If you limp in, however, you can safely call an open raise from your opponent and still be playing in the pot at a reasonable price. For AJ, 88-99, a re-raise will frequently be enough to denote a fold, depending upon the size of the raise and how many others called. If you open with AJ, get re raised by one player, and then are the only one left in the hand and are sitting out of position, you should be folding. If you raise with 88, get re raised, see two calls, and can play in position, it's a clear cut call. In full ring games, the expanded player base will dramatically shift how and what hands are able to be played.
Online play is much more universal across the different types of tables that are available. Any pocket pair, QJ/QK+ and AT+ are the standard hands for which an open raise should be made. Of course there will be exceptions that are going to apply, but No Limit Hold'em cash games should generally abide by this specific base range of hands. Open limping is just not an option in online poker as it is in live poker.
Position will allow for you to expand the number of hands that are going to be fit for open raising. K8 suited isn't going to make sense to open raise with from under the gun, but it will be the perfect open raise if you are on the button and are looking to steal. The less action that there is and the closer to the button that you are, the more value that every single hand will have. This doesn't mean that you should be firing out raises with reckless abandon, but that you should seek out opportunities to be aggressive when possible and logical. The more that you stray from typical open raising hands, the less useful that any guidelines for raise worthy hands will be.
Bet sizing is something that's so incredibly simplistic, even systematic, yet so terribly executed by so many players. Have you ever noticed that some people will open with a 4x raise one time, a 5x raise the next, and then a 10x raise? These types of players telegraph their hands with the size of their open raises and are easy to play against. If you want to win, however, you should be making your open raises as deceptive as possible.
In live games, a general range of 3-6x times the big blind will be ideal for open raise bet sizing. In a $2/$5 game, a $15-$30 open raise will work just fine. You should adjust the exact sizing based on your opponents' likelihood to call. At a loose table, make bigger open raises, at a tight table, remain moderate in your bets.
When you are open raising but are facing a pot with limpers, you should again adjust your raise size. If you were open raising to 5x at $2/$5 when under the gun (to $25), add 1 big blind to that raise per limper. For example, with one limper the raise would be to $30. With two limpers the open raise would be to $35. All things considered, bet sizing is actually one of the easiest to understand dynamics involved in open raising.
Author: Jonathan Wanchalk
Updated: March 2015
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