Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Calling versus Raising on Seventh Street

If you are debating whether to call or raise, it often means that you have a chance to scoop or it is a multi-way pot for which you expect to win half and therefore seek to maximize the pot size. If you have a lock on both halves of the pot, raising is automatic and no decision needs to be made. But, when the outcome is not clear, you need to consider which action is most likely to maximize your earnings. Consider these situations:

Nut low-hand versus a better high-hand in a heads-up pot: This is a common occurrence and often the low-hand cannot beat the board, which means that you know that a split-pot will result at showdown. Many players in this situation simply call. However, this is a mistake. If you have the nut-low you should raise for two reasons. First it often forces your opponent to make a difficult decision because his high holding might not be that strong. For example, a low pair showing in his hand that you cannot beat might be all he has for high. His initial bet might be a bluff and a raise could induce a fold. Second you do not want to develop a pattern of raising in situations in which your low-hand scoops and calling when it does not. Obviously, when your low-hand scoops you want your raise called. Only raising when you want to be called will soon result in no callers in those circumstances. That might be useful for inducing a fold later on when you need an opponent to fold. But, in general it is better to keep up the pressure on your opponents. It is better over the long run to have a table image in which you are feared because opponents will check to you more often and allow you to drive the action.

Nut low-hand versus a better high-hand in a multi-way pot: Raising might not be the way to extract maximum value in a multi-way pot if it drives out paying customers. If an opponent acts after you, and has to cold-call two large bets, she is more likely to fold than if only one bet is required. Consider a three-way pot in which you act second after an initial bet from Bob but before Alice. Consider these possible outcomes:

1. You call, Alice folds (no additional gain).
2. You call, Alice calls (you gain half a large bet).
3. You raise, Alice folds (no additional gain).
4. You raise, Alice calls, and Bob calls (you gain one large bet).
5. You raise, Alice calls, Bob re-raises, you cap the action, and Alice and Bob both call (you gain two large bets).

Obviously, since you have the nut low-hand, scenario 5 is the one you desire. But, that requires a raise on your part, and with it a risk of scenario 3 in which Alice folds leaving you with no additional gain. On the other hand, if you call Alice might still fold (scenario 1) leaving you with no gain. That means that if you decide to call you are hoping for scenario 2 as opposed to scenario 1.

You need to judge how much Alice likes her hand. She will need a lot of confidence for scenarios 4 or 5 to play out. But, if Alice doesn't like her hand it will not matter if you call or raise. Therefore, the only reason to call is if you think Alice is unsure of her hand but willing to make a crying call at the end if the price stays low.

The situation is of course different if you act after Alice, and she already called Bob's initial bet. In that case you have nothing to lose by raising and everything to gain.

Non-nut low-hand versus a potential better low-hand: As a general rule you should call with any qualified low-hand at the end. Pots are usually large by the end and it is never a certainty that anyone else has a qualified low-hand. A single incorrect fold can be very costly in relation to the cost of calling one last bet.

However, cold-calling raises from players with potentially better low-hands is problematic. These can be some of the toughest decisions that you will make. Suppose you have a weak low-hand such as an 8-6 high against an opponent showing a 6, 4, J, 9 on the board who suddenly raises on the end. In this circumstance the chances are high that your low-hand is beat. If the player who initiated betting appears confident in a high-hand you have to weigh the loss of four large bets against the reduced chance of winning back anything. Folding in these situations will most likely save money over the long run.

It is to avoid these expensive traps that you should not routinely play weak low-hands such as 8-7 or 8-6 high. When you play 8-high low cards you will face these kind of tough decisions often. There will of course be times that you back into an 8-high low with legitimate starting cards such as 3, 4, 5, 6, but those will be less frequent occurrences.

I have seen players automatically raise on the end with any qualified low-hand, no matter how weak. This is often a costly mistake. Weak low-hands lose frequently in Stud-Eight so you should not get too confident with an 8-high or even 7-high low-hand unless no other low-hands are possible. Remember that it is possible for any player with two wheel cards on the board to have a wheel. Also remember that if you are showing cards such as 8, 5, J, K, a player with a 7-high low or better can raise back because he will know that his low-hand is better.

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