Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Preflop Raise Sizing in MTTs

Kudos to Astin for being the first to correctly identify "WWPC" in yesterday's post. I would make a bigger deal about it, but #1 it was very obvious if you read here with any frequency, and #2, I'm thinking most of the commenters before Astin knew it as well but just chose to submit bogus clowning guesses instead of the real one anyways. Glad I gave some people the opportunity to show off their cleverness.

Too bad you guys can't find a way to be just as clever when choosing your starting cards at limit holdem, O8 and Stud/8. HOE was the latest Skill Series event last night, and it was won by none other than the original pushmonkey. I first found pushmonkey's blog sometime last year when he was writing actually about me tilting off several hundy at the 2-4 6max tables after a particularly gruesome evening that saw me get fully stacked three times to three set-over-sets within the span of 10 minutes. I challenge anybody out there not to tilt after that state of affairs. Anyways, I think pushmonkey showed his true poker greatness last night in winning a limit tournament that featured most of the solid poker players we have in our group, so congratulations out to him and woe to me for losing my rolled up 777 in Stud/8 to a chaseclown (I would name his ass if I remembered it) who played a split pair of 9s, then two pair 9s over 7s, like it was the mortal nuts until he ran up an open x555 on 6th street. At that point I knew my rolled up 7s were likely beat by a boat, but what am I gonna do, fold for one more bet on 7th into a truly huge pot? Donques, donques everywhere and not a person to strangle. It's terrible, but in something like 13 Skill Series tournaments now, I have collected exactly half of one elimination bounty. Just think about that fact. Half of one bounty. Delicious.

OK on to today's topic, which is preflop raise sizing in mtt's. I will take a few minutes here and discuss my own personal strategy early in tournaments, but the real focus of today's post is going to be preflop raise sizing later in tournaments, specifically once the ante's have kicked in.

Generally speaking, I am a standard 3x guy early in tournaments. I've read all the books -- some people like Andy Bloch agree with me that 3x is a nice raise size across the board. Other people like Phil Gordon as described in his little black book advocate a slightly different raise size depending on your position at the table, but still generally focused around 3x. As I recall, Gordon prefers 2.5x raises from early position, 3x from middle position and 3.5x from late position. I can understand the logic of those small variations, but in the end they are just that -- small variations, and not really of much substance to me. I like 3x across the board these days, though at various times of my life I was practicing the Gordon method for a while and that seemed to work fine too. The major point to focus on here is that open-raises in the area of 3x the big blind work well because they are not so big as to eat up a large portion of your starting stack without knowing what anyone else behind you may be holding in their own hands, and yet 3x is large enough that it offers poor enough odds to the players behind you to call with garbagey hands. So, for example, if the blinds are 25-50, there are 75 chips in the pot to start with. If I open-raise from middle position to 150, then the players in late position after me have to call 150 to win 225 already in the pot, giving them 225/150 or pot odds of 1.5 to 1. 1.5 to 1 means that most not-great hands are correct to fold, which is exactly what I am looking for with most of my preflop raises. My entire game is based around winning a lot of pots uncontested before the flop, and knowing that if I do get called preflop, I can narrow your hand range somewhat as a result of that call. Giving my opponents in late position 1.5 to 1 pot odds does just that for me, which is why the big pros mostly seem to support a roughly 3x raise under normal circumstances into unopened pots. Similarly, even the big blind still needs to call 100 into 225, which is 2.25 to 1. The big blind might be a little tempted to call my raise with less than premium hands in that position, which is why a guy like Phil Gordon advocates raising a little more than 3x from late position when it is the blinds who you have to worry about pushing out of the pot. Sometimes I will follow this logic and raise slightly more than 3x myself on, say, a button steal, but in the end, I have settled on roughly 3x as my standard raise from any position, as I think it puts the blinds and the late position players in a tough position to call with anything but their strongest hands, which is exactly what I am looking to find out when I make a preflop raise to begin with.

All that said, I think that the 3x preflop raise standard begins to fall apart in tournaments as the antes kick in. More specifically, near the very end of the big mtt's, the antes tend to increase at a faster rate than the blinds, and the antes therefore tend to become a larger and larger percentage of the blinds of the total amount of chips in the pot at the beginning of every hand. From the very second that the antes begin to kick in in any mtt, I begin right then and there to increase my standard preflop raise above my regular 3x standard, because I still want to try to target the roughly 1.5 to 1 pot odds to be offering the late position players behind me, and I also do not want to offer anything more than the roughly 3-to-1 pot odds to the big blind that the standard 3x raise offers the BB with no antes as I discussed above. And having made three major final tables in the past couple of weeks, I can't believe some of the preflop raise sizing I saw at those tables, which is in complete disagreement with the theory I am espousing here.

First off, let me show you specifically what I mean. I know for example that Chris Ferguson in Michael Craig's FTP Strategy Guide stated at the end of his section of preflop raise sizing that he likes to add around half of the total amount of the antes to his preflop raise sizes whenever the antes are in effect in a tournament. This is smart thinking, because it helps to preserve exactly that kind of pot odds that I have discussed in this post. So, for example, if Ferguson is at a full 10-person table with 200-400 blinds and a 25-chip ante, instead of his normal 1200-chip (3x) preflop raise, he would add to the 1200 a total of 125 additional chips (half of the 250 total chips anted by the 10 players at the table) for a total preflop raise of 1325. This way, if he raises from middle position to 1325, then the late position players after him have to call 1325 into a pot of 2175. This is 1.64-to-1 pot odds, and it is a reasonably close approximation of that 1.5:1 number that I am typically looking for when I make any preflop raise. For me, while the blinds can change, the antes can change and the stack sizes involved can certainly change, the pot odds I want to offer later position players when facing a preflop raise from me should remain constant all throughout the tournament, from the opening round with huge Ms all the way down to the final table with no Ms above 10. Roughly 1.5 to 1 or so is the decision I want to put the players behind me to whenever I open-raise it up preflop. So Ferguson has it right IMO, and I practice a very similar strategy when sizing my preflop raises late in tournaments, although I don't actually tend to add up the antes and then tack on half of that total amount when I make my preflop raises. But I do always make an additional adjustment on top of my normal 3x default whenever the antes are in play. The bigger the antes get, and bigger an adjustment I put on top of my normal 3x the big blind.

So, for example, here are some shots of my standard preflop raises as the blinds escalated in the 5050 the other day, starting once the antes had kicked in. For each screenshot, you can see what the big blind is and what 3x that BB amount would have been, so it is easy to see what I am adding on top of that 3x amount in each instance.

So here I added the full amount of the antes (225 chips) on top of the normal 3x raise. Normally I usually don't add quite that much, but when I open-raise out of the small blind I do generally add a bit to the raise size to discourage the big blind from calling.

Here I am adding 200 on top of my standard 3x raise with the antes at 50, so here I add just a bit under half of the total antes.

With antes at 75:

Again, adding just under half the total ante amounts to my standard 3x raise. Same thing at a 100-chip ante and a 125-chip ante:

Here I am adding exactly half the total antes of 150 on top of my standard 3x raise:

And very close to half on top of 3x again with a 200 ante:

And so on and so on, such that by the time we get up to a 250-chip ante, I am tacking a full 1000 extra chips on to every preflop raise above and beyond my standard 3x pop:

And it just moves up and up from there. An hour or so later with the antes now up to 750 chips, I am now bumping up my standard 3x raise by an extra 4000 chips, still in the neighborhood of half the total antes at a full table:

And so on and so forth. I don't need to keep showing examples of this, but I'm showing a number of them above so you can get the point that for me, preflop raising is something I choose to make a completely standardized thing for the most part. I don't spend a lot of time thinking about the specific sizes, but I am always adding on more and more on top of my no-antes standard of 3x the big blind, and increasing this "extra" amount for the higher the antes become. I choose not to literally add up the total antes and divide it by 2 and then add that to 3x the big blind, but I'm always focusing on self-adjusting my preflop raises to try to keep the players acting after me in the neighborhood of 1.5:1 or so when facing the decision to call or to just fold to my preflop raise and wait for a better spot. If I'm giving them much more than that (i.e., adding less than I do and keeping the preflop raises closer to 3x the big blind with no adjustment), I know I am tempting my opponents to call me with unpredicable hands, holdings like KJ, 87s, 33, etc., and that's when I can get myself into trouble when they hit a flop with a hand that I just can't put them on since they've called my preflop raise. So this is the way I raise before the flop, from the very first time the antes kick in, all the way to the end. And I simply never waver from this plan. Ever. Even all the way to the final table as I mentioned above:

So that is 16k more than a standard 3x the big blind raise there, down to 6 players left in the entire tournament. And although I'm not showing you every single raise I made before the flop in this thing, I don't want you to think it's because I am just omitting all the times I kept my raise to straight up 3x. There weren't any. Any. It's all standard with me, because the 1.5:1 approximation should always be standard. Six hands later at the final table, here I am with the exact same raise:

It's just what I do. Here once again I am offering the players after me to call 88k into a pot that is 142k. It's 1.61-to-1 odds, more or less right where I want it to be. Once I start getting up near 2 to 1 or more, now suddenly they can consider calling with a much wider range of hands that have a 2-to-1 chance of beating me, of outflopping me, of hitting a big draw, etc. And that's where my advantage starts to dissipate. I need to be able to put these people on a reasonable hand range if they call my raise before the flop, and 1.6:1 helps me to do just that. 2-to-1 callers can be a much wider range of hands, and more than 2 to 1 can be almost ATC or close to it. Bad news.

Now I would like to show some of the examples of what I view to have been poor preflop raise sizes in that same 50-50 tournament:

Here take a look at what RoothlusJr raised to -- his bump to 1025 chips from the cutoff made the total amount in the pot 200 + 400 + 450 in antes + his 1025 bet for a total of 2075 chips, and I had to call just 1025 into a pot of 2075. This right here offers me 2.02 to 1 immediate pot odds to see a flop. I say that is a terrible preflop raise. Not only is it less than 3x the big blind already, but making that kind of a raise when there is also 450 in antes into that pot is IMO a huge mistake. And you can see what I did to him here after he made this too-small preflop raise (he folded to my action btw).

The same over-aggro guy did the same thing here, and I responded the same way:

Again, let's take a look at the odds he was offering me with my KQs here. In the pot was 1575 plus his bet of 1477 for a total of 3052, and I had to call just 1477 to win 3052. Pot odds of 3052 / 1477 or 2.07 to 1. I can call with a looooooot of shit at better than 2 to 1 odds. That means I only need to feel like I am roughly a 32% favorite to be ahead or have a big draw after the flop, which simply isn't that hard to in a heads-up pot. That is bad poker IMO, and it repeatedly cost him in this tournament in my view.

I did the same thing again to this aggroclown here:

Still offering me basically 2-to-1 before the flop. Why do this? The way I see it, if you're not willing to raise the "proper" amount, the "smart" amount that offers the right odds to your opponents not to call with lesser hands, that's fine. But then to adjust, just don't raise as much. To continually raise 2.5x the big blind, with antes of 12% of the big blind to boot and 9 players at a table paying those antes, is again IMO not smart poker strategy in a very general sense.

The same guy did it again here:

Here I and everyone else after me until the blinds has to call 2477 into a pot that is 5102, for immediate pot odds of 2.06 to 1. Again, yuck. If I think I am 30% to see a flop here, I can call his raise profitably, and he cannot really put me on a good range when I can call anything with close to a 30% chance heading into the flop. Why do this?

And it wasn't just RoothlusJr who I think does not take the best approach to preflop raise sizing once the antes kick in. Check this one out, at the 800-1600-200 level:

So here, we have another active preflop raiser who is offering me to call 3899 to see a flop into a pot with 8099 in it. That my friends is 2.08 to 1 pot odds. Bad raise IMO. Tack on an extra grand to his preflop raise to make it 4899 to call a pot with 9099 in it, and now we drop all the way down to 1.85 to 1 pot odds. Still not ideally close to my 1.5 to 1 target, but it's much better IMO in that I need to feel I am roughly 45% to see a flop in order to profitably call here generally speaking. But if he does not want to add on that extra thousand chips to his raise -- presumably to save those chips if he has to lay this hand down either before or after the flop -- then my general approach is, don't raise at all. Don't raise so much, tighten it up a little bit to a slightly better range for your preflop raises, and then you can justify spending a bit more on those less frequent raises to get you where I believe you should want to be from a pot odds perspective. If 3x works at the very beginning of a tournament from a pot odds point of view, then why not be shooting for that same 1.5 to 1 pot odds ratio all through the tournament. 2 to 1 is a heck of a lot different than 1.5 to 1, even if those numbers might seem small to some of you out there.

I also wanted to show that you don't have to be raising less than 3x in order to create what I view to be unfavorable pot odds once the antes are kicked in. Look at this hand from back at the 250-500-50 level:

Here you have someone who seems to understand the 3x thang, but is making no adjustment at all from late position for the antes. Check out the pot odds. The button can call 1500 into 2700 for immediate pot odds on a preflop call of 1.8 to 1, which isn't great as we've discussed (although better than 2 to 1 as in the previous examples). But being that this raise was made from the cutoff, the majority of the players left to get past are already in the blinds, meaning they will have even greater pot odds to make the call. The small blind only had to call 1250 into 2700 for 2.16 to 1, and me in the big blind was looking at calling 1000 into 2700 or 2.7 to 1. Not a huge fan.

And here is PrahladF, my eventual heads-up partner at the end of the 50-50, back at the 600-1200-150 level:

Here I am offered to call for 3600 into a pot of 6750, for pot odds of 1.88 to 1. So, just by failing to adjust for the antes and continuing to use the 3x standard raise formulation, once the ante has risen to 12.5% of the big blind, you are now cutting the pot odds offered to the late position players from 1.5 to 1 down to nearly 1.9 to 1. With the stack that Prahlad has especially, I think he ought to be tacking on an extra 4 or 5 hundred here, getting those pot odds offered to players like me and my pocket Tens to closer to the 1.5 or 1.6 to 1 range in order for his raises to be optimal.

Here is Prahlad again:

This is a perfect example I think of why this wimpy preflop raise sizing can hurt you. He has a hand of some kind to be raising before the flop from fairly early position. He wants to chase out the worse hands who could outdraw him, and he wants to at least be able to assign some nice range of hands to people who choose to stay and see his preflop raise. But look what he's done to me and my T9s. Because he raised less than 3x the big blind as it is, and completely failed to adjust that number higher for the sizeable 300-chip antes, I am left to call 7000 into a pot of 13,300. This is 1.9 to 1 for me, with a hand that I would probably be right to call with all the way down to close to 1.6 to 1 or so, if not even a bit lower. I think the right thing to do would be to price me out here if I am Prahlad, but he does not.

And lest you think that maybe this one time was just because Prahlad maybe had pocket Aces and actually wanted me to call him, you can see the other hand from him above, in addition to these below to show that that was not in fact the case, but rather that he just had a standard pattern of not raising enough preflop, at least not enough according to my standards:

This guy just doesn't understand (or care about) the pot odds he offers his opponents to call his raises preflop. And I cannot see how that is anything but a negative ramification for his poker game in general.

Look at this raise here:

It's way less than 3x already, and it completely ignores the 500-chip antes to boot. The result? Call 10,500 into a 20,500-chip pot. Greater than 1.95 to 1. Yuck. And this one from the same guy a few hands later is even worse:

Same blinds and same antes here, but since all that is left to play the hand is the small and big blind, the pot odds are even worse. Now the small blind has to call 8500 into 21000 (2.47 to 1, omg it's time for ATC!!), and the big blind has to call just 6500 into 21000 (3.23 to 1 -- literally ATC can call here profitably for sure).

Getting down near the final table, these preflop raise sizing mistakes only get worse, as the fraction of the size of the ante to the size of the big blind grows and grows. Here with I think two tables left is another bad raise IMO:

Basically, the players acting after GerardF can call 20k into a 38k pot, for immediate pot odds on the call of 1.9 to 1, and you can see what happened to ol' Gerard after making this pussy raise here.

And check this out, at the 50-50 final table itself, still with antes of 1000 :

Take a look -- there I am with pocket 2s, and I have to call 25k into 49k for 1.96 to 1 pot odds. I might not have called here, but a lot of other hands would have, and would have been correct to do so, which again is not where I think most players want to be when they are putting in a preflop raise to begin with, especially at the final table of a major event where so many chips are already in the pot before the hand even begins at every turn.

And as the rounds progress at the final table, it only gets worse. The screenshot above features 5k-10k blinds at a 1k ante. The very next round jumps to 6k-12k, so the blinds increase by 20%. But the ante jumps to 1500, a 50% increase. This just increases the need for an adjustment as a result of the antes escalating even faster than the blinds in this round as compared to the last one. So the raise from fishhooks212 here:

offers a 32k call into a pot with 63,500 chips. 1.98 to 1. Bad news if I'm the one open-raising here, almost regardless of what two cards I'm holding.

And check out Prahlad's raise here, which amounts to just 2.33 times the big blind, with no adjustment for a 1500-chip ante to boot:

Here, you can call 28k into a pot of 59,500. That is 2.12 to 1, which again means you're looking at a profitable call for anything close to a 30% shot heading into the flop. I don't like it, and I don't understand why not just add a few more chips here to make calling preflop that much less attractive.

One last example:

Here we are getting 2.11 to 1 odds to call this wimpy preflop raise from old pal RoothlusJr who bet not even 2.5x the big blind and did not adjust at all for the very sizeable 3000-chip ante being made by each of 6 players before the hands are even dealt out.

In all, I know this post has a ton of screenshots, but I think it is useful to show what I am thinking about when it comes to late-stage mtt preflop raise sizing. As I mentioned above, I think 1.5 to 1 is roughly the right pot odds I am looking for at every single point in the tournament as far as what my opponents should be looking at when facing a raise from me before the flop, and at first a 3x the big blind raise does that trick just fine for those players not in the blinds. Raising less than 3x early in a tournament offers tempting pot odds for players, which not only causes you to get outdrawn more as the preflop open-raiser, but also decreases your ability to put people on hands once they call you preflop. Both of these are bad outcomes for the aggressive tournament holdem player. But once the antes kick in, it becomes IMO more and more crucial to properly size your preflop raises to retain some semblance of that 1.5 to 1 ratio, and this requires upward adjustments to the 3x standard from the very first instant that the antes are in play. And the later in the tournament you get, the more the antes tend to rise in relation to the blinds, which just makes it all the more necessary to adjust upward your preflop raise amounts to keep pace in order to get the pot odds offered to your opponents where they want to be.

Wow that is a whole lot of screenshots! Hopefully this actually helps some of you out there. Sorry for the late post today. Work fuckin sucks.

Mookie tonight, 10pm ET on full tilt, password as always is "vegas1". This will be the last Mookie tournament before BBT3 begins, something I will write more about in the coming days for sure, but for now Al's blog is the place to go for updates on the incredible suite of prizes we have coming our way heading into the latest 55-event super-challenge. And check out Buddydank Radio around 11pm ET or so, when I expect to make an appearance tonight to talk about my recent tournament success including my run to the top of the 5050 this past Sunday night. Chat ya then!

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Blogger SimpleStyle said...

Great post. I'm a newcomer to MTTs and I've struggled to figure out proper pf raise sizing when antes come into play. Thanks a lot, this really helped me out.

5:21 AM  
Blogger Alan aka RecessRampage said...

Great post. However, I have to admit... I'm more interested in the bet sizing of a resteal. Any thoughts here?

5:26 AM  
Blogger Donkette said...

Great post. I'm interested in the whole lesson. Thanks Hoy!!!!

6:02 AM  
Blogger KajaPoker said...

Hoy - this was great. I read it a few times and it made my head spin with possibilities.

I think you have to make sure people understand this is your open-raise strategy. There are a lot of other options once the pot has been opened in front of you.

The other thing that blows all this math out of the water is that if you raise in EP/MP and at least one fonkey flat calls behind you, pretty much everyone at the table now has correct odds to flat call as well.

And remember that when it folds to the blinds they will always have better than 1.5:1 odds. More like 1.9 for the SB and 2.3 for the BB. But since you are going to have position on both of them you still have the advantage.

I wonder why so many pros I read start betting much smaller than 3x once the antes kick in. I can only assume that it is intended to lose less when re-stealing is the norm. It also allows them to loosen up and play more hands which gives them more action when they get dealt monsters.

And congrats on the Dookie umpteenth win.

Alan - search the older posts, theres a whole series about stealing and re-stealing.

4:20 PM  
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7:51 PM  
Blogger Rob1606 said...

Very nice post! One minor nitpick: in your first example, the blinds are 25-50 and you raise to 150. This means that the big blind has to pay 100, not 75.

7:56 PM  
Blogger Eric a.k.a. Bone Daddy said...

Hoy, for what it is worth, push monkey played the skillz final table like a complete donkey typical for blogaments, getting all his coin in on 2 and 3 outers. Congrats nonetheless to him as he is a very solid player, but this was a lucksac win for him, not a skill.

9:51 PM  
Blogger Alan aka RecessRampage said...

Kaja, I'm not asking how to steal or resteal. I'm asking about the bet sizing of the resteals depending on the stack sizes of yourself and your opponents because that's where I seem to have difficulty. You can easily shove as a resteal and there's no thought process there. But if you both have decent sized stack, I feel like I want to resteal enough to make it look like I'm committed but I'm not quite committed. I feel that there's a fine line and I was hoping for some insight there.

9:52 PM  
Blogger 23skidoo said...

Hoy, I must say this is one of the most informative posts I have ever read on a topic that is not covered enough. One of my huge leaks is bet sizing thanks for an easy to follow guide. Lets hope I can make it near a final table again soon to use it!

Thank you.

10:12 PM  
Blogger DubsPoke said...

Great post bud. Not to be a kiss-a$$ but this post (plus your 50-50k recaps) I believe played a primary role in my 2nd place finish in a 396 $5 MTT last night (yes, I'm a low limit grinder and working on a BR managment/building project). I look forward to the day when I can play the 50k's comfortably.

Anyways, at this low limit, the players really had no idea how to handle what they perceived as a large preflop raise. This was especially true around the bubble and once we got down to 3 tables or so after the bubble burst.

The only issue I had was when the chip leader, a super aggressive player with a wide range would flat call then make pot-sized plus raises on the flop from EP.

Additionally, I'm very interested in hearing your ideas on what recessrampage has suggested, bet sizing of resteals. Riggstad (sitting immediately to my left) abused me last night in the mookie with frequent 3bets of my preflop raises once antes got involved.

Thanks again,


11:26 PM  
Blogger Fred said...

Hi Hoy...far be it from me to be critical, your success speaks for itself. However I think what your suggesting would be easily exploitable by good players, and should therefore only be one of many approaches in your late game arsenal. As with anything in Poker, there are just too many variables in the multitude of formula's, each one of these representing different scenario's and conditions. Therefore it would be impossible to key in and say this is a defacto approach. I have read and heard many interviews about raising strategies once the blinds are high and ante's have kicked in, and the opinions and thoughts range fairly widely, which is a by product of my earlier statement. I think to Kaja's point, you can use any approach until your opponent's adjust, then you must adjust as well, or you will be on the short end of things.

12:18 AM  
Blogger Gnome said...

Really good post. The impact of the antes is so often neglected, and it's rare to find sound advice about how to raise once they kick in. I certainly didn't know how before I read this. I was just winging it with different kinds of bet sizes.

1:43 AM  
Blogger Hammer Player a.k.a Hoyazo said...

Fred, FWIW one of the strengths of what I do is that it (I think) cannot be exploited. I make standard raises with no regard whatsoever to the strength of my starting cards or any variables related to my hand. I would be very interested in understanding better how you would take advantage of this strategy of sizing preflop raises.

4:35 AM  
Blogger Eric a.k.a. Bone Daddy said...

Hammer, solid, 2 points though.

1. I got a big kick when you pointed out the arggo fish kept putting in small bets (2.5xs) that gave you the right odds to just cold call, but found it funny that you never called, you raised him each time. Raise or fold poker is wining poker IMO, so well done.

2. I've seen a lot of folks get away with small raises late in MTTs, as the players left to act have alrady decided to fold to any open bet regardless of the size. The real key is making an adjustment when someone playing raise or fold poker sits to your left. This guy never got the point. well done.

5:05 AM  
Blogger Zeem said...

Well when you have rolled up 7's and your opponent has a pair of them, you know you have negative one out to quads! Which on FT is a 50-50 proposition! So you gotta go to 7th street there ...

6:22 AM  

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