As I was watched the final table broadcast of a recent World Series of Poker main event, it became clear to me that a few of the players had a leak in their strategy that will make it difficult for them to succeed long term. The good news is that it’s easily fixable.
Their mistake was that they raised with far too many hands from early position.
Within the first few hands at the final table, three different players raised with trashy hands from early position, the worst being K 6. While it may be fun and make you feel powerful to raise with two somewhat reasonable cards from early position, realize that you are playing your junky hand from out of position against the best of the remaining hands at the table.
If you think about this from a logical point of view, each player yet to act will have a premium top 10% hand about 10% of the time. This means that if you are raising into six players, they will each not have a premium hand 90% of the time. You can take 1 – (.9 × .9 × .9 × .9 × .9 × .9) to see how often someone yet to act will have a premium hand.
So, 47% of the time, someone yet to act will have a premium hand, putting your junky hand in awful shape. If your junky hand contains a relevant blocker like an ace or king, your opponents will have premium hands a little less often, but your blocker’s value is not too relevant due to raising into so many opponents.
While it may not seem too bad to run into a premium hand 47% of the time, realize that the cutoff and button can play far more than only the best premium hands due to their positional advantage. The big blind can also profitably play a wider range due to getting decent pot odds and closing the action. When you account for this, your preflop raise from early position may only steal the blinds 20% of the time, which is not often at all.
From the early positions, you simply cannot get too far out of line.
To make matters even worse, there were a few shallow stacks at the WSOP final table. When the K 6 raised, one of the short stacks yet to act pushed all-in with pocket eights from the small blind. The K-6 folded, which may not seem too costly, but if you consistently bleed off two-big blind preflop raises, you will have a difficult time accumulating a large chip stack unless your opponents are especially tight and passive, which is rarely the case in today’s games.
The only time you can get out of line from early position is when you are the big stack and you are raising into a bunch of middle stacks who must be tight due to the presence of one somewhat short stack. If the short stack is weak and tight, this is an especially great spot to raise.
For example, if a short stack with five big blinds folds from under the gun, you have 50 big blinds next to act UTG+1, and six players next to act all have 25 big blinds, you should raise far wider than you would in a normal situation. The players who will act behind you will not risk their tournament life without a premium holding when another player is so short stacked.
While it is wise to have rules you follow to help ensure you do not make an egregious blunder, always consider the corner cases where you can get out of line to further increase your profits from poker. That said, the rules exist for a reason. If you consistently break them, you will find that the money routinely flows toward your opponents.
Jonathan Little is a two-time WPT champion with more than $7 million in live tournament earnings, best-selling author of 15 educational poker books, and 2019 GPI Poker Personality of the Year. If you want to increase your poker skills and learn to crush the games, check out his training site at PokerCoaching.com/cardplayer.