Thursday, February 09, 2012

Back To Basics, There Is Nothing More Important Than The Gap!

I have been thinking about ‘strategy writers bias’ a lot lately. This is the fact that, by the time a writer is ‘qualified’ to talk about poker – they already have a ton of knowledge above and beyond the concepts they are trying to explain.

The result is often a loss of perspective in relation to their audience. For example they assume something is obvious when talking about a particular move… or fail to explain why something is important, assuming the beginner will just say ‘ok!’. I could come up with several examples of this, for example after playing for a while you know that playing ace-rag is a bad idea… however, just saying this without explaining the concept of ‘domination’ to a new player (even an intelligent one!) will make little sense.

See, I just made a strategy writers bias error myself… experienced people will understand the concept of domination, though the new guys will probably not!

Anyway, I thought I’d use this blog for a couple of back-to-basics posts. Each one of these will explain some simple concept that we take for granted in a simple and jargon-free way. This will serve 2 purposes, firstly to help the odd newer player who ventures by. Secondly, it will force me to put myself into the shoes of my core audience – the new and improving players – and hopefully my ideas for material and writing for them will improve on my bigger sites such as SNG Planet!

The Gap Concept – So Key To Winning Poker, Yet Hardly Even Mentioned

After you decide which starting hands you are willing to play pre-flop there is another huge factor which should influence your decision on whether to enter a pot. This is whether anyone else has already entered the pot ahead of you.

There are several possible scenarios here. Someone may have limped (called the big blind), someone may have raised, if someone did raise then there might be a re-raise or a call… and depending on the position of the players relative to each other, the option to make yet another raise could still be there.

What a beginning player should learn to do is factor the betting that has already taken place, how many players are still waiting to act and whether they will have to act first or last after the flop into their decision to play a particular starting hand or not.

This is where the ‘Gap Concept’ starts to become useful.

What this states is that you need a better hand to call a raise made by another player than you need to raise a pot which nobody has yet entered.

This makes sense on a couple of different levels.

Firstly, if someone has raised then your starting hand no longer needs to beat a random hand that an opponent might hold. It needs to beat the possible hands the person who raised might hold.

For example, if a player will only raise with Ace-nine or better, pairs 55+ and a few King-Queen type hands, then your starting hand needs to do well against this range of possible holdings. You might have been happy to raise a pot which nobody has entered with Ace-eight, however against this opponent you will be ahead so rarely that this is simply throwing money away… the ace-eight now becomes an easy fold.

Secondly, we look from the other perspective, if nobody is interested in the pot then you have an opportunity to get hands which you not like to play against when first to act after the flop (a disadvantage I will cover in a future post) to fold. For example you would not like to play a mid-pair against something like King-Ten when first to act, since it will be difficult to know where you stand on the flop. You use the gap concept to your advantage by raising more hands when first to enter…

If you are at the start of your poker journey the key phrase (first published by Sklansky I believe) to remember is this: You need a better hand to call a raise than you need to raise with yourself.

GL at the tables, Mark

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