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The Ante and Other Forced Bets

The key question to ask about the ante and other forced bets like the blinds in hold 'em is: How big are they in relation to the betting limits? As we saw in last page, when the ante is large, you must loosen up, try to steal more antes, and almost never slow play. When the ante is small, you tighten up, steal fewer antes, and slow play more. If you find you do better and are more comfortable in a tighter, small-ante games, that's what you should look for, and vice versa. For example, if you are especially good at disguising your hand, at slow laying, and at trapping opponents, then a small-ante games suits your style. If on the other hand you are an aggressive player with a keen sense of when to bluff and when not to, a large-ante games is likely to produce the best results. However, whatever your style of play, you should avoid a game where the ante is simply enormous in relation to the betting limits. In that case, the pot is so large to begin with that it's worth calling with almost anything, and the games may almost be reduced to dealing out the cards and seeing who has the best hand

An important aspect of the ante structure is the size of the initial bet and the size of the initial raise after the initial bet. Changes in these two bets can mean significant changes in strategy. To illustrate, we will use the standard $15-$30 razz games in Las Vegas and a $15-$30 razz games I've played in Reno.

Usually, a $15-$30 Las Vegas razz games has a $1 ante, and the high card has a forced bet of $5. Anyone can then raise $10 to make it $15. With this structure, it is almost always correct when you have a good hand to raise with the next-to-last low card if everyone else has folded., If you just call the $5 forced bet with a decent hand, the last low card is correct in calling behind you, even with nothing at all, simply because that player is getting about 31/2-to-1 odds on his $5 and figures to win if he catches a baby and you don't. However, by raising in this spot, you cut down the last low card's odds to about 2-to-1. Now if that player wants to take the chance of outdrawing you on the next round, he is taking the worst of it unless he has a good hand himself.

In the Reno $15-$30 games, on the other hand, the high card brings it in for $10, and then anyone can raise and make it $25. That structure dictates a completely different strategy in the situation just described. Under these circumstances it becomes almost always correct to simply call the initial $10 bet with the next-to-last low card when you have a hand. You are hoping for an overcall behind you since the player is no longer getting sufficient pot odds to gamble on outdrawing you.

The difference in strategy is based on the Fundamental Theorem of Poker. By calling, you have not only induced your opponent to make a mistake with a weak hand, but you've given the impression that your hand is weaker than it is. If your opponent calls, you welcome it. If he raises, that's fine too.

The interworking of different structures and strategies can also be seen by comparing the old $10-$20 hold 'em games in Reno and the $10-$20 hold 'em games in Las Vegas. In Vegas the first bet is $5, and a raiser can make it $10. In Reno the first bet is $4, and the raiser can make it $14. The first effect of these differences is to make you play somewhat tighter in Vegas since your initial investment is a dollar more. However, in Reno you must have a somewhat better hand to raise since you are investing a total of $14 - $4 more than a raiser in Vegas invests - and the initial pot that you are raising is smaller. That is, the ratio of the raiser's money to the first bettor's money is $14-to-$4 as opposed to $10-to-$S in Las Vegas. Thus, in Las Vegas it is frequently correct to throw in a $5 raise to deceive your opponents and get them to check to you on the flop; but in Reno it is usually too expensive to raise simply for deception. Additionally, when you call the initial $5 bet in Vegas, you are almost always committed to come in for a second $5. However, in Reno you may very well have a hand that is worth a $4 call but should be thrown away before calling $10 more.

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Evaluating The Poker Games