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Raising Versus Folding or Calling

Raising is often a better alternative than folding, with calling the worst of the three. Such situations occur frequently when there are several players in the pot. Thus, when you raise with two l0s against someone betting on the come and succeed in driving better hands out, you show a profit on the hand in the long run. However, when you don't want to try this play, calling cannot be profitable because you are too big an underdog.

Similarly, we have noted it may be correct to raise with what is possibly the second-best hand if your raise will drive third-, fourth-, and fifth-best hands out - usually straight and/or flush draws. However, if you know those players are not going to get out when you raise, all of a sudden your hand might not be worth even a call. Not only is there a good chance you're already beat by the bettor, but frequently you'll get caught from behind by one of the drawing hands. When you cannot get the drawing hands out by raising, you have so many ways of losing that your best alternative is to fold.

Let's say in five-card draw you have two 3s and two 2s before the draw. You are in a game where people are going to come in behind you with medium-sized pairs. If you want to play the hand, you must raise to drive all medium-sized pairs out. In this case you're not interested in cutting down your opponents' odds, because you can never cut them down sufficiently as far as your hand is concerned. You want them out of the hand, pure and simple. If they stay, you have too many ways to lose since any two pair beat you unless you hit a lucky 11-to-1 shot and make a full house. Therefore, if for some reason you choose not to raise or if you think raising will not drive out the people with the medium pairs, then your only alternative is to throw away your two tiny pair. They simply have too little chance of winning in a multi-way pot to make it worth calling. You must either raise or fold.

As we discussed previously, raising is better than calling against a possible semi-bluff when your hand is too good to fold. It is better for a variety of reasons. It gives you control of the hand. It sometimes allows you to win the pot right there. It allows you to take a free card on the next round when you need to. It prevents your opponent from getting a cheap card that will beat you when he is on a semi-bluff. It disguises your hand so that you might very well win when a worthless scare card falls. Raising against a possible semi-bluff is so much better than calling (except in the three situations described at the end of the last page) that unless you can raise, you're usually better off folding.

Frequently a semi-bluff raise is indicated even though a call would be clearly unprofitable. Let's say you have a four-flush with one card to come. You know the odds against making the flush are 4-to-1, and your opponent bets $20 into a $40 pot. That is, he's offering you 3-to-1 odds on a 4-to-1 shot. You cannot usually call the bet since a call has negative expectation unless you are almost sure of winning a double bet on the end when you hit the flush. In 100 identical situations you will win only 20 times on average and lose 80 times. That is, you will win $60 20 times for a total of $1,200, and you will lose $20 80 times for a total of $1,600. Your net loss will be $400 or $4 per hand. So the decision is clear. People who make such calls are perennial losers.

Of course, if you fold, you lose nothing beyond the money you put into the pot in earlier betting rounds. But suppose you read your opponent to be weak - to have, say, only one pair, and you figure there's a 25 percent chance that opponent will fold instantly if you raise. Now, although a call has negative expectation, a semi-bluff raise becomes a profitable play. We'll work it out over 100 average hands, discounting any bets on the end. Your opponent will fold 25 times, and you steal $60 for a total of $1,500. He will call you 75 times, but one-fifth of those times you'll make the flush to beat him. Thus, 15 times you'll win $80 (the $60 in the pot plus your opponent's call of your $20 raise) for a total of $1,200. The remaining 60 times you'll lose $40 (your $20 call and $20 raise) for a total loss of $2,400. After 100 such plays, then, you figure to win $2,700 ($1,500 plus $1,200) and lose $2,400 for an average net profit of $300 and a mathematical expectation of $3 per play. The difference between calling incorrectly and raising correctly is a swing of $7 – from a $4 loss per play to a $3 profit.' What's more, if the bets you might win on the last round when you make the flush were included, your expectation would be even greater.

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