Are you entering a pot first? Raise!

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In my last article (cash-game economics), I tried to help players determine where their best value is when picking a cash level to play. Most cardrooms have structured cash-game levels with $1-$2, $2-$5 and $5-$10 the most common. We’ll always use the $2-$5 game, which is the game I love to play, for purposes of this discussion.

My most constant desire in cash games is to make players make mistakes during a hand. As a mathematician, I always want the edge when I play. Let’s break it down with several simple rules to increase your profits by giving opponents chances to err while increasing your chances to earn.

One of the most common errors is how a player who is first to enter a pot comes into the hand. If he simply limps and all players fold back to the blinds, the small blind can enter for half price and the big blind can play two cards for free. By limping as the first player in, you aren’t allowing the big blind to make an error.

I always raise when I’m first to enter the pot; if the big blind enters with a weak hand, he’s made an error. By only limping in you cost yourself money when you take away an opponent’s chance to make an error. I’m unable to calculate the dollar amount of the error (it isn’t much), but it adds up over time.

Putting pressure on the blinds allows you to earn more money. A raise may also earn me the button when the hand is folded back to the blinds, which now gives me position for the hand if the blinds decide to play.

Players who disagree and want to see flops cheaply will be playing more hands out of position and will be opening themselves up to preflop raises. Cash-game play, for the most part, is a postflop game. The only advantage for limping into a hand is when you have a big hand you’re hoping for a raise behind you so you can reraise when it gets back to you preflop.

I also believe if you limp and then just call a raise, you’re showing weakness.

Limp-calling of raises out of position are easy pickings preflop for seasoned players who will then become aggressive postflop.
When you enter a pot betting passively, you set yourself up with only one way to win at showdown. When you enter a pot aggressively your opponent can call or fold; this gives you two ways of winning at showdown.

By entering a hand with a raise, you may cause several things to occur behind you. First, weaker hands will fold and marginal hands may enter the pot, thus making the pot larger. You may even get a better hand to fold.

My goal is to make readers better cash-game players. Cash is different than tournament play; there are many more decisions to make in cash play, thus it can be challenging on many fronts. In my next article I’ll cover top pair, top kicker postflop in a cash game vs. a tournament. I believe you’ll be surprised.

— Antonio Pinzari has been playing poker professionally since the ’70s.