One of the things that I noticed at this year’s World Series of Poker was the amount of action that was going on pre-flop on some hands. Players were laying out three, four, even as much as seven-betting the action pre-flop. In one particular hand, a player with pocket nines used such a seven-bet and ran into (you guessed it) pocket Aces. On the other occasions, the predictable happened (pocket Aces against pocket Kings or Queens or an A-K) and, pretty much every time it happened, the Aces would prevail.
The reason for this is the proliferation of the minimum raise in tournament poker. The “min-raise” (with stakes at 1000/2000, for example, a raise to 4000), in its original usage, was to play a hand with the minimum risk employed. Poker pro Daniel Negreanu has always been a practitioner of such actions with his “small ball” approach, but it seems recently that players have gotten a bit carried away with the move; if a player takes it up to 4K, for example, a player uses the three-bet to make it 6K, another up to 8K, and so on.
The problem with the min-raise philosophy is that, once it gets beyond three bets, the plan of “keeping the pot small” has flown out the window. Instead of getting in with a minimal risk, if it comes back to you and you’re suddenly putting in what you would have for a normal three/four times pre-flop bet, then the “small ball” approach isn’t there anymore. Furthermore, if you continue the lunacy and min-raise again, it is more than likely that another player in the hand will still continue to push the action.
To put it simply, when there are three bets in the pot pre-flop, it is time to slow it down.
If you have the Aces, then there’s no reason to not continue the action. Where the question comes in is why you didn’t make a standard raise out of the gate. Some players complain, “I never get any action when I make a normal raise,” but, when you have the Aces, you WANT players to come along with you; go ahead and put out the normal raise (three/four times the blind) and let the lemmings follow you to the proverbial cliff.
Making a min-raise when holding pocket Aces is just asking for disaster. First off, you allow players (especially the blinds) to see a flop for a minimal expenditure. Aces are great in a heads-up situation (against another pocket pair an 81/19 favorite), but they lose their value the more opponents they face (against four opponents, for example, the pocket Aces only will win 56% of the time). Thus, the normal procedures of a standard bet are best if you’re the one with the bullets.
When it comes to having pocket Kings or Queens, this is where you have to potentially slow it down. Although the likelihood of the opponent who is re-raising you having pocket Kings or Aces is small, there is that possibility. It could also be likely that your opponent might be pushing an A-K or A-Q, in which case it is off to the races. By continuing to multiple bet the pot pre-flop, you are just giving more pot odds for a player to make their stand.
As stated before, once the action reaches three-bet level, it is time to slow it down and take a look at a flop, unless you’re sitting on the pocket Aces, then all bets are off. There is no crime in playing a hand post-flop; if your pocket Kings or Queens see an Ace or King appear on the flop, you now have some more information to be able to determine just how to proceed. If this occurs, there’s no crime in letting the hand head to the muck and waiting for the next opportunity that comes.
One of the biggest problems in poker nowadays is that play doesn’t happen post-flop. Whether it is the machismo that is a part of the game or the blind aggression brought by the online generation, post-flop play has been sacrificed from Texas Hold’em. The madness that min-raising has brought to the tables is a part of the reluctance to actually have to think about playing post-flop that many have.
Poker is an ever-evolving game and the min-raises, multiple bets pre-flop and other tactics aren’t going to go away. To be successful on the tournament poker felt, it can arguably be stated that after three bets, just call it down and let the chips – and cards – fall where they may.