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Tips for Raising Pre-Flop in Tournaments

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Even the most basic and landed of  MTT players should know which of their hands to call pre-flop raises with in MTTs, but knowing whether or not to open pots and how to deal with 3betting/4betting is much tricker.   As a general outline, I’d be looking for a VPIP%/PRF% of 12/8 in the early stages, and roughly 20/14 in the middle stages as the value of blinds increases.

As with any decision we make in tournaments, knowing when and how to raise pre-flop should take into account a number of  factors.  1) The stronger your hand the more committed you should be to re-raise or open.  2) In position you can limp/shove more marginal hands, or even steal with J7o.  3) The bigger your stack the more pots you can enter and limp with. 4) the tighter your table the more hands you can be raising and stealing with.  And finally, with a tight table image, you need to balance your range by bluffing more and raising with non-premo hands.  This last point is important for extracting the most value from your perceived range of hands.

1) Hand Strength: The better your hand the more inclined you should be to open with.  Premium hands like 1010+, AK, AQ are the best and you should always be looking to open these or 3bet players stealing from CO.  Marginal hands such as Mid-pairs and suited connectors are also good, but you need position and implied odds to call raises with.  Finally, junk hands like A5o should be thrown way unless you’re stealing.  To read more about TAG pre-flop raising hands I suggest reading Harrington’s tournament starting hands.

2) Table Position: Players should open more pots, 3bet opponents with marginal hands and generally be inclined to call raises from LP, CO or the button.  You get far more information than others at your table, and you have a positional advantage in later streets, which means you can float LAG’s cbets, or even barrel the right sort of boards with +EV.  Pre-flop stealing and 3betting light can only be done from late position imo.

3) Stack Size & M-Ratio: With a small stack (less than 15xBB) your pre-flop raises should just be reduced to value shoving– especially in the mid-late stages.  It’s literally fold/shove time.  Also, depending on everyone else’s stack size and your M-Ratio, you may want to avoid entering any pots without a decent hand – for example when everyone else is deepstacked and will force you to move all-in, or them raising the pot in order to isolate other deep stacks (and force heads up action).

4) Table Looseness: You should definitely be stealing and raising more in position on a tight table (average VPIP% <12% and 3bet% < 7) or if everyone is shortstacked.  On a loose table you need to limit your 3bets from early position without the goods.

5) Your Image: Perhaps what will win your most pots pre-flop in the late stages is being able balance your range correctly. For example, if you’re known to only 3bet strong hands at the table than you can exploit more value by 3betting light with hands like suited connectors adn J10o.  Likewise, if you have a high fold:pre-flop calling ratio you’ll be seen as a looser player, and by limping more conservatively with AA/KK you’ll get 3bet into by dominated hands. 

Raising from Early Position Pre-Flop

In early position you have be more careful what you open with as you’re much more likely to get called.  You should raise your premium hands (1010+,AQ+) but you also need to do this with marginal hands once in a while to distort your table image (once every 1 or 2 orbits let’s say).  Players who regularly limp from early position with small pairs and call raises will become too obvious and this is when mixing it up becomes important.  Also, if you’re M-Zone < 10 than you want to get your shoves in as early as possible.  Any Ace, connectors or pocket pairs will do.

Raising from Mid-Position Pre-Flop

Mid-position should be treated more and more as a stealing situation as the tournament progresses.  Steals look stronger here than LP and you’ll get more fold equity which is really important if you have a tight player in LP too. With nitty TAGs on the blinds who fold too many hands you should be raising a substantial amount especially with AJ+ or pocket pairs.   This is also where you can open with marginal hands and steal with low pairs, suited connectors (anything with potential), and limping into pots with connectors.  On a very tight table or with small stacks on the blinds, you should always be stealing with marginal hands or broadway cards on a non-raised board in mid-late stages.

In terms of  calling 3bets from MP, I’ll flat AQ and 4bet AK/QQ+ (unless my opponent is a very agressive post-flop player in which case I’ll flat his raise to weaken my perceived hand range which will get me more call equity post-flop).  I think you have to fold AJ to a 3bet, but if you have a strong enough perceived range and aren’t known for playing about, and your opponent is deep stacked then you should be willing to call with low pocket pairs and hope to hit the flop.

Positional Defenders

Positional defenders are what I consider bad players in late position (the dealer or CO) who like to raise their hands pre-flop to prevent blinds getting to see any action cheaply.  These players are characterised by a high PRF% of 50%+ from CO, and they can be very profitable to play against post-flop because they’re far too agressive.  I like to float these player’s cbets on dry flops such as 10-7-2 and barrel the later streets.

Raising from Late Position

Stealing from late position is becoming less effective in recent times because today’s recreational MTT players are more aware of it.  Stealing from late position is about good timing.  If the BB is fairly tight (call to PRF% below 30%) than you should be inclined to steal much more from LP (yet not too much!).  For example, let’s say you make a standard opening 3xBB raise when the blinds are 500/1,000 with a 100 ante. Each time you pick up the blinds you gain 2,400 in chips. If you open five times and the big blind only plays back at you 1/5 times you end up making a profit of 6,600 in chips. 

Another reason sregularly tealing from LP is important (other than for chips) is that a looser image that will get you more calling value with your big hands.

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