The Upswing Poker Lab is a poker training course taught by Doug Polk and Ryan Fee. The Lab is updated regularly with in-depth learning modules, theory videos, and a wealth of information to make you a better poker player.
One of the things I always get asked about is preflop opening sizes. Which is the best to use and why? Well, it varies on a number of factors, but the most important are whether you’re playing online or live. There are big differences between the types of players found online and those playing at casinos, and I’ll explain how to approach open-raising against both of them in this article. Let’s start with online.
Sizing Your Opens Online
When playing online, using a smaller opening size – between 2.25-2.5x – is an effective way to deal with common tendencies exhibited by players. There are a few reasons why using this smaller size when raising first in (RFI) is a profitable strategy:
Tighter Opposition – Most players online play relatively tight overall ranges. This means the dead money in the pot (the blinds) can be stolen at a higher-than-usual frequency by raising. Using a small size gives us a better price on this steal which allows us to profitably open a wider range of hands.
More Three-Bets – Despite playing fewer hands overall, online players tend to three-bet much more frequently than their live counterparts. Using a small open-size ensures that you lose the minimum when you fold against a three-bet from your opponent.
I personally use a sizing that varies between 2.25x and 2.5x for the reasons above when playing online.
Sizing Your Opens Live
When playing live, all of the above gets thrown out of the window. Players at casinos are notoriously looser and have a tendency to call preflop raises with a much wider range. For this reason, it is most profitable to use a larger opening size when playing live. You should also tighten your range when using this RFI strategy, as you want to maximize your range advantage over your opponents that are happy to play big pots with weak hands.
When playing live, I recommend raising to around 4x unopened, adding an extra big blind for each additional limper. You can go even larger if you notice the other players at the table playing extremely loose. By raising to a large size, we build a pot and extract as much value as possible with hands that crush the calling ranges of our opponents. Also, three-betting happens so infrequently live that we do not have to worry about sacrificing our chips when using a large size.
How Expected Value Changes with Bet Sizing
To emphasize how severely we can exploit our loose opponents, let us have a look at some of the math behind preflop calling. Below is a spreadsheet I made that calculates the expected value (EV) of a call from the big blind. This assumes that all players, except the original raiser, have folded. The EV is expressed in the number of big blinds.
Take a look at the EV of calling a 6x raise with 40 percent equity. Despite the relatively high equity, calling has an EV of 0. This shows how easily we can exploit live players with weak calling ranges. Live players often call big raises with hands that do not have the required equity to do so, and we can exploit this by using a large size with a strong range. Hypothetically, if we open to 6x with a strong hand against a loose player in the big blind, they will need a very strong hand to have +EV call (but I bet that won’t stop them). As you can see in the spreadsheet, we are putting our opponents in a very unprofitable spot – and us in a very profitable one – by doing so.
If you’re not sure what sizing to use when raising first in, then these guidelines are a good place to start:
When playing online, using a smaller sizing (between 2.25-2.5x) is effective. This will allow you to play a wide range of hands and minimize losses when you’re forced to fold to a 3-bet.
In live games, exploit the wide calling ranges of your opponents by making them pay a big price to see a flop. Using at least a 4x size will allow you to get value from these weak holdings without scaring them off.
Most importantly, your RFI strategy should change depending upon the opponents you face. If you are surrounded by fish online who are calling every hand, raising a tighter range to a bigger size would be more effective than using a small one. The same applies to live poker. If you happen to be in a game with a ton of three-betting and loose play, ditch the large sizing for a smaller one. ♠
Philadelphia native Ryan Fee is one of the top poker minds in the game today, with a WSOP bracelet and more than $3 million in live tournament earnings. Fee is also a lead instructor at UpswingPoker.com. The Upswing Poker Lab is a poker training course updated regularly with in-depth learning modules, theory videos and a wealth of information to make you a better poker player.