It is quite common to see players raise to 5 big blinds or more when the action folds to them in small stakes games. I am sure you have encountered players who raise to $10 or more at $1/$2 whenever they have a playable hand. Making large raises is usually a significant error because it forces everyone else to play a snug strategy. While you can profitably raise large with your absolute best hands, such as K-K, you cannot profit from making large raises with your marginally playable hands, such as 9♥-8♥. This means that if you want to develop a strategy to play more than only the absolute best hands, you have to either choose a smaller pre-flop raise size or develop a limping strategy.
You should almost never open-limp (limping when the action folds to you), especially when you are initially building a solid foundation. When you limp, you make it difficult for your opponents to make an error because they only have to put in one big blind to see the flop. If four people limp, the person calling on the button with any two playable cards, such as K-9o (offsuit) or 9-5s (suited), is not making a meaningful error. However, if there is a raise and a few callers, those hands become completely unplayable. Many amateur small stakes players make the error of calling reasonably-sized pre-flop raises with these hands every time they look down at them, which bleeds their bankroll dry over time.
Of course, if your opponents are simply the worst ever and will call gigantic raises with all sorts of junk, feel free to raise small with your marginal hands and large with your premium hands. That said, I do not think most players in today’s games are that oblivious. Do not make the egotistical mistake of assuming your opponents are completely clueless.
A basic concept that many amateurs fail to grasp is that you make most of your profit from your opponents’ mistakes. It may boost your ego to think that you profit by outplaying your opponents by making heroic folds and sophisticated bluffs, but in reality, the biggest winners in the game play a fundamentally sound strategy that is difficult to exploit the vast majority of the time. They profit whenever their opponents make errors. Fortunately for you, many of your small stakes opponents will make errors almost every time they enter the pot.
Most of the time when you are first to enter the pot, you should make roughly a pot sized raise. To figure out how much a pot sized raise is, you multiply the last bet by 3 then add in any additional money that is in the pot. When everyone folds to you, the last bet is the amount of the big blind.
So, when everyone folds to you:
Pot sized raise = 3 X 1 + .5 = 3.5 big blinds
This formula also works when there are limpers. If there are 4 limpers, the last bet is 1 big blind and there are now 4.5 additional big blinds in the pot (4 total from the limpers and 1.5 from the blinds). When there are 4 limpers in front of you:
Pot sized raise = 3 X 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 + .5 = 7.5 big blinds
The formula works when there is any amount of action in front of you.
When there is a pre-flop raise to 3 big blinds and a caller in front of you:
Pot sized raise = 3 X 3 + 3 + 1 + .5 = 13.5 big blinds
In general, you should make it .5 big blinds more when you will be out of position and .5 big blinds less when you will be in position. This is because you do not mind action when you are in position and you are content to pick up the pot with no contest when you are out of position.
We hope you enjoyed this excerpt from Mastering Small Stakes No-Limit Hold’em. You can get the full book by clicking this link.