How Much Should I Raise Preflop in Poker Tournaments?

Preflop opening sizes are a much debated topic, and some poker players choose to open the same sizing from all positions. Others vary it according to how early or late a starting position they are playing from. It is reasonable, given that you are opening into fewer villains (opponents), to open slightly smaller from late position if you wish. Theres an important exception concerning open raising from the small blind, which we will discuss further below. However, there are some decent arguments against varying sizing by position.

In brief, those advocating a smaller raise sizing from later position base this on the following points. Firstly, you have fewer villains into whom to bet, and secondly, you have a wider and therefore a weaker range when opening from late position. However it is also true that when opening in early position our range is both more defined and notably stronger, so it is not really essential that we go larger here. Our natural range advantage will assist us in navigating flops profitably, even against in position callers.

Preflop raising in a tournament

If you wish to open 3x (when deep stacked) from early position and 2.5x from late position (other than small blind), this is fine, but one potential downside is that your opponents may not be aware that you are varying your sizings in this way, that is, based on position. They may assume that it is a tell regarding your hand strength, in which case they may respond to this in a way which we cannot readily interpret. One advantage of keeping our sizing consistent is that we remove one more variable which may influence our opponents thought processes. This can otherwise potentially make it harder for us to put them on a range.

Sizing When Deep Stacked

Far more important than any of this is varying our sizing according to stack depth. This is where we really must pay attention. Early on in a poker game, unless were facing very tough opponents it is usually going to be best to open 3x the big blind. There are three reasons for this which well go over in increasing order of importance.

Firstly, the least important reason is that we charge the big blind more to see a flop. This therefore prevents them from calling correctly with a larger part of their range of starting hands.

Secondly, we greatly reduce the number of pots where were going to get to the flop more than three-handed. There really isnt any starting hand, even pocket aces, which actively wants to see a flop four-way or greater. There are just too many ways to get sucked out on. We really want the majority of flops we see to be heads-up, or at worse three-way, especially with our big premium hands.

Finally, and most importantly, if were playing in tournaments where we believe we have a skill edge (which is what we should be doing), we will win more chips postflop when we build a slightly bigger pot preflop. This is a major consideration when playing deep stacked. For these reasons its recommendable to open a full 3bbs, or very close to 3bbs, anytime we are deeper than about 70 big blinds effective stacks around the table.

Sizing When Shallower Stacked

Once we get shorter stacked, things certainly change. We want to start opening with smaller sizings, for a couple of reasons. One is that a smaller open will usually achieve the same effect at shorter stacks. This means that we can create a similar amount of folds, and achieve a similar amount of fold equity, with smaller sizings. Another reason concerns maneuverability postflop.

If we open to 3bbs when were playing 30 big blinds deep effective, and the big blind calls, weve already got a pot of almost 8 big blinds going to the flop heads up. We have 27 big blinds behind, meaning the stack to pot ratio (SPR) is around 3.4 (3bb open, 3bb call, plus small blind and antes). This is the ratio of the size of effective stacks behind, to the size of the pot itself.

When we make it 2.2 big blinds and get the same call, we have a pot of around 6 big blinds. We also have closer to 28 blinds behind, giving an SPR of over 4.6, and that bit more room to play post. This can be invaluable in tournaments, where big equity decisions are made frequently when relatively short-stacked and in the late stages of a tournament. In these late stages stacks are worth many times whatever we originally bought in for.

As a general rule we should size down as we get shallower stacked. 2.5 big blinds is a decent sizing when playing 30 - 60 big blinds effective. When down around 20 - 30 big blinds effective its best to go really small, around 2.1 or 2.2 big blinds. Some regulars still prefer to open a flat 2bbs at this stack depth, and theres a healthy debate as to whether 2bbs or 2.1bbs is best at the smallest stack depths. The former blends you in with many other regulars, and gets called more often by the big blind. The latter gets you some extra fold equity, but may kill your action on some of your bigger hands slightly more often.

Fish in the Blinds

If there are recreational, or just weak players in the blinds, they are likely to adjust far too little to changes in our strategy, so we can simply identify the type of fish and act accordingly. Against nitty fish we can just bet smaller and get the same fold equity. Against unobservant players in general it can be a neat move to go a little larger than usual with our marginal hands just to generate extra folds. We should never do this against competent opponents. In general against anyone half-decent its a big leak to size differently according to our hand strength. Against sticky players, we can size up larger in general. This is something which is frequently advisable to do when playing live poker, as there are a lot of weaker, and stickier players (meaning they call more often).

Fish in the blinds during tournament

Short Stackers

You should always be aware of effective stacks, and when there is more than one player behind you with a shorter stack (or just one is enough if opening from cutoff or button), its best to adjust to those smaller sizings we spoke about above.

Playing from the Small Blind

Playing from the small blind

This is a big topic, but to start off simply, when it folds to us in the small blind, two factors are at play. One is, we are out of position, so we should bet larger. If deep, 3bbs is generally still fine, but if shorter stacked and opening say 2.2bbs from the button, its better to go 2.7, 2.8 or even a full 3x from the small blind into the big blind. This disincentivizes them from calling too wide in position. It also does not allow them to continue correctly with as much of their range. Another option in the small blind is to complete, and this is a very valuable play especially when shorter stacked. Figuring out when to limp versus when to open however is a big topic, and one well save for another day.

Want to know what hands you should raise from each position? Check out this article on preflop raising hand ranges.

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