By Pablo Paglayan
Understanding The Gap Concept Will Give You A Profitable Edge Over Your Opponents In Multi-Table Tournaments
The “Gap Concept” refers to the difference between raising and calling a raise preflop. This rule states that you need a better hand to call a raise with than you need to would need to raise yourself had nobody entered the pot.
One of the golden rules to be a successful poker player is being the aggressor almost every time we are involved in a pot. Knowing that, the “Gap Concept” dictates that you need a much stronger hand to ‘call’ than to ‘raise’ – the question many beginning players ask is ‘How Much Stronger?’
For example, let’s say you are dealt As-Jh in middle position at the 2nd level of a Multi-Table Tournament and the player Under-The-Gun (first to act) raised. Is our hand good enough to call? We know that UTG raises usually mean strength, so why put ourselves on a tough spot with A-J offsuit when we could very likely be against a big pair or a hand that dominates us, like A-K? The best option here is to fold. Now, let’s say we are dealt As-Jh in middle position at the same table of the same tournament and the action is folded to us. Now the situation is different. Everybody else folded, and our hand is strong enough to raise. Even much weaker hands like suited connectors or A-9/A-8 could be raised in this spot.
Stack Sizes And The Gap Concept
The “Gap Concept” in Multi-Table Tournaments is very important in the early stages, where stacks are very deep and we don’t see average players playing marginal hands too often, so we must know when to fold hands that may look great to play post-flop, but actually can cause you a lot of problems, especially when we don’t have the initiative in the hand.
Of course, as everything in poker, the application of the “Gap Concept” depends on our image and our table-mates images. For example, folding A-J against an UTG raise from an opponent that is raising 70% of the time is certainly not the best move. Instead, a re-raise here would be a great move to try to isolate the raiser, whose range is crushed by our hand and we will also have the initiative and position post-flop.
Another reason why calling is usually not a good idea is that you give the players behind you better odds to see a flop with whatever hand they have. So not only you are calling with a hand that may get you in trouble, but also you increase the chances of playing a multi-way pot with a problematic hand.
Which Hands To Call With, And Which To Raise?
Now, you might be wondering with which hands you should call and with which ones you should play only if the action is folded to you. Well, there’s not an exact answer for that, but we can say that the only good hands to call a raise are pairs looking to hit a set. Premium hands like AA, KK, QQ, JJ and AK should re-raise for value almost every time, and maybe AQs too. Other playable hands such as broadways, medium Aces, little suited Aces or suited connectors should only be played when we open the pot with them (A8, A3s, KJ, 87s, J9s, QT).
When you get deeper into the tournament and stacks start to get shorter in terms of Big Blinds, the ‘Gap’ should be narrowed because people will start to open lighter to steal the blinds and antes, which in middle and late stages of a tournament have a huge value. Now, calling a raise or re-raising with A-J might be good against an average player’s UTG raise. However, be careful with little pairs, remember that seeing flops is not cheap anymore, so we shouldn’t do it very frequently or our chips are going to disappear quickly.
On the other hand, you can now open with a wide range because people is less likely to call now that their stacks are not as deep as before. Let’s say you are dealt 9-8 offsuit in middle position in the middle stage of a tournament and the action is folded to you. A raise wouldn’t be bad at all, while doing it in the first levels of the tournament would have been a mistake.
In conclusion, always remember that the strenght of your hand is way more important when you decide to ‘call’ than when you decide to ‘raise’. When you ‘call’, you let the raiser have the initiative to take you off the pot in the following streets, while when you are the raiser you get the chance to bluff your opponent/s out of the hand.
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