I’ve been using the 2.5 BB standard pre-flop raise for a few weeks now and I’ve got a good idea of its benefits and drawbacks. First, the drawbacks:
Whether I can use this raise seems highly dependant on the table climate. A table full of loose/passive opponents will call too frequently, creating multi-way pots where I’m often playing out of position. This can be frustrating because these opponents’ calling ranges are typically very wide, so I’m out of position, often playing speculative hands and I have no idea what my opponents have. Of course, I’m often making raises with suited connectors and other hands that actually play well in multi-way pots, so I get paid off in a big way when I hit my hand. That being said, I’ve found that if the table is too loose, the best thing to do is revert to a standard solid game and just play good cards against these opponents.
Because I’m opening more pots, people will play back at me more often with re-raises. Here’s an example of a couple hands:
I’m in middle position and make a 2.5 BB raise with QTs. The player to my left flat-calls (he’s been doing this a lot and he’s been doing it with junk). Everyone else folds. The flop is all under cards, I c-bet half the pot, he calls. I know he has nothing, but I also have nothing. Turn is a blank. I check, he checks. River is a Queen, giving me top pair, medium kicker. I bet, he raises, I call. He showed Q9o and I took it down.
Next hand, I made a 2.5 BB raise and everyone folded.
Next hand, I made a 2.5 BB raise with AQo. Everyone folded to the BB who moved in for about five times my initial raise. I insta-called and he showed A9s.
This player was a decent player who had been playing solid poker, but he’d seen me show down a QTs a few hands earlier, then steal the blinds the previous hand, then raise again this hand. After the hand, he told me he didn’t think I was that strong. Unfortunately, he would’ve been correct pretty often. I find myself having to fold to a lot of re-raises from astute players. The good news is it’s only costing me 2.5 BB instead of 3 BB.
Astute players in the BB will often call my raise and bet out almost any flop. I think this is a combination of them noticing I’m playing a lot of hands and the good pot-odds they’re being offered to call my pre-flop raise. This reduces my opportunities to steal, but it also increases my chances of picking off their bluffs. Over time, it becomes obvious that they’re employing a sort of stop-n-go/re-steal move, which is beatable by simply calling with good hands, raising with decent hands and sometimes raising with junk.
And now the advantages:
The biggest advantage is typically on the bubble, after the antes kick in. Even the loosest players begin to tighten up as everyone starts to try and eke into the money, and this is my queue to start raising more liberally and build my stack (even when someone calls my raise, they’ll often check/fold if they miss the flop). In this situation, the 2.5 BB raise gets fantastic odds (there is a level in PokerStars tourneys where a 2.5 BB raise is actually getting paid better than even money because of the ante) and people aren’t generally concerned with the pot-odds when they decide to play or fold.
I think the most important thing I’m learning is this: I have to be able to recognize when it’s ok to raise 2.5 BB and play a lot of hands, but I also need to recognize when that style just ain’t gonna’ fly. I have to be able to change gears depending on table conditions. Yesterday, I was playing a $50+5 tournament on Party Poker and we were just about to hit the bubble when I got moved to a new table. I had an average stack and I really needed to accumulate some chips. I forced myself to tighten up (rather than just trying to steal blinds and antes right off the bat) so I could get a feel for how my new table was playing. Turns out the table was playing fast and loose and there were two or three to the flop almost every hand. Trying to raise and take it (for 2.5 BB or any other amount) just wasn’t going to work. It was frustrating, but I had to buckle down and take what the table would give me. I tightened up, made some good plays and made it down to 37th (of 538) before I finally busted (after maybe being a little aggro with 99 on the button).
A few of the advantages are inherent in the disadvantages I listed above. For instance, people will often play back at me with junk, but I will have a hand and bust them sometimes; I just have to be able to figure out when I’m ahead, so I can call, and when I’m beat, so I can let it go. Also, people will call my pre-flop raises more often because they assume I’m raising with a lot of medium-strength hands. They’re right, except that they go too far in calling with hands like Q9, J8s, etc. If I hit the flop when they do, I’ll often get paid off well if I have them dominated. Also, as I mentioned earlier, I’ll sometimes be playing hands that actually play well in a multi-way pot. When I raise in middle position with 87s, I don’t mind three or four people calling me because I won’t have any trouble dumping the hand if I miss the flop, but my implied odds against that many opponents are huge if I hit the flop hard.
All things considered, I still think the 2.5 BB standard raise is a very effective and useful strategy in many situations. The tricky part is to recognize when it’s a good situation for a smaller pre-flop raise and when a tighter game with larger pre-flop raise is in order.