I was doing a lesson the other day with a Peruvian student. We came to a hand where he had 17 big blinds UTG+1, five off the button. He had an M of 6.37, which is to say he had 6.37X the size of the pot in his stack.
“What do you think of my shove here?” He asked me.
“Well, according to my charts its profitable,” I said, “but I prefer raising.”
“Are you ever raise folding?”
I looked around at the stat layout of the table. “Yes.”
My student had the reaction many students have when I tell them I could ever possibly consider raise/folding from a 17 BB stack. “What? You’d raise and fold here?”
A lot of poker instructors espouse that they never raise/fold from a stack shorter than 20 big blinds. Their idea makes a lot of sense when you think about it. You piss away a few big blinds when your stack is already so short, and people are going to be more likely to call your all-in, and put your tournament life on the line. Furthermore, if someone is going to play with you, it is unlikely they are going to flat a raise from your 15 big blind stack. If their hand is good enough to call its probably good enough to put you all in. It certainly doesn’t cost that much to put you all in, and it removes any chance that they may get bluffed off the pot on the flop.
I agree with not raise folding from less than 20 big blind stacks in these circumstances, when your raise is unlikely to go through that often, and most players are just going to put you all-in or fold.
However, let’s say you are one of these players who never raise/folds from a 19 big blind stack. When you raise to 2.2 big blinds on the button, it is like you shoved 19 big blinds, because your opponents assume you are never folding. Hell, they think your hand is stronger than if you had just shoved 19 big blinds, because you are comfortable enough with the hand to raise/call. Certainly, if they think your hand is that strong they are going to fold enough to justify risking 2.2X to win 2Xish in the pot (assuming there’s antes).
So, if players assume you are playing this way, you’re leaving money on the table by not deviating from your standard plan to not raise/fold from a 20 big blind stack.
Okay, but what if some guy is just dying to put you all-in? Then surely raise/folding is a bad idea right?
Yes, but that doesn’t mean you have to raise/fold that often. It needs to be in your range once in a while. You’ll make all the money back when you have a hand that could easily dominate his reshoving range. Say you have A-8. You could just shove 18 BBs on the button, and its profitable. However, if you raise, and your opponent knows your capable of raise folding, he’s really likely to shove A-2 through A-7 into you, possibly even 9-8, 7-8, and 10-8 suited…all hands you dominate. Raise/folding once in a while has now allowed you to get all the chips in as a 75/25 favorite. However, if you just shove, or your opponent knows your raise means you’re always calling off that whole 20 BB stack of yours, you are unlikely to get them to reshove the A-2.
Then there’s the case of a table like my student had. One player to his left was playing 32/21. With this kind of VPIP he’s likely to flat with K-J, K-10, Q-J, Q-10 if we raise, hands he will fold if we just shove 17X. You allow him to play his range more correctly by shoving.
Beyond that, the rest of the table is full of nits, who will reraise you only if they have a hand that crushes yours. The big blind calls everything out of the big blind, his fold to steal there is very low and call percentage is very high. If you make a small raise he’s really likely to call you with an inferior range, which he’ll be taking to war with you without the benefit of position.
Not to mention how many times you raise here and two players go all-in behind you, and you can safely fold. You go from 17 big blinds to 15, which means our shove won’t be as daunting, but we’re still in the tournament. Furthermore, we gave ourselves a chance to have the hand play out in all the profitable ways we previously described.
When people know you will raise/call with a wide range of value hands, like the A-8 we previously described (a hand many MTTers would just shove) that allows us to steal from these stacks as well. When there’s more possibilities of hands you are willing to raise/call off with, people know your raise from this stack isn’t premiums and trash. When you get in the habit of not playing flops, of not raise/folding, of just shoving with your medium strength hands, it makes the times you do want to steal from these stacks more transparent.
Having the ability to steal from stacks shorter than 20 big blinds is crucial. Getting above that stack size puts you in territory where all the mass multitabling MTTers and SNG grinders don’t play as well. If you study what shoves you can make from 20+ big blind stacks, you’ll find a real deficit in most players knowledge.
So deviate and take the thin edge. Raise/Folding from shorter stacks is not only a possible option, but often a profitable one.