Friday, January 23, 2009

The Gap Concept and Two Exercises to Improve Your Poker Game

Avoid A Tendency to Limp

You don't want to get in the habit of being a limper in a poker tournament. Players like to see flops cheap when they have hands like suited connectors, small pairs, middle pairs, and those trouble hands like K-J and Q-J. While you want to vary your play, always think raise first. And, if you are past the middle rounds, try to avoid calling.

As a general rule when it gets later in a tournament, if your hand is good enough to play, it's good enough to raise. Accumulate chips. You are going to miss the flop two-thirds of the time.

The advantage to being the first raiser in a hand is that you are using what is called the Gap Concept.

What is the Gap Concept?

The Gap Concept is the idea that you need a better hand to play against someone who has already raised in front of you, pre-flop. The thinking is that players want to avoid situations where someone has already shown strength, unless they know they have a really strong hand. It is the thinking of a player who wants to survive a tournament. But, if you play to survive, you will surely die.

Don't look to preserve your chips, look to accumulate chips. Use the Gap Concept to your advantage. If you notice players behind you folding too often to pre-flop raises, you should widen your range of starting hands and be the first to raise.

Importantly, if you notice a player in front of you raising too often, realize that this player may be using the Gap Concept to his advantage and probably doesn't need a strong hand to enter the pot first with a raise. Look to re-raise this player with calling hands. Make him fear your hand.

Counter the player using the Gap Concept with a re-raise. It will get him to fold his hand.

A few notes:

1. Poker players don't really talk much about the Gap Concept anymore. They tend to focus on the strength of their starting cards.

2. Respect pre-flop raises from the first three positions after the big blind. The reason is that the early position players know there is a greater chance of someone having a premium hand behind them who can re-raise. Of course, many players don't care about position and again, just play their own hand.

3. Give less respect to pre-flop raises from the button or the cut-off (one position before the button) as these are often stealing positions.

Two Exercises To Improve Your No Limit Tournament Poker Game:

The purpose of these exercises is to get you out of your comfort zone, improve your hand reading ability and get a sense of how it feels to control a table--where players react to you. You are not going to win the event, but you will learn from it. So, do these exercises with low buy-ins.

Exercise #1: Try this at the start of your next tournament: In the first round, play only premium hands and come into the hand with a raise only. In the next three rounds, only enter a pot by raising pre-flop and widen your starting hands to where it is not comfortable. If no one has entered the hand, raise pre-flop with hands as bad as 7-4 suited. If you get a caller, make a continuation bet on the flop. If you get called again. Decide if your opponent is on a draw or has top pair. On the turn, if you put him on the draw and he misses, fire away.

Exercise #2: Never enter any pot with a call, pre-flop. (The only exception is when you are in the big blind, and other players have called pre-flop.) That's right, if you decide to play a hand you are going to be first in the pot with a raise, or you are going to raise a caller, or re-raise a raiser. You will always be perceived as having the best hand pre-flop.

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