Does the Size of your Pre-flop Raise Give Away Your Hand?
One of the things that is clear from the Twitter responses on what to do with J-J is how pre-flop action differed (here are the results from a prior post on Pocket Jacks).
The key, I think, is that however you played your J-J is not to be a predictable player during the event. If you knew what your opponent has as his hole cards, you'd never lose. So why give away your hand with predictable pre-flop plays.
The other day at the card room a player just limped from an early position and won the pot with a bet on the flop. He revealed pocket Aces before he mucked. As he was stacking his chips, one opponent said "I knew you had aces because you never limp upfront." That was not a complement.
In fact, I think the easiest thing for your opponents to notice is the size of your raise as it relates to the relative strength of your hand.
Pre-Flop Action: Size Matters!
1. Vary your raises based on your position at the table.
I read an article where the author recommended making bigger raises in an upfront position, and smaller ones in the back. I found that to be bad advice since no limit tournaments are a battle for the blinds and antes. Instead, make smaller raises upfront since someone behind you can find a premium hand. And bigger raises in the back position to give the blinds worse pot odds to call your raise.
2. Don't vary your pre-flop raises at all. Be unpredictable by being predictable.
In some tournaments I will raise three times the big blind, whenever I am the first player in a pot. In one of those events, I opened the pot four times in a row with a 3x BB raise. The next hand, another player raised pre-flop the same amount and announced, "Hey, it works for him."
3. Calling is better than limping after the first few rounds of an event.
Let me make a distinction between calling and limping pre-flop, just this one time. Limping is only when you call the big blind or another player who has limped in front of you. Calling is when you call a pre-flop raise.
Since you are battling to win the blinds (and antes), when the blinds get bigger go on the attack and put in a pre-flop raise. If you limp into the hand, you are going to have to make a decision on the flop. If you raise, you may take down the pot without seeing the flop. That is one of the reasons that small ball is effective as a tournament strategy.
Calling is different since you are making a play to win a big pot. For example, a player upfront makes a pre-flop raise and you know they have a big hand. You find pocket 6's. What should you do? Don't fold right away! I will first look at my stack size against my opponent's stack size. If we are both deep in chips, my implied odds are huge, so I will be thinking about calling.
If you decide how much to raise pre-flop based solely on the strength of your starting hand, you are making a mistake. You need to vary your game, and keep your opponents guessing. You win the most chips when your opponents make mistakes.
Remember a raise pre-flop has an opportunity to take down the pot uncontested, while a limp will always result in seeing a flop.