Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Gap Concept Leads To Small Ball in Poker

What is the Gap Concept?

The Gap Concept is the pre-flop notion that you need a stronger hand to enter a pot after a player in front of you has already raised. This was a fairly popular idea many years ago as players wanted to avoid confrontations where an opponent indicated strength before you acted; unless, of course, you found yourself with a premium starting hand.

The positive coming from this concept was that it made opponents think twice before entering a raised pot. It allowed stronger players to open raise with a wider range of starting hands and steal pots.

This happens today in events, but much less often than in the past. The reason is that players are better as they get so much experience playing online.

The Gap Concept Today: It's Dead

As opponents got smarter, the stronger players were faced with more action. Now when these players raised pre-flop they would get one or two callers. It put their flop skills to the test.

So today, you will see more limping into the pot than in the past. And you will find that more players want to be involved in hands and see the flop. After all, if online poker has taught us anything, it is that any two starting cards can win a pot.

In fact, in limit cash games you will find that more players look at a flop with a wide range of starting hands. And in no limit games, you will find that players will call pre-flop raises with a wider range of hands due to the implied odds (that is, if I call this small raise and get lucky on the flop, I can win all those chips my opponent has in his stack).

Small Ball Strategy

If you follow Daniel Negreanu in CardPlayer columns from the early days, you will notice how his game has changed over the years. Today, he is an advocate of a small ball strategy as he understands that:

1. You are battling for the blinds and antes
2. You need to accumulate chips to win a poker tournament
3. You want to eliminate as many opponents as possible pre-flop
4. You want to see the flop cheap--no limit hold'em is a flop game
5. You want to outplay your opponents by playing his hand

As a result, Daniel will often raise pre-flop 2 or 2 1/2 times the big blind. If he gets callers, he will see what happens with the flop. If he gets a raise, he is willing to call and see the flop. And, of course, if he gets everyone to fold he wins the blinds and antes.

The other advantages to his strategy is that by entering a lot of pots:
1. He has an opportunity to trap those times he finds a premium hand.
2. He can steal pots with bluffs on the turn. So, if the flop comes down somewhat coordinated (J-7-5), his opponent has to be concerned that Daniel has hands like 6-8 or 9-10 or 8-9, etc. The result is that when Daniel calls his opponent's flop bet, if a card to make a straight appears, what is his opponent going to do? Daniel can steal the pot or maybe he has the straight.
3. He steals a lot of pots uncontested because opponents are afraid of being outplayed.

Do you recall Daniel's That's Not Poker comment at the WSOP? His opponent did not want to get involved with Daniel so he raised Daniel all-in pre-flop.

Can you blame the guy?


Give small ball a try at your next tournament. To learn more about small ball strategy, pick up his new book "Power Hold'em Strategy." I just bought my copy!

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