Theory Fundamentals: Raise First In (Part 1)

5 months ago - written by Sean Belton
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In this article, we’re going to take a look at raise first in, more commonly denoted as RFI. We’ll discuss what it is, why we do it, and how best to go about it.

 

What is RFI?

Raise first in (RFI) describes raising pre-flop when you’re the first player to volunteer chips to the pot. For example, if action folds to you in the cutoff, and you open with a raise, you are the first player in the pot, and therefore have raised first in. This differs from pre-flop raise (PFR), which describes raising pre-flop regardless of the action in front of you.

 

 

Why should you raise first in?

In poker, there are typically two reasons to bet: for value, or as a bluff. This changes slightly pre-flop and, since pre-flop is the most common street (you play this street literally every hand!), it’s good to know what these changes include. The reasons we raise pre-flop are:

  1. To get maximum value from your strong holdings by creating a bigger pot (essentially a pre-flop value bet)
  2. To thin the field. If you limp in, then you make it cheap for other to do the same, meaning more players see the flop. This drastically reduces your equity in the pot. For example, pocket aces versus one opponent with a 20% range has around 85% equity, whereas aces versus five opponents with a 20% range yields only 49% equity.
  3. To make the stack-to-pot ratio (SPR) smaller, thus making it easier to get maximum value down the streets.

If action has folded to you, then you should open with a raise, or fold your hand. The exception to this rule is if action has folded to you in the small blind, assuming you limp a balanced range (i.e. don’t just limp your weak hands and then raise your strong ones, otherwise the big blind can play perfectly against you.) Also, if multiple players have limped in front of you, then it’s okay to limp along with some of your holdings.

 

Limping as a trap?

What about limping a strong hand first in, because you know someone is going to raise behind you if you do so?  Well, this is an exploitative adjustment. Note the word adjustment. You should first have a solid baseline strategy in place, from which you can deviate if you think it will yield greater results.

However, the problem with playing exploitative poker is that it opens the door to being exploited. If you limp first in with strong hands in an effort to exploit their tendency to raise too frequently, eventually they will realise what you’re doing and can then play better against you.

When I first started playing, I used to limp with aces and kings because I’d seen them do it on television. Then, after someone raised pre-flop I would “spring the trap” with a big 3-bet. I thought it was a genius way of picking up some loose change, and a better way of thinning the field than raising first in. Little did I know that now my opponent was probably putting me on one of literally two hands, meanwhile I was out of position versus an unknown range. Great job…

 

How often should I raise first in?

So, now we know what raise first in is, we know why we do it, and we understand the potential pitfalls of not doing it. Now let’s take a look at how to do it.

It should go without saying that the earlier the position we are raising from, the tighter our pre-flop range should be, because we have more players to act behind us. Stack depth should also factor into how wide our pre-flop raising range is but, for the sake of this article, let’s assume all stacks are at least 100 big blinds deep.

A good starting point might be to raise first in with around a 10% range under the gun, tapering up to around 25% in the cutoff. We can then vastly widen our range on the button to around a 40% range, as it is guaranteed that we’ll be in position as we play down the streets. We can widen that range further still to around 50% of hands when first in from the small blind.

 

 

How do I construct an RFI range?

The top end of any range of hands should be fairly intuitive and very easy to construct. Let’s assume we are always going to include 99+, AJs+, KJs, AQo+ in our raise first in range. From no position are we going to fold these hands when we’re the first player into the pot.

Where you go from there will depend on your preferred play style. Let’s construct the rest of our cutoff opening range which, as we suggested earlier, should be around 25% of hands. If you prefer to pick your hands from an absolute equity standpoint, your range will probably look something like this:

 

 

Whereas if you prefer to pick your hands from a playability standpoint, your cutoff raise first in range might look more like this:

 

 

As you can see, the first range favours Ax and Kx hands; whereas the second range favours suited connectors, suited gappers, and lower pairs. You can play around with these charts on a poker hand range calculator (you can find loads of these online), until you find something that looks like a range you would feel comfortable opening with.

 

 

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