Different Ways Bets and Raises Earn Respect in Poker

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When players discuss the different playing styles and expectations among different stakes in poker, it’s commonly understood that the higher in stakes you go, the more challenging the game can be.

In practice this isn’t always true. A higher-stakes game can feature numerous players of questionable skill, while a low-stakes game can be chock full of tough, savvy opponents.

But generally speaking, there is an assumption that the better players tend to move up, and the less skilled players stay where they are or move down (or out). That means the higher the stakes, the more challenging the competition and the greater likelihood you’ll encounter players who know what they’re doing — and maybe what you’re trying to do, too.

From that generalisation comes the oft-quoted line about “moving up where they respect your raises.” The line is often meant sarcastically, although there have been plenty of players who after being frustrated by the play at the lower stakes will talk themselves into moving up a level in order to play against less erratic, more knowledgeable opponents — players against whom they can play some “real poker” (or so they’ll tell themselves).

Matthew Pitt wrote a good article here a while back explaining how mistaken such thinking can be, titled “‘Move Up Where They Respect Your Raises’… Actually, Don’t!”

Most experienced players know better than to think this way. Most understand that in fact you want to play against less knowledgeable players who don’t understand things like the importance of position, pot odds, starting hand values, and so on.

Such players will frustrate you sometimes, getting lucky with their draws or stubbornly calling you with weak holdings to win pots that feel like they should have been yours. But you know that in the long run, you want to play against such opponents who keep calling you when they shouldn’t. Against such opponents you can expect to profit on a consistent basis, despite your losing a pot to them now and then — even a big one.

I was thinking further about this idea of “respect” in poker as it is used in this context — that is, the idea of players “respecting” an opponent’s bets or raises and how easy it can be to misconstrue respect (or a lack of respect). The truth is, if one player bluffs the river and the other calls and wins, the thinking that goes behind such a call could signify a whole range of thoughts affecting the caller’s “respect” level of the bluffer’s bet.

Imagine a no-limit hold’em hand in which you open with a raise from the hijack seat with {Q-Diamonds}{J-Diamonds} and one player calls from the blinds. The flop comes {7-Diamonds}{5-Spades}{4-Diamonds} and when your opponent checks, you bet your flush draw and two overcards and he calls. The turn is the {A-Hearts}, and when checked to you bet again (now representing the ace) and your opponent calls again.

The river brings the {K-Clubs} and your opponent checks once more. You have queen-high and know you cannot win at showdown, and so make a largish river bet hoping to earn a fold. Your opponent calls again, shows {6-Clubs}{5-Clubs} for a pair of fives, and wins the pot.

Now the river call could be explained several ways, including the explanation that the player is simply one of those unable to fold any hand in which he’s made a pair. But let’s think about that issue of the player not “respecting” the river bet. Or, by extension, not “respecting” you — the player who made that river bet.

If you’ve been exhibiting a tight range preflop, only raising with premium hands like big aces, big kings, and big-to-medium pairs, it might seem strange for your opponent to call a big river bet with just a pair of fives, given that in the great majority of cases (perhaps all of them), you should be showing up with a better hand than that.

Then again, if you’ve been raising with a wider range, including making opens from late position with a variety of holdings (as even a moderately tight player will sometimes do), there’s more of a chance you’ve failed to connect with that {7-Diamonds}{5-Spades}{4-Diamonds}{A-Hearts}{K-Clubs} board. And if you’ve been especially loose, you might well say the player isn’t “respecting” your postflop barrels.

It could also be the case that your opponent recognises that your betting big on the river with a pair or aces, a pair of kings, or even a set of aces or kings is less likely given the possible straight on the board. If you have, say, a hand like {A-Spades}{Q-Diamonds} or {K-Diamonds}{Q-Clubs} and have top pair, checking behind or perhaps making a small bet for value would be a more likely play. Having surmised you either have a straight yourself or something less than a pair of fives, your opponent makes an informed choice by calling (and isn’t blindly calling without good reason).

It’s possible, also, to describe a dynamic in which a player calling your big river bet with just fourth pair is doing so precisely because he “respects” your own understanding of the situation, knowing that you know you cannot win the hand without betting and earning a fold. He sees the situation and bet as “polarised” (representing either extreme strength or “air”), and he also recognises you could see it that way, too.

It’s easy enough to imagine other hands and scenarios in which a player calling a bluff is doing so not so much because the player doesn’t “respect” an opponent’s bet, but in factdoes “respect” the fact that the player making the bluff is capable of making such a play.

There are players who don’t have such plays in their repertoire, sticking primarily to betting when they have it and refraining when they don’t. But if you’ve shown some imagination, you might get looked up once in a while when bluffing big on the river, your opponent having a high enough opinion of your game to know you’re up to it.

It’s nice to be respected. In poker, where being respected often also means being feared — a little, or maybe a lot — it can translate directly to profit.

More important, though, than for individual bets and raises to be respected is for them to beeffective, consistently earning calls or folds (depending on your objective when making them).