If you take into account all previous lessons on pre-flop play – including the importance of hand evaluation, table position and effective stacks – you will have an idea of the kind of considerations you need to make before entering a pot.
But if you decide to press ahead, you will also need to be sure you have logged what your opponents have opted to do, and adjust your strategy accordingly.
You need to track the action in every hand; if an opponent has already entered the pot, you know that he has a hand he wants to play. Although he might be feeding you mis-information, the general rule is that If he raised, he is telling you that he likes his hand and that he is keen to build a big pot. If he has called, he is looking to see a cheap flop in an attempt to connect.
You need to process this new information and adjust your bet sizing accordingly.
There is no one correct amount you should always raise before the flop in a cash game, but there are a few basic rules you can use to determine the right bet size – taking into account action in front of you.
If you are the first player to enter a pot and you have decided to play, in general you should raise rather than limp. This way you put pressure on your opponents and build yourself a pot for your strong hands.
It also upholds all the ideas introduced in the Playing with Conviction tutorial in the Poker Basics course – although there are more reasons for only calling in a cash game than in other forms of poker.
Playing against limpers
“Limping” means entering a pot by only matching the big blind, rather than raising. Usually a limp indicates weakness, so if you are in position on a limper, you should leverage your advantage and raise to put pressure on your opponent(s), especially with a strong hand.
With a speculative hand, in position, you might want to limp too, allowing you to see a flop for cheap. There is already a lot of money in the pot thanks to all the other limpers, so your pot odds increase.
A raise indicates strength and you need to adapt your starting hand selection if someone raises ahead of you. Usually only the very strong hands can be played against a raise.
You need to be very careful with strong hands and speculative hands. If the situation is right you can call a raise with those hands, but in general you should not invest too much pre-flop. It can be disastrous if you flop the second-best hand and are forced to pay off a better one – for instance if you have A♣Q♦ on a flop of A♥4♠2♥. You could be up against an opponent’s A♠K♥.
In a cash game you might want to vary your game at times. Here is an example on how this can be done: You are in the BB holding A♣A♦, all fold to the SB who is a very aggressive player. He raises to 3 BB. Usually this is a clear decision and you should raise. But once in a while you can just call and play a pot in position with a hand he would not expect you to hold. Note that this should not be done regularly, the standard play is to raise.