Have you ever known a player who became too attached to his “lucky hand”? Have you been guilty of this yourself? Players who play their favorite hand in the face of multiple calls, raises and re-raises aren’t playing poker, they‘re playing the lottery: they hope to connect with the flop and take down all the “dead money”.
These players fail to realize that, as the betting increases, so must the strength of a hand to go against all of those bets and raises.The Gap Concept
Poker author David Sklansky coined the term “the gap concept” to explain this discrepancy. According to Sklansky
, if a player wants to call a raise in front of him, he must have a stronger hand than if he was the initial raiser. The “gap” between making an initial raise and calling one from an opponent requires a stronger hand to have at least the same odds
of winning the pot.Gap Concept: Offense
Players who routinely play against experienced opponents can use the gap concept to their advantage. When faced with early folds or limpers, the player can raise with a marginal hand (e.g. middle pocket pairs, middle suited connectors) and weed out the weaker opponents. The player’s opening raise is an obvious signal of strength, a sign that reads, “This pot is mine! If you want it, you’d better have the goods!”
For example, if the player is in middle position, with two folds and two limpers in front of him, he can raise with middle pairs, suited connectors, or even two high cards (e.g. Ace-Queen or King-Jack). Not only does the raise make the hand more expensive for the opponents behind the player, it bumps up the cost for the limpers to protect their bets. An opening raise also shakes up the emotional timbre of the game; it lets the table know that the raiser is a serious player and not just playing to see a flop.Gap Concept: Defense
Although the gap concept is highly effective as an offensive weapon, its primary use is as a defensive strategy. The successful application of the gap concept keeps players from spending too much money on marginal (or worse) hands that have little chance of winning. Players that understand the gap concept know that opponents who open with a raise are attempting to take ownership of the table. In order to regain control of the game, the player must wait for the best opportunity.
The types of hands discussed above as “raising hands” when making an opening raise are easy folds when faced with an early raise. In fact, table position is a key component of the gap concept: an opponent who raises from early position knows that he has multiple opponents that will act after him, but his raise tells them that he’s “got the goods” and isn’t afraid to take them on from a disadvantageous position.Gap Concept and Tournament Poker
Sklansky first proposed the gap concept in his book, Tournament Poker
for Advanced Players. Since tournament players have a limited number of chips, they must be especially careful about placing them at risk. A key application of the gap concept occurs during the “money bubble” phase of the tournament, Players who face an opening raise are less likely to risk going broke and missing the money, leading them to fold strong hands while “playing not to lose” instead of “playing to win”.