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The Gap Concept

When you are the first player to act in a pot, it’s relatively simple to develop a basic strategy for which hands to play before the flop. Generally, your position at the table and the strength of your hole cards will determine your play (For more on this topic, see Pre-Flop Starting Hands and Positions in Poker).

However, in every other case, at least one player has entered the pot ahead of you.  This article is the first in a series that will discuss two concepts which characterize play in multi-player pots and one powerful move you can put on your opponents based on these concepts.

The first concept we will discuss is what's known as the "Gap Concept". Basically, it means that once a pot has been opened up in front of you, then you necessarily need a stronger hand to call than you would need to open the pot yourself from that position. After all, part of your incentive to open up the pot is the possibility that your opponents will simply fold their hands in response, leaving you to pick up the blinds and antes without a showdown. However, if one or more players comes in the pot ahead of you, that possibility disappears.

Furthermore, bear in mind that the player who opened ahead of you opened in earlier position and therefore generally needed a stronger minimum hand to open. You have no idea if he opened with a stronger-than-normal minimum starting hand or something much more monstrous than that. It’s reasonable to figure in this situation that you are a solid underdog with one of your minimum starting hands and you need some help from the board. Hence, you would need significant pot odds to make this call worthwhile.

Hence, we have what was coined by David Sklansky as “The Gap”: the distance between the hand you need and the minimum opening hand. Basically the stronger you read your opponent – i.e., the bigger your opponent’s raise, the earlier his position – the wider the gap is between your minimum opening hand and the new minimum calling hand due to the changed circumstance.

Let’s look at an example. Say you are in late position with A9 unsuited. If everyone ahead of you folds, then you’re probably in a situation where you’d enter the pot with one of your minimum starting hands. But let’s say one of your opponents opens up with a raise ahead of you. Now you need a better than minimum starting hand to get involved.

See the next two articles for more on multi-player pots in which you are not the first to act: The Sandwich Effect and The Squeeze Play.

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