Raising for Information in poker. Can it be a good play?

Raising or betting for information is a play, which is often used by old school poker players like Daniel Negreanu and Phil Hellmuth. As they state they like to raise to see where they are at. They try to obtain information about the strength of their opponent’s hand by raising for information. They do this by analyzing their opponent’s reaction, which can be their course of action (fold, call or raise), timing or bet sizing tells, or live tells.

Poker players of the new, online generation however despise the information raise. They view it as a very exploitable play and on online forums information raising is considered as a sin.

I will argue however in this article that there are situations in which information raising is a good, +EV play. These situations though are when you are in a pot with a bad player, who is not aware that you are raising for information. Value raises can also provide information, so the distinction between value raises and information raises isn’t always clear cut.

Raising for information in poker

What is a raise for information?

Before I continue I will define an information raise: A raise for information is a raise with a medium strength hand (e.g. top pair, weak kicker) in order to obtain value about the strength of an opponent’s hand. For simplicity sake I will address information bets and value bets as raises too.

Why is raising for information a bad play?

Information raising is considered by many good players as an invalid argument for raising. One of those players, Andrew Seidman, writes in his book ‘Easy Game’ that there are only 3 good reasons for raising:

  1. Raising for value. You want a worse hand to call you.
  2. Raising as a bluff. You want a better hand to fold.
  3. Capitalization of dead money. In spots where you aren’t certain whether you have the best hand, there is enough dead money in the pot, such that a bet or raise is profitable.

Raising for information isn’t stated as a valid reason to raise. These are some reasons why information is a bad play:

  1. You will often not obtain information.
  2. You are putting more money in the pot with a medium strength hand.
  3. Good players can put you in difficult spots.

The following hand from High Stakes Poker between Barry Greenstein and Lex Veldhuis illustrates these three reasons in one hand. The hand starts from 8:50.

Barry wasn´t raising for value, since he folded to a shove. He also wasn´t bluffing, because AQ is a too strong hand to bluff with preflop. So by raising AQ for information Barry didn’t get information, he was putting more money in the pot with a medium strength hand and a good player was putting him in a difficult spot. All this resulted in a $12,000 loss, in a situation where he had the exact same hand as his opponent.

Good players who are aware that you are raising for information can bluff you off the best hand, while you have showdown value and this makes the information raise an exploitable play.

When is raising for information a good idea?

There are however situations where raising for information can be a +EV play. By raising for information you are putting more money in the pot in order to obtain information about your opponent’s hand. This is a sacrifice of money in order to get information. If you do get information by raising you will be able to make a more +EV decision on later streets. So if the increase in EV by information raising is bigger than the sacrifice of money of information raising, then raising for information is a good play.

The situation can be right for information raising when the following conditions are met:

  • Your opponent shouldn’t be aware that you are information raising, otherwise he is able to exploit you.
  • Your opponent gives information about the strength of his hand by:
  • bet sizing tells.
  • timing tells.
  • live tells.

These conditions imply that your opponent is not a good player, because good players will be aware of information raising and are less likely to give away tells. The conditions are also more frequently met in live poker than in online poker, because there are often more bad players in live poker and because live tells are absent in online poker.

The following hand from Pokerstars The Big Game shows a good example when the conditions for information raising are met.

Hellmuth check raises the flop with top pair and weak kicker for information. Loose cannon Fishman won’t be exploiting Hellmuth’s information raise. He also gives a timing tell by instantly calling. An instant call implies a marginal hand (top pair weak kicker) or a draw, since he would think longer with a stronger hand (set) or worse hand (pairs less than top pair). Therefore Hellmuth correctly puts his opponents on a top weak pair or a draw. Unfortunately the hand turns out bad for Hellmuth.

You thought you were raising for value

Sometimes you think you are raising for value, but then you get information that your opponent’s hand stronger than you thought. This is well illustrated in the following hand between Vanessa Selbst and amateur player Ruffin from High Stakes Poker.

Vanessa was raising the flop for value, because she thought both Esfandiari and Ruffin did have weaker hands. Esfandiari folded, but Ruffin acted out of turn (timing tell) and miniraised (bet sizing tell) Vanessa. This should have given Vanessa the information that her pocket Queens weren’t good, since Ruffin would never do this with a worse hand than pocket Queens.

So although raising for information is an exploitable play, there are situations in which information raising can be a +EV play. These situations are always against bad players and often in live poker. I hope you will recognize these situations and will be able to benefit from information raising. Good luck at the tables!

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