Understanding the Gap Concept

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Many Poker players subscribe to the theory that if a hand is good enough to play, it is also good enough to raise. Another popular belief is that calling a raise requires an especially strong hand. Merging these two common assumptions together results in “The Gap Concept,” which was first proposed in 2002 by poker author David Sklansky in his book “Tournament Poker for Advanced Players.”

Sklansky argued that players try to avoid situations where an opponent has already declared a strong hand. He reasoned that by showing strength early (raising), a player can effectively force another strong hand to fold. In short, “You need a better hand to call a raise than you would need to open the betting yourself.”

Using the Gap

Proponents of the Gap Concept argue that it works because of the appearance of strength. Suppose a player in a middle position is holding A-J unsuited and limps in by calling the blind. A later player also holding A-J will probably call, too, leaving at least three players in for the flop—perhaps four if the small blind calls, too. But if the first A-J applied the Gap Concept and raised, the second A-J would probably fold and one or both of the blinds might drop out, too.

A certain set of circumstances is required to make the Gap Concept work properly. It certainly helps if the player who applies it has already demonstrated tight play. Opponents must believe that it is a strong hand prompting the raise.

Additionally, the raise is best made from a middle position after everyone ahead has folded or at least no more than one other player has called. Only a couple of other players will need to make decisions thereafter, and if they are playing tight, the gambit has an excellent chance of success.

Pitfalls of the Gap

Since the Gap Concept was first introduced, Poker tournaments and ring games (cash games) have changed. More and more amateurs are playing, and they do not necessarily subscribe to the old theories of play. They will overplay hands like A-J or A-10 in almost any position, and they assume others will as well. In fact, Loose Aggressive players will call or raise just about any wager.

In tournaments, using the Gap Concept may be more successful in early rounds when the blinds and risks are low. It also works better against experienced players who respect raises and less well against “maniacs” willing to buy their way to wins.

Other considerations include pot odds and the size of stacks. When pot odds exceed 5-to-1, late positions may call even with weaker hands and deepstacked players may see the raise as an opportunity rather than a threat.

Players should also be aware that defending against the Gap Concept is actually rather easy. All an opponent has to do is re-raise. This effectively turns the tables on the Gap subscriber, forcing him/her to fold. After all, if a raise shows strength, what does a re-raise indicate if not an even stronger hand?

For the reasons stated above, the Gap Concept has lost a lot of its allure in recent years. Pros still use it because they can trust their superior skills to get them out of any trouble they might encounter post-flop. Beginners may want to give it a try, but use it judiciously and only when the circumstances seem just right.

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