written by: John
Here is a situation that I am sure many of us poker players have witnessed or have been a part of ourselves.
You are sitting in the cutoff position or on the button and look down to see A-J suited. This is a fairly strong hand in poker and right away, you decide you are going to raise 3 times the size of the current big blind. However, before you have the opportunity to make the raise the player under the gun raises first. Everyone folds to you and you decide to flat-call the raise and see a flop. After all, you do have A-J. Everyone behind you folds and then you and the under the gun player go to the flop.
The flop is A-10-6 rainbow which as you are already aware, is a great flop for you. The player under the gun is first to act and leads out for the size of the pot. Of course, you think, "Who is this guy?" and proceed to shove over the top of him, just knowing that your hand is better. And it is, at least until your opponent insta-calls flipping over A-K for the same top pair but better kicker. Your heart sinks as you realize that you have only 3 outs (3 jacks) that can make your hand better if you still manage to dodge a king in the process.
This is a tough situation to be in poker and is referred to as being 'outkicked' or 'dominated.' Generally this happens when a player neglects to consider the Gap Concept when facing a raise or re-raise from an opponent.
What is the Gap Concept?
The Gap Concept was originally thought of by David Sklansky, a well-known poker player and author. In a nutshell, the Gap Concept states that a player must have a better hand to call a raise with than if they were to make the first raise themselves. This concept was created with situations like the one above in mind to help prevent players from playing hands that will more than often be dominated in a race or at showdown.
How to Use the Gap Concept
To use the Gap Concept effectively, it is important to consider where the initial raise is coming from and what kinds of hands are typically played from that position.
For example, the player above with A-J faced a raise from the player under the gun. So the first thing that players should ask themselves when facing a raise such as this is, "what kinds of hands are played in early position?"
Then from here, a player must compare their cards to the potential holdings of their opponents and decide whether their hand can hold up. In our example above, A-J would obviously be a huge underdog and should be folded.
To make this very simple, anytime you are faced with a raise, the hand you decide to call with should be a hand that you would play from the position the raiser is raising from. So if an opponent is raising a hand from early position, you should be calling (or arguably re-raising) with only the premium hands because these are the only hands that should be played in early position. If the opponent were in middle position, you would call a raise with any hand that you would play in early position or in middle position which would include, but is not limited to A-A thru 10-10, A-Q, A-J and so forth. All other hands will be folded, as painful as this may be.
The Gap Concept in Poker
It is important to keep in mind that this is a simple overview of the Gap Concept and will change depending on whom you play against. The reason for this is simply that not all players have the same range of hands. Some players will play any ace from early position while others will only play pocket aces from early position. It is up to you to determine what they play so that you can adjust the hands you are willing to fold, call or re-raise with accordingly.
Even though it may be tough to use the Gap Concept and lay down hands such as A-J, A-Q or any tempting pocket pair, in the long run you are sure to find that you will lose less money than you stand to gain simply because you will avoid being dominated by a potentially better hand.