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The gap concept

What is this gap concept?

The term "gap concept" was introduced by poker theorist David Sklansky in his book "Tournament Poker for Advanced Players" first published in 2002. To use David Sklansky's words:

"The difference between the hand you need to call an opener with, and that with which you would open yourself, I call the 'Gap.' ... in a tournament, this Gap is often extremely high. In other words, in a tournament it is often right to open raise with hands far inferior to those with which you would need to call someone else who open raised."

The book is a reference for poker tournaments and all serious rakeback players know the gap concept. This gap concept is one of the consequences of playing in a tournament and how your strategy must evolve accordingly.

The gap concept explained

The Gap Concept simply means that if you call a raise pre flop, your hand must be stronger than the hand you would need to make the first raise yourself. In other words, the range that you use to call that raise should be tighter than the range you would use to make a raise.

This is related to position. Normally the earlier the position, the better the hand to make a preflop raise. For example a tight player may only raise with {KK+, AKs} from UTG. But from middle position, he will loosen his raising range to {JJ+, AK, AQs}.

So if you were to call a raise (from an earlier position player by definition) with your raising range, you will call with a "dominated range", like in {JJ+, AK, AQs} is dominated by {KK+, AKs}. This is clearly a bad idea and you must therefore have a tighter range to call than to raise first in the pot.

Another way to say it is if there is an early raiser before you, he has shown to have a strong hand that he is not afraid to play with many players behind him, so you must have a much stronger hand to call him than if everyone had fold to you, giving you an easy opportunity to make a raise with a rather weaker hand.

The gap concept measures this difference between your range to call and your range to raise, from a given position. It also depends on who the initial raiser is. With a nit tight player, the gap is real and large. But with a loose player or a maniac, the gap is less or can even be zero.

The gap concept in application

The gap concept is known to all tournament players. It is a bit outdated but you should first understand it well, and only an expert player can disregard it.

If there is one thing to remember though, it is that you can be much looser when first to open the pot as you have fold equity, but everything being equal you should be tighter when calling a raiser before you.

Interestingly if you raise yourself instead of limping first into the pot, the gap concept will apply to the players behind you, who may fold a stronger hand.

The gap concept is a guiding concept, but of course it should not always be followed blindly. For example stack size matters and a short stack player, even a tight one, may raise with weak cards in an attempt to double up. Calling such raises can be correct, especially if you are safe with a bigger stack.

Also when the table gets short-handed, here again this is not as straightforward as the tournament early stage. Players must "make moves" at the later stage of a tournament, and the gap concept is less meaningful then.

Always think about the gap concept when the situation arises, and you understanding of poker will improve even if you do not apply this fundamental principle of poker all the time.


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