The gap concept in poker is a widely accepted theory that specifically deals with Texas Hold ‘Em tournament strategy. This theory first showed up, phrased as ‘the gap theory’ by famous poker player and theorist David Sklansky. Basically, in analyzing how to play tournament hold ‘em successfully, Sklansky came up with the idea that it takes a stronger hand to call a raise pre-flop than it does to actually make that original raise.
Basically what this means is that you will usually need a better hand to play against someone who opened betting than to simply open betting yourself. This difference between the hand needed to call an opening bet and the hand needed to open betting is the gap being referred to. Hence, there is a ‘gap’ between hands that can raise and hands that can call a raise. For example, if it is your turn to act and you are right before the dealer, and everyone else at the table folded to you, then your J-7 off suit may be enough to raise. If someone raised before you, or even called the big blinds, then you have to throw J-7 away. That’s an example of the gap in value.
The gap value deals a lot with stealing blinds. In a tournament, stealing the blinds holds a lot of value since that pays for you to basically see ten hands for free and keeps you further above water than the other players at the table. Because of this, and because of how often the blinds won’t have any good hole cards, you can be pretty liberal in raising pre-flop to try to steal the blinds, especially since it will work often enough to make it worth your time, especially with a continuation bet.
However, to call a bet requires a much better hand because you can not win the hand pre-flop uncontested. That chance of winning the pot without competition is what makes the pre-flop raise such a weapon, but if you’re calling, you can’t win the pot uncontested, so your hand has to be stronger.
There are many factors which help determine what the gap looks like at your table, and which hands you should push with or not. If your opponents are playing loose or tight, that changes the width of the gap. The tighter they play, the bigger the gap because you know your betting should take down ore blinds. The looser they play, the smaller the gap, since you are more likely to get called a lot. Late position almost always dictates a raise with any remotely moderate hand at a conservative table, unless you have one really aggressive player in the blinds who might shoot back at you. In that case that one player affects the poker gap, and you’ll have to be more selective in what you push with since you know one player is willing to push back.
This is the gap concept in playing tournament hold ‘em, and knowing it can help improve your tournament play, help you steal more blinds, and help you across that last little gap to poker success.