What are your options?
I'd like you to look at the spot in the picture below. It folds to you in MP with 20bb. What's your play?
Some of you will immediately say raise. Then you might say shove. What about limping? Did you think about limping? And then finally, did folding even cross your mind?
Every time we have a decision in poker it's important to think through all of your options. When we take a hand in isolation it can be very difficult to know which move to take. Let me show you why understanding all the variables at play can make all four options attractive.
Option 1: Raise
With a couple of 20ish BB stacks behind, raising to 2x is a pretty good option. These stacks can shove on you and you can easily call. You also have a hand that is going to play well versus a Big Blind flatting range.
Option 2: Shove
You have 20bb and shoving here is definitely +cEV, otherwise known as profitable in terms of chips won. Also, during periods of high ICM pressure, like on the bubble of a satellite, you don't want to raise and get shoved on so shoving is much more preferable. If there are several passive and sticky players behind you who will just call when you make a small raise preflop, then shoving again becomes an attractive option, especially if these same players will call your shoves light.
Option 3: Limp
20bb is a great stack size to shove over a raise, but it's an awkward stack size when you raise and get called. Limping can be a great way to manufacture an isolation raise behind, over which you can then shove. There are a couple of things to think about here though: when someone makes a raise over your limp, their range will be stronger than if they'd just raised first in in an unopened pot. When you have JJ you can still feel great about 3-bet shoving over their iso-raise, but if you limp here with 88, you might find that your shove gets called more often than you'd like and you won't be in great shape. Also, you do run the risk of players limping behind and/or the hand just folding around to the Big Blind who gets a free look at the flop. This can be a risk worth taking though, especially versus aggressive players who will pounce on what they perceive to be weakness.
Option 4: Fold
There are times, though, when folding JJ here is the best option. Imagine the scenario on the direct bubble in a satellite when there are a few microstacks at another table. If they are more likely to bust before you then it makes absolute sense to fold your way to a seat.
Lots of things can and should affect your decision including the strategies of the players left to act, their stack sizes and any ICM considerations. It's important to think through all of your options before you make a decision. If your only thought in this hand was to raise then I definitely recommend taking a few moments to consider all the variables and piece together all the pieces of the puzzle before you make a decision. Even if you settle on raising being the best option in the end, at least you've taken the time to evaluate all your options.