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Poker Betting Basics

In poker, to be successful, you need strategies that lead to sound investment, or betting decisions. When you’re trying to find a good|betting strategy you must think that by repeating that|strategy over the long run, you will show a profit. In this lesson we’re going to look at some of the strategies that you can use for betting in poker to become a successful player. The most critical decision you can make on any street is whether to bet or call. There are three main reasons why you might want to bet, call, or put money in the pot. Reason #1: You think you have the best hand. You want to make the pot bigger and a worse hand call. Reason #2: You don’t think you have the best hand, but you know you have a decent draw a chance to make the best hand. And the pot is giving you the right price to take that chance. Reason #3: When you think you can get the best hand to fold. Bluffing is an incredibly important part of the game.

The most common reason you’ll bet is because you think you have the best hand. And yes, there will be times, like when you have Aces before the flop or an Ace-high flush, that you’ll absolutely know you have the best hand. And of course there you’ll almost always bet. But more often than not you’ll bet thinking you have the best hand because it’s statistically probable. If you have a strong hand, like a pair of Jacks before the flop. Ace-King or Ace-Queen before the flop — or three-of-a-kind on the flop. Or you’ve got two-pair, or even sometimes top-pair-top-kicker in No-Limit Hold’em … In these situations, where you think you probably have the best hand but aren’t sure you’ll want to play aggressively and make a strong bet. Here’s a good example where|I probably have the best hand and will play aggressively to limit the field and build up a good pot. A hand that I think is the best but am not sure. We’re playing Limit Hold’em I’ve been dealt a very strong hand in late position — Ace-Queen suited.|Everyone is folding around to me. And here’s a classic reason to bet. You’ve got Ace-Queen suited, there are only three people behind you, there’s a very good chance you have the best hand, so you make it 20 before the flop to limit that field or build up a big pot.

When you’re playing table stakes or big-bet poker, it’s not enough to know statistically you probably have the best hand. You want a strategy to vary how much you bet when you think you have the best hand, depending on the situation And here we have two examples of different strategies you might employ. So here’s a situation where Gus Hansen has two Queens; of course he could be beat by AA or KK|but pretty sure he has the best hand. He’s going to open the pot for a normal open.|It’s not like “Oh, I’ve got QQ, I’m all-in.” In fact, over-raise there too much You’re probably only going to get called by a hand that beats you. It’s important to bet when you think you have the best hand And bet an amount where someone might call you with a worse hand. Here Daniel has K-J suited, not a bad hand … He calls, and it’s a horrible flop for him. But it’s a good flop for Gus. He has an overpair and the board is very dry — not likely Daniel has him beat. And not likely that Daniel has a good draw. So Gus bets a small amount — about half the pot … And he’s sort of stringing Daniel along. Another blank. He’s not too worried about draws here. He’s pretty sure he has the best hand and will bet an amount where Daniel can’t get away from his hand. There’s 5,500 in the pot. This is one of the main reasons you bet — you think you’re ahead — and a proper amount will get called by a worse hand. Here we have another hand with a pair of Queens.

Barry Johnston has QQ and he opens the pot for 4,000. Blinds are 800/1,600 … so a small raise. It folds around to Chris Ferguson with A-6, who calls 2,400 more.

If you recall in the hand with Gus, he made a good flop.

It was an overpaid on a dry flop — so he wanted to bet small to get paid off. This is a very different kind of flop. Against a big-blind caller, there are two spades out there, and three to a straight already.

Sometimes you’re looking to end that pot right there — you probably have the best hand, but your opponent probably has a decent draw. So you want to bet enough that he can’t call. That’s exactly what Barry did here.

So the second reason to put chips in the pot is when you know you’re beat, but are getting the right price to call. If you’re folding in situations where you know you’re behind but are getting the right price, you’re giving equity away. So you need to identify those situations where you have a lot of outs and take that good price to put chips in the pot. Here’s an example where it’s right to put money in the pot when you know you’re beat. It’s Limit Hold’em, 5 and 10 blinds, 10 and 20 limits. I raise with Ace-Queen suited. ‘Jed’ calls on the button, and the small blind and big blind call, too. Interesting flop — top pair with a good kicker. ‘Chuck’ checks his Ace with a weak kicker. Straight draw checks. I presume that I have the best hand, so I bet for Reason #1. ‘Chuck’ isn’t sure, so he calls. ‘Jody’ knows he has the worst hand, but if a 5 or a 10 hits, he will have the best hand. So he wisely calls, even though he knows he’s beat. Check, check. I think I have the best hand. So trying to get people to fold and build up a big pot. ‘Chuck’ calls, and ‘Jody’ again knows he’s beat but should call because he’s getting the right price. And here he makes the absolute nuts. So he’s just gone from putting chips in the pot for Reason #2 to now where he knows he has the best hand and wants to build as big a pot as possible. He bets, and I don’t know if I’m beat. I know that I might be beat, so I just call. And ‘Chuck’ calls. Nice-size pot for ‘Jody’. He rightly called even when he knew he|was beat because the price was right, and then bet with the best hand on the river and got paid off. ‘Jody’ played that hand properly and won a handsome pot.

Reason #3 for betting is to get the best hand to fold — also known as a bluff. A very powerful weapon in poker. But sometimes you can combine Reason #3 and Reason #2 (the draw) by betting on what is called a semi-bluff. That’s when you have a draw hand, but you play it aggressively as though you had a made hand. One of two things can happen … either the bluff part of the bet works or if you get called you might hit your draw and win the pot. It’s a very powerful tool, and one you’ll need to be successful. Here we’ll see Andy Bloch execute a perfect semi-bluff on Poker After Dark.

Doyle Brunson has Ace-Queen and opens for a small raise.

It’s folded around to Andy on the button.

Not a huge hand, but suited connectors in position on the button — he calls.

Hoyt Corkins folds.

Gabe Kaplan calls for 900 more with a suited 8-5 in the big blind.

He doesn’t know how bad it would be if he hits that.

3,750 in the pot.

And everyone misses — no one has a draw or a pair. It’s going to be checked around here on the flop. Now the turn card makes it interesting — giving Andy an up-and-down straight draw. And Gabe has a gutshot. He’s first to act and decides to semi-bluff.

He’s certain his 8-5 is behind, but he has a chance if a 7 hits to make a straight. So he bets. Doyle folds the best hand, but he can’t know that. Now it comes around to Andy, who has an up-and-down straight draw. So he has the best hand and the best draw, but he doesn’t know it — so we’re going to talk about his motivation. Andy thinks he has the worst hand, and with an up-and-down straight draw picks a good situation here to make a nice raise. He raises about 6,000 in a pot that is about 10,000 after he calls. putting a lot of pressure on Gabe, who can’t continue with just his 8-5. Perfectly executed semi-bluff by Andy Bloch.

In poker you really can’t win if you don’t bluff. There will be situations where you know you’re beat, but those chips in the pot could be yours if you make the right-size bet or raise. If you don’t recognize those situations, you’re not going to win in poker. This is a valuable tool that puts your opponents on their heels. Even sometimes when you’re caught, it gets you action in other situations. You have to pick your spots, but with experience you can take aggressive action to pick up a pot even when you know you’re beat. So here we have a hand from ‘Commentators Week’ on Poker After Dark where I recognize a situation where I feel I can pick up a pot with aggressive play.

200/400 blinds. My stack is a little bit down from the start. We started with 20,000 in chips and I have about 14,000.

It’s folded around to me and I make a normal opening raise to 1,200 with 10-7 suited on the button. Not a great hand, but I’m hoping to pick up the blinds. Chad Brown folds, but Gabe picks up a pretty strong hand here with QJ suited.

One of the things you’ll see this hand is how it’s about situations. Picking your spots for a bluff. Gabe checks to me. And here’s a situation where I’ve represented a strong hand And it would be typical for me to have an Ace here. So I continue playing the pot as if I do have an ace. I bet about half the pot. No pressure to bet more, because if I do have a strong Ace, this is not a very scary board. Gabe has decided he’s going to bluff later in the hand and makes a very tricky play — he just calls. I’m actually confused here and feel like he has a weak Ace or an 8.

I certainly don’t have him on just a Queen high.

But now he makes an unusual bet — a large bet at this pot.

There’s 5,200 in the pot, and he bets 3,000. I’m very confused, but if he’s got an 8, I know I can get him to lay it down. But why would he be betting? Did I|really think he just check-called with a 2? And if he had a 2, why would he bet when he could check-raise my represented ace? I have a hard time putting him on a hand here, so I decide he is either bluffing or has a weak Ace.

So now the question is how do I get him to fold. I want him to fold an 8 or a weak Ace, so my story has to add up. I decide that if I had a strong Ace here, I’d probably just call. Why would I put all my chips at risk with a strong Ace against the chance he has a 2? So this is how I would’ve played with a strong Ace — I have to convince him I have a strong Ace. I just call knowing I’ll fire a bullet on the river. Now with the Ace on the river, it makes it less likely he’s holding an Ace, and I’m starting to run out of hands I can beat. But I did think one of his likely holdings was an 8. And the way I played this hand, he realizes there’s no chance I could be on a draw. By betting on the flop and just calling on the turn, I almost have to have at least an Ace in my hand. So I’m pretty sure that a small bet — a bet that is begging for a call — will convince Gabe I have him beat. Little do I know he only has Queen high, but If I were to check here, I would lose. There are chips in the pot, and I want them, so I make a small bet …

about 3,500 here.

And Gabe does fold his better hand. I think he’d have a hard time calling with an 8 there, too.

Both of us were trying to bluff that pot, and I was in position to get in the last bluff.

That hand gave you a nice look at some of the fun and psychology that can go into a hand of poker. There were two players using all the different reasons for betting to try and pick up a pot that neither felt was theirs. We also had a hand earlier with Andy Bloch, where he was bluffing with 8-high on a draw. So he was using Reasons #3 and #2. And by accident he happened to have the best hand, so he was also betting with the best hand. So when you’re using these different reasons, you can combine them whether knowingly or not. The game is full of psychology — lots of different reasons for betting. Soon you’ll understand when to bet, when to check, when to call, and when to fold. That’s what the game is all about — the betting — and these are some of the key reasons to bet or not to bet. I hope you enjoyed today’s lesson.


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