Explanation of Protection
Protection bets are often described as being somewhere in between a value-bet and a bluff. See the glossary entries under value bet and bluff in order to recap on the meaning of these terms. Protection bets are primarily designed to fold out villain’s equity share in the pot. Although not classifying well as either a value bet or a bluff (not strong enough to value-bet, too strong to bluff) protection bets actually share some characteristics with both of these types of bet.
Commonalities with bluffing: Protection bets benefit greatly from fold-equity. Although they are not designed primarily to fold out better hands (as in the case of bluffs), they do occasionally fold out some better hands along with a large selection of worse hands that have live equity.
Commonalities with value-betting: Although protection bets are not exclusively designed to get called by worse hands, this does happen with a relatively high frequency. The term “value bet” is applied exclusively to hands which have over 50% pot equity when called and this is absolutely not the case with protection bets. However just because a hand is not a favourite when it gets called doesn’t mean that any pot equity is worthless. Protection bets generate a decent amount of fold-equity and still win at showdown with a non-zero frequency when called.
Protecting ranges is related to the idea of playing “balanced” or game theory optimal poker. If a certain line always indicates that our range is weak, our opponent may be able to generate an exploit against us (which means our game is not balanced). It’s hence necessary to funnel some strong hands into the line which is typically representative of a weak holding. When our opponent tries to play exploitatively against us it will be ineffective because we have enough strong hands “protecting” our range.
Example of Protection being used in a sentence -> (Hold’em) We had a vulnerable pair on the flop and so fired a continuation bet for protection.
How to Use Protection as Part of Your Poker Strategy
Protection bets are a largely overlooked part of strategy. This is especially true given that protection bets can be used relentlessly against passive opposition. (Strong opponents make protection betting harder since they will raise our bets with a closer to optimal frequency).
In situations where the following two statements are true, it might be a good idea to consider betting for protection –
- There is a reasonable chance that we have the best hand.
- Our hand is vulnerable and doesn’t like to give free cards.
When betting primarily for protection it’s recommended to consider using small bet-sizings. Underbets (betting less than 50% of the pot) can absolutely be considered.
A common misconception is that it is correct to protect ranges by default when in reality it should only be done when it is incentivized by our opponent. Arbitrarily protecting ranges without cause is a recipe for lowering our winrate. In most cases we want to play as exploitatively as possible which largely means ignoring balance unless our opponent is proficient enough that balance becomes a necessary part of our approach.
As an example, it typically makes sense to bet all top pairs in position on the flop when facing passive opposition. Against better opponents who might perceive that our checking back range is weak (and subsequently attack) we are now incentivized to mix some top pairs into our checking back range.