In a broader sense of the word, betting in poker can refer to any action where you’re placing chips forward into the pot, whether it’s a bet, call, or raise.
More commonly, though, it merely refers a bet – where that hasn’t been any previous action in the betting round (other than checks), and where a player places forward an initial amount of chips to open up the action.
In general, there are three reasons to bet during a poker hand:
- Value: This is where you look to profit by getting called by worse hands.
- Bluff: This is where you try to get your opponent to fold a better hand.
- Semi-Bluff: This is where you have little value to your hand now but have good potential to improve to a much strong hand (i.e. when you have a draw). You can either win by getting your opponent to fold now or by significantly improving the strength of your hand on a future street.
In this article, we’ll be delving into the broad topic of “betting” and offer you tips to help improve your betting effectiveness. We’ll help you and gain more insight into how to help improve and master this pivotal part of poker.
How To Win In Poker: Be The Aggressor
Being an aggressive poker player (in terms of more frequently using bets and raises rather than calls and checks) is a necessity if you want to be a winning player in the long-term. Instead of just being able to win when you have the best hand at showdown, being aggressive gives you an added way to win the hand with fold equity: getting all of your opponents to fold.
Betting essentially denies your opponents to realise their equity for free. If you’re able to push them off their hand, you gain whatever equity you denied from their hand. (For more about fold equity, check out this comprehensive article.)
Bet With Purpose: Why Are You Choosing To Bet
It’s always crucial to ask yourself why you’re choosing to bet. After realising that the common reasons for betting (as mentioned earlier) are to gain value, to bluff, or semi-bluff, you have to ask yourself what is the purpose of betting, along with what is the desired outcome:
- Do you want your opponent to call?
- Do you want him to fold?
- Do you want to induce him to raise?
While you can undoubtedly aim to study and play balanced, game-theory optimal (GTO) style of poker, typically playing an exploitative strategy is going to be more profitable.
Subsequently, being able to manipulate what you want your opponent to do when you bet can be critical. This strategy (in part) boils down to the meta-game of poker, too: trying to figure out how your opponent will think and act when facing specific actions.
Examples of Exploitative Tactics
- To try and induce more folds, sometimes players will use larger bluffing to try to “scare” their opponent into folding.
- In other instances, some players tend to bet small with their monster hands just to try and get some value with them.
- Other players will bet their monsters into oblivion and fast-play them as you’ve never seen before!
You may choose to perhaps use tactics like these in particular situations, but always be careful with whom you use this play. Good players can often see through what you may be trying to have them do (especially if you’re playing an exploitative style of poker). Figuring out your opponents and getting a meta-game edge is crucial to your poker success. More on this in the next section!
Know Your Opposition: Categorise Your Opponents
To know how to play against your opponents and when to bet against them optimally, it’s essential to figure out their skill level, level of competency, and play style tendencies so that you can exploit these.
Here are some very general tips for figuring out when to bet in poker, based on your opponents’ characteristics:
- Identify Good Players and Bad Players: You’re going to want to bet differently versus good and bad players, so it’s essential to distinguish the fish from sharks, early on. A player’s level of thinking at the poker table is going to determine how competent they are and what options you subsequently have to play profitably against them when betting in a hand.
- Don’t Bluff Bad Players: Bad players will too frequently be happy to call down and see a showdown. It’s impossible to bluff them, so be sure to refrain from trying to do so.
- Increase Your Value Bet Sizes Against Bad Players:Incompetent players are going to love calling down. Therefore, you can typically gain more value from them and increase your profits if you simply increase the size of your value bets and bet bigger overall.
- Have a plan on the flop for the rest of the hand: When you see the flop, 60% of the community cards are already out there! In seeing how well your hand connects with the board and what cards you have now, you should go about deciding a rough betting plan for the rest of the hand (and not just for the flop). Doing this early in the hand will help you play well against your opponent type right from the get-go (instead of just thinking of this when you’re in a big river situation). Having a direction will ease your decisions for later in the hand, ensure your “story” makes sense (for whatever you’re trying to represent), and help give you a plan to maximise your EV against all relative opponents.
Delving deeper than these basic “good”/“bad” player tips, here are the four basic categories of players, along with a bullet point underneath of how is usually best to counter their play styles:
Tight-Aggressive (TAG): Typically comprising of good players, they play a tight opening hand selection, and are aggressive, having more bets and raises in their game than checks or calls.
Counterstrategy: Play a generally sound, well-balanced strategy yourself and look out for any small exploitative traits you can try to capitalise.
Tight-Passive (TP):These players play a tight range of hands preflop and usually allow for other players to drive the betting for them, opting to not often bet themselves. They will typically play quite straightforward post-flop, with a fit-or-fold style of play, and only bet or raise themselves with monster hands.
Counterstrategy: Against straightforward players, firing a flop cbet can be massively profitable because of the number of times those players will simply fold to one bet if they don’t have anything. Be wary of bluffing these players hard for three streets, though, as they’ll sometimes opt to call with very strong hands that they should be raising instead. Versus this player type, it’s generally not advisable to slowplay your monster hands. This type is rarely going to bet and bluff, so hope they have a good enough second-best hand from the beginning and go for value. Lastly, if these players opt to bet, it’s more often with a strong value hand. Tread with caution.
Loose-Aggressive (LAG): These players can be dangerous because they continuously put the pressure on you with bets and raises and can also have many more combos of hands in their preflop range, making them difficult to hand-read.
Check out Tom Dwan’s covertly disguised nut-hand on the turn in this confrontation with one of the best players in the world, Phi Ivey:
Counterstrategy: This player type loves to capitalise on any apparent weakness (like checking or playing passively). Betting into LAGs can sometimes allow them to play straightforward and fold. So, allow them to trap themselves if the situation’s right and bluff and/or do the betting for you; it can be highly advantageous!Occasionally, you’ll have to call down weaker against these players than you might typically doto counter their relentless aggression. Sometimes you’ll be right, and sometimes you’ll be wrong but know that it’ll be tough for these players to be profitable over time. Their loose hand selection preflop (and this point is especially true in high-rake games, like those found live and in private home games)will typically be their undoing.
Loose-Passive (LP): These players play a wide range of hands than they should and also play passively with checks and calls. The LP category is the juiciest for fish and losing players for you to prey on fleecing.
Counterstrategy: Bet into them with a wide, merged range of value hands and avoid bluffing! These players can’t help but have their curiosity cured most often and always are dying tofind out what cards their opponents are holding. They’ll call too frequently, so be extremely wary when they show signs of aggression and massive strength (such as when they raise or bet large).
In summary for this section, pay attention to your opponents and try to categorise them. Get inside their heads so that you can know what they’re thinking, how they’ll play, how they’ll react to particular bets and bet sizes.
Subsequently, you’ll learn how to use this info to make them do exactly as you want (or with a higher likelihood, anyway).
General Tips for Bluffing
While you can find 13 of my best tips for bluffing in this Ultimate Bluffing Guide, here are some essential tips to start assisting your bluffing immediately:
- Only bluff players who will fold: It doesn’t make sense to bluff against a player who is all too likely to call you down, based on their general passivity and tendencies. Pick your spots wisely, but also choose carefully the opponents and correct player types that you attempt to bluff. Additionally, if you’re able to have a range or nut advantage in the hand (meaning you’ll frequently have one of the value hands you’re trying to represent), then it’s going to be more likely for your opponents to give your bluff credit. It will help them to make that fold more often.
- How strong of a hand does your opponent have: This question will be easier to answer based on your hand-reading capabilities. If – through bet sizes used and betting action – you can deduce the strength of your opponent’s hand, then it’ll be a lot easier to figure out the likelihood of their range/hand strength. You can also figure out more easily whether or not a bluff will work (and subsequently if you should go for it and pull the trigger).
- Ensure your story makes sense: Your betting actions, along with the bet sizes you choose to use, are going to be the catalysts for determining if your “story” is credible. When you bluff, it must make sense for you to be able to have the value hand (or hands) that you’re trying to represent when you bet or raise. Questions you might choose to ask yourself before bluffing are: “Do I have the nut hands in my range?” or “What bet sizing would I use if I had the hand I’m repping?”
- Choose your bet size well: Choosing the right bet size to use for your bluffs from street to street will also allow you to tell a credible story. Many times, players will call down if “the story doesn’t make sense.” A few examples: if you’re going to use large, polarised bet sizes, it’s generally advisable to have nut advantage in your range. If you use smaller sized bets, it’s usually advisable to have a broader value range of hands mixed in with only a minimal number of select bluffs.
General Tips For Value Betting
- Know When To Value Bet: You should only value bet a hand when you will get action from a worse hand 50% of the time or more.In other words, if you bet and get called, you should win over 50% of the time (or up to 60% of the time in tournaments, for ICM implications), to justify value betting.
- Identify Target Hands and Select Appropriate Bet Sizing: This tip is very much an exploitable tactic. However, part of choosing an appropriate size is determining how strong your opponent is (in terms of what their hand is) and how big of a bet they’ll call. Betting small allows you to value bet wider, which in turn means that you should get called wider. Large bet sizes imply polarisation, meaning you either have a strong hand or a bluff, which can sometimes put your opponent in a tight spot with good, medium-strength hands.
- Decide if You Should Deviate from Normal Bet Sizes/Betting Lines Based On Your Opponent(s): If you can get away with sizing up your value bet sizes against weaker opponents, do it! If you think you should check a hand you would otherwise value bet because you’re up against a nitty, tight-passive opponent, do it! If you can capitalise on any other weaknesses, do it! Add to your bottom line and boost your EV by appropriately adapting to the other players at your table.
Table Image: What Kind of Respect Will Your Bets Get?
After going through some essential tips for when to value bet and bluff, it’s crucial to have a brief word about table image. Table image accounts for how your opponents perceive your play, based upon how you’ve played previous hands in the session and how likely they would be to combat your betting actions.
For example, if you’ve already shown down one or two big bluffs in a session and you’re in another ideal bluff spot, it might not be the best idea to pull the trigger with it. It would be unlikely for your bluff to get respect.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, if you’ve been super nitty all night, people are going to expect you to have the goods if you go the distance with your hand. (As such, this might be an opportune time to bluff because of the respect you’d likely get.)
Always take your table image into account when deciding how to go about betting.
Betting Names: Common Types of Bets
Here are some standard names for bets relative to the betting line taken in a hand:
- Continuation Bet (“Cbet”):This bet is where a player raises preflop and then “continues their story” by betting again on the flop.
- Delayed Cbet: This play happens where a player raises preflop, the flop action checks through, and then this player bets on the turn.
- Donk Bet/Stop n’ Go: This occurs when a player ends the action on a previous street by calling and then leads into the aggressor on the next street. In general, this move is very fishy– unless the next card has improved the donk bettor’s range more than the previous aggressor’s range.
- Probe Bet: This bet is where one player raises preflop, the flop action checks through, and then the preflop caller bets first on the turn.
Poker Bet Size To Use When Betting
Whether value betting or bluffing, employing the right bet size into your game play is vital, as this directly affects your bottom line and can determine how much money you leave on the table or take off of it!
Live Poker: How You Bet
A brief word must also be given to the importance of how you bet when you bet, specifically in live game play. Sometimes you can pick the right spots correctly to value bet or bluff, but perhaps you’ll give off very significant poker tells that telegraph to your opponents the exact strength of your hand.
To understand what to look for in identifying some basic tells, along with what to do to properly hide them yourself, check out this dense article on Poker Tells.
Summary of General Tips for When To Bet In Poker
The topic of betting in poker is quite a big one! Hopefully, this article has helped shed some light on determining when to bet in poker and what considerations you should make before doing so, including (but not limited to):
- What is the purpose of your bet?
- What are your opponents’ skill level and tendencies?
- How strong/weak is your hand?
- How strong/weak do you think your opponent is?
- What bet size should you use?
With that said, good luck at the felts and happy grinding!