In a broader sense of the word, betting in poker can refer to any action where you’re placing chips forward into the pot. This definition applies it’s a bet, call, or raise. 

More commonly, though, it merely refers to a bet – 

  • where there 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: For value is where you look to profit by getting called by worse hands.
  • Bluff: Bluffing is where you try to get your opponent to fold a better hand.
  • Semi-Bluff: You can semi-bluff when you have little value to your hand now. But good potential exists 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 on a future street.

In this article, we’ll be delving into the broad topic of “betting”. You’ll get tips to help improve your betting effectiveness and master this pivotal part of poker.

When to Bet in Poker: Be The Aggressor

Being an aggressive poker player (by using bets and raises rather than calls and checks) is a necessity. If you want to be a winning player in the long-term, you must be aggressive.

Yes, you’ll win when you have the best hand at showdown being aggressive gives you an added way to win the hand. You can use fold equity by getting all 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

Poker player standing a three-way crossroads with the words CALL, FOLD and RAISE written on the entrance of each streetAlways know WHY you are betting!

It’s always crucial to ask yourself why you’re choosing to bet. The common reasons for betting (as mentioned earlier) are to gain value, to bluff, or semi-bluff,

You have to ask what the purpose of betting is, 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?

You can undoubtedly aim to study and play balanced, game-theory optimal (GTO) style of poker. But, typically, playing an exploitative strategy is going to be more profitable.

Using Exploitive Poker Betting Strategy

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. It involves trying to figure out how your opponent will think and act in specific actions.

Examples of Exploitative Tactics

  • To try and induce more folds. Sometimes players will use larger bluffing to “scare” their opponent into folding. 
  • In other instances, some players tend to bet small with their monster hands to get some value.
  • Other players will bet their monsters into oblivion and fast-play as you’ve never seen before!

You may choose to perhaps use tactics like these in particular situations. But always be careful when you use this play.

Good players can often see through what you may be trying to have them do. (This fact is 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

Knowing how to play against your opponents and when to bet optimally, it’s essential tofigure out their – 

  • Skill level
  • Level of competency
  • Play style tendencies 

With this knowledge, you can exploit them.

Here are some very general tips for figuring out when to bet in poker. We’ve based this list on your opponents’ characteristics:

Study your opponent and the action in the hand before betting.

  1. Identify Good Players and Bad Players: You’re going to want to tailor your bets versus good and bad players. So, it’s essential to distinguish the fish from sharks, early on. A player’s level of thinking is going to determine how competent they are. It will determine what options you have to bet profitably against them in a hand.
  2. Don’t Bluff Bad Players: Bad players will 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.
  3. Increase Your Value Bet Sizes Against Bad Players: Incompetent players are going to love calling down. You can gain more value and increase your profits by increasing the size of your value bets.
  4. 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! How you connect with the board should help you decide on a rough betting plan for the rest of the hand (and not only for the flop).
  1. Doing this early in the hand will help you play well against your opponent type, from the get-go. (Instead of thinking of this when you’re in a big river situation, start early). Having a direction will ease your decisions for later in the hand. It will ensure your “story” makes sense (for whatever you’re trying to represent). You will be able to maximise your EV against all relative opponents.

Poker Betting Tips to Neutralise Opponents

Delving deeper than these basic “good”/“bad” player tips, here are the four basic categories of players. 

We have also included a bullet point underneath on how best to counter their play styles:

Tight-Aggressive (TAG): Typically comprising of good players who play a tight opening hand selection. They are aggressive, having more bets and raises in their game than checks or calls.

Counterstrategy: Play a generally sound, well-balanced strategy. 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. They seldom bet themselves. They will play quite straightforward post-flop. They have 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. More times than not, these players will fold to one bet if they don’t have anything. Be wary of bluffing these players hard for three streets, though. They’ll sometimes opt to call with 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. 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 keep up the pressure with bets and raises. They can also have many more combos of hands in their preflop range, making them difficult to hand-read.

Check out Tom Dwan’s disguised nut-hand on the turn in this confrontation with one of the best players in the world, Phi Ivey:

Use betting strategy to counter a loose-aggressive opponent!

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, let them 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 to counter their relentless aggression. Sometimes you’ll be right, and other times  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)will be their undoing.

Loose-Passive (LP): These players play a wider range of hands than they should. They also play passively with checks and calls. The LP category is the juiciest for fish and losing players 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 satisfied. They are dying to find out what cards their opponents are holding. They’ll call too frequently. So be 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 find out– 

  • What they’re thinking
  • How they’ll play
  • How they’ll react to particular bets and bet sizes

You’ll learn how to use this info to make them do exactly as you want!

Poker Betting Rules 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 studying immediately:

  1. 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. Pick your spots wisely, but also choose the correct player types when attempting to bluff. If you’re able to have a range or nut advantage in the hand, it’s more likely for your opponents to give your bluff credit. It will help them to make that fold more often.
  2. How strong of a hand does your opponent have: This question will be easier to answer based on your hand-reading capabilities. Say – 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 whether a bluff will work (and subsequently if you pull the trigger).
  3. Ensure your story makes sense: Your betting actions, along with your chosen bet sizes, will determine if your “story” is credible. When you bluff, it must make sense that you have the value hand (or hands) that you’re trying to represent. 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?”
  1. Choose your bet size well: Choosing the right bet size to use for your bluffs 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, with only a minimal number of select bluffs.

How Much to Bet When Value Betting

How much to value bet is opponent-dependent. Here are three things to take not of when deciding the amount to value bet:

  1. 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.If you bet and get called, you should win over 50% of the time, to justify value betting. (In tournaments, this numbers goes up to 60%, for ICM implications.)
  2. Identify Target Hands and Select Appropriate Bet Sizing: This tip is very much an exploitable tactic. Part of choosing an appropriate size is determining the strength of your opponent’s hand and how big a bet they’ll call. Betting small allows you to value bet wide. In turn, this strategy means that you should get called wider. Large bet sizes imply polarisation. You either have a strong hand or a bluff, which can sometimes put your opponent in a tight spot with good, medium-strength hands.
  1. 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 to check a hand you would otherwise value bet because you’re up against a nitty 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: Get Respect for Your Bets 

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.  We base it two primary functions – 

  1. How you’ve played previous hands in the session.
  2. How likely they would be to combat your betting actions.

For example, you’ve already shown down one or two big bluffs in a session. You’re in another ideal bluff spot. Now might not be the best spot to pull the trigger with it. It would be unlikely for your bluff to get respect

On the opposite side of the spectrum, you’ve been super nitty all night. People are going to expect you to have the goods if you go the distance with a hand. (As such, this might be an opportune time to bluff because of the respect you’d likely get.)

Always account for your table image when deciding how to go about betting.

Check your table image before betting!

Betting Names: Common Types of Bets in Poker

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. 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. He then leads into the aggressor on the next street. In general, this move is very fishy. That is 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. It this directly affects your bottom line. It can determine how much money you leave on the table or take off of it!

To help keep this current article concise, check out this Comprehensive Bet Sizing Guide from 888poker. There, you’ll learn nearly everything you need to know about the topic.

On the River Poker Betting Chart

Betting is not more crucial than on the river. Check out our full Comprehensive Bet Sizing Guide to get more info about betting on other streets.

In the meantime, this chart shows the ratio of value hands to bluffs you should have on the river. This strategy will maintain a balanced image for you:

Bet Size Bettor Value Bet % Bettor Bluffing %
25% (1/4-pot) 83% 17%
33% (1/3-pot) 80% 20%
50% (1/2-pot) 75% 25%
66% (2/3-pot) 72% 28%
75% (3/4-pot) 70% 30%
100% (Pot) 67% 33%
150% (1.5x-pot) 62% 38%
200% (2x-pot) 60% 40%

Live Poker: How to 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 you may still give off significant poker tells that telegraph the exact strength of your hand.

You must understand what to look for in identifying some basic tells. You will also need to know how to hide them yourself. Check out this in-depth 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. 

You should know what to consider before betting,  including (but not limited to):

  • What is the purpose of your bet?
    • You have to ask yourself why you’re betting, along with what is the desired outcome.
  • What are your opponents’ skill level and tendencies?
    • It’s essential to figure out their skill level, level of competency, and play style tendencies. That way you can exploit these.
  • How strong/weak is your hand?
    • Learn when to value bet and when to bluff. Choose the most profitable play.
  • How strong/weak do you think your opponent is?
    • Exploit players who you know are weak and may fold bottom or middle pair on the river.
  • What bet size should you use?
    • Check out the Bet Size Guide to find out how much you should be betting.

With that said, good luck at the felts and happy grinding!

FAQ: Poker Betting Guide

Q: What is the purpose of a bet in poker?

A: You need to bet with purpose to maximise your winnings and minimise your losses.

The two distinct categories of betting are –

  1. For value (where you’ll be called by a worse hand 50% of the time or more),
  2. To bluff (make a better hand fold).

Some players make the mistake of betting their medium-strength hands at inopportune times. For instance, when they’re likely only to get called by better hands. In such cases, it’s usually better to check, intending to call a bet. This action will allow your opponent the opportunity to bluff.

Q: Why should you aim to be aggressive in poker?

A: Being aggressive through bets and raises give you an extra way to win the hand other than at showdown. It can get your opponents to fold, thus awarding you the pot. As such, aggressive players usually do a better job at winning than passive players.

Note that there is a distinct difference between being reckless and aggressive. A typical “Aggression Factor” for a winning player should generally only be around 3. This number means that such players bet or raise 3x as frequently as they check or call. 

If this number is over 4, it’s starting to get into the over-aggressive category.

Q: What bet size should you use when you bet in poker?

A: Bet sizes are made in relation to the size of the pot. Larger bet sizes show polarity in the betting range. This concept means the bettor either has a very strong hand or a bluff. 

A smaller bet sizing usually means that the player is betting a wider range for value, not bluffing much. Note that you shouldn’t bet the strength of your specific hand in poker. 

Instead, you must decide which hands you could have in your betting range and bet the same amount for all. (You can also split them up between two different bet sizings.) 

Q: When should you try to bluff in poker?

A: Against better players, you’re going to want to balance your value to bluff combos. On the river, your best bluffs will have the lowest showdown value. They may also have combos that block your opponent(s) from having the nuts. 

Against weaker players and/or in specific instances, you’re going to want to either avoid bluffing altogether. 

Here are some essential principles to solid bluffing

  1. You should only bluff players who can fold. (Some players call with anything.) 
  2. It’s easier to bluff an opponent who won’t have many strong hands in their range. 
  3. Make sure that your range contains the strong value hands representedin your betting line. 
  4. Choose your bet sizing well and use as few chips as possible to win with the bluff.

Q: What are your opponents’ skill levels and tendencies. How should this affect your betting?

A: If your opponents are more skilled, you should play more a Game Theory Optimal (GTO) poker strategy. It would be best if you balanced your value bets and bluffs well. 

Against weaker players, you can use a more exploitative betting strategy. This method will maximise your EV in particular situations. 

For example – 

  • If weaker players call too much, bet bigger and more frequently for value.
  • If they over-fold on the river, bluff them more frequently on this street. 

Ultimately, though, you should aim to learn and develop a solid GTO strategy. This process will help you adapt to your opponents’ weaknesses.

Matthew Cluff is a poker player who specialises in 6-Max No Limit Hold’em games. He also periodically provides online poker content for various sites.