Knowing why and when to bet is one of the key skills in poker, and it is also crucial to know how much you should wager once you have decided to enter a pot.
In order to figure out the right time to bet, it is imperative to understand why we might want to. Broadly speaking, there are three different reasons to bet:
Betting for Value
When you have a stronger hand than your opponents, the ideal scenario is that you bet and are called (at least). This ensures that there is more money in the pot for you to win with your better hand.
Putting money in the pot when your hand is the strongest gains you “value”, and value bets help you to maximise the return from your winning hands.
You have A♥K♥ and the flop has come A♠5♥10♥. You have top pair (aces) with top kicker (king) and your hand can only improve (if another ace or king comes on turn or river, or another heart.) You should definitely bet to build the pot and maximise your return from your strong holding.
Betting For Protection
The incremental manner in which a full poker hand is exposed – pre-flop, on the flop, turn and then river – means that the lead in a hand can change as new cards are exposed. It is possible for one hand to be ahead pre-flop, another to overtake it after the flop, and a third or fourth still to overtake them both on the turn or river.
When a favoured hand is beaten by a weaker hand, it is said to be “out-drawn” and the aim of a “protection” bet is to safeguard against this. If you have a big hand but it is vulnerable to being out-drawn, you might want to make a protection bet. It forces your opponent to pay even more money to hit a draw, else fold their cards and yield the pot at the stage that your hand is still ahead.
Player 1 has A♣A♦
Player 2 has J♣J♠
Player 3 has A♥10♥
Player 4 has 5♥6♥
Player 1 is leading at the start of the hand with a pair of aces, but a flop of J♥7♥3♣ puts Player 2 ahead with a set of jacks. A turn of 4♥ would put Player 3 ahead with his ace-high flush, but a river of 3♥ would put Player 4 ahead with a seven-high straight flush.
The full board would read: J♥7♥3♣4♥3♥ and the players’ hands would be as follows:
Player 1 would have two pair, aces and threes (A♣A♦3♣3♥J♥)
Player 2 would have a full house, jacks over threes (J♣J♠J♥3♥3♣)
Player 3 would have an ace-high flush (A♥J♥10♥7♥4♥)
Player 4 would have a seven-high straight flush (7♥6♥5♥4♥3♥)
At any stage, each player might have wanted to make either a value or a protection bet, either to build the pot or to protect his hand. Only Player 4 can make a pure value bet at the end, knowing he has an unbeatable hand, aka “the nuts”.
Betting as a Bluff
For many people who don’t know very much about poker, “bluffing” is considered to be a central element of the game. But although bluffing plays a part in poker, you should only consider it if you think there is a decent chance of forcing an opponent to fold.
Bluffing is the name given to the process of making a bet with a weak hand and forcing other players to throw away better hands. The second part of that process is equally as important as the first.
You hold J♣10♣ in late position and raise before the flop. The player in the big blind calls. The flop is K♠6♦4♦ and your opponent checks.
You have only king high, with a jack kicker, which is a very weak hand and has very slim chances of improving. But there is also a decent chance your opponent has nothing either.
If your opponent checks – indicating a weak hand – it is a good idea to make a bet in order to get him to fold. Even if he has a hand like Q♥10♥ or A♠9♥ he may be persuaded to fold. Both those hands are better than yours but will often fold against a bluff.
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