Poker Bets. Reason for Betting in Real Money Poker
Whenever we take a certain action in poker, it’s important to recognize why we’ve chosen that action over the others we might also have taken in that situation. This seems like a really simple concept; but like almost all other simple concepts in poker, most players forget it religiously.
Some players claim to be ‘feel’ players, comfortable acting on gut instincts alone. Ask one of these guys why they made a raise or a poker bet, and they’ll say something like “it just felt right!”
Most often, players like these are just full of themselves, looking to rationalize their bad decisions. It’s never a good idea to raise or bet in poker unless you know exactly why you’re doing so. Anyone who claims otherwise is either a charlatan or on the short bus.
Given this, it makes sense that we should analyze why we bet. Let’s take a look at the two reasons we can justify a bet: for value, and as a bluff.
Betting for Value
The majority of the time when you bet in poker, you’re betting for value. Or at least that’s how it should work.
When you make a poker bet because you think your hand is the best, that’s a value bet. A bet is for value when you actually have some hand equity — that is, when your hand figures to win at showdown enough of the time that it justifies a bet.
Note that some players can be pretty delusional about what hands they think are ‘the best’. I know guys who will bet-bet-bet with the lowest pair on the board, every time, irregardless of the opponent they’re up against.
That’s not value betting — that’s being reckless.
You’ve got value when your hand figures to be strong relative to the hands your opponent would play in that situation. So if a flop comes A-2-4, you’ve got AK, and you’re up against an incredibly passive calling station, you’ve got tons of value. But if a flop comes A-K-T, you’ve got K8, and you’re up against a nitty rock who’s 3-bet you preflop, you’re probably out of luck; whatever bet you make in such a scenario would be weighted more towards a bluff than a value bet.
Bluffing to Steal
On the end of the betting spectrum opposite value, we’ve got the pure bluff. You’re bluffing when, quite simply, you’ve got little to no chance at winning a hand at showdown.
Now, this doesn’t mean you’ve got no chance at winning a hand at all — obviously, you wouldn’t want to bet at all in such a situation. It means the only reasonable chance you’ve got of taking down a pot is by stealing it; by bluffing an opponent with a better hand right out of the pot.
You want to bet as a bluff when you think you’ve got fold equity. We talked about hand equity above; fold equity is basically the opposite of that. We’ve got fold equity when our opponent will probably fold frequently enough to justify a bet.
Betting for No Reason
There are cases when — although we shouldn’t — we might bet for no reason. Really bad players love doing this all the time. In fact, the majority of your own profits should come from opponents who like betting for no reason.
We’re betting for no reason when we don’t think we have equity in a hand, nor do we think we’ve got fold equity against our opponent. We’re just betting, although there’s no rational reason to do so.
Now, I frame this sort of bet as something we do so that we can realize just how silly it is. We don’t want to bet without a reason, ever. But by putting ourselves in the shoes of a player who bets for no reason, we can better understand why it’s such a bad idea.
If we don’t have value, we’ve got no chance of winning at showdown; and if we don’t have fold equity, we’ve got no chance of stealing the pot.
So when we bet for no reason, we’ve got no chance of anything good happening. We are reaching across the table with our stack in hand, and saying to our opponent, “here: have all my money!”
That’s craziness, and something you should never do. Whenever you want to make a poker bet, ask yourself why. If the answer is either for value or as a bluff, go ahead — as long as it seems like a good decision, that is. But if the answer to “why am I betting?” is unclear, or if there’s a big BLANK running through your head — you’ll be better off clicking fold.