Poker Strategy: Why We Bet

Jason Lake

Sunday, February 23, 2014 5:13 PM UTC

Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014 5:13 PM UTC

We’re taught early on that the right thing to do in poker is bet, and bet often. But your poker strategy needs to be smarter than that. You need to bet in the right places for the right reasons.

Because I said so.

Being a kid ain’t easy. You have to do all these things that you’re told to do, and you have no idea why. Like eating your Brussels sprouts. Sure, your parents could tell you about the benefits of eating cruciferous vegetables – Vitamin B and C, dietary fiber, yadda yadda. But you don’t know what’s good for you. All you know is that Brussels sprouts taste like ass. So you shake your tiny fist and cry, “Why do I have to eat these?”

If you’re old enough to be reading this, you probably got those four magic words in italics as a response. And as a result, you grew up hating your parents as well as Brussels sprouts, and you spent your late teens face-down in a 12-ounce bag of Cool Ranch Doritos. Fortunately, there’s a better strategy out there for the next generation of whiny brats. When they ask why they have to do something, the new-school response is to bounce the question right back onto them. “I don’t know, Junior, you tell me. Why do you have to do this?”

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The Rules According to Doyle

Now let’s take a moment to recognize everyone’s favorite father figure in poker: Doyle Brunson. Many beginners who went on to great success in the Moneymaker Era got their first real lessons in poker strategy by reading Super/System, and then its sequel, Super System 2. Brunson was a true pioneer, the first to communicate the fundamentals of “power poker” to the masses. It boils down to one word: bet.

Doyle was absolutely right, of course. When you bet, people are likely to fold – maybe not as likely as they were back in 1979 when his book came out, but aggression is still the key to a winning poker strategy. New players need to learn about the virtues of betting and raising over checking and folding. And at first, they’ll be doing it just because Doyle said so.

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There Is a Season

We all have to grow up eventually. Bull-headed aggression will only get you so far in life; there are times when you should check, and there are many more times when you should fold. But even when it comes to betting and raising, you need to understand why you’re doing these things. Otherwise, you’ll end up betting in situations where checking or folding would be more profitable.

Thanks to the evolution of poker strategy (and the Internet) over the last 30-plus years, we’ve gotten much better at understanding the purpose of our actions. The current industry-standard answer to why we bet can be broken down into three specific reasons:

1. To make our opponent call with a weaker hand than ours.

2. To make our opponent fold a stronger hand than ours.

3. To deny our opponent his equity in the hand.

The third reason is a bit of an outlier. It essentially leads to what is often called a protection bet; for example, you have AA on a 6-7-9 flop, and you feel inclined to make a nice, big bet in order to discourage you opponent from drawing to a straight. You’re “protecting” your overpair. But that’s not really a good way to think. The purpose isn’t clear enough. In fact, let’s be even more direct about it:

3. To make our opponent fold a weaker hand than ours.

Poker Picks: Learning ABC Poker

Pretty simple, right? Anyway, when you’re playing poker, most of the time you’ll want to bet or raise for one of the first two reasons. This is where your understanding of player types will come in handy. When your opponent is a fish, and you have a good hand, you make a value bet because you expect him to call with a worse hand. When your opponent is a nit, you bluff because you expect him to fold a stronger hand. You should always have one of these expectations in the forefront of your mind before you shove your chips in. Otherwise, you’ll just end up tilting off your bankroll, like a child.

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