Betting basics

When playing poker, the action takes place in a clockwise manner. When it comes round to you, you will have to make one of three decisions. You can call (or check if no previous bet has been made), you can fold or you can raise. For the purpose of this article, we’re going to have a look at betting and why you should raise the pot and how you should go about it.

Why should you bet?

When you’re looking to raise the pot, you’re generally doing it for one of four reasons

  • You think you’ve got the strongest hand and you think you’ll probably win the pot
  • You want to encourage your opponents to fold
  • You’re not entirely sure where you stand and you want to get some information about the sort of hands your opponents have
  • You’re trying to encourage one of your opponents into bluffing

Betting poker basics

Betting when you have the strongest hand

When you think you have the best hand, you can either slow play it or you can bet out and raise the pot. In a different article (When should you slowplay in poker?), I suggested that the only safe time to slow play a hand is when you have the absolute nuts. Otherwise, you need to bet out.

The reason behind this is because you need to protect your hand. This is especially important if there is a straight/flush draw on the table. In these sort of cases, the last thing you want to do is give your opponent a free chance to make his hand. Instead, make sure that anyone who is on a draw is being forced into making a decision about how much they want to see another card.

Betting for information

There are going to be times when you’re sat round a poker table that with no idea what your opponents have got. It’s on these occasions that you should think about making a raise to see how your opponents react. These bets are called “feeler bets” and they tend to be 2.5 x the size of the big blind.

Betting to entice a bluff

This is a slightly more advanced tactic, and should only really be tried by those players who are comfortable with their game and have some kind of an understanding of the other players around the table.

The idea is to make a small raise when you have a strong hand in the hope that someone will come over the top of you in an effort to steal the pot. You need to pick your opportunities though as it’s quite possible that a bet may well scare your opponents away and you end up only winning a fraction of the chips that you deserve.

Therefore, have a think about the following suggestions when you’re trying to decide whether to entice a bluff:

  • What type of player are you trying to entice? A player who has shown a lot of aggression in the past is more likely to try and bully you out of the pot with a re-raise. Trying to employ this tactic with a very tight player will just be a waste of your time.
  • How big is the pot? Is it big enough for an aggressive player to risk a significant number of his chips?

So how much should you bet?

Now we’ve had a look at why you’d want to bet, let’s have a look at how much you should bet, as this will change depending on what you’re trying to achieve.

If you’re looking to push players out of the pot, then generally speaking a minimum raise isn’t going to help you. Equally, if you’re looking to get someone to come over the top of you, then a large raise is more likely to scare them off rather than encouraging to risk their chips.

When it comes to the number of chips you should be throwing into the middle of the table, there are no hard or fast rules. Neither should there be, as you want to vary your betting patterns to ensure that your opponents don’t get a read on you.

Having said that though, many professional players base their bet amount on the size of the big blind before the blind, and then in relation to the overall size of the pot once the flop has been dealt.

If you’re going to bet before the flop, then a raise of around three times the size is fairly standard. Once you’ve seen the flop, think of betting in terms of the size of the pot. In other words make the size of your bet, a quarter (or perhaps a half) of the number of chips in the middle of the table.

As I say, these are not hard and fast rules. If you’re looking to get callers, then you may well need to bet less than a quarter of the pot. Similarly, if you’re looking to force players out of the pot, then nearer a pot sized raise, may well be a better move.

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