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Why Are You Betting?

by Gavin Griffin |  Published: May 30, 2012

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Gavin GriffinThis question pops into my head quite often when I’m playing and it should do the same for you. Every time you bet, or make any action, you should know why you are doing it. When I find myself playing sloppily and making mistakes it’s often because I don’t ask myself this question before I make an action. A thoughtful player is a good player if you know what you should be thinking about.

There are only two answers to this question, though I’m sure you’ve heard or said others. You are only ever betting for value or as a bluff. Not for information, not to see where you are at, not because you’re the button, etcetera. Value or bluff, that’s it.

Sometimes the hard thing to figure out is which one you are doing. In order to figure out what you’re doing, you first have to know the definitions of the two words. I know this seems trivial, but it’s necessary. You bet as a bluff when you are trying to get a better hand than yours to fold. You’re betting for value when you are trying to get a worse hand than yours to call. It’s pretty simple overall, but the lines can get a little blurry at times. I’ve certainly bet the river as a bluff and been called by worse hands unexpectedly. This usually happens when I have a bad read on a player and I am then forced to adjust my perception.

The two most frequent mistakes I see people make, in no limit games especially, are not bluffing when they have absolutely no showdown value and must bluff, and betting a value hand as a bluff. People will bet top-pair/top-kicker on a relatively dry board and sheepishly turn over their hand saying things like “I thought I could get you to fold.” Now, there’s some chance they’re slowrolling, but often it just seems like they lack a fundamental understanding of bluffing and value betting. If you have top-pair/top-kicker on a dry board and want people to fold, what exactly is it you’re trying to get them to fold? If the board is K-J-7-6-2 rainbow, do you think they’re going to fold a set? Two pair? Maybe bottom two, but even that seems unlikely. They will, however, call you with lots of hands that you beat, like most kings and maybe even A-J or Q-Q. The interesting thing is that this person has actually made a good river bet, but they don’t understand why and without that understanding, they will never really get better. It’s a good river bet because it’s a profitable bet and it helps to give them a wider perceived range when betting in the future. If they’re always checking back top-pair/top-kicker on the river in situations like this, they’ll be very easy to read and they won’t get much value from their good hands. It’s important to realize that you should sometimes lose the pot when you’re betting the river for value and get called. If you always win when you bet the river, you aren’t betting enough. This is also true for bluffing. If you’re always losing when you bluff the river you bluff too often and if you’re always winning, you don’t bluff enough.

Another thing to note when betting, especially on the river, is that the same hand can be a bluff in one situation and a value bet in another. For instance, let’s say you have J-J on a board of AHeart Suit JSpade Suit 10Diamond Suit 3Spade Suit 5Club Suit board. While you don’t have the nuts, when you bet the river, you can expect to have the best hand a large portion of the time. You can get called by hands like A-J, A-T, T-T, and 3-3 or 5-5 if they managed to get there somehow. Depending on the size of the bet, you might even get paid off by just an ace. Obviously, some of the time your opponent is going to have K-Q or A-A and there’s just nothing you can do about that. As always, your actions should take into account other factors like your opponent’s likely range, their perception of your range, etcetera.

Now you have the same J-J, except the board is AHeart Suit JHeart Suit 10Spade Suit 9Heart Suit 8Heart Suit. You have been leading the action the whole way and now one of the worst cards in the deck comes up. But is it really? This is an interesting opportunity to consider bluffing. If you bet about two-thirds of the pot, a normal value sizing for the river in what should already be a big pot, your opponent is getting 2.5-to-1 on his call. He has to be correct over 30 percent of the time to show a profit on his call. Many opponents will fold a set of aces, a non-heart Q, non-heart 7, and some of the smaller flushes if they got to this point with a hand like A-7 with the 7Heart Suit or even A-T with the 10Heart Suit. Interestingly, if this were a limit hold ‘em game, you could bet that hand for value because you will get called by lower sets, and many two-pair hands since your opponents will be getting a much better price on their call. Let me also stress that this type of bet is better against a straightforward opponent. When you are bluffing, a tricky opponent might raise you on a bluff, and you have now created a situation where you might fold yourself out of the pot. It’s so much easier to play against ABC players.

Intention is a very important key to being a winning poker player. Know what you want to happen with each action and what you expect to happen with each action, and you will be well on your way to improving as a poker player. ♠

Gavin Griffin was the first poker player to capture a World Series of Poker, European Poker Tour and World Poker Tour title and has amassed nearly $5 million in lifetime tournament winnings. Griffin is sponsored by HeroPoker.com. You can follow him on Twitter @NHGGDiamond Suit