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To Bet or Not to Bet?

To Bet or Not to Bet?

by Roy Cooke |  Published: Aug 10, 2011


Roy CookeConventional wisdom holds that you should bet to induce a call from a worse hand or to cause a better hand to fold. However, there are other reasons to bet, including to fold drawing hands that are correct in calling and to obtain information that allows you to play your hand more profitably.

Deep into a $40-$80 limit hold’em session at Bellagio, I had acquired a good read on most of my opponents. A loose-passive player tossed in $40 to limp into the pot, and two other players called behind, including the button, a solid-aggressive, good player. The small blind also called, and I peered down at the KSpade Suit KDiamond Suit in the big blind and raised. The entire field called my raise, bringing the pot to $400.

The dealer flopped the QDiamond Suit 9Club Suit 9Diamond Suit, putting out both a flush draw and various straight draws. The small blind checked, and I fired $40. Mr. Loose-Passive called, the intermediate player folded, and Mr. Button raised, folding the small blind. Uncertain whether my hand was best, I nevertheless three-bet, hoping to fold Mr. Loose-Passive. Among other things, I didn’t want to give him a correct call should he hold a gutshot draw and I had Mr. Button beat. They both called, making for a $760 pot.

When Mr. Loose-Passive called, I deemed a flush draw as a likely holding, though hands like J-10, a queen, a 9, and a gutshot draw also were possibilities.

The turn card was the 3Diamond Suit, not at all to my liking, as it filled the flush. I pondered my best option. I didn’t really think my hand was a favorite to be good. Likely either a 9 was out or I was up against a flush. That being said, I didn’t want to give up on the considerable money already in the pot. I had the KDiamond Suit and could make the second-nut flush. A king almost certainly would be good, a 9 might very well win, and, most important, my hand could be good unimproved.

Considering all of that, I didn’t want to give a hand that might fold — such as a straight draw or a queen — a free shot to beat me. Additionally, if I was beat, the better hand was highly likely to bet, and I would have to call anyway. I also might obtain a call from a worse diamond. I fired $80, Mr. Loose-Passive lobbed in $160, and Mr. Button folded.

I knew I was beat, but I still had drawing power. If a king came, I’d probably win. If a 9 came, I wasn’t so sure, but nines full of kings would beat any made flush. If a diamond came, I might win, but the nut flush was definitely a big part of his potential range. I wasn’t sure what I wanted, but I was getting $1,000-$80 at the current odds. When you may be drawing slim, or possibly even dead, but may also have a significant overlay if some or all of your outs are good, you must adjust your odds. You should carefully evaluate the effective results of all plausible scenarios vs. the price the pot is laying you. It’s a difficult judgment, and best-guess estimates are the norm, but knowing the concept and thinking in those terms will improve your decisions in these spots. I judged that the combination of wins in all plausible scenarios made it well worth the risk of one $80 bet, since I was getting better than 12-1.

The river was the 6Diamond Suit, giving me the second-nut flush, making for a difficult decision. Should I bet and risk getting raised, or check and call? If I checked, Mr. Loose-Passive would bet any hand that beat mine and check most hands that I beat. With a pot that size and an opponent with some propensity to bet a hand worse than mine, I would be calling if it went check-bet. If I bet, he would raise with most hands that beat mine, but call with any diamond or any 9. Most important, Mr. Loose-Passive’s style was such that if he raised me, I would know he had me beat and would be able to toss my hand, making for only one bet risked.

So, when I had Mr. Loose-Passive beat, I would gain a bet when I bet, and he would check if I checked. I would lose a bet when I checked the best hand and he would check behind me when he would have called. I would lose a bet when I bet the best hand and he folds a hand that he would have bet if checked to. Virtually all other scenarios worked out neutrally. Most likely, Mr. Loose-Passive would check when I had him beat and checked to him, and call when I had him beat and bet. If I couldn’t lose more than one bet, there were more plausible scenarios in which I gained a bet than lost one.

I would not bet the river into many opponents, but against this one, I wagered. He flat-called me and showed ADiamond Suit 5Diamond Suit. I had lost the river bet, but if I had checked and he would have bet, I would have called. So, it worked out the same.

The hand speaks to the concepts of wagering in order to make players fold draws, drawing to pots in which you may not be drawing to the best hand, and making strategic bets based on what you read your opponent(s) to be capable of doing. Timing such plays to the current situation takes a lot of experience and expertise, but in order to develop that expertise you have to be aware of the concepts and think them through.

Yeah, I lost the hand. That’s poker, and as long as in hindsight you think you played the hand well, that’s all you can do. As the old saying goes, “Just play your cards right, and let the chips fall where they may.” Eventually they will fall into your stack. ♠

Roy Cooke played poker professionally for 16 years prior to becoming a successful Las Vegas real-estate broker/salesman in 1989. Should you wish to get any information about real-estate matters — including purchase, sale, or mortgage — his office number is (702) 396-6575, and his e-mail address is His website is You also may find him on Facebook.