If you were to ask a beginner about their reasons for betting in any given situation a common response might be “You should bet when you think you have the best hand”. A lot of the time you DO want to bet when you think you havethe best hand. Unfortunately this is an extreme oversimplification of poker betting-strategy and is consequently flawed.
Types of Bet
We can break our reasons for betting down into two main categories and then a number of subcategories.
Value – We likely have the best hand and believe that our opponent is calling with a worse hand often enough.
Bluff – We likely have the worst hand and believe our opponent is folding his better hand often enough.
Semi-Bluff – A bluff bet where you have some pot equity usually in the form of some type of draw. Your combined fold-equity and pot-equity make a bet profitable.
Protection – A type of very thin value bet where your opponent folding his pot-equity is considered a good outcome. Sometimes worse hands may call, sometimes better hands may fold.
Block-bet – Small bet used on the flop/turn in an attempt to set your own price for seeing another card. Used on the river as a psychological trick hoping to see a free showdown.
Bet-to-induce – Similar to a block-bet but with a strong value hand. You hope to get re-raised after your display of weakness.
Value - You have a made hand and believe your opponent will be calling with worse. In order for a value-bet to be profitable, after your opponent calls he needs to have a worse hand more than 50% of the time.
You can define your bet-type depending on how much equity you have in the hand. For example - if you're a definite winner in the hand, then you're betting for value. If you know you're losing, then you're betting as a bluff.
Effective stacks are 100bb. Hero open raises to 3bb in the CO with ak. BU calls. SB folds. BB folds.
The flop is k102. You cbet 5bb into the 7.5bb pot. BU calls.
(This is a good spot to fire a continuation bet for value on the flop. There are large number of worse hands in villain’s range that will call. Any worse K, any straight-draw, any flush-draw. The times your opponent has a hand like KT, or 22, he will likely let you know by raising this semi-drawy flop.)
The turn is 7. You bet 14bb into the 17.5bb pot. BU calls.
(This turn card doesn’t change a huge deal, but there are some additional draws your opponent could have picked up like QsJs, 8h9h, AsTs etc. Given that your opponent flat-called the flop he likely doesn’t have you beat, and this an excellent spot to fire a second barrel for value given the huge amount of draws and worse made-hands he can call with)
The river is 9. Hero checks.
(This is probably one of the worst cards for you. A large amount of villains drawing range consists of JQ and hearts, both of which get there on the 9 river. The fact villain might have you beat is only part of the problem however. Even if villain hasn’t made his draw he will be concious of the fact that some of your barrelling range includes these draws. He will therefore be folding a lot of hands you might hope to otherwise extract value from. There is a decent chance he will muck hands like KQ/KJ on the river, and definitely any worse hands like Tx or JJ/QQ that may have been profitable bluff-catchers on the flop/turn. As a result when your opponent does call/raise he is likely going to have a better hand than yours more than 50% of the time. This is not really a spot where you can value bet the river against the vast majority of opponents.)
You will usually be pretty sure that you don’t have the best hand, but you think that if you bet your opponent will be folding enough for you to generate a profit. Unlike value bets, the percentage of the time your bluff needs to work will be dependant on how much you are risking to take down the pot. In general the cheaper you can bluff without losing fold-equity the more profitable your bluff will be.
Often when players think of bluffing the first image that comes to mind is a huge all-in river bluff where everything is on the line and one hero-call could make or break the other player.
In reality these situations are quite rare compared to the frequent and small bluffs winning poker players make all the time. A large proportion of players make small continuation bets on the flop as a bluff very often.
Bluff Example Hand
Effective stacks are 100bb. Hero open raises to 3bb from the BU with 56. SB calls. BB folds.
The flop is k72. SB checks. Hero bets 3bb into the 7bb pot.
(This is a typical board that is considered good to fire a continuation bet as a bluff. It is a very dry board with a broadway card that you can legitimately represent. There are no draws your opponent can continue with and very few made hands he can have. Even some of the made hands like 55 or 67 may not feel too comfortable continuing with an overcard out there.
You want to optimise your bluff here by giving yourself a good price. In this case you bet less than half-pot which should be sufficient to get the job done. It may appear overly small, but you might be suprised how often your opponent will fold to such a bet. It actually looks less suspicious than a full pot bet. Imagine you had AK here and wanted to bet for value. Realising that there aren’t many hands your opponent can have you’d likely choose to bet small in an attempt to coax floats or marginal calls out of him. Betting big might not be a great idea in terms of extracting value – so when you do it as a bluff it may even look suspicious.
A 3bb bet here needs to work 30% of the time, while a 7bb bet needs to work 50% of the time.)
The same concept as bluffing, but this time you will have some pot-equity along with your fold equity. Your bluff will not need to work as frequently, because some of the time when you get called you will improve to the best hand on a later street. Let’s take a similar hand but this time consider where we might semi-bluff on the turn.
Semi-Bluff Example Hand
Effective stacks are 100bb. Hero open raises to 3bb from the SB with 56. BB calls.
The flop is k72. Hero bets 3bb into the 6bb pot. BB calls.
(Hero is aware that this particular villain likes to float somewhat wide on dry boards. A second barrel may be profitable here. Before hero fires a continuation bet on the flop he decides he will barrel any 8, 4 or club.)
The turn is 3. Hero bets 9bb into the 12bb pot.
(This is one of the cards that increases hero’s equity. Villain should be folding most of his floats like AJ or 66 to a double barrel. In the case villain has a strong made hand such as a Kx, slowplayed set, or any other made hands like QQ/JJ – hero has a decent amount of pot-equity. Hero’s combined fold-equity and pot-equity make a bet profitable.)
This is a cross between value-betting and bluffing – usually referred to as a type of thin value bet. You bet in a situation where you don’t necessarily expect to get called by worse very often, but your opponent’s range still has a decent amount of equity vs your hand. As a result – your opponent folding is considered a good outcome despite your bet being for “value”. Protection bets can be considered a type of “merge” bet. Sometimes worse hands will call, but sometimes better hands will fold.
Protection Example Hand
Effective stacks are 100bb. Hero is in the CO and open raises to 3bb with 44. SB calls. BB folds.
The flop is k73. BB checks. Hero bets 4bb into the 7bb pot.
(By betting hero is “protecting” his hand from anything with 2 overcards. Hero does not necessarily expect a call from these hands (although it will happen sometimes) – but he doesn’t want to check back and allow them free chances to hit. Occasionally villain will call with worse like a 3x or an OOP float like AJ, but occasionally he will also fold better. Some villains will muck better pocket pairs and 7x. It’s not really correct to refer to this play as a pure “bluff” however, because hero still expects to have the best hand a decent amount on such a dry board.
Folds from both better/worse hands plus the occasional spot of thin-value make betting here for protection profitable. The bet also makes it less likely hero will get bluffed himself at a later point in the hand.)
Block-Bets/Bets to induce
In terms of river play, these are similar looking bets with opposite functions. A block-bet on the river is a small bet with a marginal hand, made in an attempt to stop your opponent raising. A bet-to-induce is a small bet made with a very strong hand made hoping your opponent will re-raise, either as a bluff or for value with a worse hand.
You should use river block-bets with caution – most of the time the reason cited for making block-bets is flawed. It’s a play with a deeper basis in psychology than maths. Usually it is going to be better to size your river bets based on your opponent’s range, rather than the strength of your hand. By betting small because your hand is weak, you are giving away information and may open yourself up to becoming exploited.
There is also the danger that your small blockbet may cause your opponent to fold out air-type hands when check-calling would have had a much higher expectation. You also lose value by block-betting if your opponent will call a larger bet with a bluff catcher.
You will need to balance your block-betting range with bets-to-induce to avoid becoming exploitable. If you were to make your bet-sizing dependant on villain’s range rather than your hand, your range for betting small on the river would automatically be balanced. I.e if villain’s range is weak you bet small regardless of whether you have a monster or a weak made hand going for thin value.
Block bets on the flop/turn possibly make a little more sense in general from a strategical point of view – but are still based on the psychological principle that your opponent is less likely to raise after you make a small bet.
Block-Bet/Bet to induce Example Hand
Effective stacks are 50bb. Hero is in the CO with 10j and open raises to 3bb. BU calls. SB folds. BB folds.
The flop is k52. Hero bets 5bb into the 7.5bb pot. BU calls.
(This is a good board to cbet as a bluff. This opponent is tight and will be folding anything that isn’t a strong made hand. When he calls you think it likely he has a Kx or better.)
The turn is 3. Hero bets 5bb into the 17.5bb pot. BU calls.
You’ve turned one of your draws, but you’ve decided you can’t necessarily semi-bluff here due to your opponent’s flop-calling range being very tight. Remember, semi-bluffs need both fold-equity and pot-equity to be profitable, and here you have virtually no fold equity. However, you don’t necessarily want to fold your flush-draw.Unfortunately the shallower stacks mean less implied odds. Given your estimated 18% equity you are going to need roughly 4.5:1 in implied odds. Let’s imagine you check and villain bets full pot for maximum protection. If you stack villain on the river 100% of the time you are only going to be getting 3.4:1 in implied odds (2:1 in direct pot odds). Mathematically you would have to check-fold.
What if you can use a psychological trick to make villain invest less on the turn? Some opponents may be intimidated by a small bet in this particular spot and decide to just smooth-call rather than raise. Assuming this is the case with this particular opponent it is possible to turn a non-profitable situation into a profitable one.
There are some issues to be aware of however. Assuming your opponent would just flat the hands he would’ve checked back anyway and raise all hands he would have bet with, your block bet is just burning money. If your block-bet gets raised, most of the time you will still have to fold anyway and you end up losing more than you would have by just check-folding.
Whether a block-bet is profitable or not depends largely on psychological factors – how is your opponent going to respond? Some players may respond very poorly to block-bets. Others may see them for what they are and play perfectly against them, in which case it might be better to not block-bet at all.
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