When in doubt, send a scout

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In poker, we’re faced with situations we’re unsure of, so we “send out a scout.” Though much like that of pinochle, this is not a defensive or passive action. The “probing bet” can be an info-gathering action or done precisely at the right time, in the right situation, and with the correct bet size, a profitable offensive weapon.

In Harrington on Hold’em, Volume II, Dan Harrington describes it this way: “A probe bet is a cross between a bluff and an informational bet. It’s a lead-out bet of somewhere between one-quarter and one-third the pot.” He goes on to say, “mostly the probe bet has an informational function.” It’s a way of finding out two things:
• Please tell me a little something about your hand.

• Wouldn’t it be nice if the two of us could just see the next card cheaply? (Can’t we all just get along?)

Harrington consistently suggests a half-pot bet when making a probe bet. His position is the response to your probe bet will net you the desired winning result or give you valuable information about the potential strength of your opponents’ hand. Many players do not follow his recommendation and they commit more chips with “pot bets,” while other players take a passive stance and check or bet the minimum.

The consequences of both plays may create a problem for you and allow your opponents to put undo pressure upon you, instead of you forcing them to make a critical decision, or to elicit vital information about their hand strength.

The next time you need to “send out a scout,” make a probe bet that can manipulate your opponents into making a miscue or provide you the information needed to continue on to a winning hand. One thing to keep in mind as you make this play: Opponents may send back a resounding message that trumps your scout move. Be able to detect when it’s time to cut your losses, and then do it.

— Al Spath is the former Dean of PokerSchoolOnline, author of Poker Journal, and a private online and live poker coach (at Delaware Park Casino, Atlantic City and Las Vegas). He can be reached for private poker mentoring at pokerinstructors.com or alspath@alspath.com.