There are three reasons why we bet in poker

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By Sean Hansen

This month, we’re going to talk about everyone’s favorite thing: betting. Whether you’re sliding two stacks out as a raise, limping along on the button or tossing in a chip to declare all-in, your poker bet needs to have a purpose. I would say at least half of the money that goes into any given pot is going in for no good reason. That’s great if you’re the one betting with purpose, but bad if you’re the one tossing chips in the middle without a clear objective.

There are three reasons to bet in poker, starting with value. You have a hand that’s beating your opponent’s range and you want to get paid for your superior hand. So, you bet.

Then, there’s the bluff. You’re hand probably isn’t any good, but you think a bet can take down the pot. So, you bet.

Third, we bet to collect dead money. You want to isolate others out of the pot and get them to surrender their equity, creating dead money in the pot, and making it easier for you to win. So, you bet.

I can hear you now, “Dude, I know what a value-bet is and what a bluff is. I’m not an idiot.” I’m sure you’re not; most poker players are on the intelligent side. But, have you ever said to yourself, “I don’t know why I bet there,” or “I don’t know why I called you,” at the poker table? Sure you have. And that is lighting money on fire because you didn’t take a moment to think about your bet’s purpose.

How often, when you bluff, are you asking yourself, “How likely is it that my bluff will work, on this board, against this player, from this position, given my image?” Probably not often enough. And when you have a good hand, are you asking yourself, “Does my opponent have any worse hands in his range that he can call with, given this bet size?”
Notice how calling a bet really rarely serves any of the above three purposes. When we’re calling, unless we are slowplaying, which we should rarely do, our call is not for value. A call can’t be a bluff. And a call won’t ever collect any dead money.

When you take time to think about why you’re betting, you’ll do a better job of knowing when to bet, and how much. In your next session, resolve not to put a chip in the pot without identifying the reason why you’re betting. Hint: If the word “hope” is part of your thinking process, choose another action. Like we tell students on Day 1 here at Big Slick, hope is not a strategy.

— Sean Hansen is a Big Slick Poker Academy instructor.