In this first part of three from the ultimate guide to betting, we will take a look at the reasons for betting in poker. You should always know why you bet or raise and use this to manipulate your opponents into making incorrect ( and therefore losing) plays.

This article will lay the base for the next parts of this articles series where we’ll look at appropriate bet sizings. Before reading this article I’d also recommend checking out my previous articles about hand ranges and relative hand strength.

The main reasons for betting:

1. For value

This is the most common and simple reason for betting. When you have a hand that is a favourite versus your opponent’s range then you want to put more money into the pot and you want to get called. This allows you to win the maximum amount with your value hands and make your opponents play their draws incorrectly or poorly invest in their equity.

Whenever you bet or raise for value, make sure you define which types of hands or exact hand combinations you are trying to get to call you. If you can’t identify many worse hands that can call you, you are probably better of calling or checking rather than be putting more money into the pot.

2. To thin the field or isolate an opponent

When you raise a hand for value, another reason to do so is to thin the field and/or isolate an opponent. Even a very strong hand is vulnerable if you let a lot of players see a flop as it increases the likelihood of someone out-flopping you. So it’s certainly a good reason to be putting more money into the pot with a strong hand in order to thin the field down to preferable one or two opponents.

With a weak player at the table, you should widen the range of hands you raise for value and try to isolate this player so you can play as many hands as possible heads-up against this player.

When you raise for any of these reasons make sure you avoid betting the minimum or very small as this will allow your opponents to correctly continue in the hand. We will discuss this in more detail in the next part of our Ultimate Guide to Betting.

3. As a bluff

The definition of bluffing is when you make better hands fold. Commons spots to bluff are stealing the blinds, defending the blinds by 3-betting, continuation betting on the flop and raising the flop with a weak draw.

When you try to bet as a bluff make sure you define which better hands in your opponents range you are trying to fold out. If there aren’t many perhaps you should wait for a better spot. It’s also good to avoid bluffing hands with very little equity. If you are bluff-raising pre-flop do so with a hand that has good blockers and/or can flop a strong draw. If you are bluffing post-flop do so when you have some outs to the best hand or when you have a clear range advantage like if the turn is a king and your opponent does’t have any kings in his range.

4. To take control of a hand and represent strength

Being the aggressor has a lot of value in poker. It usually means that you can represent a wider range than your opponents, a range which is also uncapped. Being uncapped means that you still have the strongest possible hands in your range. For example, if you raise pre-flop and get cold-called your opponent will have a hard time representing AA-QQ and AK-AQ post flop since he would most likely three-bet these pre-flop.

So even when you miss the flop after raising pre-flop you can make a continuation bet and very often take down the pot. Make sure you continuation bet on flops that are either very dry, misses your opponents range, where you have equity (a draw) or where you can pick up equity on later streets (a runner-runner draw).

If you continuation bet a flop where you have a runner-runner draw and the turn is a blank, you should often give up. But if the turn gives you a draw or if the turn is a bad card for your opponents range then continue betting on the turn and sometimes the river will work well in your favour.

When it’s unclear whether you are bluffing or value betting

There are some spots when it’s profitable to bet regardless if you have the best hand or not.

The first spot is when you bet to take down dead money. Say you open on the button and the big blind calls with [Jx][Tx]. The flop is [Ax][3x][8x] and your opponent checks. This is a spot where some players would try to take their hand to showdown. If you bet you are not betting for value (to get a worse hand to call) and you are not betting as a bluff (to get a better hand to fold). However, the reason you want to bet is to take down the dead money in the pot and push your opponent off his equity with six outs.

The second spot is when you bet for protection. The key when deciding if you should bet for protection is to consider if the turn and river are most likely to favour your opponent. If this is true then betting to push your opponent off equity and avoiding putting yourself in a difficult situation on later streets is a good idea.

For example, you open on the button and get called by both players in the blinds. The flop is and you opponents check to you. If you check behind, any turn except a [3x] or a [4x] will be bad for your hand. So regardless if there are very few worse hand that can call a bet you are better of betting you hand on a flop which usually misses your opponent’s ranges and push them off their equity.

Don’t bet for information

Getting information is an effect of betting, not a reason for it. You always want to play your hand in the most profitable way and it’s not worth deviating from this concept to gain information. Use aggression and position to make hands easier to play but make sure you always define the reasons for betting as mentioned above and pay attention to the information that your opponent gives away as a result of this.

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