Everything in poker depends. Unfortunately, decisions in poker are based on numerous factors that vary with situations. This can be frustrating for newer players trying to learn and even for more advanced players attempting to sharpen their game. Today, there is a plethora of information out there to help players who want to improve. A common, yet useful, piece of advice given to players is to know why they are betting. Either a player is betting for value, as a bluff, or to fold out their opponent’s equity share.
This advice is a good starting point but only a fraction of the puzzle when it comes to betting. The more important factor to consider when betting is to always know how you will react if your opponent were to raise.
You may overhear a sophisticated player say they were bet-folding, bet-calling, or bet-three betting in a situation they found themselves in. This indicates that the player already had a plan in case their opponent were to raise. This plan development will inherently allow you to also assign which hands are best to check-call or check-fold.
To help illustrate this concept, I will provide an excerpt from the poker book, Red Chip Poker: Late Position, written by Christian Soto, Doug Hull, and James “SplitSuit” Sweeney.
$2-$5 Parx Casino – Friday 3:00AM
Hero ($1,600) Hi-Jack raises to $30 with
Cut-off ($2,000) Calls $30
Button (Covers) Calls $30
A♥ 9♣ 10♣
A continuation bet seems trivial in a situation when we raise preflop and catch top pair on a draw heavy board. Undoubtedly, they are pros and cons with regards to betting or checking.
The decision whether to bet or check will be dependent on our opponents’ tendencies. One vital consideration is how often our opponents will raise. More aggressive opponents are likely to raise this flop with both real hands like AT and T9, and also with hands like draws. As their aggression frequencies increase they may even raise with gutshots and whiffed setmines like 44. When we expect to face a raise often we need to have a poker plan immediately. This not only influences whether or not we want to continuation bet, but how we will react when we face the inevitable bet or raise.
However, if our opponents will only raise the flop when they have a better hand, then we should proceed to value bet. If a passive opponent raises, they usually have the hands they are representing. Passive players are not going to semi-bluff raise with draws either. This makes their raising ranges face-up and their calling ranges face-up as well. We should value bet the flop and fold if they raise.
Versus observant opponents, we never want to do something 100% of the time. If we would always bet the Flop with top pair and draws, and always check-fold when we miss, a Flop check would give them the greenlight to take away the pot when we check to them. Rather than play this predictably, we can shift some hands into our check/call range to induce mistakes from these opponents. On this board, Ace-King is a viable option for this line.
Hands that would have called our flop bet will now also bet themselves once checked to. Ace-Queen, Jack-Ten, and draws will be prone to bet the flop once we check in efforts to win the pot. A check allows our opponents to bet with worse hands and bluffs.
It is important to note that every card ranging from Six to King, in addition to all Clubs, will be of concern on the Turn. By checking we allow our opponents to potentially actualize equity. If they have KQ, JT or 44, we give them a chance to improve on the turn either for free or for the price they dictate on the Flop. However, this is a practical concession when facing a skilled and aggressive opponent who will put us to difficult decisions often.
Moving onto this exact hand our opponents are both aggressive, the Button moreso than the Cutoff. Against these players we would be better off checking. A check will allow either to stab at the pot and also mitigates the tough spot of getting our continuation bet raised.
Assume for a moment that we do continuation bet for $65 against these aggressive opponents and face a raise to $200. Are we ahead on this flop? It is possible. However, if we call the raise what will we do on a Two of Diamonds Turn card when our opponent bets $400? If we call the Turn bet and the Five of Hearts falls on the River and our opponent shoves do we call again? Notice how this is an ideal run out for our hand and yet the decisions are becoming exponentially complex and expensive with every street.
A♥ 9♣ 10♣
Hero checks, CO checks, Button bets $65, Hero calls $65, CO folds
Once we induce the bet from the Button, our plan is to check-call the Flop and play poker on the Turn and River. However, the plan to check-call on the flop does not give us the license to check-call all remaining streets. We need to make decisions based upon the information gathered later in the hand. Future cards and bet sizes, or the absence of bets, will allow us to further gauge where we stand. Notice that your opponents’ tendencies will influence your decisions on every street. You will face opponents who are capable of firing three barrels with a missed draw, and others who will not. This information is crucial in the decision making process, and therefore it is important to pay attention to your opponent’s actions in prior hands.
In this second example, the same concept is more greatly pronounced on the turn:
Stakes $2-5 (live)
Hero ($500) in the Cut-off raises $20 with
Button (Covers) Calls $20
T♣ 9♥ 4♥
Hero Bets $30, Button Calls
Similar to the Red Chip Poker example, the question of whether to bet or check is best answered based on information or assumptions you have on your opponent.
If your opponent will raise with semi-bluff hands such as J♥T♥ or K♥J♥ with at the same rate that he will raise with his made hands such as two-pair plus, then your best option is to check-call turn. Otherwise, you will be playing an expensive guessing game as to when your opponent is semi-bluffing versus when they are raising for value. Unfortunately, we may choose incorrectly. At times, you will fold the best hand or other instances call with the worst of it.
On the flip side, if your opponent will only raise when he has a strong hand, then our decision is simple. We would value bet the turn and contently fold to a raise. This is bet-folding. However, when villain just calls our turn bet we expect to be ahead and proceed accordingly.
It goes without saying that it is vital to gather as much available information about your opponents as this will help in the development of future lines.
The only always in poker is to always have a plan if your opponent were to raise. This will hold true in levels of poker.
As you implement this concept into your game you will be able to lay out a more solid plan for your hand. This in turn will reduce the amount of mistakes you will make throughout a session. Over the long haul, you’ll also win more pots.