This in-depth guide covers everything we think you need to consider (including reasons, and sizing) regarding poker betting.
- Understanding poker betting incentives, should be a vital part of your overall strategy.
- Thus, we cover a wide variety of poker betting topics – all explained in an easy to understand way.
- good and bad reasons to bet
- postflop bet sizing
- donk betting
- slow/fast playing
- equity realisation/denial
- random decisions
Placing a bet should only be done when you actually have incentives for poker betting.
Primary poker betting incentives
Betting should result in a higher EV, than not betting. Players not aware of the proper primary poker betting incentives, end up betting in situations they shouldn’t. Or, not betting in situations they should.
Poor primary poker betting motivations
If your primary poker betting motivations are the following, you are not thinking about strategy in the correct way.
- Betting because they have hit their hand (e.g. they have made a pair), or made a draw.
- To avoid a bet from the opponent, and get their opponent decide what to do. They would rather place a bet, rather than have to decide what to do when their opponent bets.
- They bet to maintain initiative. They were the preflop raiser, so must continuation bet.
To be clear, we are not saying for example that maintaining initiative is necessarily bad. Nor, that betting when you have hit is necessarily bad. What we are saying is these should not be your main reason for placing a bet.
Old school primary poker betting incentives
Training material created before the arrival of solvers, usually say you should bet for 2 mutually exclusive reasons. They are mutually exclusive as a value bet cannot be a bluff, and a bluff cannot be a value bet.
To get value
- You are placing a value bet when you mainly expect to be called by worse hands than the hand you are betting.
- Betting when you have the best hand, does NOT necessarily mean you are betting for value. You must consider the range that will continue versus your bet. If your opponent has lots of worse hands but will fold all of them, and just a few better hands but will continue with all of them, your bet is NOT a value bet.
- Your motivation for value betting is to get your opponent to put more money into the pot, which you expect to often win.
As a bluff
- A pure bluff, is when you bet knowing that if your called you do not have the best hand at showdown.
- Your motivation for bluffing is to get your opponent to fold his better hand or range, so you can collect the pot.
- A semi-bluff, is when you bet knowing you don’t currently have the best hand, but can improve on future streets.
- You would like your opponent to fold, but if they call you can still win a bigger pot.
The so called protection bet
- In this old school way of thinking, there was often a third reason to bet – the protection bet.
- Let’s imagine you raise pocket twos in MP on a board of K83r. The big blind calls.
- The big blind checks to you, and you don’t expect your opponent to call with worse hands if you bet. There are no draws he could call with on this board.
- So, you are certainly not placing a value bet. This is because if called it will only be with better hands (a pair of threes or better).
- However, you are also not bluffing if you bet. This is since you rate to have the best hand most of the time at this moment.
- The majority of hands in your opponents range have two higher cards than your pocket twos. You would like to deny equity to this range.
- Calling a protection bet a separate betting reason, was controversial.
- We won’t go into the debate around it. This value-bluff-protection paradigm is no longer the way you should be thinking about whether to bet or not.
New school primary poker betting incentives
Solvers have shown us that in fact the primary reasons to bet are:
> To prevent your opponent from realising some or all of their equity.
> It’s to your advantage to build a bigger pot.
- These reasons make perfect intuitive sense.
- When you place a bet, you are giving your opponents a chance to fold. And, if their hand had any equity you have denied them all of their equity if they fold.
- Until the river almost any hand (however bad) usually has some equity versus another hand.
- Of course, on the river (except in the case of ties) one hand has 100% equity. All other hands have 0% equity.
- If your opponent does not fold, clearly the pot will get bigger. This may be something you desire when you hold a strong hand.
- When you place a bet, you are giving your opponents a chance to fold. And, if their hand had any equity you have denied them all of their equity if they fold.
- The beauty of this way of thinking is these two reasons are NOT mutually exclusive, unlike the value-bluff paradigm.
- Infact you have a clear bet when you can deny your opponents their equity share.
- This is since they cannot continue with several hands in their range which have equity versus your bet.
- Whereas, if you didn’t bet they may realise that equity).
- You are simultaneously building a bigger pot that you expect to win more often.
- This is because you think your bet will get called by a lot of worse hands).
- Infact you have a clear bet when you can deny your opponents their equity share.
Postflop poker betting sizes
Before picking your postflop bet sizing on the flop/turn/river (for a continuation bet, or otherwise) you should consider certain factors. You should never just bet a predefined % of the pot in an autopilot manner. Many beginner players either bet a predefined % of the pot. For example they bet 1/2 or 2/3 pot without giving any thought to their bet sizing. Even worse choose their bet sizing in a totally unbalanced way.
You must consider the board textures and your range, when picking a bet size. You also need to mindful of the implications on SPR both currently, and going forward of the sizes you pick. Do not autopilot when picking postflop bet sizing
How to pick the perfect postflop poker betting sizes?
Consider all of the following:
- What is the SPR currently, as well as possible future SPRs? This is so you can plan ahead.
- What is the board texture? The more static or dry the board the smaller our bet size. The more dynamic or wet the board the bigger our bet size.
- Is our range polarised or condensed? Use bigger sizes the more polarised our range is, and smaller sizes the more condensed our range is.
You should bear the current stack to pot ratio (and possible future SPRs) in mind at all times. Then, size your bets in an appropriate way. Think of your plan for the entire hand, ahead of time. A good general rule for your postflop bet sizing is the following. If you plan to bet 3 times, bet a similar % of the pot on the flop, turn, and river. This is especially important if you are planning on a three street bluff. You certainly don’t want to end up in a situation where your river bet is so small relative to the size of the pot you cannot generate sufficient fold equity.
What is board texture?
- A static board is one where the best made hands that are winning on any given flop are likely to still be winning on future streets.
- For example, on Qd7h2s, if you held a set or AQ, and it was the best hand on the flop, most of the time you can expect it still to be the best hand by the river.
- A dynamic board is one such as 8h5s6h where even if you had a set, or an overpair, and it was winning on the flop, you wouldn’t necessarily expect it to still be winning on the river.
- The fewer the flush or straight draws the more drier a board texture is, the more the flush or straight draws the more wetter the board texture is.
What you should do on different board textures
The more dry or static a board is, the more (all other things being equal) you should be inclined to bet a smaller percentage of the pot.
This is because one of the two reasons to bet is to deny your opponents their fair share of equity. The other is to try and build a bigger pot, for the times you win.
Denying your opponents equity is obviously not as important on dry static boards as wet dynamic boards. Thus, we can bet relatively smaller on the former as opposed to the latter.
On the dry static boards as opposed to the wet dynamic boards, your opponents are more likely to have hit strongly or missed completely. When they have hit strongly they will likely at least call any reasonable bet size, when they have missed they will likely fold to all reasonable bet sizes.
Thus when bluffing, why put out a bigger bluff, when a smaller one would achieve a similar amount of folds?
If you are playing a somewhat balanced game, you will also want to pick a similar size for your value bets. Putting out small bluffs, and big value bets, will be picked up even by amateur opponents.
On wet dynamic boards (as opposed to dry static boards) if we have a value hand we get more value from a bigger bet size. And, when we have a bluff hand we increase our fold equity with a bigger bet size.
On wet dynamic boards, if you are looking to get value, large sizes allow you to get maximum value right away when future cards can kill the action. Your action is less likely to be killed on future streets of dry static boards.
You should bear in mind that your postflop bet sizing usually affects the range our opponent called us with. All other things being equal, the larger we bet the narrower and stronger our opponent’s range going forward is likely to be.
If our range is polarised rather than condensed, we usually want to bet a larger percentage of the pot when continuation betting. This is because if our range is polarised we mainly or only have strong or weak hands. With strong hands, we want to get the maximum value. With weak hands, we want to gain the maximum fold equity. A larger bet size as a percentage of the pot will achieve both these aims better, than a smaller bet size. However, when we have a condensed range this means we mainly or only have medium strength hands. And, if we bet a smaller percentage of the pot we can bet more hands than if we bet a bigger percentage of the pot – thus we can bet with a wide range of bluffs, and thin value bets.
Overbetting when we have range & nut advantage
If you have a polarised range, you can consider overbetting (overbetting should not be done with condensed ranges). Overbetting the pot should be considered if both of the following are true.
- You have the range advantage. Is the texture of the board better for your range, than your opponent’s range?, AND
- You have the nut advantage. Do you have one or more nut hands in your range, whilst your opponent has no nut hands?
As another tip if you are considering overbetting as a bluff, look for situations where both or one of your hole cards block many of the hands in your opponent’s calling range.
What is donk betting?
Donk betting refers to a postflop bet made by an out of position player, before the player who raised preflop has had the opportunity to bet.
The reason it is called a donk bet is in poker slang donkey or fish are terms some people use for weak players. Shark is a term some people use for strong players. Betting into the preflop raiser, was in simplistic poker advice considered bad – and thus something only weak players would do.
The potential problems with donk betting
- The reason we correctly should check to the preflop raiser in many situations, is that they will often have the range advantage (especially nut advantage) on many board textures. Donk betting when you don’t have the range advantage, is likely to be a negative expected value play.
- The out of position player, in a turn based game such as poker, will be at an informational disadvantage on all postflop streets. The in position preflop raiser will be able to see what the out of position player does before making his decision. By donk betting, the out of position player is giving out unnecessary information. Checking all hands in a range does not give out any information.
- Donk betting might fork your ranges, and thus might leave you unbalanced (which may lead you vulnerable to getting exploited). Weak players, in particular, often donk bet a condensed range consisting of medium strength or weak made hands and/or draws but not their strong hands. They think they will get more value from strong hands by check-raising the likely continuation bet. Strong players can balance their donk betting range, with their checking-range – but this takes work. Weak players who fork their range in this way, face a problem when they don’t donk bet. Their opponent can put them on really stronger hands or give up (i.e. a polarised range.
- One of the mistakes low stakes players make is continuation betting too much. They especially do this on board textures (given their opponent’s range) that they shouldn’t continuation bet. Thus even if donk betting was a profitable play in a scenario, check-raising might be a higher expected value play.
Poor reasons to donk bet
- Donk betting without any thought to board texture, opponent’s ranges, opponent’s’ frequencies, opponents’ tendencies.
- Donk betting to ‘see where I’m at’ – this is never a good reason for betting. Betting should only be done to help realise your own equity (by denying your opponents their equity). Or, to build a bigger pot.
How to react to a donk bet from a weak player
What do you think are the intentions of the player making the donk bet? Against weak opposition their donk bet is unlikely to be balanced. They are likely forking their range – and, only betting weak or medium strength hands (and not their strongest hands). Or, they are trying to set a price for a draw. Consider what their donk betting range looks like, and react accordingly. In future hands, when the same opponent does not donk bet, consider what it says about their range.
Good reasons to make a donk bet
However, it is not so black and white. There are some situations whether donk betting can be the highest expected value play. As such despite its name which has stuck, donk betting can be used by strong and weak players. The difference is weak players do it for the wrong reasons. Thus, it can be massively exploited by better opponents.
Here’s a checklist we have put together to ask yourself when considering a donk bet:
- Do you have the range advantage on a board texture?
- Do you have nut advantage on a board texture?
- Is your opponent likely to continuation bet on this board texture?
- If the villain checks behind, can a lot of bad cards come on the turn and river for your hand?
- If you are up against a reasonable opponent, can you balance your donk betting range in this hand (e.g. lead out some strong hands, as well as weaker hands/draws) and overall (e.g. can you donk bet in such a way in this hand, but when you don’t donk bet in a future hand, your opponent cannot easily put you on a particular hand type).
- If donk betting is likely to have a positive expected value, would checking likely have an even higher expected value?
Do you have the range advantage, especially the nut advantage? Consider betting out. But, if your opponent is the type to continuation bet too much, despite all this, of course you should consider checking (and possibly raising). If you have a made vulnerable hand (such as a pair on a board without high cards) where your opponent does not have strong range/nut advantage, but you don’t expect you opponent to continuation bet enough, you might consider leading.
In a multiway pot, where you don’t think the preflop raiser will be betting often, you can consider donk betting made hands and draws. This can work especially well if you are one of the first to act, as players in-between you and the preflop raiser, may find themselves in a difficult position.
However, always be aware of balance, and consider whether it matters against the opponents you are playing.
Slow play or fast play?
A player with a strong hand is slow playing, if he doesn’t want to take an aggressive action (e.g. he checks not intending to check-raise, or just calls if bet into) or if he does take an aggressive action it is for a much smaller amount than normal (e.g. he bets a tiny fraction of the pot).
A player with a strong hand is considered to be fast playing, if he wants to take an aggressive action (e.g. he bets at least a reasonable fraction of the pot) or he raises if bet into or check-raises.
Slow playing pros and cons
- The advantage of slow playing is that it may allow your opponent to catch up to a hand that is willing to pay you off later, when he would have just folded if you took an aggressive action when he didn’t have anything.
- Or, your opponent underestimates the strength of your hand/range, and pays you off more than he would have if you had played the hand more aggressively.
- The disadvantage is you could miss out on value, including the final pot not being as big as it could be.
- As bets are usually based on the cumulative pot size, you can see how missing on a bet (or raise) earlier, has a massive impact of the final size of the pot – or to put it another way, suppose you could have bet 3 times for 2/3 pot and got called each time, if you miss out any one of these bets you have lost out more than just a third of possible winnings.
Fast playing pros and cons
- Players who are fast playing are usually looking to get maximum value from the time their hand became strong to the end of the hand unless bad card(s) come. The advantage of fast playing is that you are attempting to get maximum value for your hand.
- The disadvantage of fast playing is if your opponent does not have anything earlier in the hand he might just fold, when if you had allowed him to stay in the hand to catch up to a strong (but weaker hand) than yours you could have got value for your strong hand.
3 factors to take into consideration to decide between slow playing & fast playing
We think there are three main factors you need to consider:
1. Is the board wet or dry?
- A wet flop would typically feature several possible draws, and a lot of cards could come that would change who is winning in the hand.
- All other things being equal, you would want to consider fast playing a strong hand on the wet board.
- The reason is there will likely be many possible hands in your opponents range that he is willing to pay to stay in the hand on the wet board, but on the dry board unless he has a made hand he may be unlikely to continue (as draws as scarce).
- Typically, when your opponent may well have a draw it is important to charge him early in the hand. If you let him stay in with his draw for free, then if he doesn’t make his draw you may no longer get value.
- A dry flop would typically not have many (or any) draws, and there are not many (or not any) cards that can come that will change who is winning.
- All other things being equal, you would want to consider slow playing the same on the dry board.
- If your opponent is the aggressor, when you have a strong hand on a dry board, if he is bluffing you want him to carry on doing so.
- If your opponent has a medium strength hand, you also might not want to scare him off too early.
If the cards in your hand block many of the combinations of strong hand your opponents could have, given the board, you would want to consider slow playing.
3. Opponent’s profile
What is your opponents profile? If you are playing a value heavy player who only puts in money into the pot when he has something, then clearly if you have a strong hand on a dry board and/or have blockers to the possible strongest hands in his range, there is a massive incentive for you to slow-play. If you are playing a loose passive player, who will call any time he has anything (even a really weak gutshot, or a weak pair on a board that hits you strongly) without understanding relative hand strengths or raises, there is an incentive to fast play.
- Imagine you are playing a small stakes live full ring cash game with reasonable stacks.
- Imagine your value heavy generally passive opponent opened in early position and raised him in middle position with A♥️A♠️, and he just called.
- Suppose the flop came A♦️6♠️2♣️, and he checks.
- This is clearly a dry flop – neither of our ranges have any direct draws on this flop.
- With three of the aces not available the best hands any opponent could have here are 66 or 22 for sets.
- However, you suspect your loose passive opponent, would have limped-called these, rather than opened.
- In fact you think the only hand that he would be willing to get a lot of money in with that he originally called your 3 bet with is AK (which has only 4 combinations – we are assuming our loose-passive opponent wouldn’t have 4 bet with some or all of these).
- Not only is the board dry, your blockers mean there may be little reason to bet against reasonable opponents.
- We block almost all of our opponents possible strong hands.
- Our opponent is value heavy and generally passive. Clearly, our opponent’s profile is bad for us if we wanted to play aggressively here.
- Taking all this into consideration, you have a clear reason to slow play. Sometimes, it won’t be as clear cut, and you may have some reasons to slow play and some to fast play – in which case you will need to balance the factors in your head to come to a decision as to what to do.
Equity realisation and equity denial
Outside of poker, to realise an asset means to cash in on its value. Equity realisation and equity denial are complementary concepts. You have been denied 100% of your equity if you have been forced to fold before showdown (except in rare cases when your hand was drawing dead, and thus had 0% equity anyway). Not being denied your equity, means the same as realising your equity.
In Texas Holdem any hand usually has at least some equity versus any other hand, until showdown. We say usually because in some rare cases a hand can be drawing dead and have 0% equity. At showdown one hand has 100% equity, and the rest 0% equity, except in the cases of ties.
For example, if you are all-in preflop holding AA against another opponent – regardless of what he holds you both have equity preflop. There is no hand your opponent can have, that gives you a 100% chance of winning this hand. Even if he held the other pair of aces, he could make one of 2 flushes to win the pot outright (although this will not happen often). With any other hand he has between 6% and 24% equity. As you are both all-in preflop, neither of you can be denied any of your equity, or put another way you will both fully realise your equity.
However, in any situation when 2 or more players are not all in preflop, even though all players likely have some equity in the hand (i.e. they have some chance of winning, if the hand went to showdown) any player can have all their equity denied (if they are forced to fold). You ideally would like to realise your fair share or better of your equity, and try and deny your opponents their fair share.
Aggressive vs Passive methods
Realising your own equity (and thus not being denied your own equity), can be done aggressively or passively. It is important to understand when each of this is best.
Many weaker players, default to passive realisation, even when it is not the highest EV decision. Their main aim is to get to showdown. And, they only want to bet or raise when they have a strong hand, and they like the board so far. Some will also do this with the absolute best draws. This is really common at small stakes live poker.
Think about who has range advantage (in particular, nut advantage), and position, to decide whether you should be aggressively or passively realising. In tournaments also factor in ICM implications.
Aggressive equity realisation
By betting when you could have checked, or raising when you could have just called, you are attempting to aggressively realise your equity.
You give your opponents a chance to fold, which would deny them 100% of their equity. You are also building a bigger pot, which you hope to win.
Consider aggressively realising your equity when:
- You have a range advantage over your opponent, especially when you have nut advantage.
- You are in position.
- (In tournaments) when you cover your opponent, so you can eliminate them (especially when they are under ICM pressure).
Passive equity realisation
By putting no chips into the pot when you don’t have to, i.e. checking if it’s an option, and when facing a bet only calling (i.e. not raising) you are attempting to passively realising the equity.
The disadvantage of doing this is that you don’t give your opponents a chance to fold. So, you are not denying them any of their equity. However, the advantage is that you are not putting in more money into the pot when it is not in your interest to do so.
You will want to consider passively realising your equity when:
- Your opponent has a range advantage, especially when he has nut advantage.
- You are out of position.
- (In tournaments) when your opponent has you covered, and so could eliminate you. This applies especially when you are under ICM pressure.
Limping in Texas holdem is often a bad idea. It can often be an unprofitable play. And, even if it is profitable there is usually a much better play you can use.
Of course there are some exceptions where limping is a good idea. But, the majority of limping plays in low stakes live poker are usually losing plays.
In online poker, above the micro stakes you won’t see much of the limping. This should be a massive hint that limping isn’t good!
FIVE reasons why limping is usually not a good idea
Capping your range
If you would have raised your strong hands in a certain position where you just limped, your thinking opponents can remove these from your range. Instead you are capped at just weak or medium strength speculative hands preflop. This means they can attack you at will on certain runnouts, when there is a reasonable amount of money behind, and you will often have no choice but to fold.
Forking your range
If you have a strategy of limping speculative hands, and raising strong hands (such as premium pairs, and high broadway hands), your range is forked. For example, when you raise your thinking opponents know you must have a premium hand.
Having the initiative, usually increases your chances of winning any given pot, all other things being equal. This applies even more, the more money behind. Being able to represent a stronger range as a preflop raiser, means your opponents are more likely to fold.
No pressure on the big blind
If no one raises, the big blind gets to come along for free with all sorts of trash or weak hands that almost always will have equity. These trash or weak hands, may well fold to an open or isolation raise, allowing you to clean up equity.
Even if profitable, not necessarily the highest EV play
There are times, especially among weaker opposition, where limping in various spots will be profitable even when it wouldn’t be so against stronger opponents. However, just because something is profitable isn’t a good enough reason to continue doing so. You have to consider all the other lines you could have taken. You should find in many scenarios even if limping is profitable, a more conventional raise first in or isolating limpers strategy is much better.
Exceptions – When limping might be the best play:
- From late position or the small blind. If SEVERAL players have already limped, and you are in one of the late positions or the small blind, and you don’t believe raising or folding is the best play with your hand.
- From the small blind. If it is folded to you in the small blind, it is a perfectly acceptable strategy to start off by limping every hand, and then reacting to the big blind’s action by folding/calling/3-betting. If you do all this in a balanced way, then this strategy in no way caps you range nor forks your range.
- From the big blind. If you are in the big blind, facing 1 or more limpers, and you decide checking your option is the best play. Technically you haven’t limped, but have decided to allow the pot to be a limped pot.
How to deal with limpers?
For each limper already in the pot, you need to consider whether you believe they are likely to fold, call, or raise if you isolate the pot by raising. You also have to think about the elasticity or inelasticity of their folding / calling / raising to your isolation raise size. That is to say will the size of your isolation raise impact how often they perform these actions?
If you are playing live poker, the main way you get this information is through observation of previous actions. Also, general profiling and player pool information. If you are playing online, you might be able to deduce this information from your tracking software/hud numbers.
One thing to watch out for is if a player has suddenly limped who doesn’t generally limp. Especially if they have done so in early position, it is possible they intend to limp-3bet any isolation. If they have good reason to believe an isolation is coming, that’s even more reason to watch out. Of course once you have seen a few showdowns, you can remember which players use this strategy.
A player is considered to be floating in poker, when they call their opponent’s bet on the flop, hoping to win the hand without showdown. That is to say they are calling hoping to get their opponent to fold on the turn or river.
When to float?
We think the following factors might make floating a good option. Of course, floating might not be the only tool available to you. You will need to consider if there are better options.
Floating is better when there are issues with opponent’s continuation bet
your opponent continuation bets excessively, without any plans to barrel
An obvious example where floating is likely to work is versus an opponent who opens a lot of hands preflop and then continuation bets at too high a frequency, and then gives up frequently when called (i.e. he does not barrel unless he actually has something or improves). You can often just call the flop, and fire the turn when your opponent gives up.
Some opponents may continue too frequently on the turn also, after continuation betting too often on the flop, but always give up on the river when they are not strong. You can often call twice, and take it away with a bet on the river.
Of course floating is not the only way you can tackle this type of opponent. You could also raise him on the flop. However, floating might be better, if he will give away valuable information about the strength of his hand on the following street.
your opponent continuation bets on a flop where you have range advantage
Don’t let your opponent off the hook here. Either float him, or raise him there and then.
your opponent continuation bets using too small sizes
Obviously, we are meant to continue more frequently to small sizes than large sizes. Our floats don’t cost as much, making them even more profitable.
Floating is better in position
Out of position floating is difficult because:
- You won’t know if your opponent is planning on checking the turn
- If you were planning a check-raise from out of position on the turn, but your opponent checks back it will be harder to win the hand without showdown (which is the definition of floating). This is because your opponent can cut out an entire street. The overall pot geometry will mean he will have to put in far less overall into the pot to get to showdown.
Floating is better when you could improve (as a backup plan)
This is similar to the concept of a semi-bluff. You could win the hand in two ways (by making your hand, or getting your opponent to fold). By definition, when you are floating you are trying to win the hand without showdown. However, it doesn’t hurt to have a backup plan – e.g. backdoor draws.
How, and why, do we want to create indifference for our opponent’s bluff catchers?
Why do we need a mix of value bets/bluffs, and what ratio should we use?
Example of indifference
- Let us imagine that on river we cover our opponent, and go all-in for $300 into a $300 pot.
- This leaves our opponent with only two options, i.e. he can call, or he can fold.
- In order to stop us from doing this with any 2 cards, our opponent needs to calculate his minimum defence frequency. In order to breakeven, our opponent needs to call at least $300/($300+$300+$300) of the time, i.e. 1/3 of the time. That is to say he has to put in 1 pot sized bet, trying to win the 2 pot sized bets already in the pot (the initial pot and our bet).
- Thus, from our point of view, to make him indifferent to either calling or folding, our value betting to bluffing ratio should be 2 to 1. That is to say we should be:
- Bluffing 1/3 of the time
- Value betting 2/3 of the time
If we do this, our betting range on the river is balanced. Our opponent will be indifferent between calling or folding with his bluff catchers.
- We will likely arrive on the river with a range consisting of:
- hands we want to bet for value
- hands we want to bluff
- hands we want to check
- Our opponent will have some hands that are easy calls or folds.
- However, a large number of hands in his range are likely to be bluff catchers. They only win if we are bluffing.
If we bluff too little, what does our opponent do with his bluff catchers?
- If we only value bet (and never bluff) we win $300 (if he folds) or $600 (if he calls)
- Once our opponent catches on that we never bluff, he will always fold his bluff catchers to our river bet. This means we never will be paid for our value hands (except when up against a less strong value hand from our opponent – often a cooler situation).
- Similarly, if we bluff too little (and our opponent catches on), he will not get paid enough for our value hands – in low stakes live poker, strong players can often find unbalanced folds when it is obvious their opponent is almost never bluffing.
What does our opponent do with his bluff catchers if we bluff too much?
- Once our opponent catches on that we bluff too much, he will call more often with his bluff catchers to our river bet.
What if we use the correct ratios?
- We bluff 1/3 of the time, and value bet 2/3 of the time
- If our opponent folds 100% of time: We always win the $300 already in the pot, before our bet.
- If our opponent calls us 100% of the time: the 1/3 of the time we are bluffing we will lose $300, however the 2/3 of the time we are value betting we will win $600.
- That is to say on average we expect to win (2/3 * $600) – (1/3 * $300) = $400 – $100 = $300
- Indifference: We have made our opponent indifferent between calling and folding.
Benefits to having an appropriate value bet to bluff ratio
- You will get paid off appropriately on your value hands (as if you bluff too little, you opponent will start to not pay you off with his bluff catchers).
- You get to bet with a larger range of hands (as you will usually get to the river with not just value hands), and your opponent will be indifferent between calling and folding, and thus you make more profits on average. A strong opponent should respond by making us indifferent to bluffing, by calling with an appropriate range of hands, especially hands that block our value hands – however, at low stakes poker your opponents are unlikely to be calling appropriately in many situations.
Random Poker Betting Decisions
Sometimes in poker your strategy will involve doing various things some of the time. How do you make random poker decisions? If you use poker solvers you will notice it usually does not say you should always raise these hands, always call with these hands, and always fold the rest. Instead for any given hand it may say something like raise 46%, call 34%, fold 10%. In real life, of course it would be impossible to think like a solver, let alone implement this (especially in live games, without a random number generator). However, there will certainly be times when for example you may want to call with a particular hand half the time, and fold the other half of the time. Or maybe you want to raise 1/3 of the time, and just call 2/3 of the time.
Humans struggle to make random decisions
- Let’s say you have decided you want to make a truly random play – 1/3 of the time you will raise, 2/3 of the time you will fold. You are in the middle of a hand, how do you decide which to do?
- Maybe you decide to think of a random number in your mind between 1 and 3. If it’s a 1 then you raise, but if it’s a 2 or 3 then you call.
- However, there are a number of problems with this.
- First, how can you possibly expect to randomly pick a number in your head?
- Secondly, what if for example even though you believe the correct strategy is to raise 1/3 of the time, you are more in your comfort zone in smaller pots. Do you trust yourself to not ‘randomly’ pick a 2 or 3?
- There is absolutely no way you could make a random decision in your head.
Ways to make random poker decisions
We are sure mathematicians would argue that none of the methods below come up with a truly random number (not even the random number generator tools), however, for all intents and purposes these methods are random enough.
Use a random number generator
We recommend this method as the best way to randomly make decisions when playing online.
There are many free tools online that can generate random numbers. You could specify that the tool generates a whole number between 1 and 100 for example, if you wanted to do some action some exact percentage of the time.
This method is best for online players as it is the fastest method of picking a random number – you could have the random number generator open at all times ready to use. You might be able to download a tool, to insert a random number generator into your poker tables at your preferred online cardroom.
Toss a coin, or roll a die
We’ll include this one, but we don’t think it the best method whether you are playing live or online. It works, however the RNG method is quicker for live players, and for live players usually it is better to not draw any unnecessary attention to yourself during a hand as you might give away information. Also, you will have to remember to keep a die or coin at hand. If you have a 50-50 split, tossing a fair coin in a fair way will help. A die may be more useful. For example not only can you do 50-50 splits (e.g. 1-3 do something, 4-6 do the other thing), you could do 1/3 – 2/3 splits (e.g. 1-2 for option A, and 3-6 for option B) etc.
Use the second hand of a clock or watch, or the number of second shown on digital watches
We recommend this method to live players to make random poker decisions (it is really discreet, and quick).
If you have a 50-50 decision, you would do one thing between 0-29 seconds, and another between 30-59 seconds. Or, for a 1/3 – 1/3 – 1/3, whether it was 0-19, 20-39, or 40-59 seconds would make your decisions for you.
To make it fair, all you have to do is to look at the clock or watch, only when you have decided on what splits you are using.
Elasticity and inelasticity
The elasticity and inelasticity of our opponents, in poker, usually refers to how sensitive our opponent is to our bet sizing when deciding whether to continue in the hand. An elastic opponent will be more sensitive (i.e. they will continue less often to larger bet sizes, and more often to smaller bet sizes), whilst an inelastic opponent will be less sensitive (i.e. they will continue more often to a wider range of bet sizes).
It is important to note that elasticity-inelasticity is a spectrum – opponents can be excessively inelastic (e.g a calling station, who seems to call if they have any made hand, or draw even versus bet sizes they shouldn’t), or overly elastic (e.g. a player who won’t call big bets unless they have something big, but will call small bets with any piece), or somewhere in between.
Responses to elasticity and inelasticity
If you are playing an excessively inelastic opponent
- You should almost never bluff this opponent, whilst his range is heavy with hands that beat you that won’t fold.
- You should use a large bet size with all your value hands, even hands that are far from the nuts (when he has plenty of second best hands or draws to call you down with).
If you are playing an excessively elastic opponent
- As you are looking to get folds, you should use a relatively large bet size with your bluff hands.
- As you are looking to get your opponent to continue, you should use a relatively small bet size with your value hands.
In real life
At small stakes poker it is actually possible to sometimes encounter either of these types of opponents. However, the vast majority of your opponents (and almost all your opponents as you move up) will be somewhere in between these two extremes, and as such you would want to use a strategy somewhere in between.
Final thoughts on elasticity and inelasticity
- When you are exploiting your opponents like this you veer away from GTO principles. Thus, your opponents can exploit you.
- However, if your line produces the greatest average profit you should have no qualms about doing it.
- Are your opponents exploiting you? For example, against somewhat elastic but savvy opponents, they may catch on if you always bet bigger with bluffs and smaller with value hands (so you will have to mix it up slightly).
- As always considering how elastic or inelastic your opponent is, should only be one part of your strategy considerations – you need to combine this with other information (e.g. blockers and unblockers) to come up with your overall strategy.